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Notes: Bush and Hunter debut, Bowman shines

A look at key notes and who played where in Saturday's 49ers preseason loss to the Broncos.

After sitting out the first two preseason games, running back Reggie Bush made his 49ers debut in Saturday's 19-12 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Bush had one carry for 21 yards, nearly getting a first down on a third-and-long play in the first half. He took punt return duties from Jarryd Hayne and DeAndrew White, taking one back four yards.

Bush also recovered a fumble from Colin Kaepernick, ran it nine yards and was slammed to the ground after a meager attempt to leap frog the Broncos defender. That led to a minor skirmish along the 49ers sideline.

--After bursting on to the scene in the first two weeks of the preseason, averaging over 21 yards on punt returns, Hayne had one for 12 yards Saturday. His role was scant, as head coach 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula tried to gear his team up for the regular season. Hayne looked like a lock to carve out a role on the 53-man roster, but his standing appears a little more in doubt after Saturday.

If the 30-year-old Bush is going be the team's top return man, Hayne's value on the roster diminishes significantly. Bush has 98 career punt returns, making him the most experienced return man on the roster.

Hayne, the former Rugby League star, is averaging 20 yards on six punt returns and did not handle a kickoff return Saturday.

Perhaps Tomsula wanted to give Bush a refresher on punts after sitting out of game action, and still plans on making Hayne the primary return man after his splashy start.

If Bush is going to be a significant piece of the offense as many project, the 49ers might not want to subject him to punt returns given his injury history. Bush has played in all 16 games just twice in his nine-year career and dealt with an ankle injury with Detroit in 2014.

--Kendall Hunter saw his first playing time of the year coming back from his ACL tear sustained early in training camp last August. He rushed for 15 yards on seven carries (2.14 average). With Hunter back, San Francisco's backfield becomes crowded. At half back, they have Carlos Hyde, Bush, Hunter, Hayne and rookie Mike Davis. There's a chance the 49ers keep all five on the 53-man roster, but wouldn't likely keep all five active on game days.

--For the second week in a row, San Francisco failed to ecplise the 100-yard mark in the passing game. With three sacks for 17 yards, the 49ers finished with 92 net passing yards after netting 50 in last week's win over the Cowboys.

Colin Kaepernick played the entire first half and went 2 of 5 for 13 yards without a touchdown. Through three preseason games, Kaepernick is 5 of 13 for 40 yards, and hasn't thrown a preseason touchdown since 2013. A positive: he hasn't turned the ball over this preseason, either.

In the first half, Peyton Manning threw for 124 yards, or 111 more than Kaepernick, on 14 of 21 completions.

The 49ers offensive line struggled to create a consistent pocket against Denver's talented pass rushers, including Pro-Bowlers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Kaepernick was sacked twice, inlcuding for a safety when right tackle Erik Pears and rookie right guard Ian Silberman got beat by Ware and Antonio Smith. But overall, Kaepernick was on the move for most of the time he was on the field.

(We took a long look at the struggles of the offense line and thought about some suggestions to try and fix its struggles here.)

Kaepernick's night was highlighted by 53 combined yards on two lengthy runs on his final possession, which resulted in a last-second field goal from Phil Dawson. Kaepernick wound up completing his first pass of the exhibition season to Torrey Smith after Smith briefly left the game when he appeared to jam his hand on the grass lunging for an incompletion.

--Former All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman also played the entire first half, and admitted in a television interview afterwards he was only slated to play 10 snaps. But he finished with a game-high nine tackles and two sacks of Manning. He was the best player on the field wearing White, which is an awfully positive sign after being limited to three plays in last week's win over Dallas.

--Vying for the third receiver role, Bruce Ellington saw his first preseason action, tying rookie tight end Blake Bell for the team lead with three catches going for 27 yards. Ellington also handled a kick return, taking it 20 yards.

--For the first time all preseason, the competition to start at cornerback might be coming into focus. Kenneth Acker had an interception of Manning in the end zone and another third-down pass break up at the goal line. With Tramaine Brock shelved with a hamstring injury, Acker played the majority of his night with the first team and got a significant leg up on the competition to start. Acker missed all of last season recovering from a stress fracture in his foot sustained in the preseason.

--With Ahmad Brooks back in the Bay Area, the team's starting outside linebackers were Corey Lemonier and Eli Harold. Last year's standout rookie Aaron Lynch played with the reserves, likely giving Lemonier and Harold a chance to go up against Manning and the rest of Denver's first-team offense. Lemonier registered a sack and four tackles. Harold added two tackles.


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