This preseason might be more important for the San Francisco 49ers than any in recent memory. With the brief offseason, so many positions are still up in the air. Week one didn't answer as many questions as one would have liked, but things will be re-shuffled on many fronts. Not only do teams have to figure out their depth chart, they have to decide which players are even considered bubble players, without any pre-preseason practices to go by. So let's take a look at the most important battles to keep your eye on against the Raiders.
Almost everything is up in the air here. Jonathan Goodwin is looking to assert his place at center, while Adam Snyder will likely look to the new and improved Chilo Rachal and the right guard position for his new home. There's a lot of reports right now about Rachal working hard this offseason, but he won't have the benefit of Mike Singletary favoring him for seemingly no reason this season - if Snyder is the right guy for the job, he'll show it on Saturday and win it.
Also on the offensive line is Alex Boone - he's looking to start. He wants to, and if he plays as well at right tackle against the Raiders as he did at left tackle against the Saints, then Anthony Davis had better be on notice, draft position last season be damned. The 49ers plan to move the entire line around and make sure everybody can play the opposite side, with an emphasis on Boone.
Rookie Kendall Hunter looked better than second-year running back Anthony Dixon in week one, but "Boobie" will be looking to re-assert himself. They're battling for the immediate backup position behind Frank Gore, a position that promises carries. Gore is the focal point of the offense, to be sure, but Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman will likely look to limit him here and there, what with his injury history.
As stated, Hunter looked better. He had better burst, he got more yardage, and he simply looked ready. Dixon hesitated a lot, he looked like he wasn't ready for a game. He danced around back there, after catching a screen, he looked one way, then the other, and then got tackled for a loss. That screen was executed perfectly otherwise, and should have went for at least five yards.
But it didn't, that's something that Dixon needs to get his grip on. Hunter, the rookie, looked like he's a veteran, while Dixon, the second-year player, looked like he'd never seen NFL action before. That may or may not continue on Saturday.
One has to assume that Shawntae Spencer and Carlos Rogers will be the starters, but everything behind that is open. Against the Saints, Tramaine Brock started while Spencer sat out. This is a stark contrast to last season, where Brock seemed to take up a roster spot and nothing more. Under Vic Fangio, Brock seems to have leapfrogged Tarell Brown.
But not just yet. Brown is fighting, and has the talent to compete and be the nickel corner. The battle between him and Brock will be showcased on Saturday. Nobody really knows how that one is going to go, as Brock is an unknown commodity at this point. He looked good against the Saints, but he did completely lose coverage early on, and there would have been another score on the board for New Orleans if the wide open receiver hadn't dropped the pass. Don't forget about rookie Chris Culliver, either.