The 49ers’ exhibition opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium was all about seeing some of the younger players who are fighting for roles — or, simply, spots on the team’s 53-man roster.
Here are three takeaways from the 49ers’ 19-16 loss in the first of three preseason games:
Lance pressured in preseason debut
The first game for Trey Lance featured a lot of what he showed during the first two weeks of training camp.
Lance completed just 5 of 14 attempts, but one of them was a beautifully executed 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trent Sherfield. Lance and Sherfield connected regularly on deep passes in camp. Sherfield has clearly established his spot on the team.
Lance did not attempt a run, though he was under a lot of pressure from the Kansas City pass-rush. The 49ers’ issues with protection continued, and it did not help matters that left tackle Trent Williams and center Alex Mack did not play. Coach Kyle Shanahan opted to not take any chances with some of their top veteran players.
But Lance was also sacked four times for minus-31 yards, and took a few more hits under pressure. Daniel Bruskill, Aaron Banks and Shon Coleman were beaten for sacks. The other came when a blitzing linebacker was not picked up.
It was all valuable experience for Lance, who played in just one game at North Dakota State since the end of the 2019 season.
The 49ers return to action on Sunday, Aug. 22, against the Los Angeles Chargers. But the big days will be two joint practices against the Chargers on Thursday and Friday.
Rookie defensive backs have promising debut
The 49ers did not take any chances with their top defensive backs, as cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Mosley, and free safety Jimmie Ward did not suit up for the game.
The team carved out plenty of playing time for the rookies. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and safety Talanoa Hufanga were in the starting lineup.
Lenoir had an interception of a Chad Henne pass that went through the hands of intended target Noah Gray. Later, he ran stride-for-stride down the field with Daurice Fountain on a deep incompletion.
Hufanga, known as a hard-hitter from his college days, was a little too eager for contact and was called for pass interference when he hit Chiefs receiver Tyreke Hill before Henne’s pass arrived.
When the 49ers selected Hufanga, he said his goal was to make the Pro Bowl on special teams as a rookie. He showed his special-teams value with two tackles. Now, he might be in position to win the starting job with the 49ers’ top two strong safeties unavailable.
Jaquiski Tartt is out indefinitely as he rehabs from a turf toe. Tarvarius Moore’s season in jeopardy due to a torn Achilles sustained during the offseason program.
Ups and downs from the receivers
Behind the 49ers’ top four wide receivers — Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Mohamed Sanu and Sherfield — the other spots appear to be up in the air.
On Saturday, Jauan Jennings helped himself, and Richie James did not.
James enters his fourth NFL season with some work to do in order to nail down a roster spot. He had one drop of a third-down Lance pass that would have gone for a first down. Lance targeted him with another pass, but it sailed high and James could not bring it down.
Jennings had a 26-yard pass reception. He was also also credited with two rushing attempts for 23 yards when he caught two backward passes from Lance.
Sanu and Jalen Hurd did not suit up for Saturday’s game. Hurd missed his first two NFL seasons due to back and knee injuries. He remains in competition for a roster job, along with other such receivers as River Cracraft, Travis Benjamin and Nsimba Webster.
Webster had a good showing with a 43-yard kickoff return and 34-yard run to help set up the 49ers' go-ahead touchdown late in the game.