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49ers-Texans final score: Blaine Gabbert struggles, Mike Davis impresses in Chip Kelly debut

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The San Francisco 49ers lost Chip Kelly’s preseason debut, but there were some positives. We look at who helped and hurt themselves, what to make of the depth chart, and more.

Well, one preseason game down, three to go. The San Francisco 49ers dropped their preseason opener to the Houston Texans by a final score of 24-13. The 49ers put up huge yardage totals, particularly in the the first half, but turnovers were huge. Carlos Hyde fumbled on the second offensive series, and the Texans ran it back for a touchdown. Later, DuJuan Harris fumbled at the Texans two-yard line. The Texans fumbled two punt returns, but recovered both. For those that care about preseason wins and losses, that was essentially the difference in this one.

But of course, we don’t really care much about the final score. Wins are nice, but the preseason is about assessing the individual performances and seeing how each player performs. Even the offensive and defensive units are not fully assessed considering teams keep things relatively vanilla. And so, we keep an eye on individuals.

Who helped?

Mike Davis had a heck of a game. Shaun Draughn came on as Hyde’s first replacement, but the team rotated Davis and DuJuan Harris with him. Davis impressed the most, rushing five times for 72 yards, and had two receptions for 17 yards. His rushing total surpassed his total for all last season. Beyond that, he just looked really good. He showed good vision, some good maneuvering, and one heck of a spin move on one reception. I was really happy to see that after last year’s struggles.

Keith Reaser showed some solid coverage skills, and looked good for a stretch in press coverage. He got some work outside, coming on before Kenneth Acker. We can’t take everything from the first game playing time decisions, but Acker seems to have slipped down the depth chart.

Vance McDonald didn’t play a ton of snaps, but that catch and run for a touchdown were welcome. Vance really just needs to show he can catch the ball consistently. He did benefit from his defender slipping, but after turning upfield with the ball, McDonald made a great move to get past Quinton Demps and to the end zone.

Nick Bellore is likely going to be playing entirely on special teams this season, but he looked really good as an inside linebacker in the second and third quarters. He had a sack and two tackles for a loss, and just seemed to be getting into the backfield with ease.

Who hurt?

Bryce Treggs had been getting a lot of praise in training camp, but he was unable to really capitalize in this game. He had one solid kick return, but two poor punt returns. It might be a little overly critical, but when you’re a UDFA, there is a very thin line and you only have so many chances.

Kenneth Acker has slipped down the depth chart, and he struggled on Sunday. The Texans went after him, he had some sloppy tackling attempts, and he had a pass interference flag. He’s on shaky ground.

Blaine Gabbert closed his day with the Vance McDonald touchdown, but prior to that and a 13-yard scramble, there was not much to like about Gabbert’s performance. The concern was poor accuracy on shorter passes. That’s just not going to cut it.

Jeff Driskel report

The quarterback closing out the game is more often than not somebody that will inspire irrational excitement in the fans. Jeff Driskel is that guy this year, so might as well have a Driskel update. He was great scrambling, rushing for 61 yards. The Texans brought a lot of pressure, and Driskel did a good job diagnosing it and scrambling. At the same time, his passing performance was not particularly good. He was mainly throwing short, and even then couldn’t get much done. He finished the game 4-of-12 for 20 hards. But the running was at least entertaining.

Injury report

The only notable injury was Thad Lewis. The quarterback suffered a lower leg injury that sent him to the locker room. He was listed as questionable to return, but with Jeff Driskel taking over, there was no way Lewis was returning. Lewis came on after Gabbert and did some solid work. His passing was mostly short stuff, but he showed some good mobility.

Depth chart

One of the most important things we take away from preseason games is how the depth chart looks. I posted the starting lineup after each unit got in a series. Arik Armstead likely would have been in the starting lineup if he had not injured his shoulder, and Eric Reid was away dealing with a family matter.

The most notable part of the depth chart might have been the inside linebacker rotation. NaVorro Bowman played into the second quarter, as defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil rotated Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges, and Ray-Ray Armstrong next to him, in that order. Next week might tell us more, but with all three getting time, there’s no real reason to think anybody has a clear lead over the other two.

Chris Davis got the start at nickel back, and made some strong plays. The starting secondary as a whole looked pretty sharp. Davis surprised a lot of us when he was getting first team reps back in May and June. If he retains the starting nickel back role next week, that will certainly tell us something.

Dontae Johnson was part of the second unit of cornerbacks in the second quarter, but he also got some work at safety in the third quarter. Marcus Cromartie was the other safety, with Keith Reaser and Rashard Robinson taking over at cornerback.

The 49ers started Eli Harold and Ahmad Brooks at the two outside linebacker spots. Aaron Lynch got playing time, but he came on with the second time, and more interesting might be the fact that they had him playing late in the third quarter. He was treated entirely like a reserve.

Next week

The 49ers travel to face the Denver Broncos. That will be proceeded by another joint practice. The big question right now is whether or not Colin Kaepernick will be available. He was coming along fine the past two weeks, but some kind of arm fatigue cost him Thursday and Friday practice, and then playing time in tonight’s game. My guess is he will be back, but we’ll have to wait and see what the next couple days bring.