We reached out to Niners Nation’s David Fucillo to get some answers about the San Francisco 49ers ahead of Thursday’s fourth preseason game.
1) With Bruce Ellington headed to IR, who is expected to take over as the primary slot receiver? Jeremy Kerley?
DeAndrew White, signed as a UDFA prior to the 2015 season, has been handling the slot work. But the team added Kerley via trade, and he has some of the skills that could work. The 49ers traded Brandon Thomas for Kerley, and Thomas was a guy who was probably going to be cut, so I'm not sure what that says about Kerley. This final preseason game is a big deal for figuring out the slot plans. My guess is White starts in that role, but Chip Kelly rotates receivers like crazy, so he won't be the only one.
2) A lot of Chargers fans wanted DeForest Buckner heading into the draft, so we're curious: how has he looked thus far?
He's off to a good start. He suffered a lower leg injury that cost him some preseason time, but he is back at practice and I think will play on Thursday. The 49ers have questions along the defensive line due to injuries, so he will be getting significant playing time right out of the gate this season. His size and speed might make him the team's most talented defensive lineman already. He joins former Oregon teammate Arik Armstead, whom the 49ers selected in the first round last year. If they get Quinton Dial back, the average height of their 3-4 defensive line will be 6'6 1/2. It's a whole lot of long arms, and it's one area where I am particularly excited this season.
3) Is Blaine Gabbert really going to start at quarterback for the 49ers? And if so, does anyone have high hopes for that experiment?
I think it's safe to say he will be starting. He is sitting out the preseason finale, and while Chip Kelly said it was to get Colin Kaepernick more snaps to even out the competition, my guess is this is the "starters getting rest" type of deal. And I don't know of many people with "high hopes." People are hopeful that something works out, but I don't know many that are expecting. There are some optimists, but I think realistically, it is easy to be skeptical. He has looked OK at times, but expectations are set incredibly low. The other issue is the lack of receivers. The team has Torrey Smith, Jeremy Kerley, and then a bunch of inexperienced receivers. I could see tight end Vance McDonald becoming a regular Gabbert target, but the tight ends, in general, remain a problem. It's not all Gabbert's fault, but he is not exactly overly impressive.
4) How involved in the offense do you expect Shaun Draughn to be this year? Will he get the majority of the pass-catching work out of the backfield?
Right now Draughn is the primary backup to Carlos Hyde. The 49ers offensive coordinator compared him to Theo Riddick (the OC worked in Detroit previously), which would indicate a chance to catch a lot of balls out of the backfield. I think Carlos Hyde can get a lot of pass-catching work as well, but Draughn would appear to be the pass catcher for now. Additionally, Carlos Hyde is coming off a season-ending foot injury last year, and a concussion in the third preseason game this year. He is not necessarily injury prone, but his physical running style opens the door to injuries. Draughn could see more work due to that as well.
5) Is there anyone that will actually play in the final preseason game that we ought to be watching out for?
There's this little-known quarterback named Colin Kaepernick who will probably start the game. Don't know if you've heard of him. He's been flying under the radar this week. :)
He actually will be worth watching because it is only his second preseason game of the year. However, beyond that, on offense, the right side of the line, Anthony Davis is back from retirement and moved to right guard. I don't know for sure if he'll play, but he is worth something. On defense, cornerbacks Will Redmond and Rashard Robinson were a third and fourth round pick, respectively, and could be impact guys. Defensive tackle Ronald Blair (5th round pick) plays all along the line and should get extensive work. He's the 49ers day three pick most likely to make an impact this season.
Thank you to David Fucillo for giving us some insight in the the 49ers