A few things were made very clear Thursday night in the 49ers’ final exhibition game of the preseason, a 35-3 victory over the visiting Chargers.
First, that final exhibition games are even more meaningless than the first three. Very few 49ers starters played, and those that did were quickly out.
Second, that Colin Kaepernick – far and away – is the most dynamic of the three quarterbacks backing up Alex Smith.
Third, that rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins could develop into something special.
And, finally, that head coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of his coaching staff are going to have some very difficult decisions trimming this roster to 53.
Smith played just five snaps on the first series and threw no passes, then gave way to Kaepernick who finished off the drive that ended with Anthony Dixon’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Kaepernick looked sharp, hitting 10-of-18 passes for 158 yards and two scores, a 32-yarder to Delanie Walker and a 12-yarder to Jenkins, and scrambled once for 7 yards.
Jenkins had his best game of the preseason, catching four balls for 59 yards and showed excellent quickness against the Chargers’ coverage. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Lynch noted, “Harbaugh is right, A.J. Jenkins is fast, fast. The guy gets separation so quickly.”
With the final game out of the way, however, many roster questions are left unanswered with cut-down day for the 49ers Friday.
Anthony Dixon, for instance, had another strong game, but will it be enough to keep a roster spot with a crowded backfield at running back and fullback? Or will San Francisco release Rock Cartwright, a backup fullback and special teams ace?
And each of the three backup quarterbacks – Kaepernick, Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson – has played well this summer, yet one will likely be released. It will come down to Tolzien or Johnson. Johnson had his best game of the summer Thursday, hitting 10-of-13 throws for 116 yards, two scores, no interceptions and showed his mobility by scrambling three times for 25 yards, a dimension Tolzien lacks.
Defensively, linebacker Cam Johnson, a seventh-round pick, finally got on the field and made several plays. Several decisions on backup linebackers and defensive backs will be difficult to make Friday.
But, at least, there won’t be any more exhibition games.
Beginning Sept. 9 in Green Bay, the 49ers’ starters will play, the coaching staff will have real game plans and finally be able to show off some new plays and players.