On Monday, the 49ers are expected to look much different than in their season opener, when they held out 27 starters. Nearly all of San Francisco’s tentative starters will suit up to take on the Denver Broncos on Monday in the first of three games in 10 days, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Here are three things to watch in Denver in Week 2 of the preseason:
Garoppolo has appeared to be limber, agile and active during the first two-and-a-half weeks of training camp, just 10 months after tearing his ACL in a 38-27 Week 3 loss at Kansas City.
Confident in the knee now, Garoppolo has been working to re-develop his report with his receiving corp, which has several new additions in former Philadelphia Eagles wideout Jordan Mattews and rookies Debo Samuel and Jalen Hurd.
While Garoppolo has looked to be back in rhythm, he’s shown rust some days, including the 49ers’ last home practice before leaving for Denver on Wednesday, when he threw five consecutive interceptions — perhaps his worst day of camp so far. He bounced back on Friday in a joint practice with the Broncos.
As of Friday, head coach Kyle Shanahan had yet to announce how long and how many series Garoppolo will play, as the team is still trying to ease the second-year starter back on the field.
Directing the Hurd
With three receptions for 31 yards and a pair of touchdowns, 49ers receiver Jalen Hurd was the only San Francisco player to reach paydirt against Dallas las Saturday.
The 6-foot-4 rookie out of Baylor has become an early standout in training camp with his exhibition play and production in practice.
Converted from running back at Tennessee to receiver at Baylor, Hurd possesses skills in both route-running down field and play-making with the ball in his hands, as he’s shown the ability to take big hits from corners and linebackers, while dealing out some of his own punishment — something Samuel said was exciting to see even while on the same field.
Averaging over 10 yards per catch on Saturday, Hurd looked to be taking the right steps to earn a pronounced role in Shanahan’s offense, he has some things he still needs to improve on before the regular season begins.
On Saturday, Shanahan did not like the pair of pair of interceptions that the 49ers threw — one from quarterback Nick Mullens and the other from C.J. Beathard.
In Beathard’s case, Shanahan believes that Hurd could have prevented the turnover altogether had he been more aggressive on the ball when it was thrown.
“When you watch the tape, that’s something we expect our receiver to step in front of and cross face,” Shanahan said. “Jalen [Hurd] hesitated a little bit on that and he could’ve helped him out. Definitely wasn’t good.”
Over the last week, Hurd has seen more targets during practice as well as several plays which use the 23-year-old as a runner out of the back field via pitches and crack tosses. Based on the frequency of his usage, it’s reasonable to believe that Hurd’s number will be called several times on Monday.
Free safety up for grabs
In the middle of the first week of training camp, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh made the decision to pull third-year safety Adrian Colbert out of the starting lineup and replace him with second-year defensive back Tarvarius Moore.
Since then, Moore has been on a turnover tear, picking off Garoppolo twice on Wednesday and snagging another during the 49ers’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Friday.
The decision on who will start at free safety in Week 1 is far from being made, as Saleh and the rest of the defensive staff have a lot to consider with three preseason games left.
Coming in as a safety, Moore was flipped to corner last season only to be flopped back to safety this season. The re-transition has gone well for the Southern Miss product.
“He’s made tremendous strides,” Saleh said on Friday. “From just getting aligned, being more vocal, giving out alerts, talking to the linebackers, talking to the safeties, talking to the corners, even talking to the D-line which he has to do at safety.”
Despite Moore’s progress, Saleh says that Colbert isn’t out of the running for the starting job, however, after a strong outing against Dallas which saw him flying around the field, saving the defense from potential 50-yard runs.
According to Saleh, if Colbert continues to get back to what made him so special during his rookie season in 2017 — which he saw flashes of on Saturday — then he’ll have “a shot” to regain the job.
To make matters more complicated, former 2014 first-round pick Jimmie Ward — who is attempting to return from a broken collar bone suffered in OTAs — will also be competing for the starting job.
While Ward did not participate in any of the team’s joint practices in Denver, and won’t be playing in Monday’s game, the 49ers are hopeful to have him back in the fold by next week.