Two of the 49ers’ deepest position groups entering Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos seemed even fatter after standout performances by defensive lineman Garrison Smith and outside linebacker Marcus Rush.
“I thought Garrison played an outstanding game,” coach Chip Kelly said Sunday. “I think between him and Marcus … those two really, from a production standpoint, kind of jumped out when (we were) flying home (Saturday) night watching the tape. Two of those guys were around the football a lot, causing a lot of disruption in Denver’s offense.”
Smith and Rush were undrafted rookies in 2015 who spent all 16 games on the practice squad. They entered Saturday’s game earlier than normal because of injuries, and each took advantage of the opportunity in the 49ers’ 31-24 win.
Rush, for example, leads the NFL in sacks in the preseason with three, all coming Saturday. He entered in the second quarter after starter Eli Harold collided with a teammate and had the wind knocked out of him. Another outside linebacker, Aaron Lynch, didn’t play after being poked in the eye during Wednesday’s scrimmage with the Broncos.
Rush played 44 snaps and was relentless against the Broncos’ reserve right tackle. Rush credited his weekly practice opponent last season for sharpening his skills.
“I was going against Joe Staley, so it gave me a chance to just work on moves,” he told reporters after the game. “I watch a lot of guys on film, guys like Von Miller. I’m just working on perfecting my craft of pass rushing. I know I have the ability. It’s just a matter of perfecting it and having those main moves you can use and being confident when you get on the field to be able to use them.”
Smith, meanwhile, got a few snaps with the first-string defense after minor injuries kept Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner out of the lineup and Tony Jerod-Eddie suffered a chest injury.
Smith currently is the backup nose tackle behind Mike Purcell, although he played all over the line – and deep into the second half – in Denver. Smith played 39 snaps and finished with a team-high five tackles and a sack.
Smith and Rush are fighting for spots on the 53-man roster. Both are eligible for a second season on the practice squad.
“I liked our energy. I liked how competitive we were against a good football team,” Kelly said. “I think defensively, after that first series they kind of settled down a little bit.”
Kelly also noted his quarterbacks have yet to throw an interception in the preseason and were accurate Saturday, collectively going 19 for 24 for 221 yards. The number of players they are targeting, however, is decreasing.
The 49ers began the game without wide receivers Bruce Ellington (ankle), DeAndre Smelter (hamstring) and Eric Rogers (ACL). Another, rookie Bryce Treggs, left in the second quarter because of a sprained MCL. Treggs was scheduled for an MRI on Sunday.
Kelly had no update on Treggs or any other 49er who was injured Saturday.
Et cetera – Kelly said quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s right arm felt “fine” Sunday following an extensive pregame throwing session Saturday. Kaepernick did not play against the Broncos, but the plan is for him to practice this week and play in Friday’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.
▪ Running back Shaun Draughn absorbed a hit to the ribs during Thursday’s practice against the Broncos and was held out of the game. Kelly said Draughn will be fine. Mike Davis served as the No. 2 runner behind Carlos Hyde but fumbled twice. Another backup runner, DuJuan Harris, fumbled at the goal line.
▪ The 49ers have yet to settle on an inside linebacker who will line up next to NaVorro Bowman. Michael Wilhoite started the preseason opener, and Gerald Hodges started Saturday. Ray-Ray Armstrong likely will start against the Packers.
▪ Kelly said he and his staff haven’t decided where Anthony Davis will line up in practice this week. Davis, who took a handful of snaps at right guard in Thursday’s practice, played right tackle exclusively against the Broncos.