Ten observations from the 49ers’ 21-7 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday:
1. Quinton Patton was the 49ers’ No. 3 receiver to open the game, joining Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. So what does that mean for Stevie Johnson? “We don’t have that yet for you, the ordering,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said when asked if Patton is the team’s third receiver. “I thought he (Patton) did well.”
If anyone needs work with Colin Kaepernick and the first-team offense, it’s Johnson. He and Kaepernick did not make much of a mark together on the practice field during camp. It makes you wonder how he fits in. It makes you wonder if he fits in. “He fits in,” Harbaugh said of Johnson, whom the 49ers will pay $3.65 million in salary if he makes the team.
One area in which Patton did not get high marks from Harbaugh was with his showboating conduct after his helmet was knocked loose after catching a 10-yard pass from Blaine Gabbert. Said Harbaugh, "We don't want to see that. . . Yeah, I talked to him about it."
2. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick said there is no reason to be concerned with the offense. Of course, the team’s best offensive skill players have not been featured during the first three exhibition games. And while Harbaugh said Kaepernick will play in the exhibition finale Thursday at Houston, it’s not a good idea to bet on it. So, really, the next time the first-team offense will play together will be Sept. 7 at Dallas for the season opener. Once the regular season begins, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Boldin and Crabtree will become big parts of the game plan. But the bigger concern is the offensive line.
3. Right guard Joe Looney has played well the past two weeks as a fill-in for holdout Alex Boone. Instead, the issue on the offensive line was Mike Iupati and his pass protection. Pro Football Focus reminds us that Iupati last season ranked 46th of 60 guards in PFF's pass-protection grading system.
4. Backup tackle Jonathan Martin struggled for the first three weeks of training camp. He lost some strength in the offseason when he battled mononucleosis. And it showed. His lack core strength was exploited by defensive linemen early in camp. The past two games, Martin has played well. As long as Alex Boone is not in the picture, Martin looks like he could be a solid swing tackle.
5. Michael Wilhoite appeared to nail down the job to open the season as NaVorro Bowman’s replacement. Patrick Willis made his exhibition debut, and Wilhoite started alongside him. They appear to have good chemistry together. Rookie Chris Borland should be a core special-teams performer.
6. Running back LaMichael James might have averaged 1.3 yards per carry, but his work in blitz pickup is the strongest case he’s made since entering the NFL as a second-round draft pick for increased playing time on offense.
7. Rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch flashed his first-round talent on Sunday. What dropped him to the fifth round were his work habits and questions about his character. To his credit, he began observing how the veterans practiced, and he has adopted their work habits. It showed with a strong showing on Sunday. He will make the 53-man roster. That is no longer a question. Now, he might be a factor during the expected time that Aldon Smith misses at the beginning of the season.
8. Rookie cornerback Kenneth Acker had another solid showing. And his play on special teams with three tackles might have guaranteed that he’ll be on a 53-man roster this season. If the 49ers do not keep him, another team can be expected to pick him up.
9. Undrafted rookie running back Glenn Winston is worth keeping around on the practice squad. He has good size (220 pounds), and he showed nimble feet en route to 58 yards rushing on eight attempts. Jewel Hampton, a practice-squader last season, did not see any action on offense.
10. First-round draft pick Jimmie Ward has done nothing to lose the job as the team’s nickel back. That is a huge role for the regular season, as it will require his service for approximately 60 percent of the snaps, including those all-important third downs. Right now, it appears the coaches are still more comfortable with veteran Craig Dahl as the third safety behind Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea.