SANTA CLARA — The 49ers will face the Green Bay Packers in their preseason opener Friday night, and fans should monitor a few key players with roles and roster spots up for grabs.
Coach Kyle Shanahan already has shared his plans to have the 49ers' star players see a little playing time at Levi's Stadium, as well as in the third preseason game in Houston. And while the focus will be on Trey Lance as he starts his journey as the 49ers' starting quarterback, Shanahan doesn’t plan to keep the young signal-caller or any of his other stars on the field for long.
After Lance’s night is done, there will be several other players to watch as the 49ers prepare for Week 1 of the regular season. Here's a list of seven to start.
WR Danny Gray
Gray brings a speed element that the 49ers' receiving corps has missed since Marquise Goodwin was on the team. The SMU product has shown his playmaking ability in practice but not consistently.
How Gray, a third-round draft pick, reacts in his first NFL game could show the potential he'll have to spread the field once Week 1 rolls around.
RB Trey Sermon
Sermon had a challenging rookie season, only carrying the ball 41 times for 167 yards after being picked in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Ohio State product put on muscle weight during offseason training with Minnesota Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook, though, and already has turned heads in camp with much less hesitation running through the gaps at the line of scrimmage.
What Sermon shows in this game could be a preview of what’s to come for him in 2022.
RB Ty Davis-Price
The rookie running back has seen more reps as camp progresses, and he even had some first-team playing time. At 6-foot-1, Davis-Price is one of the 49ers' bigger backs, and the third-round pick could end up being used in third-down and/or goal-line situations.
How Davis-Price plays could set him up for his job duties once the regular season starts.
OL Spencer Burford
The rookie right guard has seen a lot of first-team reps, a sign that 49ers coaches like what they've seen thus far from the fourth-round pick. Facing the 49ers' defensive front in practice should help Burford's development.
How Burford plays against the Packers' defense can further clarify if he's ready to be one of the key forces in protecting Lance this season.
CBs Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir
Both sophomore defensive backs were thrown into the fire during their rookie campaigns. Lenoir started his first NFL season strong, then saw challenges as the year progressed. Thomas started a little behind after sitting out of the 2020 season as a COVID-19 opt-out.
The 49ers signed Charvarius Ward during the offseason, and the press corner is set to start opposite of Emmanuel Moseley in Week 1. But Lenoir and Thomas have a chance to compete for the nickel-back job, and this game will be their first real chance to show they could handle it.
DL Drake Jackson
Several veterans in the defensive line room have been complimentary of the rookie pass rusher’s talent and physical abilities, and the second-round pick out of USC has shown steady improvement while applying pressure in the backfield.
Finally able to fully tackle in a live game, Jackson could show what consistent coaching can help him accomplish. Most likely to be used as a rotational player in his rookie season, Jackson could take a first step toward making a case for more playing time.