Kaepernick stands tall on field for preseason finale

Though his controversial activism dominated this week’s headlines, Colin Kaepernick‘s biggest fight during Thursday night’s 31-21 defeat of the San Diego Chargers was securing a spot on the 49ers roster.

Working through two full quarters of play in his first extended look of the preseason, Kaepernick rebounded from last week with an impressive outing, in which he completed 11-of-18 passes for 103 yards while adding 38 yards on four carries.

The obvious slight against Kaepernick’s outing will be that his numbers came while working against San Diego’s second-team defense. However, he appeared to finally be in sync with his receivers in Chip Kelly’s system during his second go-round.

His ball placement was behind receivers at times, and his near interception by Chargers S Dexter McCoil was invited by Kaepernick’s continuing issue of looking down his receivers. But his night puts the 49ers front office in a bind.

Along with a horrendous showing by rookie Jeff Driskel — who finished the night 1-for-4 passing for three yards and two picks — the 49ers now have to decide whether to keep the divisive and controversial Kaepernick on their 53-man roster.

With emotions running high during the Chargers’ Salute to the Military night, Kaepernick adorned himself to the hostile San Diego crowd by leading the 49ers on a touchdown drive to open up the game.

Spreading the ball around efficiently, Kaepernick hooked up with four different receivers for 58 yards while leading his team deep into Chargers territory.

Following an impressive grab by WR Dres Anderson, who held on for a 14-yard reception while taking a big hit in traffic near the goal line, RB DuJuan Harris would punch his way into the end zone on a 1-yard score for the game’s first touchdown.

The impressive drive highlighted two other players on the 49ers who factor to be an important part of the offense moving forward in utility man Bruce Miller and the newly acquired WR Jeremy Kerley.

49ers fans got a hint of what the shifty Kerley will bring as a slot receiver after the veteran hauled in both of his targets for 18 yards on his one and only drive.

A holding penalty on G Andrew Tiller cut short San Francisco’s second drive, but Kaepernick responded would respond with yet another scoring drive on his third, and final, trip to the Qualcomm turf.

Continuing to share the ball with a variety of receivers, Kaepernick’s third drive was aided by the hard-running Harris, whose 15-yard pickup on a fourth-and-1 helped to keep the momentum for San Francisco’s rolling offense.

After escaping a near-interception on third down, Kaepernick conceded his night to K Phil Dawson, whose 32-yard field goal would split the uprights.

Kaepernick was the main attraction for fans during a traditionally useless fourth preseason game, but a variety of other roster battles played out as well.

Most notable was the competition between running backs Harris and Mike Davis, who seemed intent to match each other with big plays and tenacity. With plays of 25 yards by Davis and 15 by Harris, both backs showed an ability to scramble for the big gain while also catching one pass each out of the backfield.

Both backs made a strong case for themselves as the No.3 running back behind starter Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn, both of whom sat out the final tune-up. Davis has struggled with ball security earlier in the preseason, though the young talent’s continuing emergence may give him the edge heading into the regular season.

On defense, ILB Shayne Skov opened the game next to Michael Wilhoite, who, after starting alongside NaVorro Bowman last season, may not find his name of the roster during the next round of cuts.

Much like Green Bay did, the San Diego offense attacked the middle of the field, forcing the 49ers middle linebackers to try to beat their opposing receivers. Wilhoite struggled again in the early going, surrendering multiple receptions to TE Sean McGrath.

Teammates Ray-Ray Armstrong and Gerald Hodges have an advantage over Skov, but he showed a knack for plugging up the running lanes during his time on the field.

DE Ronald Blair and OLB Marcus Rush continued their torrid preseason with another disruptive outing that should have solidified a roster spot for both

Blair hounded the San Diego offense at multiple positions along the defensive line. The rookie showed his strength and athleticism while breaking into the Chargers backfield and setting the edge on run plays. He finished with four tackles, including one for loss.

Rush’s preseason ended with a bang, as the second-year player earned a defensive hat-trick after notching two sacks, one forced fumble and an interception in yet another highlight reel exposition.

The 49ers thinness at the outside linebacker position, coupled with his contributions on special teams, should place Rush on the 49ers final 53-man roster after opening camp as a relative unknown.

Rookie Rashard Robinson was among the young cornerbacks who had strong outings Thursday night, adding two tackles, two pass defenses, an interception and a tip that lead to Rush’s pick while playing all four quarters.

Fellow rookie Will Redmond struggled at times, having a hard time sticking to receiver Isaiah Burse early in the game. Redmond also lost WR DeAndre Reaves in the first quarter for what would have been an easy touchdown with a better touch by Chargers quarterback Kellen Clemens.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.