LAS VEGAS – Singling out players to watch in a NFL preseason opener only makes for more daunting viewership.
Instead, let your eyes drift to position groups and cast an eye on not just one but a pairing in the 49ers’ opener Sunday at the Las Vegas Raiders.
Just don’t expect to see household names and All-Pro starters in uniform. This is the preseason. This is a team that has designs on returning to town for the Super Bowl on Feb. 11.
“We mostly worry about being in Vegas in February,” new 49ers defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “That’s the biggest goal.”
These are the duos to watch when the 49ers and Raiders kick off their preseasons at 1 p.m. at Allegiant Stadium:
Ronnie Bell, Isaiah Winstead
These two come recommended by Brandon Aiyuk, and it’s easy to see why. Bell, a seventh-round pick from Michigan, has come on strong the past week, and his ability to return punts also will be tested as the 49ers seek fill-ins for Ray-Ray McCloud (wrist surgery). Winstead is the 6-foot-4, undrafted rookie who showed up on everyone’s radars after the draft for positing a social-media highlight montage, and he’s since shown up strong in camp with what Aiyuk hails as “Zay’s” quick twitch and movement ability for a big guy.
Trey Lance, Sam Darnold
With Brock Purdy stashed on the sideline after a busy workload in joint practices against the Raiders, the 49ers should see how Lance delivers in his first game action since last home opener’s ankle fracture. Lance figures to start, but the 49ers have tried to design a fair competition for the backup spot by rotating he and Darnold, who’ll be making his 49ers debut. For Lance, accuracy and mobility will be scrutinized. For Darnold, his pocket presence, timing and ball security demand the most attention.
D’Shawn Jamison, Sam Womack III
Jamison (No. 22) is an undrafted rookie out of Texas and making the most of increased opportunities, which could also include a punt-return cameo.
This time last year, Womack was a hot prospect as a nickel cornerback, but he didn’t last there long and spent most of his rookie year impacting special teams.
Dee Winters, Jalen Graham
The 49ers spent two draft picks on two different style of linebackers. Winters is a 6-foot-2 sparkplug with quickness that may resemble Dre Greenlaw. Graham is a taller linebacker who uses his length to help his range.
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said: “They’re coming along pretty good and it’s going to be, once again, a great opportunity to see those guys play. They’re going to get a lot of reps on Sunday, so hopefully they can go out there and communicate and execute.”
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Cameron Latu, Brayden Willis
George Kittle’s adductor injury last week is a reminder that the 49ers need reinforcements at the ready, especially considering how much Purdy relied on his star tight end last season. Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner are familiar incumbents. Latu and Willis are draft picks, but they still have a lot to prove, and when it comes to their receiving ability, neither have sure hands, yet.
BONUS PAIRING: KICKERS
Jake Moody, Zane Gonzalez
How dare we forget about the kickers? The 49ers need a new one after Robbie Gould’s six-year tenure, and all signs point to Moody panning out as a third-round wonder with a strong leg. But Gonzalez can boost his trade value in the preseason by showing other teams he’s regained full health and range.