SANTA CLARA – Here are the grades for the 49ers’ 23-6 preseason win over the Dallas Cowboys.
QUARTERBACKS: C. Colin Kaepernick completed just 2-of-5 pass attempts for 13 yards – a measly 2.6 yards per throw – although he made a decent pass to Torrey Smith in the end zone that got batted down by cornerback Corey White. Blaine Gabbert completed every pass he threw, but averaged only 3.5 yards per attempt, and threw a seven-yard check-down pass to running back Mike Davis instead of throwing a 15-yard pass over the middle to wide receiver DeAndrew White, who was wide open. Gabbert never saw him.
RUNNING BACKS: A. Carlos Hyde had four excellent runs: Gains of five and six on two stretch-zone runs to the right, and gains of nine and 17 on two stretch-zone runs to the left. His best run obviously was the 17-yarder, during which he showed superb instincts cutting back to the right in the backfield. He already seems like one of the best stretch-zone runners in the NFL. Backups Mike Davis and Jarryd Hayne also seem effective running zone plays. Davis had a 15-yard gain, and Hayne had a 34-yard gain.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D. The longest catch of the day was a nine-yard gain by Jerome Simpson, who will serve a suspension the first six games of the season. The only other receiver who caught a pass was Quinton Patton, who caught three passes for two yards. Seriously. Once he caught a pass, ran backwards and got tackled for a 12-yard loss. Seriously.
TIGHT ENDS: D. Vance McDonald made one catch for seven yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury. If McDonald misses time, the Niners’ No. 2 tight end probably will be Garrett Celek, who made zero catches Sunday evening.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C. The run-blocking seemed solid, both on the left and the right of the offensive line. But the pass-protection seemed subpar. Gabbert was sacked twice, and Kaepernick was sacked once. On Kaepernick’s sack, right tackle Erik Pears and right guard Marcus Martin got beat right away. Kaepernick tried to buy time in the pocket, but ran into Randy Gregory, who beat left tackle Joe Staley.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+. Shut down Cowboys’ starting running back Darren McFadden, holding him to four yards on three carries. The starting defensive line played well against the pass, too. Tackle Quinton Dial and end Eli Harold sacked backup quarterback Brandon Weeden for a nine-yard loss, knocking him out of the game in the process. Harold finished the game with two hits on the quarterback. Mike Purcell, the star last week against the Texans, intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown.
LINEBACKERS: B+. Ahmad Brooks generated zero pass rush. He may lose his job as a starter in the sub-packages to Harold before the season begins. NaVorro Bowman played only three plays, but was outstanding on those three. He tackled McFadden after a one-yard gain on the first play, blitzed the A-gap and forced McFadden to run into outside linebacker Aaron Lynch for a one-yard loss on the second play, and tackled running back Lance Dunbar for a one-yard loss on the third play. Can Bowman play that well for an entire game?
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-. Veteran safety Craig Dahl intercepted a pass over the middle of the field, undrafted rookie safety Jermaine Whitehead intercepted a pass in the end zone during a two-point conversion attempt, and second-year corner Dontae Johnson intercepted a pass near the sideline during the fourth quarter. Those were the highlights. The lowlight came when Keith Reaser gave up a 21-yard catch to the great A.J. Jenkins. Kenneth Acker seems like a better option than Reaser to start at cornerback opposite Tramaine Brock.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Jarryd Hayne topped last week’s performance by returning three punts for 84 yards. He seems like a lock to make the final roster as the starting punt-returner and kick-returner. And wide receiver Quinton Patton redeemed his negative-12-yard catch by blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown.