May 30, 2024
The preseason doesn't matter, right? Try telling that to 49ers fans if a few troubling trends continue.

I’m not going to tell you that NFL preseason games matter, but I’m also not going to pretend there’s nothing to watch, either.

There’s undoubtedly a lot to take in — and not all of it is good.

So let’s get down to brass tacks — he’s what I need to see in the preseason home opener Saturday against the Broncos:

1. Jake Moody making a field goal

San Francisco 49ers’ Jake Moody takes part in an NFL football rookie minicamp session in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, May 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) A.P. Photo

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» The 49ers spent some serious draft capital on Moody, the best kicker in this most recent NFL Draft — sparking condemnation from some corners of the fan base, who believed it was too early to select a player who would lead the team in scoring.

And there was a new round of condemnation (and cynical back-patting) last week after the No. 99 overall pick missed two field goals in the Niners’ preseason opener.

Moody has been money at practice. He’s really impressive behind the scenes. The problem is that football games, at least since the end of the pandemic, are played in front of a paying audience. That’s the environment where Moody has to perform.

Having kicked in the Big Ten, there’s little reason to think that Moody’s struggles against the Raiders had anything to do with the “stage.” But just to quiet that chatter, it would behoove him to make a couple of field goals — the distance doesn’t even matter — on Saturday.

2. Drake Jackson winning reps

Drake Jackson (95) (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

The 49ers’ top priority should be bringing Nick Bosa back to the Bay, as his holdout is now teetering on concerning territory.

But after that, it’d be nice to know who will start opposite him on the defensive line.

Drake Jackson was meant to step into that starting role this season, but injuries and underwhelming performances in training camp mean he has no claim to a top-four job right now.

But Clelin Ferrell is earning strong reviews — he might be the man for the gig.

Jackson should play on Saturday. It’s time for him to make a statement.

3. Trey Lance beating up third-stringers

(Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

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Brock Purdy might play on Saturday, per Kyle Shanahan on KNBR.

After Purdy and the starters, Shanahan will play Sam Darnold at quarterback until halftime. This is his opportunity to show that he’s the top choice to be Purdy’s backup.

That relegates Lance to the second half and reps against guys who will be on practice squads and Canadian Football League rosters (if they’re lucky) in a few weeks.

I don’t care who is blocking for him, and I don’t care if his weapons all look like they’re wearing the wrong-sized jerseys — if Lance plays against the back end of the Broncos’ roster, he needs to carve them up.

That means the ball not only needs to be thrown on time and with accuracy, but Lance also needs to push the ball down the field and make things happen with his legs.

If the former No. 3 overall pick can’t pick apart the No. 3s, the Niners have a big problem.

If he can and does, it extends the backup quarterback competition and might even create some interest in Lance in the trade market.

4. A cornerback interception

(Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

» Keeping stats during training camp is ridiculous and uninformative, and I’ve had no problem saying that to the face of every reporter and media personality I’ve seen keeping them.

But here’s an unverified stat I heard being tossed around on Thursday that has me thinking: The 49ers’ cornerbacks are yet to intercept a pass in practice.

Yes, the 49ers throw the ball over the middle more often than not, but you’d think that Charvarius Ward would have put his hands on a pass by now.

Saturday would be a good day for that stat — which might not even be accurate — to change.

Because once you hear something like that, it’s hard not to think about it. I want to think about something else, please.

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