Reggie Bush’s debut in a 49ers uniform will be postponed at least another week. Jim Tomsula said Thursday the veteran running back will not play Saturday in Houston and that he hadn’t decided whether linebacker NaVorro Bowman will suit up, either.
“If he plays, it’s going to be a short block of plays,” Tomsula said of Bowman, who is returning from a knee injury that wiped out his 2014 season. “It would be more for the other guys than it is for him – breaking the huddle with his voice, that kind of stuff.”
With longtime defensive captain Patrick Willis no longer on the roster, Bowman now receives the play call and runs the defensive huddle. He has participated in nearly every practice of training camp, but coaches are wary of an injury in the first exhibition game.
“We just want to be safe and smart,” Bowman said. “ ... The main thing is to be ready for the Vikings on Monday night (Sept. 14).”
As for Bush, who is entering his 10th season, Tomsula said there’s little value in having him play in mid-August.
“I’m not playing the guy,” he said. “I mean, I know who that guy is. I know exactly who that guy is. I know exactly what that guy’s done.”
Tomsula also said that while running back Kendall Hunter, returning from his own ACL injury, will play in the preseason at some point, he will not travel to Houston.
Instead, the team will get long looks at their stable of young running backs, beginning with their top tailback, Carlos Hyde. Fourth-round pick Mike Davis, Aussie acquisition Jarryd Hayne and Kendall Gaskins, who spent last year on the practice squad, also will get carries.
The main area of concern for the 49ers is the offensive line. Tomsula said coaches want to study different combinations of blockers. They are particularly interested in right guard, where youngsters Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas and Ian Silberman are competing for the starting role.
Tomsula also said he was interested at safety. Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid are the unquestioned starters. But Craig Dahl, L.J. McCray and rookie Jaquiski Tartt are jockeying for positions on the depth chart.
Bush is listed as the team’s top option at punt and kick returner on the 49ers’ preseason depth chart. Tomsula said Hayne and “Alabama” – his nickname for rookie wide receiver DeAndrew White – will get chances to return punts.
The others who will not play are wide receivers Bruce Ellington, Dres Anderson and DeAndre Smelter; linebackers Nick Bellore, Aaron Lynch, Philip Wheeler and Michael Wilhoite; center Daniel Kilgore; and safety Jimmie Ward.
All are either rehabilitating from long-term injuries or recovering from ailments suffered in training camp.
New nickel – The 49ers have a new nickel cornerback this season – Tramaine Brock, who hopes to rebound from an injury-riddled 2014 season in which he appeared in only three games.
Along with Shareece Wright, Brock will start at cornerback Saturday against the Texans. In three-receiver situations, cornerback Dontae Johnson takes over on the outside, and Brock moves inside to the nickel role.
That job last year was filled by Ward, who has yet to participate in a team-wide practice as he comes back from a foot injury that he suffered Nov. 9. At least early on, it will go to Brock, who had five interceptions in 2013, his last full season.
“I like this defense a lot that we have now,” Brock said. “The old defense, we were able to make plays, too. But this defense, I feel like it’s more aggressive.”
Injuries – The 49ers practiced without Anderson, Ellington and Smelter. Rookie DiAndre Campbell was tended to by trainers early in the session and did not return.