The 49ers have 14 rookies on their 53-man roster. Here’s how they were used and how they performed in the team’s Week 1 loss to Carolina.
TE George Kittle, fifth round – Kittle was one of two rookies to start the game and he played 54 of 57 offensive snaps. He was targeted six times and caught five passes for 27 yards. Kittle dealt with a hamstring injury, which has been bothering him off and on for more than a month in the run-up to the game, and may not have been entirely healthy. San Francisco’s tight ends have not fared well against Kam Chancellor and the Seahawks in the past; Kittle gets his first introduction Sunday.
DL Solomon Thomas, first – The No. 3 overall pick in the draft took his first snap as defensive tackle on a third-and-2 play for Carolina, a handoff to Jonathan Stewart. Thomas made the tackle, but Stewart gained seven yards and a first down. That scenario is not a good one for Thomas: At 275 pounds or so, he’s not stout enough to hold his ground against an NFL guard, and Thomas was blown off the line of scrimmage on the play. (Though he did have the athleticism to make the tackle). Thomas played 43 snaps at defensive tackle and defensive end and finished with two tackles, one behind the line of scrimmage. Like most of his defensive-line mates, he had trouble putting pressure on Panthers running back Cam Newton, who wasn’t sacked.
WR Trent Taylor, fifth – Taylor played 24 snaps on offense and another three on special teams where he served as the team’s punt returner. Brian Hoyer targeted Taylor once or twice in the game, and he made an eight-yard reception. Another throw in the third quarter seemed to be halfway between Taylor and Pierre Garcon.
RB Matt Breida, undrafted – He served as Carlos Hyde’s main backup. He played 12 snaps on offense, carrying the ball four times for 11 yards, including on a fly sweep in the first quarter. Breida also played 10 snaps on special teams, most of them on kick returns.
NT D.J. Jones, sixth – He played 15 snaps on defense mainly in relief of starter Earl Mitchell, who played 38 snaps. Jones finished with one tackle. He played another four snaps on special teams.
S Lorenzo Jerome, undrafted – He served as the 49ers’ third safety, playing 12 defensive snaps and another two on special teams. Veteran Jaquiski Tartt got the start at free safety and had a mixed afternoon. He failed to knock a Panthers receiver out of bounds (after a wide-open catch) and the receiver ran in for a touchdown. He also had an illegal hit on Carolina tight end Greg Olsen that cost the 49ers 15 yards. But Tartt had the team’s defensive highlight, a dramatic, one-handed interception on a throw into the end zone in the second quarter.
S Adrian Colbert, seventh – He didn’t play at all on defense but logged 13 snaps on special teams. He and Raheem Mostert served as the team’s gunners on punt coverage.
LB Reuben Foster, first – He played 11 snaps before being carted into the locker room with a high ankle sprain. Foster was the 49ers’ top defender early in the game, tallying three tackles and nearly coming up with an interception. There was a noticeable drop off when Ray-Ray Armstrong entered the contest.
WR Kendrick Bourne, undrafted – He played three snaps on offense when he filled in for Garcon. He was not targeted on those snaps. Bourne also played seven snaps on special teams, including on kickoff coverage.
QB C.J. Beathard, third – He served as the team’s backup quarterback but did not play.
OL Erik Magnuson, undrafted – He was the backup at center and guard but did not play.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon, third – He was one of seven inactive players. Because Keith Reaser can play both nickel and outside cornerback, he was in uniform instead of Witherspoon.
DE/OLB Pita Taumoepenu, sixth – He and fellow pass rusher Aaron Lynch were healthy scratches for the game. Kyle Shanahan said coaches felt they needed extra interior linemen against the Panthers running attack. That might be how they lean against run-oriented Seattle and Los Angeles as well. When they play a pass-first team like Arizona in Week 4, it will be interesting to see how the 49ers counter. Lynch is the better pass rusher but Taumoepenu gives them more versatility and can play special teams.
WR Victor Bolden Jr., undrafted – He also was inactive. Bolden returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the preseason. Kickoffs were handled by Mostert, although he didn’t get a chance to return any. Taylor was the punt returner. Aldrick Robinson, meanwhile, served as Marquise Goodwin’s backup at X receiver.