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The San Francisco 49ers engage in their second game of the 2018 preseason Saturday, this time against the Houston Texans. Here are five things you'll want to keep an eye on during the contest.


If there's one thing the San Francisco 49ers want to accomplish during their second preseason game of 2018, it's staying healthy.

The Niners suffered a slew of injuries during their 24-21 exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys a week ago, and some of those setbacks have a direct effect on the rest of the preseason.

San Francisco just wrapped up back-to-back joint practices with the Houston Texans in advance of both teams' preseason bout this Saturday. A brief scuffle between 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins highlighted the first day, while Niners rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis stole the second.

All that gives way to Saturday's contest, however, and here are five things you'll want to keep an eye on during the game.

Rhythm from the 49ers Offense


Well, the first-team unit anyway.

San Francisco's first stringers did manage to convert two third-down attempts against Dallas, but their drive stalled after just nine plays and 30 yards. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was just 3-of-6 for 34 yards and the running game never got much of anything going before the Niners were forced to punt.

Garoppolo was hit or miss during joint practices this week. While he did manage to complete a number of nice receptions to Pettis, Richie James and Pierre Garçon on both days, he also was picked twice -- the first time by Houston safety Tyrann Mathieu and again the next day by defensive back Kareem Jackson.

It's not much to worry about at this point. But as Al Sacco and I discussed on 49ers Webzone's No Huddle Podcast, it would be nice to see some extended rhythm from the 49ers' offensive starters.

Garoppolo and those starters will likely see more than one drive Saturday, but likely not much more than that. One solid drive would ease some concerns.

Offensive Guards Joshua Garnett & Jonathan Cooper


Up until Thursday, the Niners have largely been giving first-team reps at right guard to the veteran, Mike Person. The two many pegged as the prime competitors for starting duties this season, Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper, have been sidelined with injuries and subsequent recovery.

Both players participated in practice, though, and it appears as if head coach Kyle Shanahan intends on playing them Saturday. The question will be in what order and for how long.

According to NBC Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, Garnett saw work with the first string, while Cooper was working with the twos:


This is a pretty good indication of who starts. The 49ers may finally be giving Garnett an extended look at right guard to see if he can nail down the starting job when the regular season begins. That, or they're not totally comfortable with Cooper's recovery from offseason MCL surgery.

Or, perhaps, the Niners are featuring Garnett to help increase his trade value -- a possibility, given picks from former general manager Trent Baalke largely haven't fared well in the new regime's long-term plans.

It's anyone's guess at this point. But with a number of concerns at right guard, this development will be one of particular note.

How Running Back Alfred Morris Fits In


On Friday, general manager John Lynch indicated to KNBR 680's Murph and Mac Show running back Jerick McKinnon (calf) would likely be sidelined until Week 1 of the regular season. And with No. 2 running back Matt Breida out with a shoulder injury, the Niners elected to bring in veteran running back Alfred Morris on a one-year deal.

Morris, who thrived under Shanahan in 2012 and 2013 when both were with the Washington Redskins, has a solid chance to make the 53-man roster to open the year. Yet the Niners still have other running backs, namely Joe Williams and Raheem Mostert, vying for a roster spot this season.

It's possible the 49ers keep four running backs in Weeks 1 and 2, coinciding with linebacker Reuben Foster's two-game suspension and providing insurance against McKinnon's and Breida's injuries. Still, it will be interesting to see how many carries Morris gets and which unit he primarily operates with. Should he start, it's not a good indication for Williams, who remains on the roster bubble following a disappointing redshirted 2017 campaign.

Linebacker Fred Warner's First Game


For much of training camp, rookie third-round NFL Draft pick Fred Warner has been limited with a chest injury. Yet he still has managed to make an impact, somewhat literally, including a hard hit against Niners fullback Kyle Juszczyk a while back.

The BYU linebacker missed San Francisco's preseason opener, but he should be ready to go against Houston.

"Saturday will be my first NFL preseason game, and I've got to make sure that I've got my head on my shoulders and stay composed," Warner told 49ers.com. "But I'm looking forward to giving it my all. It's going to be a lot of fun."

On Thursday, Warner sacked Texans backup quarterback Brandon Weeden. It appears as if the Niners are getting all the physicality they can out of the upstart rookie. With Foster prepping for his suspension, and veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamstring) also out, it's likely Warner sees plenty of action Saturday.

It should be fun to watch.

Can Dante Pettis Keep It Up?


Pettis has been a stud for almost all of training camp, hauling in spectacular catches and displaying all the route-running prowess that earned him the Niners' second-round NFL Draft selection out of Washington.

But Pettis had only one reception against Dallas. Granted, it was an impressive one -- a 53-yard grab from No. 2 quarterback C.J. Beathard. Yet Pettis also dropped a pass and stopped his route on another target. First NFL-game jitters, perhaps?

Possibly.

The 49ers have a deep crop of wide receivers this preseason. Pettis is a surefire bet to make the 53-man roster, along with Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor. But things get a bit trickier when looking at James, Kendrick Bourne and special teams ace Aaron Burbridge.

San Francisco's wide receiver battle will be something to pay attention to during the game. But the biggest point of note should be what Pettis does and if he can continue to justify the Niners picking him at No. 44 overall last April.

So far, it's looking like a smart investment.

The 49ers and Texans kick off on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m. ET from NRG Stadium in Houston.

Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @PeterPanacy on Twitter.