49ers

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 16-13 preseason loss to Texans

taylorusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 16-13 preseason loss to Texans

HOUSTON -- Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 16-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night in Week 2 of the exhibition season...

Interior D-line has Depth

The 49ers still don’t really know from where their outside pass rush is going to come, but the interior of the defensive line looks to be in good shape. Veteran Earl Mitchell is a solid presence at nose tackle. And DeForest Buckner could become one of the league’s better defensive tackles.

Behind Mitchell and Buckner are a couple of young players who have put together strong training camps. Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones continued their impressive play on Saturday with strong showings against the Texans.

Day recorded five tackles and forced a fumble, while Jones came up with three tackles and a forced fumble, too. Day is in his first summer with the 49ers after the club claimed him off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.

Jones, meanwhile, has made tremendous strides since his rookie season. He said he lost 20 pounds from the end of last season when he regularly found himself on the inactive list for games.

“I feel like it’s been a big turnaround, the way I changed my body in the offseason,” Jones said. “Toward the end of the season when I wasn’t playing, the way I practiced, it got me prepared for this season.”

In the Right Slot

Second-year player Trent Taylor missed most of the offseason program after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs in his lower back. He has slowly been working back into form during training camp.

Taylor clearly made a lot of progress during this week in Houston. He was Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target during the two days of practices against the Texans. And Garoppolo looked for Taylor again on Saturday with a 2-yard touchdown pass to cap the 49ers’ first drive of the game.

“I’m starting to get stronger and get my legs back under me,” Taylor said. “It’s always good to feel improvement as you work. I still have a little ways to go, but it definitely felt great being out there tonight and getting my first catch as a TD.”

Taylor, the team’s primary slot receiver, had only two catches for 7 yards. But his other reception was a 5-yard catch to extend the 49ers' second drive on a third-and-4 play.

Penalties Galore

The 49ers certainly have a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to avoiding flags. Kyle Shanahan’s team was called for 15 penalties, totaling 140 yards.

What always gets to Shanahan most are the pre-snap penalties. Joe Staley (false start), Kendrick Bourne (illegal formation), Darrell Williams (false start) and Cedric Thornton (neutral zone infraction) were called for those kinds of infractions.

The worst sequence of penalties, however, went to veteran center Weston Richburg. He was guilty of a rare double-penalty on the first play of the second quarter when he was flagged for holding, then another 15 yards for his ensuing dialogue with the official.

Two of the penalties might have been excusable, though. Raheem Mostert and Jeremiah Attaochu were called for strict interpretations of the NFL’s new rule on lowering the helmet to initiate contact.

49ers GM John Lynch won't label Solomon Thomas a bust, still a 'big believer'

solomonthomasusatsi.jpg
USATSI

49ers GM John Lynch won't label Solomon Thomas a bust, still a 'big believer'

The 49ers have received little return on the investment of their 2017 No. 3 overall draft pick.

General manager John Lynch acknowledges defensive lineman Solomon Thomas has not produced to the level expected of a player selected so early in the draft. But Lynch said he has not given up on Thomas, who ranks 17th on the team in tackles and has one sack as a part-time player through 10 games.

“A lot of people use the word ‘bust’ or whatever,” Lynch said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s not that. He’s a good football player for us.

“I think a lot of people struggle when you have the No. 3 pick. ‘Why isn’t he in there more?’ And that’s something we have to answer. But you have to earn those opportunities. That’s something Kyle (Shanahan) has always been clear on. Solly needs to continue to earn those. And we need to continue to put him in position to thrive.”

Thomas appeared in 14 games with 12 starts as a rookie. With 41 tackles and three sacks, Thomas showed signs he could take his game to a higher level. But Thomas’ production has regressed in his second season.

Thomas, 23, faced tragedy in the offseason when his older sister, Ella, died from suicide on January 23. Thomas has used his platform as an NFL player to bring awareness to mental health issues. It is only reasonable to assume his real-life anguish has impacted his on-field production.

[RELATED: Whitner: Thomas not a fit]

“It’s been tough on Solomon,” Lynch said. “I can’t even imagine. I often try to put myself in his position, and I know the struggle that he’s going through. Solomon is very aware that the struggle is real, that it’s something he deals with every day.

“But, also, he needs to find a way to come and be the best he can be at his job.”

Thomas has two years remaining on his rookie contract after this season, and Lynch said he expects the former Stanford star to come back from the bye week and make an impact as the 49ers close out the season.

“I’m still a big believer in Solomon Thomas,” Lynch said. “A lot of people say, ‘Why?’ You go back and study the history of defensive linemen in this league. A lot of them don’t figure it out in Year 1. They don’t figure it out in Year 2.”

Lynch added, “In this second half of this Year 2 for him, he’s got to really start being the player we all know he can be. Some of that is opportunity, and putting him in situations where we think he can thrive. And I think we’ll see that in the second half of this year.”

How Nick Mullens changed GM John Lynch's thinking about 49ers' QB situation

mullensusatsi.jpg
USATSI

How Nick Mullens changed GM John Lynch's thinking about 49ers' QB situation

When the 49ers signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a lucrative, long-term extension in the offseason, it was presumed the team’s top two quarterbacks were set through the 2020 season.

Now, C.J. Beathard’s long-term spot as the 49ers’ backup looks tenuous. Nick Mullens will make his third consecutive start on Sunday when the club returns from the bye week to play at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Here’s how my thinking’s changed: I think we have three now,” Lynch said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

Garoppolo’s season came to an abrupt end in Week 3 when he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The 49ers expect Garoppolo to come back strong in 2019 after continuing to learn from coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello while rehabbing his knee.

“I think we have one special guy in Jimmy Garoppolo,” Lynch said. “I have all the belief in the world in him, as does Kyle. We’re real proud of the way he’s using this as an opportunity, not only to get healthy, which takes a ton of time with an ACL, but he’s also using this as an opportunity to grow his game in the film room.

“We believe, as we did when we committed to him long term, that he’s going to be the guy for years to come at that position.”

Beathard took over for Garoppolo and started the next five games, all 49ers losses. After averaging 297.3 yards passing in his first three starts, Beathard struggled in losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals. He was sacked 11 times in those two games.

“I think at some point when you’re struggling, there’s a little regression,” Lynch said. “I think C.J. was going through that. Nick came in and gave us a lift. But I think that was also good for C.J. to get to back off, kind of take things in and really, frankly, learn some things from Nick -- the way he’s getting rid of the football on time.”

Mullens has yet to be sacked while attempting 61 passes in two games. Beathard was sacked 18 times with 169 pass attempts, while Garoppolo was sacked 13 times with 89 pass attempts.

Mullens spent last season and the first three games this year on the practice squad before receiving the promotion to the 49ers’ 53-man roster.

In starts against the Raiders and New York Giants, Mullens has completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 512 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 104.0.

“I’ve told a lot of these players, Nick is a great example of working, such that, when your opportunity presents itself, you’re ready and good things come from that,” Lynch said. “I talked to my own kids about that. Nick Mullens is a great story because of the way he goes about his work each and every day.”