Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 8/28/12

The 49ers' starting lineup is mostly set, but coach Jim Harbaugh has plenty he's looking for his team to accomplish as San Francisco prepares for Thursday night's preseason finale at home against San Diego.

The starters aren't expected to play long, but quarterback Alex Smith will start and Harbaugh is looking for the offense to establish a rhythm and execute on the fundamentals. Once they depart, the coaching staff will be closely scrutinizing the backups as the 49ers prepare for final roster cuts from 75 players to 53.

"All these games are important," Harbaugh said. "They all in some form or fashion decide, factor into, contribute to decisions that you make."

Harbaugh believes the 49ers are improved from this time last year, and increased depth across the roster means several veterans are battling for their jobs.

One of those players is running back Anthony Dixon, who has enjoyed a solid preseason but was also bumped down the depth chart when the team signed Brandon Jacobs and drafted LaMichael James to complement Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, who is having an outstanding preseason.

Dixon is helping his cause by emerging as a "core" performer on the special teams units. However, also on the roster is Rock Cartwright, a 32-year-old 10-year veteran who is a strong special teams player.

"He's done a nice job," Harbaugh said of Dixon. "I think that him working and not worrying, like we have seen him do. Just seeing the evidence of that and seeing how that pays off. But, he's doing a heck of a job."

Still, there's not guarantee Dixon won't be a victim of the numbers game. The 49ers already let go of sixth-round pick offensive lineman Jason Slowey, and competition is stiff across the board.

"It's not an enjoyable process," Harbaugh said of cut-down day. "You see how much they put into it and how hard they've worked. And appreciate the effort.

"It's not the end. So many of them have made so much ground for themselves. They've picked up a lot of equity here and in the league and what' they've put on tape, and they're one step closer to that goal."

Beyond solidifying the 53-man roster, Harbaugh's primary goal is preparing the 49ers for their Sept. 9 regular-season opener at Green Bay. San Francisco is coming off a 13-3 2011 season, a run to the NFC Championship Game and is expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year. But Harbaugh isn't concerned about having to motivate his team.

"I think it all starts with the competiveness of our players, them. That group of guys that we've got in our locker room and coaches, our team," he said. "I think that the pride that they take in their own individual performance and the way the team plays, it's a great group to motivate because they already are motivated. That's what makes it such a team that's a joy to coach."

--Wide receiver Mario Manningham will miss the Chargers game as he attends his grandfather's funeral in Warren, Ohio. Manningham, signed to a two-year, $7.4 million free agent deal from the Giants, has played on only one preseason game.

"Is it enough? Is it not enough? I always like more," Harbaugh said. "More is more."

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith (hip) is expected to play vs. San Diego, Harbaugh said.

--James (ankle) is expected to play against the Chargers.

Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Report: Yankees close to trading Aroldis Chapman

WATCH: Dontrelle Willis' great reaction to Giancarlo Stanton home run

Reports: Sale cut up throwback uniforms with knife in protest

WNBA withdraws fines for teams that protested gun violence

Ezekiel Elliott: ‘Evil NEVER prevails’


Orioles, Padres reportedly talking trades of Melvin Upton, Cashner

Le’Veon Bell reportedly missed ‘several’ drug tests

Report: Islanders looking at locations to build new arena

Top five takeaways from this year's NBA Summer League

NCAA rules that hanging out with Drake is violation

WATCH: Justin Bieber arm wrestle Sixers center Joel Embiid

Report: Royals didn't invite Johnny Cueto to White House visit

Solo not taking any chances with Zika virus while in Rio

Rays reportedly demanding Profar in pitching deal with Rangers

Facebook doesn’t know the difference between Liverpool and Arsenal

Report: Teams asked about Wade Davis, asking price very high

Aussie Rules Football player accidentally kicks, breaks own leg

Former Arkansas football assistant trolls Bobby Petrino on social media

Could Clayton Kershaw's injury hinder trade talks?

Spurs strike a new deal with NBA stalwart Manu Ginobli

George makes return to Team USA following leg injury

Why the Clippers shouldn't break up their big three

White Sox pay homage to Bo Jackson’s bat-breaking skills with bobblehead

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Effect of ban on Russia could span beyond the Olympic Games

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

QUIZ: Name every city to host the NBA All-Star Game

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

One Gotta Go: NBA players make tough choices on their favorite rappers

One Gotta Go: NBA Summer League is not about that Game of Thrones life

The top NHL free agents available as offseason winds down

WATCH: NBA jersey sponsors that need to happen

Expansion draft playing heavy hand in the current NHL offseason

WATCH: Pop & Timmy have a guys' night out

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker