SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ first two exhibition games might not be nearly as important as the days that lead up to them.

Before playing the Houston Texans on Sunday and the Denver Broncos next week, the 49ers will meet up with those teams for fully padded practice sessions. The 49ers will play host to the Texans on their practice field on Friday for a two-hour session that incorporates one-on-one drills, 7-on-7 activity and team work.

“It’s a great way to gauge yourself,” said 49ers coach Chip Kelly, who spent the previous three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. “I’ve done it in the past a couple times with the Patriots and once with the Ravens. We thought it was quality work in the three years that we did it.”

The 49ers had gone through 10 practices at the beginning of training camp. Finally, they get to see a different opponent lined up across from them.

“I’m not going to say it gets boring going up against the same guys over and over, but...“ 49ers veteran safety Antoine Bethea said.

Said All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman, “It’s always good to go against another team. We try to protect our teammates here in practice. When the Texans come in, it’ll be a little more amped up, a little more game-like. But keep in mind, we do play them on Sunday."

Kelly and Texans coach Bill O’Brien sketched out a practice plan in the spring when the practice was agreed upon. It figures to provide the 49ers’ defense with a bit of a breather after going up against the 49ers’ offense, which can run up to three plays per minute.


“It’s going to be huge just from a player evaluation standpoint and then it’s a totally different offensive scheme,” 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “It’ll be a lot more two-back formations, stuff we need to see to get ready for the season. So it’ll be a big test for our defense.”

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Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey and O’Neil have also communicated back and forth about how each side can benefit.

“For me and George, it was more schematic stuff -- ‘Hey is there stuff that you’re not getting from your defense in Houston that you want to see?’” O’Neil said. “And I can emphasize some of that stuff in practice and then it’s, ‘Hey, can you give us some of this because we’re not seeing this in practice to get us ready for the season.’ He’s been great. It’s been all good.

“It should be good for us because it’s just going to give them more time to gather pre-snap information, diagnose what their job is and allow themselves to make a football play.”

Last summer, two NFL joint practices were marred by melees. O’Neil said the 49ers talk about being “competitive not combative.”

Referee John Parry and his crew will work the practice and stick around for Sunday’s exhibition game at Levi’s Stadium. The crew will throw flags and explain their calls to the players. They do not expect to officiate a UFC match.

“It’s just two teams coming together to get prepared for the season,” Parry said. “Will it escalate? I don’t know. It’s players, playing football. (But) we don’t expect it, especially with these two coaches who have good history together. I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”