Saturday evening the San Francisco 49ers host the Houston Texans in the third preseason game of the schedule, which is often considered a dress rehearsal type of game. Starters are expected to go into the third quarter, which means fans get a decent idea of where their team is for the coming season.
The 49ers are expected to make things just a little bit more interesting however, as Jim Harbaugh has stated that he wants to get second string players some playing time against the Texans first string. Harbaugh looks at this as a chance both to see how the depth look, and also to see how far along some of his second and third string players are at this point.
As roster cuts approach there are several players on the bubble and strong showings against better competition could be the difference-maker for some of them. Additionally, there are players with just about guaranteed roster spots that will be looking to show they deserve more playing time, or in the case of some like Colin Kaepernick, a shot at any playing time.
Colin Kaepernick: Alex Smith is more or less locked in as the starting quarterback for the 49ers, but that doesn't mean Kaepernick can't force his way into the discussion. A strong showing on Saturday coupled with any Alex Smith struggles to start the season might mean a quicker hook on Smith. Kaepernick has faced second and third string defenses thus far so facing the Texans improved first unit could be a confidence-builder for the rookie QB.
Aldon Smith: The 49ers first round pick has impressed just about everybody in practice and against backup offensive players. He has likely worked his way into significant pass rush down packages. The question now is how long it will take for Smith to move into the starting lineup opposite Parys Haralson or Ahmad Brooks. Smith is looking to show he can be an every-down back his first year and not just a pass rush specialist.
DeMarcus Dobbs: The rookie defensive lineman has had a strong camp but could face a tough numbers game along the defensive line. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga are locked in as the starters. Ricky Jean-Francois is the primary backup on the line while Will Tukuafu has more experience than Dobbs at this point. At this point there appear to be differing opinions on whether Dobbs ends up on the roster (Maiocco, Barrows). It will be interesting to see if Coach Harbaugh gives him some extra snaps higher up the depth chart against the Texans prolific offense.
Bruce Miller: The 49ers seventh round pick has been working to convert from college defensive lineman to NFL fullback. He got some early snaps last week against the Raiders before Moran Norris came back on in his place. He appears close to supplanting Norris, but it's hard to tell for sure. If he can provide solid blocking ahead of the running backs, could it be the difference-maker?
Kendall Hunter/Anthony Dixon: Although Anthony Dixon is ahead of Hunter on the depth chart, the 49ers rookie out of Oklahoma State put up some monster numbers last week against the Raiders. In previous years, fans have been quick to get on board such numbers even though they came against primarily backups. If Hunter can get snaps against starters on Saturday, could he supplant Dixon as the number two behind Gore? Dixon will also be in a position to strengthen his grip on the number two job. If he can show that he isn't going to continue dancing behind the line, Dixon could be in prime position for a solid number of carries behind Gore.
Tarell Brown: The 49ers secondary has dealt with various injuries, the most prominent being Shawntae Spencer and his hamstring problems. Spencer hasn't practiced extensively since the first week of training camp. While he has solid historical tape to rely on, Tarell Brown would appear to be close to moving back into the starting lineup for the first time since 2009. Brown seemed to be in the doghouse with Mike Singletary after a brief run in the starting lineup, but he's fought his way back. It's entirely possible he could force the 49ers to stick with him as starting cornerback opposite Carlos Rogers, even when Spencer is back and healthy.