San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t see a whole lot of value in a four-game preseason.
So with several players, including first-round draft pick Nick Bosa and running back Jerick McKinnon nursing injuries, and others such as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo coming back from one, the 49ers aren’t expected to play many front-line guys in their exhibition opener against Dallas on Saturday night.
“You absolutely don’t need four preseason games,” Shanahan said. “I’d rather have zero than four, preferably I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”
The main question for the 49ers this week will be at quarterback, where Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard are battling to be Garoppolo’s backup. Beathard started last season in that role but struggled after Garoppolo went down with a knee injury. Mullens then stepped in and played well down the stretch. Neither player has separated himself in training camp.
For Dallas, all eyes will be on the running backs with two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott holding out.
Rookie Tony Pollard, a fourth-round pick, was getting first-team reps over veteran Darius Jackson in the second week of camp. The Cowboys also brought back Alfred Morris, who filled in two years ago when Elliott was suspended six games over domestic violence allegations. Morris was the backup in San Francisco last year.
With Dak Prescott likely playing briefly in the preseason opener, it will be the first look at the backup QB battle between Cooper Rush and Mike White. Rush kept the job last year despite a shaky preseason after a strong showing in exhibition games as a rookie two years ago. White, going into his second season, has a better chance to unseat Rush this year. The lingering question is whether the Cowboys will have three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster again.
RAMS AT RAIDERS
The Rams are expected to stick to last season’s plan of allowing no important players to play significantly in the preseason. After all, it led to the Rams’ first Super Bowl appearance in 17 years. Coach Sean McVay hasn’t revealed how much he will use Aaron Donald, who is in training camp for the first time since 2016, or Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, but it’s widely expected they won’t play a snap until September.
Blake Bortles gets his first opportunity to show if an offseason with McVay has led to improvement. Bortles signed with Los Angeles following his first five seasons in Jacksonville after being drafted third overall in 2014. He had the lowest completion percentage and second-worst passer rating among 33 QBs with at least 1,000 attempts since he entered the NFL.
That led to his departure in Jacksonville and the chance to revive his career as Jared Goff’s backup in McVay’s quarterbacks-friendly offense.
“It’s an opportunity for me to get a new resume on tape, and for us, the guys to get an opportunity to play to go and kind of build that resume and get some good plays and some good work on tape, and get a little bit of game-like atmosphere,” he said.
The Rams are expected to play only a handful of starters in the preseason opener against the Raiders, with new offensive linemen Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom possibly getting a series or two on offense, and linebacker Micah Kiser and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day getting a chance on defense.
The Raiders also aren’t expected to play many starters in the game, with coach Jon Gruden saying he may try to give some of his young players like rookies Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram and Trayvon Mullen a look.
BENGALS AT CHIEFS
Reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes is expected to get a series or two with the rest of the Chiefs’ starters. Mahomes will have almost all the targets from his record-setting debut as the starter, including wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who was suspended from the team throughout the offseason amid a domestic violence investigation. Hill will be joined by tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and speedster Mecole Hardman, the Chiefs’ second-round pick, in filling out a dynamic aerial attack.
The Bengals play their first game under Zac Taylor. Although McVay held out his starters in preseason last year when Taylor was a Rams assistant, Taylor plans to do things differently in Cincinnati because of all the newness: new systems on offense and defense, to start. Plus, they’re trying to figure out their situation on the offensive line after left guard Clint Boling retired because of a blood clot. They also need to figure out how they’ll get by early in the season with receiver A.J. Green sidelined by an ankle injury.
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