As part of the media, I'm obligated to mention Brett Favre at least once in this preview. So I will... Brett Favre will be playing on Sunday night. He'll start the game, and get anywhere from one-to-ten plays. That's all... I don't even necessarily see why it matters. Favre is coming off of one of his best seasons of his career. There's no story here, he is expected to play well once the season begins. That's it.
As for the 49ers though, they are looking to answer many questions. There are battles going on all over the place for backup roles and almost every player on the roster is vying for something this preseason. Quarterback Alex Smith will likely see limited time again, as offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye wants to see more of third string quarterback Nate Davis, and what he can do under center when facing first stringers. It will be interesting to see how the second-year player handles it, if he even gets his shot in this game.
Of note is also running back Brian Westbrook, the recent free agent signing, recent replacement of Glen Coffee (can anyone say "upgrade?") and the like. It's not so much whether or not Westbrook will play, but if he does play, whether or not he starts over rookie Anthony Dixon, and if he does - exactly how he's used in the offense. 49ers fans would be glad to see Westbrook take a few swing passes as dumpoffs and watch them go for big gains. On the other side of that, last week against the Colts, the rookie Dixon went for 100 yards with even more through the air and he'll look to battle for the backup spot, behind Frank Gore.
With receiver Brandon Jones being cut recently, the battle between Dominique Zeigler and Jason Hill for that fifth (or fourth) receiver spot should heat up. Right now, Zeigler appears to be ahead both on skill, affect on offense and special teams value, but we all know that can change. Zeigler will look to prove his status as Jerry Sullivan's "example for a textbook routerunner" and Hill will look to overcome some consistency issues.
The rookie offensive linemen, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati will likely see more extended playing time, with an emphasis on Davis. The team liked what they saw from both of these guys against the Colts, and definitely in the case of Iupati. There aren't many battles to watch on the offensive line. David Baas will be under a lot of scrutiny as he makes his second start at center with Eric Heitmann out to an injury.
On the defensive side of the ball, it's all about the linebackers. Diyral Briggs and Travis LaBoy will get extended playing time as they potentially battle for a roster spot. Inside linebacker NaVorrow Bowman will see his first NFL action. He's a third round rookie that some had pegged as a first round draft pick. The team will take a long look at him to see if he's capable as a backup to Takeo Spikes and potentially Patrick Willis, to see what kind of veteran presence they need.
Watch for Ricky Jean Francois to get even more playing time on the defensive line. The team sure does feel confident with him there, with franchise player Aubrayo Franklin having not signed his tender as of yet. Keep an eye on the punt returners as well.
For Minnesota, there's not much going on other than Favre-watch. Seeing him play. Watching him be Brett Favre. WR Percy Harvin is out after collapsing at practice. LB E.J. Henderson is questionable for the game. Quarterbacks Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels will take the majority of the snaps after Favre plays his five minutes or so. Rosenfels was very good last week against the Rams and will try and hop over Jackson on the depth chart on Sunday against the 49ers.