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San Francisco 49ers: Five takeaways from final preseason game

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San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Richie James reaches up for a pass in one-on-ones during training camp practice against cornerback Greg Mabin. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

By C.J.Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner

SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers have officially wrapped up their 2018 preseason. Receiving their third consecutive exhibition loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers, 23-21, the result may not have been what Kyle Shanahan and Co. wanted, but there was plenty digest only two days away from final roster cuts. Here are five takeaways from the 49ers final preseason game against the Chargers.

Richie James Jr. made a strong case for himself.

Everyone knows that the 49ers simply don’t have enough room to keep every receiver in their impressively deep unit.

With — at most — two roster spots up for grabs, Richie James Jr. made a legitimate case to make the Week 1 53-man roster Thursday night with an eight-reception, 80-yard performance.

On top of that, James also had a 23-yard punt return on special teams to showcase his versatility and spark with the ball in his hands

“I’m a playmaker,” James said after the game. “That’s all I do: I just come in and make plays and get the ball in my hands.”

Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers staff will have to make some hard decisions over the next few days to trim their roster, and James just made their jobs a little bit harder, but in a good way.

“There’s definitely more than 53 guys that I’d like to keep on our team,” Shanahan said. “ I hope that’s a problem that we have every year.”

Joshua Garnett made his final push for the starting job at right guard

Shanahan announced last week that Joshua Garnett was back in the running to start at right guard in Week 1 while it was Mike Person’s job to lose.

After Garnett started and played well against the Chargers on Thursday night, Shanahan and his coaching staff will have much to review before choosing a starter for Week 1.

“[Garnett’s] name didn’t come up much, which is a good thing for an O-lineman,” Shanahan said. “It was a good week for Josh again. We’ll make that decision as the week goes. I don’t know if that’s something we’ll probably know or the world probably won’t know until a week from Sunday.”

Despite missing the preseason opener against Dallas three weeks ago, Garnett has steadily improved, making strides in each game that he’s played in.

Thursday was no different, as his first play on offense saw him put a Chargers defender on his rear end, pancake-style.

“I felt good out there; I felt solid,” Garnett said. “When you have a one-on-one block with a (defensive tackle), you gotta do what you gotta do so they keep running the ball behind you.

Solomon Thomas looked like a man amongst boys

Solomon Thomas was one of the only 49ers starters to play against the Chargers on Thursday night.

Along with inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who we’ll get to later, Thomas was out on the field for the first few defensive series of the night, and he was impressive to say the least.

On the first series of the game, Thomas had two tackles for loss and one QB pressure that led to an incompletion on third down, forcing the Chargers to kick a field goal.

It’s important to note that Thomas was going up against second and third-string players during his playing time but his productivity was hard to ignore.

“Solomon missed the week at Houston and he got to go back last week,” Shanahan said. “He wanted to play a little more and I thought it’d be good for him.”

Fred Warner primed to start in Weeks 1 and 2

Fred Warner was one of several draft picks for the 49ers that watched Thursday’s game from the sidelines in sweats.

The move to not dress Warner indicates that the team had seen enough of him to not only be comfortable with keeping him on the final roster but to have him start in Week 1 in place of the suspended Foster.

“I think there’s a real good chance,” Shanahan said in regards to the prospect of Warner getting the starting job, “But we wanted to see the other guys tonight.”

One of those guys was Foster, who had just been cleared to play after spending the week in concussion protocol. Foster, in his limited time on the field, recorded two solo tackles including a tackle for loss on a Los Angeles screen pass.

Ronald Blair III played well but it might not be enough 

On the first play of the night, Ronald Blair III recorded the 49ers first of three sacks of the night.

It was one of five tackles made by Blair as he finished the game as San Francisco’s second-leading tackler behind Antone Exum Jr.

“With the amount that I did play, I was kinda satisfied with the way I played,” Blair said in his post-game interview. “I felt like I could have done more.”

Unfortunately for Blair, he may be right. With the emergence of Julian Taylor, who saw limited playing time Thursday, Blair’s performance may not be enough to convince defensive coordinator Robert Saleh that he deserves a roster spot.

In the three games prior to Thursday, Blair had only recorded an unimpressive five tackles in total. That coupled with the interchangeability of the interior of the defensive line, Blair may still be the man on the outside looking in when all is said and done.

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