The San Francisco 49ers have been in town for two days of inter-squad practice with the Houston Texans, and according to Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, there has been plenty of productive work getting done in advance of Saturday's preseason game between the two teams.
Unfortunately, for fans with tickets to Saturday's game, Wednesday and Thursday were probably the best and longest looks you'll get at the likes of Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt this week. O'Brien all but said that the entrenched starters in this team will either play sparingly, if at all. That's bad news if you were expecting to ge your regular season's money's worth out of your preseason ticket.
Still, from an evaluation standpoint for players, say, 35 through 90 on the roster, Saturday is critically important, which is why I'm excited to watch. Here are four things that I will have my eye on this Saturday night....
4. Jimmy Garoppolo
Once upon a time, back in the 2014 NFL Draft, it was believed that Garoppolo was the apple of Bill O'Brien's eye. Certainly, over the last few years, there are thousands of Texans fans that wish the team had taken Jimmy G with the 33rd overall pick instead of Xavier Su'a-Filo. All's well that ends well, as now Watson is the man here, but on Saturday, we should get at least a couple series of Watson's NFC alter ego — a guy who is getting franchise QB-level love (and money) after just six starts. One of those six starts was a win over the Texans last December at NRG Stadium. This time around the stakes are obviously way lower (or nonexistent), but we do get a look at Garoppolo further entrenched as the "man" in San Francisco.
3. Offensive line
One observation from the two training camp practices this week with the Niners — if Deshaun Watson wasn't wearing the "can't hit him" red jersey, he would have been blistered several times behind this Texans offensive live. San Francisco was getting a good push up front in drills. Hey, in the regular season, there will be ways you can mask this line's deficiencies by putting Watson on the move, play action and so forth. However, it would be nice to see them conventionally protect Watson (and Weeden and Webb) in the pocket, not to mention opening some holes on BOTH sides of the line (looking at you, Seantrel!) for the running backs.
2. Duke Ejiofor
Ejiofor was a guy who most experts thought was drafted a couple rounds later than his talent dictated, in large part because a shoulder injury dragged his stock down. The early returns appear that the Texans may have gotten a steal. In the first preseason game, last Thursday in Kansas City, Ejiofor had three hits on the quarterback. If all of a sudden, they have one more pass rushing weapon to add to the big names like Watt, Clowney, and Mercilus, look the hell out!
1. Last skill guy standing
Injuries have created some fascinating camp battles for the last few spots on the offensive side of the ball. D'Onta Foreman's remaining on the PUP list has opened things up for Alfred Blue to, once again, make the team, with young guys like Troymaine Pope (who is trending closer to a "lock" to make it) and Lavon Coleman making their presence felt. Rookie Keke Coutee's hamstring has given Braxton Miller new life and lots of reps. Add Sammie Coates into the mix as well. And we've discussed the number crunch at tight end ad nauseum in this space. I say all that to say that the skill guys on offense should be bringing something extra in the second half, as all of them, even the familiar names, are fighting for jobs.
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