Week 1: Top 10 Vikings, 49ers to watch
No more talk, time for action
All the chatter about the 49ers’ tumultuous offseason comes to an end Monday night. The only thing that matters is what happens on the field. Jim Tomsula takes over against the Minnesota Vikings – the organization that interviewed him for its head-coach opening in January 2014. As if the offseason was not already long enough, of course, the 49ers play the final game of Week 1 in the NFL. Here are 10 players to watch as the 49ers and Vikings get set for their 7:20 p.m. start at Levi’s Stadium...
10) 49ers RG Jordan Devey
Recently acquired from the New England Patriots, Devey played just eight snaps during the exhibition season with the first-team offense. His ability to prevent the pocket from collapsing in the passing game will be key for a line that struggled in that area in the exhibition season. He also must work with center Marcus Martin and right tackle Erik Pears in the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme.
9) Vikings WR Mike Wallace
Tramaine Brock is set at one 49ers cornerback spot. Kenneth Acker looks as if he’ll be the player on the other side. More than likely, it’ll be a group effort to try to contain Wallace, who scored 10 touchdowns with the Dolphins last season. The 49ers have an inexperienced group of cornerbacks, and it will be no easy feat to cover the speedy Wallace in the opener.
8) 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks
Brooks is expected to start and play the vast majority of the game after returning to the team after being excused for more than a week following the announcement he would face a misdemeanor count of sexual battery. Especially after the 49ers released Aldon Smith, Brooks is a huge part of this defense. He could see action on both sides as the 49ers’ most polished pass-rusher.
7) 49ers TE Vernon Davis
Davis is coming off a miserable season in which he posted his lowest numbers since his rookie year. If the 49ers are going to make any noise this season, Davis has to get back to his pre-2014 self. The addition of speedster Torrey Smith should create some room for Davis to operate in the middle of the field. Kaepernick could feature Davis early in the game to get him back involved.
6) Vikings DE Everson Griffen
Griffen had his breakout season a year ago with 12 sacks. The Vikings’ rush is one of the biggest areas of concern for the 49ers' spotty pass protection. Mostly, Griffen will be matched against 49ers’ left tackle Joe Staley, but he could also flip sides in an attempt to expose right tackle Erik Pears, who struggled during training camp.
5) 49ers RB Reggie Bush
The 49ers did not even attempt to establish any kind of screen game in recent seasons because he previous staff had no confidence in Colin Kaepernick, the running backs and the offensive line to execute those plays. But with the addition of Bush, the 49ers figure to utilize his skills in this area. Bush’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield could be the boost Kaepernick needs.
4) Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater ended his rookie season on a hot streak under Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner. “The biggest thing coach Turner has done is just called plays that not only fit my playing skills, but the entire offense’s,” Bridgewater said this week. It figures Bridgewater will try to attack Acker or Reaser while facing a lot of eight-man boxes from the 49ers' defense.
3) 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick
Much of the 49ers’ season hinges on whether he can raise his game to a higher level. Kaepernick posted career-high numbers in passing yards and rushing yards, but he must become more consistent within the pocket. He can’t rely on solid pass-protection, so he has to be sharp with his decision-making and accurate with his throws. The read-option figures to be a good fit for the new blocking scheme, too.
2) 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman
After missing all of last due to the knee injury he sustained in the NFC Championship game in January ’14, Bowman showed no signs of rust during training camp. In fact, Bowman appeared to be the 49ers’ best player. Period. He returns to action with a major challenge against Adrian Peterson. “This is a back that you want to face just to see if you’re back at the level I was at,” Bowman said.
1) Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
Peterson rushed for more than 1,200 yards six times in his eight-year career. He played just one game last season before going on the commissioner’s exempt list after a facing a charge of child abuse. The Vikings figure to feature him heavily in his return. “He has a motor,” Bowman said. “He’s a hard runner. You can tell he’s trying to get every single yard there is to get out there.”