It is mid-August, and we are mere weeks away from kicking off the 2012 NFL regular season. Thursday's set of games signaled the beginning of the second week of exhibition games; Green Bay faced off against Cleveland, and Cincinnati visited Atlanta.
For many NFL fans, the days seem to slow as the regular season nears. The preseason games lack the "it" factor, but there is reason to tune in.
The diehards out there care about every detail of their respective team, especially depth and who their future starters may be someday.
San Francisco has had some interesting battles heat up since its first game. The Niners have had some change up at linebacker and tight end due to injury, and it's opened some windows for players looking to make the roster. The 49ers released tight end Nate Byham this week, and both starting outside linebackers have since missed time due to minor injuries.
For the winners and losers from San Francisco's second exhibition matchup, continue through the following slides.
49ers running back Frank Gore started Saturday evening against the Texans, although his night wrapped up pretty quickly. Kendall Hunter, on the other hand, saw significant time and looked exceptional in action.
The second-year player has had a fantastic offseason, and for a second consecutive game, Hunter has played inspired football, even looking like a capable starter.
He received the bulk of the carries, while the 49ers would like Gore to see limited time in the preseason. Hunter carried the ball six times for 46 yards, averaging seven-plus yards per attempt. He even had a long run of 17 yards.
Hunter definitely has been a preseason winner. In an offseason where the 49ers added significant depth to his position, Hunter has not backed off an inch. He has fought hard and showed growth as a player entering his second season.
In his time on the field, 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith took quite a beating from the Texans defense. On Saturday, Smith was sacked twice and was hit on several other occasions. Before taking to the bench, he did display his bravado by stepping into hits and delivering on-target passes to his receivers.
Alex Smith (5-9, 49 yds, 2 sacks, 71.1rtg) relieved after 2 series by Colin Kaepernick, who'll work behind shaky 1st-team OL— Cam Inman (@CamInman) Aug. 19, 2012
Smith dropped back to throw nine times and looked good in limited action, but the protection was not ideal.
The offensive line can certainly improve. While San Francisco's linemen appear to excel at run-blocking, their pass protection has not been up to par. Smith was able to stay clean in their first matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, but the Texans are a much better football team that was bound to test San Francisco's offensive line.
There was not one offensive lineman who stood out as playing particularly poorly, but corrections need to be made. It's safe to say that if this continues, Alex Boone may be in jeopardy of losing his job to veteran guard Leonard Davis.
49ers linebacker Eric Bakhtiari had a great opportunity in front of him Saturday night against the Texans. San Francisco's two starting outside linebackers, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith, both remained in the Bay Area as they are coming back from injuries.
This opened a window for Bakhtiari to not only start but also to see significant game-time reps against a good football team.
#49ers LB Eric Bakhtiari has a game-high 6 tackles (Thomas, Culliver, Spillman, Willis, Brock have 3).— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) Aug. 19, 2012
In his first outing, Bakhtiari registered two sacks against the Vikings. In this Week 2 preseason matchup, he was flying around the football and looked sound up front. He received the start opposite Parys Haralson, continuing to show promise as a back-up OLB.
In his second game, Bakhtiari further distanced himself from Kourtnei Brown and Cam Johnson in the competition for the back-up job.
While Josh Johnson did not necessarily have a bad day, he still received fewer passing attempts than his main competition, Scott Tolzien.
Johnson went 4-for-6 on Saturday, for 64 yards passing and an additional five-yard scamper. The highlight of Johnson's night was a beautiful 32-yard connection to rookie A.J. Jenkins down the left sideline. Johnson did not throw any touchdowns or interceptions on the night.
With only two games remaining in the preseason, it was on Johnson to assert himself when all the critics are saying Tolzien is the most pro-ready. Even though Johnson stepped into the game before Tolzien, he threw three less times.
And, above all, Johnson's inconsistency continues to cause worry.
Josh Johnson to A.J. Jenkins and that was beautiful, 32-yard at sideline. Then he overthrows an open Jenkins by 5 yards.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) Aug. 19, 2012
One 49ers player who has caught a lot of flak this offseason is rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.
Jenkins has looked good this preseason, making several tough catches while performing with the 49ers QB depth. On Saturday, he made a tremendous catch for a big gain down the left sideline. Quarterback Josh Johnson launched one over his shoulder, and Jenkins looked it right in for the completion.
He has shown flashes of big-play ability and seems to be coming along.
AJ Jenkins looked good on this possession.He should've had a TD if Johnson didn't overthrow him.— Christian Gin (@CGin49ers) Aug. 19, 2012
It's usually not a good day for the 49ers when the offense can only muster a low multiple of three in 60 minutes of play.
Against the Houston Texans, the Niners put up a mere nine points, failing to score in the red zone again. San Francisco relied on the leg of David Akers to help it accumulate points while the offense failed to score touchdowns.
The 49ers have reportedly been working on situational offense this offseason, but it was not apparent Saturday night.
While it's understandable that this is exhibition play and the 49ers are not trying to show their hand just yet, a little more efficiency from the offense in end zone situations would have been nice.
For San Francisco, a major thing it would like to do this year is start trading field goals for touchdowns.
The headlines from San Francisco's Week 2 exhibition game were less about the score and more about the injuries. The first was Brandon Jacobs, who on his first and only carry of the night took a helmet to the inner knee/thigh region, which ended with him being carted off to the locker room.
X-rays on 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs' left knee were negative but he is scheduled to undergo an MRI on it Sunday.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) Aug. 19, 2012
On the bright side, the severity of LaMichael James' injury may not be as bad as we initially thought. James was the second player to give 49ers fans a scare on Saturday, limping off the field with an apparent ankle injury.
I will be 100% at practice Monday In full force believe that go 9ers thanks for all the support I love you guys!— LaMichael James (@LaMichaelJames) Aug. 19, 2012
On Saturday night, the 49ers got a serious dose of reality: Even their most loaded position group could be depleted in a matter of quarters.
While the injury to Jacobs may last a bit, it comes as a blessing in disguise for running backs Anthony Dixon and Rock Cartwright.
Dixon and Cartwright are both fighting awfully hard to make the 49ers' final 53-man roster, attempting to provide versatility by trying other positions and contributing on special teams. However, now on the 49ers, Jacobs has gotten himself in tip-top shape and is looking as dangerous as ever.
This injury will provide a window for Dixon and Cartwright to make a statement.