After a game like last night, it can be a little difficult sorting through the winners and losers. In reality we just want to hear that the team will be healthy by the time the season starts. And yet, there was enough going on that we can start to break down guys who helped themselves last night, and guys who hurt their cases for a roster spot.
While I think preseason winners and losers generally applies more to players that are battling for a roster spot, I think most will agree Kendall Hunter emerged as a winner after last night's strong performance. He has looked strong this preseason and would seem to be giving the 49ers even more confidence in what he can do behind Frank Gore. Moreover, if the team were to lose Gore to injury or decide they need to get him more rest, Hunter looks like an extremely capable option short or long term. I'm quite excited about what the Kendall Hunter era could bring to the table.
Eric Bakhtiari continues to make a name for himself. Two games into the preseason and he has had a pair of strong performances. A week after snagging two sacks against the Vikings, Bakhtiari led the 49ers with seven tackles, a QB hit and a sack that was called back due to a penalty. Injuries to Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks resulted in Bakhtiari getting a start alongside Parys Haralson, and getting a ton of playing time all night long. He is continuing to take advantage of opportunities and could be close to securing a roster spot.
Randy Moss might would qualify as a winner in my book as the Texans defensive backs were playing well off him, showing tremendous respect to the 35-year old receiver. And he actually earned it as well. He finished the game with three catches for 24 yards, and should have had a fourth catch on a Colin Kaepernick pass. He showed a solid extra gear in getting past defenders on some routes, which hopefully bodes well for the regular season.
Safety Michael Thomas bolstered his case for more playing time and maybe a modest bump up the depth chart. He finished the game with four tackles and a sack, with the sack coming on a play in which he showed solid savvy. He played up on the slot receiver and delayed his move just a second, opening up a clear path to the quarterback. Thomas entered camp as a practice squad candidate, and would seem still likely on that route. However, given the lack of depth at safety, Thomas has an opportunity over the next two weeks to prove he is worth holding onto on the 53-man roster.
The secondary as a whole had a bit of a rough night against the Texans. Matt Schaub picked on Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver a fair amount. The Texans were never really blowing things up, but it was not exactly a work of art from the 49ers defense. They generally were bending but not breaking, but it was more bending than this defense is accustomed to on a regular basis.
Anthony Dixon seemed to struggle once again. Even though running back injuries could benefit him, he was too inconsistent. He did have some solid plays, including a big fourth down run and a great block on one play, but the inconsistency continues to haunt him. And it was not all his fault, considering the struggles of the offensive line throughout the game. But when it is happening to him more frequently than others, it is going to stick in the mind of the coaching staff and front office.
Finally, while David Akers was a beast in the kicking game, special teams had a rather off night. Andy Lee had one of his punts returned for a touchdown and LaMichael James struggled on punt returns. The punt returned for a touchdown came on a play in which Cory Nelms (although some still think it's LaMichael James because of the shirt sleeves and same number) blew past Trindon Holliday. This helped spring Holliday, who took it to the house.
In the punt return game, LaMichael James muffed one punt and was unable to do much with anything else. Kyle Williams did not handle any punts this week, as it would seem like the team wants to figure out what it has with James as a possible return man.