IRVING, Texas – One last bit of preparation before we call it a week and get ready to watch Cowboys-49ers. Here are seven things I think you should be watching for when this game tees off in AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
- I didn't have a great feeling about George Selvie playing against the 49ers until after practice on Thursday. I was worried about his strength level in that shoulder, but all indications are that he appears to be ready to go. If there is a matchup that I like against 49ers offensive line, it would be Selvie rushing against offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who will most likely be starting for Anthony Davis on that right side.
- Henry Melton has practiced all week, which is a positive sign, but I am still worried about his game conditioning. Jason Garrett said rookie Davon Coleman has been getting plenty of snaps with the first and second defense just in case these defensive coaches would like to take the opportunity to work Melton back into the mix at a slow pace. Coleman has not lacked for any playing time in the preseason and is conditioned to play a high volume of snaps until Melton is ready to go.
- Rolando McClain has done enough with his conditioning to allow these defensive coaches to feel good about starting him at the Mike linebacker against the 49ers. When he was signed by the front office before the start of training camp, I felt like he was the most talented player for the position. Once camp opened, there was set back after set back that hurt my confidence in him. I now find myself cautiously optimistic in this starting assignment. Where McClain can help this defense is at the point of attack, where this 49ers offense is going to try and pound this Cowboys front and McClain can be an answer for that.
- I will be interested to see how the 49ers try to match Cole Beasley out of the slot. I have a feeling it will be with rookie Jimmie Ward, who normally will line up at safety. Ward has the background as a former cornerback and played some slot at Northern Illinois, but Beasley presents a whole new set of challenges in the way he runs his routes and the quickness in which he runs them. The closest thing Ward might have worked against this week was dealing with his teammate Bruce Ellington, who could give him a similar look -- but nevertheless it will be an education for Ward in the NFL.
- You never want to see a player hurt, but let's be honest: it's a huge break for the Cowboys to not have to face linebacker NaVorro Bowman this week. Bowman is one of those special players that has done nothing but make play after play for this 49ers defense and his ability will be greatly missed. In his
place, the 49ers have had to shuffle two players around in order to make up for the loss. Patrick Willis moves from the "Jack" linebacker over to the "Mike," and to fill Willis' spot, Michael Wilhoite will make the start after beating out rookie Chris Borland. I have been impressed with the way that Wilhoite and Willis have been able to work together in these preseason games. Where Wilhoite has showed up the most has been in his ability to cover --especially tight ends in their scheme. He has been a very nice fit with Willis and also Ahmad Brooks without much drop off at all.
- I have always had a great deal of respect for Frank Gore and his ability to fight through some difficult times on some poor 49ers offenses and become the player that he is now. As the club looks to the future, they have made a very wise move in the future by drafting Carlos Hyde out of Ohio State. There were those in pre-draft evaluations who felt that Hyde was no more than a straight-ahead runner that lacked change of direction and the elusiveness to be successful in the NFL. What Hyde has been able to show in these preseason games has been an ability to not only successfully run the ball inside, but if there is no room to quickly bounce it to the [embedded_ad] outside and get around the corner. He's got some little man feet for a big back, and he's nimble in the way he runs the ball. I liked the way he caught the ball at Ohio State, and he has been able to carry that over in his pro career. I could see 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman getting him involved in this game early.
- Plenty has been written about Vernon Davis and the potential problems he presents for this Cowboys defense – but also pay close attention to his backup Vance McDonald. There were plenty of times in watching this 49ers offense work where McDonald managed to work himself open very easily. Like Davis, he too can take his route anywhere on the field and have success. He is not the most physical blocker, but he makes up for that with athletic play.