The 49ers will play their third preseason game of 2014 against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon. This will be the second football game to take place at Levi's Stadium before the first regular season game in Week 2 versus the Chicago Bears.
This becomes the most important exhibition of the preseason as several players look to establish their roles and roster spots on the team. Even though there is a fourth preseason game on Thursday, August 28, majority of the 53-man roster will be decided in this game.
Starting 49ers should get the most playing time out of any preseason game on Sunday, while others will compete for a reserve spot. The biggest question on the 53-man roster is wondering how much the 49ers prioritize special teams or not.
Here are ten players to keep an eye on for the third preseason game of the exhibition season:
1. DE Tank Carradine
Carradine played the equivalent of two full games in the preseason by getting majority of the snaps on defense. He had flashes as a pass rusher, but needs to work on run stopping in order to take that next step.
2. QB Colin Kaepernick
While the 34-0 preseason loss didn't have many positives, Kaepernick looked solid at making decisions in two possessions against the Broncos. Unless Jim Harbaugh wants to let the backups compete, he should play through the first quarter at minimum. It should be interesting to see more playing time for the first-team offense.
3. RB Carlos Hyde
After Frank Gore gets a handful of carries, Hyde should be the main RB in action for the first and second-team offense. He appears to be the heir to Gore in the long-term and it would be another step in the right direction if he continues his form in preseason.
4. CB Kenneth Acker
Before training camp started, Acker's ceiling was to be a practice squad member by the time the roster cuts to 53 players happened. After two games, he is making his case to make the 53-man roster and needs another solid performance to persuade the coaches.
5. TE Vance McDonald
After having a disappointing rookie season in the passing game, McDonald has shown strides of improvement in flashes throughout the preseason. He should remain primarily as a blocker, but his amount of drops have been reduced in camp and on the field.
6. OT Jonathan Martin
Martin has been up and down since playing RT to fill in for Anthony Davis. He has been average in pass protection, but struggles at creating holes for the running backs. While he could be plugged in at any OL position, the 49ers have been using him as a tackle and it is a concern how he looks moving forward.
7. QB Blaine Gabbert
For all the negative reasons, Gabbert becomes a must watch when he enters the game as the second quarterback. Jim Harbaugh announced today that he will be the backup on Sunday, but there has not been any sign that he is adequate on the field. The mistakes have piled up, but the 49ers will most likely be stuck with Gabbert knowing $2 million is guaranteed whether he is cut or not.
8. WR Bruce Ellington
Ellington has shown flashes as a return man and as a WR in the open field. He has agility and quickness which should keep defenses honest. Now comes the question of how well can he do on offense as a slot WR?
9. LB Chris Borland
Borland has shown to be a decent special teams player, but his speed is lacking on defense. He has been exposed when trying to drop back in coverage and take a bad angle against TEs. He should be fine against the run, but his quickness is lacking for defense.
10. CB Chris Culliver
Culliver still remains the favorite for the starting CB job opposite of Tramaine Brock. Can he solidify it on Sunday vs. Philip Rivers and a heavy passing attack? Being a nickel CB in 2011 and 2012, Culliver can establish his position as the no. 2 cornerback ahead of his competition in training camp.