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Grant Cohn: This won't be a rehearsal, this is a game to shape 49ers' roster

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colt McCoy runs with the ball during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Denver Broncos Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

If you expect the 49ers to treat Sunday's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings like a dress rehearsal for the regular season, you may be disappointed.

Most NFL teams treat the third exhibition game like a dress rehearsal. The 49ers did that last season – Alex Smith played the entire first half. But, I'll be surprised if Colin Kaepernick plays the entire first quarter Sunday night against the Vikings.

That's not to say Kaepernick doesn't need the practice. Every quarterback needs the practice, especially when he has new receivers like the 49ers. That's why Tom Brady played 46 snaps against the Lions and Joe Flacco played 61 snaps against the Panthers Thursday night. They were cramming for the regular season opener, trying to build chemistry with their new receivers at game speed as fast as possible.

The 49ers probably won't have that luxury. I'll be surprised if Kaepernick plays more than 10 snaps against the Vikings.

So far, he's played just 17 snaps in two preseason games. Jim Harbaugh can't get him off the field fast enough. He's also making Kaepernick wear a black, non-contact jersey in practice for the first time. Alex Smith never wore one. The message is simple: "If you hurt Kaepernick, you sabotage our season."

The 49ers already have lost two players for the significant portions of the season – Michael Crabtree and Chris Culliver. The 49ers can't afford to lose Kaepernick. He has to carry the team to the playoffs. His backups probably are incapable of doing that this season.

Besides Kaepernick, there's a long list of players the 49ers absolutely cannot afford to lose for an extended stretch this season: Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald, Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman. Counting Kaepernick, that's 11 players.

So, don't expect to see them very much Sunday night.

But here's what you can expect to see:

<b>1. The Battle of the Backup Quarterbacks: Colt McCoy vs. Scott Tolzien vs. Seneca Wallace vs. B.J. Daniels. </b>Two stay, two go. In a sense, it doesn't matter who stays or goes because, if any of these quarterbacks has to play more than a game or two this season, the 49ers are done for.

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