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Observation Deck: San Francisco 49ers

BALTIMORE -- It is accurate to say the first players on defense for the San Francisco 49ers Thursday night did not play well. However, it's inaccurate to say the 49ers' first-team defense was torched in a 23-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The team was without five starters who are expected to start Week 1 at Dallas -- seven total if you count the injured NaVorro Bowman and Glenn Dorsey. Starters Justin Smith, Ray McDonald (who along with Dorsey make up the 49ers' starting defensive line), Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Tramaine Brock didn't play.

The only Week 1 projected starters to play in the second drive were linebacker Michael Wilhoite and cornerback Chris Culliver. The Ravens raced 80 yards on 10 plays on their first drive, but any worry that the defense, a 49ers' hallmark, will endure a season-long struggle is unnecessary.

Here are other thoughts on the 49ers' first preseason game of the year:

  • There were some standouts for the 49ers, among them the young defensive players Wilhoite and Quinton Dial. Both could have huge roles in the regular season.Wilhoite had seven tackles in the first half. He is trying to hold off rookie Chris Borland to start in place of Bowman in the first half of the season. Wilhoite came into the game with the edge and he still has it.

    Dial, a second-year player, didn't do anything to hurt his cause to replace Dorsey at nose tackle. He was a terror, with 10 tackles and two forced fumbles. His big night has to be particularly exciting to 49ers coaches since Dial has been outstanding all of training camp. Mike Purcell started Thursday night at nose tackle, but Dial is a big-timer riser. Purcell also had a nice night with nine tackles. He is making a push to be in the regular-season mix.

  • Tank Carradine also had a big night in his first NFL action after sitting out his rookie year recovering from a torn ACL. He had eight tackles and a sack. Expect Carradine to be part of the rotation this season. The 49ers' defensive line, already thinned by injury, took a hit when DeMarcus Dobbs left with an ankle injury and then when Lawrence Okoye went down with a foot injury. The 49ers have four healthy defensive linemen for their three-day work with the Ravens coming up.

  • Running back Carlos Hyde, the 49ers' second-round pick, had great night. He had 39 yards on five carries in the first half and had three nice runs on the 49ers' first drive. The Ohio State product has been good all camp and looks ready to make an impact. Starter Frank Gore, from whom Hyde is trying to take carries away, didn't play for the third straight preseason opener.

  • Cornerback Chris Cook, who should be in the playing rotation, had an interception. It's noteworthy because Cook didn't have an interception in four seasons in Minnesota. Cook has been a ball magnet all camp after making it a point of emphasis with his new coaches.

  • Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has been solid during camp, had a lousy night. He was 5-of-15 for 44 yards with an interception. His $2 million deal is guaranteed, so Gabbert, acquired in a March trade with Jacksonville, is locked in as Colin Kaepernick's backup.