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Grant Cohn: Meaningless exhibition? Not when you know what to watch

  • Colin Kaepernick had an 83.9 passer rating in the red zone. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Five things to watch in the 49ers' preseason game against the Chiefs Friday night:

1. Colin Kaepernick in the red zone. Kaepernick has something to prove here. As terrific as he's played in his brief career, he needs to improve his passing in the red zone. Last season, his red zone passer rating was 83.9, nothing special. Compare that to Alex Smith whose red zone passer rating was 97.1, or Russell Wilson whose red zone rating was 104.2. Kaepernick has a rocket arm, but he's still developing touch on shorter throws and improvisation near the goal line.

He may be the most difficult quarterback to defend in the middle of the field because he can throw the ball 70 yards and take any run the distance. But when he gets to the red zone, the field compresses and defenses don't have to worry about the deep pass. Kaepernick becomes easier to defend.

In the Super Bowl, he failed as a passer in the red zone, throwing no touchdowns and completing just two of seven passes. On his final play, it was fourth and 5, he threw a pass out of the back of the end zone. Even if Michael Crabtree had gotten himself open, he would have had no chance to catch the ball inbounds.

Kaepernick and the first-team offense has been practicing red zone passing all offseason, especially this past week. The starters should play the entire first quarter Friday night. If Kaepernick drives the offense to the red zone, watch to see if he's improved his touch and decision-making in a short field.

2. The tight ends. Since Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles' tendon in May and Anquan Boldin became the 49ers' de facto No.1 receiver, the question has been who will be the No. 2 receiver? The answer may be a tight end.

The tight ends have been the story of training camp. The 49ers have four good ones – Vernon Davis, 2013 second-round pick Vance McDonald, 2012 undrafted free agent Garrett Celek and 2013 undrafted free agent MarQueis Gray. Don't be surprised if all four make the team and Greg Roman uses some three- and four-tight end formations this season with Vernon Davis split out wide.

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