Following a lackluster performance against the Denver Broncos, the projected San Francisco 49er starters will have to maximize 30 minutes of live football to prepare for the opening game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tomorrow evening, chill the beverages and fill your appetizer plates to the edge because this is the closest thing we'll get to live football for two weeks.

Here are a few things to watch for on Saturday evening.

Garoppolo Throwing the Route Tree


Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's five-interception practice, followed by a one-for-six performance against Denver drew a wide variety of reactions from the press and faithful fans.

Both performances are open to your interpretation; One: Garoppolo has to overcome large and small hurdles following his knee injury, and these are just some of the obstacles. Two: Both instances raise the bile in your bloodstream and the questions about Garoppolo's ability to be a top-tier quarterback.

Quarterback preseason statistics and practice failures don't concern me. Instead, I want to see Garoppolo lead a long drive, converting a third-and-long into a fresh set of downs and throwing the patterns in the 49ers' route tree. Garoppolo noted after the game that "Once you get that first 1st down, you kind of start rolling. Once you get into a groove like that as an offense, it's a good feeling."

Keep in mind the 49ers were 2-for-11 on third down against Denver, so I'd take an improved 3rd down efficiency rating over meaningless preseason pass yardage any day of the week.

As Garoppolo gains confidence, I want to see him throw a variety of routes on 3/5/7-step drops, play action, or other movement plays. One play head coach Kyle Shanahan can call is Fake 19 Weak Keep Right Z Takeoff, a play-action run out of an I-formation. The halfback and fullback both head left, with the fullback faking a lead block and continuing up the left sideline on a wheel route. Garoppolo fakes a handoff to his halfback and bootlegs to the right. The halfback ends up in the left flat.

The X-receiver, aligned on the left side of the formation, runs a low cross and is Garoppolo's first read. The Y-receiver runs a down-flat route. He'll dart diagonally inside, and then bolt back to the right. Garoppolo's Z-receiver runs a takeoff, stuttering at 15-yards, and continuing up the field.

Keep Right Z Takeoff is an ideal play for Garoppolo – he'll have three reads – deep, intermediate and short. Further, the bootleg action cuts the field in half, making the read slightly easier.

Of course, it would be great to see Garoppolo walk off the field with 150 yards passing and two touchdown throws. But watching a successful execution of Shanahan's staple plays, along with hitting a few deep out routes, is an even trade.

Who Leads the Receiver Group?


Forty-Niner running back Raheem Mostert led all receivers Monday night with two catches for 42 yards. I'm happy the 49ers were able to rush for 185 yards. Unfortunately, the 49ers' starting and reserve offensive line struggled with the pass block against Denver, allowing 49er quarterbacks to target the wide receivers on seven attempts.

It's hard to tell who is separating themselves in the receiver group on seven targets. There's a never-ending debate as to who ends up in the final receiver corps, especially among Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, and Jordan Matthews. Frankly, James' skills returning kickoffs and punts probably gives him a slight edge over the competition.

Shanahan may have no choice but to throw more than he wants to on Saturday, to give an honest look at some of the receivers dancing on the roster bubble.

Speaking of the Offensive Line


In just over a week, the 49ers' coaching staff is going to have to hold its collective noses and choose a few back-up offensive linemen.

Indeed, the 49ers rushed for 185 yards against Denver, with nearly every yard resulting from second- and third-team linemen. Rookie tackle Justin Skule and second-year guard Najee Toran have played more than any other linemen. Skule has played offensive 110 snaps, while Toran is just behind him at 102 snaps.

Denver Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb welcomed Skule into the NFL on Monday with a bull rush that left Skule standing in a daze. Toran committed three holding penalties in two games but has only allowed one quarterback hit in two games.

Keep in mind that the reserve linemen will probably see the field this year. The 49ers cannot afford to put someone at guard or tackle who plays more like a theme park turnstile and less like a brick wall.

It's possible veteran guard Joshua Garnett sees some action on Saturday, though the 49ers could keep him sidelined for an additional week. Garnett may last another season with the 49ers as an expensive back-up guard.

The Debut of Kwon Alexander


Linebacker Kwon Alexander will finally return to the field on Saturday. As a bonus, we'll get to see Alexander line up with second-year linebacker Fred Warner.

Before the 49ers' practice on August 21, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said the plan was "to give them game action." Warner has also missed the first two preseason games.

Saleh went on to comment on Alexander's work during training camp.

"I give credit, one to him, with his work ethic, two to the performance staff and the plan that they've had for him, and everybody executing it. He's come along well. He's made great strides from his first day of practice until now, so I'm excited to get him out there and see what he does for his first game action."

We still have not seen the projected starting defense for the 49ers, but I believe the Warner-Alexander duo could be one of the best in pro football this season. Their skill sets complement one another, and they'll have four top-tier defensive linemen playing in front of them.

Saturday's game should be a good match-up for the 49ers and one last test for the team as it closes out the preseason.

All statistics courtesy of NFL.com unless noted.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.