49ers

Four 49ers to watch in tonight's NFL preseason opener vs. Cowboys

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AP

Four 49ers to watch in tonight's NFL preseason opener vs. Cowboys

SANTA CLARA – The first exhibition game of the season is rarely about the starters, and 49ers’ summer unveiling will be no exception.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ healthy starters on both sides of the ball are expected to see limited action -- one series or two -- Thursday night when the pre-cuts version of the Dallas Cowboys comes to Levi’s Stadium.

It will be a notable evening for many of the team’s young players who are either battling for spots on the roster or roles for the regular season.

Here are four 49ers players to watch in the preseason opener:

RB Joe Williams

The 49ers’ top two running backs appear set with Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. Talent-wise, Williams might be their equal. Now, he must prove to the team’s coaching staff that he has the “urgency” to turn his potential into reality.

Coach Kyle Shanahan has been quite blunt about Williams, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017. Shanahan saw very little outside his talent last summer that convinced him Williams could be an NFL keeper. This summer, however, Williams is playing with more aggression. He and Raheem Mostert, an ace on special teams, are competing for the No. 3 job.

“I’m just excited to watch him play out on the field,” Shanahan said. “I’m a lot more excited now than I was last year, just because of what he’s shown in practice.

“He’s come a long way in a year, and he’s given himself a chance to be a good running back. We’ll see how he looks on Thursday.”

FS D.J. Reed

Reed, a fifth-round pick from Kansas State, is a versatile defensive back who also can make a contribution in the return game. After playing cornerback in college, Reed has lined up at free safety during his first summer in the NFL. Then, in nickel situations, he moves down to cover the slot receiver.

“He’s got a great mindset, a great mentality,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He’s fighting. We’re asking him a lot for a rookie to learn free safety and nickel. He’s doing a good job with it.”

Reed has similar skills as Jimmie Ward, whose $8.5 million salary for this season is fully guaranteed. Ward enters his contract year, so Reed has a chance in future seasons to take over in the jack-of-all-trades role as a younger, less-expensive option.

WR Dante Pettis

Pettis, a second-round pick from Washington, has gotten off to a good start in training camp. He has put himself in position to compete to become the No. 4 receiver at the start of the regular season due to his ability to play a number of different positions.

Pettis has a unique, deceptive route-running style. His running style also is one of the reasons he was so difficult to corral as a punt returner. He set the college football record with nine career returns for touchdowns.

“He moves differently than most guys," Garoppolo said. "He has some long limbs, long arms, long legs, and it helps him create space with defenders. He has a unique ability, I call it wiggle.”

DL Jullian Taylor

Arik Armstead, who plays the 49ers' "big end" position, was expected to miss a month with a hamstring injury that he sustained on July 29. Armstead’s absence has opened the door for Taylor, a seventh-round pick, to not only make the 53-man roster but to earn a significant role in the defensive-line rotation.

Taylor (6-5, 280) looks and plays bigger than his listed size. He saw action in just 15 games during an injury-plagued college career at Temple, so the exhibition season is important for his development.

“He brings an awesome mindset of physicality, violence and effort,” Saleh said. “The guy’s got unbelievable strain in his game. He’s got a very, very long way to go.”

Watch 49ers WR Dante Pettis crush BP homers in Minute Maid Park

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USATSI

Watch 49ers WR Dante Pettis crush BP homers in Minute Maid Park

The 49ers arrived in Houston on Tuesday, where they will hold joint practices with the Texans on Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, the two teams will play a preseason game.

With no team activities schedule on Tuesday, rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis took full advantage of the free time. His father is Astros third base coach Gary Pettis, so the younger Pettis donned Astros gear and took batting practice at Minute Maid Park.

In video posted by Fox 26's Mark Berman, Pettis deposited a few balls into the Crawford Box.

Check out the video here:

49ers notes: Practices heat up with Texans in Houston

49ers notes: Practices heat up with Texans in Houston

The 49ers arrived Monday evening in Houston, where temperatures in the mid-90s – and more than a bit of humidity -- await the team’s two practices this week against the Texans.

After 14 practices at the team’s facility in Santa Clara, the 49ers figure to learn a lot more about their roster while facing a different opponent during two-hour practice sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’re very sick of going against the same scheme every day,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It’ll be nice to go against something else, you know? Offensively and defensively, and it gives you two practices where you can go against different stuff, which prepares all your players for what they’re going to see during the year.

“And just for the monotony of camp, it’s good to change it up.”

The 49ers will be a bit short-handed for the practices. Eleven players sat out the team’s practice Monday due to injuries. Running back Joe Williams is scheduled to rejoin the team. The 49ers also plan to sign veteran running back Alfred Morris. The 49ers’ top two running backs, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, are out for the remainder of the preseason with injuries.

The injuries across the board have impacted how the 49ers practice. Because of thinning depth, the 49ers do not have enough healthy bodies to form a full No. 3 unit.

“Once you start losing those guys, it adds a lot on another person,” Shanahan said. “Once you see a guy having to take reps with the twos and with the threes, it’s just a matter of time before that guy gets hurt. Those are the things you’ve got to pay attention to. You can get away with it for a little bit and you know you’re going to put a lot on a guy, but eventually once you see it’s too much you’ve got to stop the drill and just move on. It’s not worth it.”

After two practices against the Texans, the 49ers will have a day off on Friday before facing Houston on Saturday in the second preseason game for both teams.

McGlinchey Readies for Work vs. Watt

After being satisfied with his performance during his 23 snaps in the exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys, 49ers rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey is bracing for what figures to be his best learning experience since being the No. 9 overall draft pick.

McGlinchey is likely to go up against Texans perennial All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt in two practices. The reports out of Houston is that Watts has looked close to his former self after two injury-plagued seasons. He did not play in the Texans’ exhibition opener, though. McGlinchey could see practice time against Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

“It’s definitely going to be fun,” McGlinchey said. “It’s why you play in the NFL, to play against the biggest and baddest dudes.”

Morris Steps in to Compete

Part of the reason the 49ers are bringing in Morris to join the team is because he already is familiar with Shanahan’s system. But Morris will also get an opportunity to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. Morris spent two seasons with Shanahan in Washington, and Shanahan said he should have no problem picking up the 49ers playbook.

“There’s not big changes and it’s not that tough for a back,” Shanahan said. “They’ve got to set their track the right way and you hand it off to them and go run. We have a way that we coach guys and stuff, but everyone, when you’re away from something, it’s going to take some time. He is going to be rusty with that stuff, but he’ll get the hang of it.”

Undrafted rookie OL Alan Knott was waived to make room for Morris. 

This ‘N’ That

Shanahan bristled when asked if the injuries of training camp could have been avoided. “Soft tissue injuries, yeah, they can be prevented by having them not doing anything and sit there and just not get hurt and then it will happen in Week 1,” Shanahan said. “It’s just part of it. I think we are pretty smart with what we do. There’s a fine line, a very fine line. If a player is complaining about being tight, we can sit there and shut him down and then every single person who ever complains about being tight, you can shut down and then ask a group of 90 people in training camp to raise their hands on who’s tight. Ninety people will raise their hand.” . . . McKinnon grabbed behind his right knee after sustaining an injury in practice on Sunday. The fears were alleviated when an MRI revealed a calf strain, which will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the exhibition season. “No one realizes your calf goes that high,” Shanahan said. “So I think he was worried about it just where it was and then once he got the assurance that it was his calf, it made sense that he didn’t have that much pain. I think he felt much better. But at least he feels good that he’ll be ready for Week 1.”