QB COLIN KAEPERNICK, NO. 7
The 49ers’ No. 1 quarterback started last year’s preseason finale, too, picking up two first downs before connecting with Quinton Patton for a 43-yard touchdown. He could use a similar drive against the Texans, even if it’s against Houston’s reserves. So far this preseason, Kaepernick has led the 49ers to two field goals. They’ll need a lot more than that when they return to Texas in 10 days to take on the Cowboys.
WR STEVIE JOHNSON, NO. 13
The wide receiver said this week he’s still building chemistry with Kaepernick. OK, so why didn’t Johnson get any snaps alongside Kaepernick in Sunday’s game against San Diego? Johnson’s unorthodox style can be a handful for defensive backs. But the starting quarterback needs time to adjust to it as well.
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G MIKE IUPATI, NO. 77
No offensive lineman wants to look up to find J.J. Watt across from him. But after his struggles with the Chargers’ Corey Liuget on Sunday, Iupati might want to test himself against Watt, the top defensive lineman in the league. Iupati’s issues boiled down to technique, something Watt will exploit if Iupati still isn’t up to snuff. Iupati broke his fibula in the NFC Championship Game and intimated that his leg still is not 100 percent.
G RYAN SEYMOUR, NO. 62
Listening to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, it sounds as if Jonathan Martin, Marcus Martin and Adam Snyder will be the 49ers’ backup offensive linemen this year. Seymour has excellent versatility, and if the 49ers keep four backups – like they did at the end of last season – he is a good bet. (Remember, Alex Boone does not count against the team’s 53-man roster until he reports). Seymour also is eligible for the practice squad. But could the 49ers risk waiving him to get him there?
LB SHAYNE SKOV, NO. 44
Skov is coming off two straight solid outings. A third and the rest of the NFL will take notice. That’s the former Stanford linebacker’s best bet for landing on a 53-man squad, at least at the start of the season. Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland are the 49ers’ top three inside linebackers. Nick Moody is more athletic than Skov and is a better fit for special teams. If another squad doesn’t snap up Skov, he’d be a good fit on the practice squad.
QB BLAINE GABBERT, NO. 2
That Gabbert went from first to sixth on this list is a testament to his strong game against the Chargers. Still, his passer rating through three games is 44.4, not what you want to see from a player who is one hit from leading the offense. The 49ers and Gabbert will look for continued improvement.
NT IAN WILLIAMS, NO. 93
He looked good in his first game back from a severe ankle injury, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wishes Williams could have taken more snaps against San Diego. He said Williams likely will start against the Texans. Fellow defensive-line starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald probably will not play, although that hasn’t been decided.
S JAMES MCCRAY, NO. 46
It was a bit surprising that McCray, an undrafted safety who has shown promise this offseason, didn’t play a defensive snap against the Chargers. He played 12 snaps on special teams, signaling that he’s not injured. That suggests the 49ers either want to evaluate fellow safeties C.J. Spillman and D.J. Campbell or want to hide McCray so they can smuggle him onto the practice squad.
T CARTER BYKOWSKI, NO. 69
You haven’t heard the name “Bykowski” much this offseason, and that’s a good thing. Last year’s seventh-round pick has been solid as the team’s backup left tackle. He has excellent size (6-foot-7) and has gotten stronger since last season. He’s not exceedingly athletic, but with a dearth of quality offensive linemen around the league, you have to wonder if a desperate team will snap him up if the 49ers try to put him on the practice squad.
WR BRANDON LLOYD, NO. 84
That Lloyd didn’t play Sunday only adds to the will-he or won’t-he conundrum as far as him making the 53-man squad. Maybe it will be a little of both. If Lloyd is on the roster in Week 1, his entire salary for the season is guaranteed. That raises a scenario in which Lloyd is cut and then re-signed early in the season. The 49ers did that last year with another longtime veteran receiver, Kassim Osgood.
DL LAWRENCE OKOYE, NO. 98
A promising start to the offseason has been derailed by an ankle injury and an influx of depth at defensive line. Okoye played only nine snaps against the Chargers, similar to what he was playing a year ago when he was a true football neophyte. The 49ers should have no problem trying to get Okoye onto the practice squad if they want their experiment to continue.