- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Playing time for starters: The fourth preseason game is generally a sham in terms of playing time for starters. Who wants to risk injury in the most meaningless of exhibitions 10 days before the regular season begins? But when it comes to the 49ers' offense, a successful series or two would not hurt and would actually go a long way toward establishing that long sought-after rhythm. In last season's exhibition finale, at San Diego, quarterback Colin Kaepernick started, led the Niners on a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to open the game and was finished for the day. "I don't really remember last year's preseason," Kaepernick said Tuesday. "I'm more worried about the regular season, but when we go out there, we want to be productive."
2. No. 3 receiver: The 49ers brought back Brandon Lloyd this offseason. They also acquired Stevie Johnson and drafted Bruce Ellington. And Quinton Patton has flashed this offseason. So who is in line to be the 49ers' No. 3 receiver, behind starters Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree? The position seemed earmarked for Johnson but he did not get much run in the third preseason game. The 49ers may use this game to get a better feel on their third receiver, even if Kaepernick is long gone from the game and Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson are the ones throwing the ball. In any event, coach Jim Harbaugh said he felt "very good" about Stevie Johnson being on the 49ers' 53-man roster.
3. Solidifying the inside: NaVorro Bowman is out at least six games, more likely half the season, so the race is on to find a starter at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. On the surface, it appears as though Michael Wilhoite is the front runner, though defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is not ready to make such a proclamation. Yet. "Well, he hasn't proven that yet totally, but we'll wait till after Thursday," Fangio said. "Give these younger guys a good, healthy dose of snaps and see if they can make some progress. We're confident in Mike and we think he'll do fine in there like he did last year in those couple games he's played."
The San Francisco 49ers (1-2) and Houston Texans (2-1) face off in each team's fourth and final preseason game Thursday night (8 ET) at NRG Stadium in Houston.