As the Colts prepare for their preseason week three game against the San Francisco 49ers, we reached out to David Fucillo of the SB Nation 49ers site, Niners Nation, to ask a few questions leading up to the contest.
Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo are possibly the most hyped pairing of a brilliant offensive mind and a young talented quarterback in the league. How good has Garoppolo looked so far this preseason, and who else is standing out on the offense?
Jimmy Garoppolo played one series in the first preseason game and two series in the second preseason game. In the first game he showed some rust, but in the second game we started to see things come together. The timing is still not perfect, but he was 10-of-12 for 136 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His pick came on a throw that was too high to Dante Pettis, and he could have had a touchdown on his pass to Kyle Juszczyk with slightly better placement. But for the most part, he looked solid, and is making the kind of progress you want in the preseason.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is a standout thus far, with some big catches through two games. Pierre Garçon is the higher paid receiver, but Goodwin could very well develop into the team’s #1 option.
Dante Pettis was a favorite of many of the writers at Stampede Blue heading into the draft. How has he looked?
So far so good. He had some drops in the first preseason game, but his fantastic route-running showed on a deep ball in that game. He’s been a regular presence in practice reports, thanks primarily to route-running coupled with impressive footwork. Odds are pretty good he ends up as the team’s punt returner, but as a receiver, it’s a little more difficult to figure out how he’ll slot in. Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, and Trent Taylor are all ahead of him on the depth chart. He’ll likely be the first receiver off the bench after that, but in terms of raw numbers, it’s difficult to project exactly what we might see from him. The 49ers have those three receivers, but Garoppolo will also be looking to running back Jerick McKinnon, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and tight ends George Kittle and Garrett Celek in the passing game. Pettis will get his share of snaps, but it’s hard to project how much he can insert himself into the targets.
Who are a couple of bubble players you think might stand to get cut that would be worth a look for other teams like the Colts?
Considering PFF ranked the Colts secondary dead last heading into the season, the 49ers might have some cornerbacks and safeties for y’all. Some cornerbacks on the bubble include Greg Mabin, Tyvis Powell, UDFA Tarvarus McFadden, and Emmanuel Moseley. Mabin is either a second or third string corner, Powell will likely be a third or fourth string corner, while McFadden and Moseley will likely be the fourth string corners. Some safeties on the bubble include Chanceller James, Antone Exum, and Dexter McCoil.
If the Colts don’t mind adding some salary, defensive back Jimmie Ward could be a player to watch. Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are atop the 49ers cornerback depth chart, with Ward first off the bench. Ward is on his fifth year option ($8,526,000), and my guess is he will not be with the 49ers in 2019. I could see the team trading him for a late round pick as they look in other directions. He’s a capable defensive back, but staying healthy has been an issue. He played eight games as a rookie, 16 in his second season, 11 in his third, and seven in his fourth. When healthy, he is tremendously versatile. He played nickel back his first two years, outside corner his third, and free safety last year. The upside is versatility, but of course, the downside is that he’s been kind of a jack of all trades but a master of none.
What rookie has impressed the most so far this offseason, and how has the class looked as a whole?
I would go with Jullien Taylor and Richie James. The 49ers have gotten impressive work from a lot of their draft picks, but those two are seventh round picks, which means there’s an added degree of difficulty. Taylor is a defensive lineman, and he has gotten a ton of first team work as the big end in the 49ers 4-3 defensive front. Arik Armstead’s injury was part of the reason for the bump, but he was on the verge of getting some first team reps even before the injury happened. James is a wide receiver who can also operate as a punt returner. He works well in space, and if he makes the roster, I could see the team using him on gadget plays to get him the ball in space.
Overall, the rookie class is off to a solid start. First round pick Mike McGlinchey is starting at right tackle, and while he’ll have his share of struggles, he seems to have a high floor. Second round pick Dante Pettis has looked great in camp and will find ways to contribute this season. Third round pick Fred Warner will get plenty of work as a linebacker in space, particularly with Reuben Foster opening the season with a two-game suspension. Fellow third round pick Tarvarius Moore has looked solid in converting from safety to cornerback, and could eventually work his way into the third or fourth corner role. Fifth round pick D.J. Reed is getting work at both nickel and free safety, and has looked solid for the time being.
What is the feeling among 49ers fans about the ceiling for this team in 2018?
Cautious optimism. We see a team that is clearly on the rise, but there are still questions on both sides of the ball. We’re all excited about Jimmy G, but I think plenty realize he still has a few things to prove. Many of us expect he’ll prove himself, but we do need to actually see it happen. The defense remains a big question mark, specifically in the pass rush. If that can come around, the ceiling is a bit higher for this team. For the time being, the Vegas win total is set at 8.5, and that seems about right. I think the window for this time this year is somewhere in the 7-10 win range. They’ll be competitive and have an outside shot at a playoff berth, but they’ve got some work to do to take this thing to the next level.