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Top 5 Things to Watch in the 49ers' Preseason Game vs. the Packers

This matchup has plenty to look forward to, so I'm here to break it down for you.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s game week! 

For months, you and I had to fill the empty void within us with highlights from last season, training camp videos and articles online. Not anymore! On Friday this week, the 49ers will host the Packers and will give fans the first glimpse of what to expect for this upcoming season. This matchup has plenty to look forward to, so I'm here to break it down for you. Here are five things to watch out for this upcoming Friday:

1. Trey Lance

If I walked around the streets of San Francisco and begged the question to any bystander: “Who are you most excited to see on Friday?” The answer will commonly be Trey Lance. The faithful fought a long and treacherous war over the offseason, pleading for Lance to get his crack at the starting role and it didn't take long. The coaching staff (mainly Kyle Shanahan) made the announcement that the 49ers were Lance’s team on July 26. As stated, fans have been begging for Lance to get the job, so to see it come to fruition due to Lance’s hard work in the offseason is a beautiful thing. This upcoming game against the Packers presents an important story within it: it’s the first time Lance will walk on the field knowing he’s the guy. Lance has had nearly a month and a half in camp to work on his game and build chemistry with those around him. He has separated himself from Garoppolo by a wide margin and now he can put on a show in front of thousands of screaming fans. While yes, it will be only a quarter, it’s an important experience nonetheless. I would expect Lance to take his shots early, seeing if he can catch fire quickly. Expect some flashy throws, but also be prepared for a few mistakes, characteristic of a young quarterback.

2. New/different types of play calls

Let's keep it real. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive guru. Now that Garoppolo is out, Shanahan’s shiny new toy is in and boy is he ready to break it in. More often than not, when a coach has a “game manager” style QB, the playbook can have a sense of limitation. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the transition from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, orchestrated by Andy Reid in 2018. In 2017, Alex Smith had an MVP-caliber year and attempted 505 passes, just three short of his career high. Despite an amazing season from Smith, Reid decided to move on and appoint Patrick Mahomes the full-time starter. Mahomes went on to attempt 75 more passes in 2018, averaging nearly four more a game. Fun fact, Mahomes even amassed a whopping 658 total attempts in 2021. In reflection, when you get a more talented quarterback, the usage rate of that position tends to ascend. I see this in Lance’s future with Shanahan. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Lance is additionally talented in comparison to Garoppolo. Yes, the team is going to remain a run-first team, but expect different looks as well. On Friday, look out for some designed quarterback runs, more RPO calls, and of course, designed routes that exceed 10 yards.

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3. New and improved secondary

The 49ers' secondary SHOULD be much improved. Of course, nobody knows for certain, but on paper, it’s enhanced. The first quarter is going to give fans the first glimpse at the Ward-Moseley duo on the outside. I predict Ward will cover Sammy Watkins, while Moseley will be on Allen Lazard a good portion. In the backend of the secondary, Jimmie Ward and Talanoa HuFanga will occupy the starting roles. As the game progresses, expect to see young players such as Ambry Thomas, Tariq Castro-Fields and Qwuantrezz Knight receive some valuable experience.

4. O-Line performance/depth later in the game

Going into Friday’s game, this will most likely be the starting offensive line. Left tackle, Trent Williams; left guard, Colton KcKivitz; center, Jake Brendel: right guard, Daniel Brunskill; Right tackle, Mike McGlinchey. While a formidable o-line, it’s a line that has had its fair share of struggles during camp. However, it’s important to point out that it is facing a dominant front seven. I feel like this is the largest, under-the-radar story going into this game. The question on everybody’s mind should be, “How can the line protect Lance and company?” It’s important to remember that Shanahan’s system relies on moving towards the sticks on the ground, setting up your quarterback for a high probability of success. If the line can’t have its way, then the cause for concern is coherent. Lastly, it will be interesting to see how the second team plays, specifically the o-line. As always, injuries happen, it’s the unfortunate reality of the game we love. It’s important the 2’s get solid experience, as their names may be called later in the season.

5. Brandon Aiyuk

If you’ve been aimlessly wandering through social media the past month and have stumbled upon training camp videos, chances are you have seen one guy more than anybody else: Brandon Aiyuk. He has progressed each season and I believe this season he may eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. In 2020, he tallied 748 yards. In 2021, he tallied 826 on four fewer receptions. This is proof that Aiyuk has become more comfortable and will most likely continue to elevate his level of play. Not to mention, if training camp is any indicator at all of how he might play, Aiyuk could seriously be in contention for the Most Improved Player Award.

With a plethora of topics to look forward to, this game will surely quench the thirst at least temporarily.