What to watch in 49ers’ preseason finale vs. Raiders

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Some of the drama was eliminated from the 49ers’ preseason finale when head coach Kyle Shanahan and QB Jimmy Garoppolo made it relatively clear who’s going to start under center in Week 1. There’s still plenty on the table for San Francisco though with an unsettled roster that’ll be trimmed to 53 players by Tuesday at 1:00pm Pacific Time.

Sunday’s dress rehearsal at Levi’s Stadium will be the final opportunity for the coaching staff to assess their roster in a game setting. With that in mind, we’re skipping the typical offense/defense splits and just looking at the roster as a whole, and the seven things we’ll be keeping a close eye on during the 49ers’ third preseason contest.

QB swap

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It appears any competition for the 49ers’ starting quarterback job is over, but there’s plenty of reason to pay attention to what’s happening under center when their offense is on the field. Trey Lance could be used in drives with Garoppolo rather than splitting series in a more traditional way. San Francisco is going to have something of an unorthodox situation this season, and it may be on display for the first time Sunday.

Starting OL debuts

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Shanahan on Friday indicated starting left tackle Trent Williams and starting center Alex Mack will both make their preseason debuts against the Raiders. Both the veterans will be key cogs in the 49ers' offensive front this season, so it'll be interesting to see how well they're moving in their first action. There may also be an opportunity for rookie OL Jaylon Moore to kick inside to guard for the first time all offseason after spending all of his camp at left tackle.

Rookie DB encore

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Fifth-round cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and fifth-round safety Talanoa Hufanga have both acquitted themselves well in the preseason, and another strong outing against the Raiders could cement relatively high spots on the depth chart for both. Lenoir might wind up being the first cornerback off the bench, while Hufanga is still in the mix for the starting strong safety job.

A rookie DB bounce back

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Third-round cornerback Ambry Thomas has struggled some to find his footing in the NFL. He opted out of the 2020 college season though so it's understandable if Thomas is a little rusty. He was better in the second preseason game than the first one, so another step forward in the final contest would be a good sign for his ability to contribute right away if needed.

Drops

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Drops have been a problem for the 49ers' receivers in the preseason. A case can be made that not all of them were the fault of the pass catchers, but passes careening off receivers' hands have led to two interceptions for 49ers quarterbacks. There've also been a couple of first-down receptions dropped, along with a first-down screen pass. The entire group of pass catchers has to clean that up, and going drop-free Sunday would be a good step toward that.

Running back race

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers could have an excellent backfield this year with Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Wayne Gallman and Elijah Mitchell all flashing at points during camp and the preseason. Watching that group, namely the trio after Sermon, duke it out for carries Sunday and a roster spot will be fascinating to watch since all three are talented enough to have a role in an NFL offense. For Mitchell it'll be his NFL debut after missing two games with a hip strain.

Linebacker depth

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There's an intriguing under-the-radar battle for roster spots playing out at linebacker. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Marcell Harris, Jonas Griffith, Justin Hilliard and Elijah Sullivan are all vying for the final couple spots behind Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair. We'll keep an eye on them vs. the Raiders to see who stands out and gives themselves one last boost for a place on the final roster.

Staying healthy

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Above all, leaving the game healthy is imperative for the 49ers who've been lucky on the injury front with a few exceptions in training camp. They were crushed by injuries last season and need to ensure they go into Week 1 as close to full strength as possible.

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