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49ers: Five Players to Watch Sunday Against Denver

August 19, 2016 GMT

DENVER — Practicing against the reigning Super Bowl champions meant the 49ers had to endure the Denver Broncos’ taunts and swagger, and also their talent.

Next up is Saturday night’s exhibition, the 49ers’ first road game under coach Chip Kelly.

“Any time you get to go against great competition, then you look out there and you see Von Miller and T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, that can speak volumes in terms of how you can gauge yourself,” Kelly said this week.

Added linebacker NaVorro Bowman: “Just getting a chance to play against a team that won it all, that’s always a great thing.”

With Colin Kaepernick ruled out for the second game in a row because of a sore arm, Blaine Gabbert will draw the start. Gabbert, who completed four of 10 passes for 63 yards in the exhibition opener against Houston,hopes to replicate the efficient outing he had in last year’s exhibition at Denver (9-of-11, 96 yards). While the Broncos get their first chance to see Trevor Siemian start at quarterback, here are five 49ers to watch:

Christian Ponder --Once Gabbert and rookie Jeff Driskel finish their nights, Christian Ponder will come out of the bullpen, five years after being a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings. As glamorous as those NFL roots sound, Ponder spent last season unemployed, other than two games out of uniform on the Broncos’ sideline.

This will be a three-game cameo, right? Actually, the 49ers don’t have a stable enough quarterbacks corps to dismiss any hypothetical. General manager Trent Baalke insists anyone who suits up can surpass any expectations.

Anthony Davis --Davis figures to primarily line up as the second-string right tackle behind Trent Brown. But there’s a chance he could see snaps at right guard for the first time in his NFL career. Davis worked some at the position during practice Thursday.

Coming off his one-year retirement, Davis played well in Sunday’s exhibition, aside from a sack he allowed on a bull rush. “For the first time out of the chute without playing for a year, he did some good things,” Baalke said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s in a very good frame of mind. It’s fun again for him.”

Mike Davis --Cutting chips from his diet, specifically Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, is only one reason Davis looks different than his rookie year, in which he averaged 1.7 yards per carry (35 attempts, 58 yards). He finds the running scheme similar to what he ran in college at South Carolina, and he got in shape this offseason by training with Rams star and long-time friend Todd Gurley.

Davis ran for a team-high 72 yards on five carries Sunday. “He looked more explosive than he’s looked before,” running backs coach Tom Rathman said. “We’ve been working really hard on the cones and ropes, to get him to change direction a little quicker. He’s improved.”

DeAndrew White --Bruce Ellington’s ankle injury will give White an opportunity at the slot-receiver role. White made the team last season as an undrafted free agent from Alabama, and his chances on returning seem to improve weekly.

“He was a little undisciplined with his catching,” receivers coach Bob Bicknell said. “He has great hands, natural hands, but he spent this entire offseason looking the ball in and has become more consistent with that.”

Ray-Ray Armstrong -- Rarely does a former Raiders starter turn into one with the 49ers. Armstrong’s athleticism and high motor have made coaches take notice. He’s battling for the weak-side linebacker role with Michael Wilhoite and Gerald Hodges, the two guys who split that starting role last season. Hodges is expected to start this game after Wilhoite did the last one.

Armstrong excelled on a couple plays in the exhibition opener, including a tackle-for-loss and a play in which he smashed a guard to make a tackle. “That was good,” defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said, “because the one thing that people would question about Ray is his ability to play in the box, just given his history being a secondary guy. And he answered all those questions for me on Sunday.”

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman’s Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers . Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman .