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.”

NFL rumors: Nick Bosa first on Cardinals' draft board, ex-player says

NFL rumors: Nick Bosa first on Cardinals' draft board, ex-player says

Nick Bosa or Kyler Murray. Kyler Murray or Nick Bosa.

That appears to be the debate going on in Arizona, as the Cardinals hold the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's NFL draft.

Murray long has been rumored to be the Cardinals' choice at No. 1, but the team reportedly has cooled as of late on taking the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

That sentiment continued Monday when former NFL player Antonio Bryant claimed he has heard Bosa is No. 1 on the Cardinals' draft board.

The Cardinals, of course, used their 2018 first-round pick to select a QB in Josh Rosen. With all of the speculation surrounding the Cardinals and Murray, Rosen has found himself at the center of trade talks -- with the Giants and Dolphins reportedly showing the most interest.

But according to Bryant, Rosen would be staying in Arizona, as the Cardinals decide to shore up their defensive line by instead adding Bosa.

Meanwhile, the 49ers own the No. 2 pick in the draft and have been heavily linked to Bosa with that pick. If Bosa is off the board, as Bryant suggests, the ripple effects will be felt all over the league -- especially in San Francisco.

The 49ers appear set at QB with Jimmy Garoppolo, but they could use plenty of help on the defensive line. Alabama's Quinnen Williams and Kentucky's Josh Allen could be viable options for the Red and Gold at No. 2 if the Cardinals select Bosa.

San Francisco also could trade the No. 2 pick and receive two later first-round picks in return. If the Cardinals indeed pass on Murray, it would not be surprising if the 49ers' phone lines were flooded with potential trade offers for the dynamic Oklahoma QB.

49ers GM John Lynch indicated as much Monday afternoon when asked if he expected calls to trade up for Murray.

“I would, wouldn’t you?” Lynch said Monday at his draft preview media availability. “There seems to be a ton of interest, and I understand, man. We, a couple times, just threw him up in here [the draft room] and it’s electric stuff, it really is."

[RELATED: Lynch discusses Bosa's social media activity]

With so many rumors swirling around, it's hard to keep track of what is real and what might be a smokescreen.

Is it Thursday night yet?

49ers GM John Lynch makes assurance Robbie Gould will return as kicker

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USATSI

49ers GM John Lynch makes assurance Robbie Gould will return as kicker

SANTA CLARA – As expected, 49ers general manager John Lynch was short on making promises and speaking in absolutes during his pre-draft session Monday with reporters inside the team’s draft room.

But Lynch made one clear projection about the 2019 season: Robbie Gould will be the 49ers’ kicker.

“Robbie is going to be a part of us this coming year, I know that,” Lynch said of the 49ers’ unsigned franchise player. “We would like it to be longer than that. We’ve made an attempt to make it happen. We haven’t come to an agreement as of yet, and we’ll see where that goes.

“But Robbie will be a part of us this coming year, and we’re excited for that because he’s very good at what he does and he’s also a big part of this team.”

The 49ers signed Gould to a two-year, $4 million contract on the first day of free agency in 2017. As the team’s franchise player this season, he has a one-year contract for $4.9 million waiting for him. He has yet to sign the one-year tender, and Lynch said the 49ers would still like to work out a multi-year deal with him.

Gould is not taking part in the team’s offseason program. He is working on his own in the Chicago area. All indications are Gould did not want the 49ers to lock him up as the franchise player. He previously said he was looking forward to considering all options as an unrestricted free agent.

Gould, 36, ranks second all-time in NFL history with a field-goal accuracy of 87.745 percent.

The 49ers showed interest then-free agent kicker Stephen Gostkowski, NBC Sports Bay Area reported on April 9. Just hours later – and shortly before Gostkowski was scheduled to make a trip to visit the 49ers – the New England Patriots re-signed him to a contract. Gostkowski ranks No. 3 in all-time field-goal accuracy.

“We’ve got to do our due diligence in terms of being prepared for all scenarios, and Stephen was a free agent, and (he is) also very good,” Lynch said. “Our No. 1 priority in that respect was to try to figure out something with Robbie. Stephen was there. I think our interest quickly got the Patriots to lock him down.”

[RELATED: How trading No. 2 could get 49ers two first-round picks]

Lynch said he is not sure when Gould will sign and report to the team. Training camp opens in late-July, and the 49ers’ regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I can’t speak to when he’s going to be here,” Lynch said. “But when we kick it off, he’ll be here.”