San Francisco 49ers football is here. Yes, it's just preseason, but it's still four quarters and 60 minutes nonetheless. The 49ers will travel to the Lone Star State for a Saturday night matchup with the Houston Texans from NRG Stadium.
This meeting will be the fourth time the two clubs have met during the exhibition season, with the most recent matchup featuring the 49ers beating the Texans 40-13 in 2014.
Jim Tomsula will be operating the San Francisco sideline for the first time since he served as interim head coach in 2010. Tomsula has brought on an entirely new coaching staff led by offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, both of whom have brought new schemes to the 49ers.
One of the biggest questions going into the contest is whether or not NaVorro Bowman will see any playing time. Tomsula said it's still up in the air on Thursday.
In addition to the revamped coaching staff and Bowman's status for the preseason opener, here are five things to watch against the Texans on Saturday.
- Colin Kaepernick and his weapons
One quarter. That's what Tomsula laid out as the most likely scenario for the 49ers quarterback and the first team offense. It could be more. It could also be a little less. Regardless of the exact number of series the first-team unit sees, it will be our first glimpse of Kaepernick in Chryst's new offensive system that the offensive coordinator said was "built from scratch" this offseason.
It will also be our first opportunity to see the signal-caller throw to the team's marquee free-agent addition Torrey Smith. The wideout who signed with San Francisco after spending his first four NFL campaigns with the Baltimore Ravens has been a consistent playmaker during training camp. Faithful everywhere will anxiously await the first completion from No. 7 to No. 82.
In addition to Kaepernick, there will be plenty of eyes on expected starter at running back, Pierre Garçon. The second-year pro out of Ohio State is likely to see most of the first-team reps, especially with Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush out of the lineup. Hyde has also been more integrated into the team's passing game so far in camp. It will be worth watching if Kaepernick throws a few balls his way in the preseason opener.
- Who stands out at tight end?
When the head coach says he'll be watching the tight ends closely, it's advisable to do the same. San Francisco currently has eight tight ends on the roster: Busta Anderson, Blake Bell, Derek Carrier, Garrett Celek, Asante Cleveland, Vernon Davis, Xavier Grimble and Garrett Celek.
Outside of Vernon Davis, the coaching staff will try to give the other seven as many reps as possible to help begin deciphering the position battle. The 49ers are likely to keep only four or five at the position, which means showing well in these preseason contests will go a long way for each tight end in earning one of those roster spots.
Fortunately and unfortunately to those who will ultimately have to make those roster decisions, it's an immensely talented group of players that are all capable of playing in the NFL.
- A deep secondary unit
Similarly to the tight ends, Tomsula also said he wants to see the rotation in the secondary. Tramaine Brock and Shareece Wright have dominated the first-team snaps at cornerback during camp, but the other six corners – Kenneth Acker, Marcus Cromartie, Mylan Hicks, Dontae Johnson, Leon McFadden and Keith Reaser – will all get their shot to make an impression on Saturday.
The same goes for the safeties. You know what you're getting in Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea, but coaches will be looking for L.J. McCray, Craig Dahl and Jaquiski Tartt to perform well.
Houston has a talented group of receivers, highlighted by DeAndre Hopkins and Cecil Shorts. It will be fun to watch the 49ers corners matchup against those two.
- The offensive line vs. J.J. Watt and co.
Watt could have easily been the NFL's MVP in 2014, and the 49ers will get the first look at the 2015 version of the league's top defensive player. With Watt normally lining up as the Texans right defensive end, a one-to-two series battle with 49ers left tackle Joe Staley will be one of the best matchups the game has to offer.
The Texans also added veteran nose tackle and long-time member of the New England Patriots Vince Wilfork this offseason. If the 12-year veteran does play, he'll provide an ample test to the 49ers new-look interior offensive line of projected starters Alex Boone at left guard, Joe Looney at center and Marcus Martin at right guard.
- 2015 rookies
We touched on Tartt, but Saturday will be our first glimpse of San Francisco's entire 2015 rookie class. From draft picks like Arik Armstead and Eli Harold to undrafted free agents Dylan Thompson and DeAndrew White, it's always exciting to see young guys get their initial taste of NFL football.
People will want to see White's playmaking on the practice fields translate to a game situation.
For Armstead, it's a chance to see his massive 6-foot-7 frame in action.
It will be Harold's first crack at chasing down and sacking an NFL quarterback.
Thompson will likely see at least the entire fourth quarter depending on how deep backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert goes into the game.
And finally, it's impossible to cover what to watch for and not mention Australian rookie running back Jarryd Hayne. In Hayne's first NFL game, albeit an exhibition one, the running back will see plenty of snaps in the backfield and should see reps as a returner on special teams. It also shouldn't be a surprise if Hayne serves on kickoff and punt coverage units as well.