Jim Tomsula not only rested his beleaguered offensive starters in Thursday’s exhibition finale, some second stringers, like quarterback Blaine Gabbert, got the night off.
The other backups were more than happy to show what they can do.
On the third play of the game, No. 3 quarterback Dylan Thompson connected with wide receiver Bruce Ellington on a short pass. Ellington, who dealt with a hamstring injury for most of training camp, eased concerns about his health and the 49ers’ depth at the position by blowing past the San Diego Chargers’ secondary for a 70-yard score.
Thompson added a 16-yard touchdown toss to tight end Busta Anderson, the quarterback’s college teammate, in the fourth quarter, and the 49ers beat the Chargers 14-12.
Ellington, Quinton Patton, Jerome Simpson and DeAndrew White have been competing for the role of No. 3 wide receiver. Simpson will serve a six-game suspension to start the season.
Ellington led all receivers with three catches for 86 yards. White, a rookie, had receptions of 36 and 31 yards. Patton’s only target came on a successful two-point conversion.
Thompson, undrafted out of South Carolina, had only 52 passing yards in the first three games but finished with 225 yards. His first touchdown was only the second of the exhibition season for the 49ers’ offense.
Thompson also provided a Chargers first-half touchdown when his pass to well-covered White was intercepted by cornerback Richard Crawford and returned 29 yards for a touchdown.
All of the 49ers’ offensive starters, who were thoroughly outmatched in their most recent outing against Denver, watched from the sideline.
That means quarterback Colin Kaepernick finished the preseason with 40 passing yards and a 38.5 completion percentage. It also means that the first time the starting offensive line begins a game together will be in the regular-season opener Sept. 14.
Earlier in the week, Tomsula named Marcus Martin and Jordan Devey, whom the 49ers acquired in an Aug. 18 trade, as the starters at center and right guard, respectively. The group played seven snaps together at the end of the second quarter against the Broncos, but that’s the extent of their in-game experience.
Joe Looney and Brandon Thomas began Thursday’s game at center and right guard, respectively.
Notes – With Reggie Bush sitting out along with the other veterans, Jarryd Hayne returned the first two punts for San Francisco.
The Aussie import had averaged 20 yards per return in the first two preseason games. He scooped up a bouncing ball on the first attempt and ran it back 8 yards. His second return went for 7 yards. A third in the second half went for 25 yards but was negated by a penalty.
More than in his previous games, Hayne showed versatility as well as a bit of Rugby League grit. He saw action on kickoff and punt coverage units and made a strong ankle tackle in the second quarter while playing gunner on a punt return.
He had a 19-yard run, the longest of the night for either team, in the second half. His most dramatic play came after a 12-yard catch and run when he encountered Chargers cornerback Lowell Rose on the sideline, lowered his shoulder and flattened the would-be tackler.
▪ Bruce Miller, the only fullback on the 49ers’ roster, was in uniform but played only on special teams. Instead, the 49ers used two tight ends or had Thompson operate out of the shotgun.
Miller could face NFL discipline this season in relation to his no-contest plea earlier this year for destroying his ex-fiancee’s cell phone. Miller met with a league official about the matter last week in Denver.
Earlier this week, the 49ers cut fullback Trey Millard in their effort to reach the 75-man roster limit. They must pare their roster to 53 players by 1 p.m. Saturday.
▪ Wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee), cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (rib) and tight end Vance McDonald (ankle) were ruled out before the game.
Smith, who suffered a knee bruise Saturday against the Broncos, went through an extensive warmup before the game. He and the others are expected to play Sept. 14 against the Vikings.
▪ The only potential Week 1 starters who began Thursday’s game were Aaron Lynch at outside linebacker and cornerbacks Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker. The cornerbacks are competing to start opposite Brock against the Vikings.
▪ Tony Jerod-Eddie started the game at left defensive end. The 301-pound lineman also played some snaps at outside linebacker in the first half.
▪ The 49ers and Chargers played on a surface that was partially re-sodded – from the 40-yard line through the end zone on the south side of the field – following a Luke Bryan country music concert Saturday. A new field will be put down Friday. That field is expected to last at least through midseason.