More than one quarterback competition to watch as 49ers open preseason

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans begin their respective preseason schedules Sunday, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. ET. As is always the case with the exhibition season, the result of the game doesn't matter as much as what happens for those playing it.

With that in mind, here's a look at six things to keep an eye on when the Texans and Niners kick off at Levi's Stadium:

1. Quarterback competition, part I: The battle between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick is at the center of any 49ers conversation taking place right now. And it's not going to stop until a winner is declared. However, any excitement about what could happen in this first preseason game has been tempered a bit by Kaepernick's recent shoulder soreness. It kept him from throwing in practice Thursday and Friday, and though he and coach Chip Kelly expressed optimism he'll be able to play Sunday, that is no sure thing. Which means it could provide ample opportunity for Gabbert to stake a claim to the early lead and make his case for the job. If Kaepernick does play, it's worth monitoring how many times he throws the ball and whether he makes it through without any additional soreness. It might be best for the 49ers to be cautious with him this weekend so that he can be ready to go for joint practices with the Denver Broncos ahead of next Saturday's preseason road game.

2. Quarterback competition, part II: The starting job is the focus, but it's not the only job among the quarterbacks up for grabs. If the Niners opt to keep three signal-callers, the battle for that spot will come down to Thad Lewis and rookie Jeff Driskel. It's a contest between Lewis' knowledge and experience in Kelly's offense and Driskel's promise and upside. Lewis will likely get the first shot of the duo, but Driskel, a sixth-round pick in this year's draft, has the look of a quarterback who could impress in the second half of preseason games. Driskel has some athleticism and seems to have a good feel for making the reads necessary in Kelly's offense. Don't be surprised if he posts some solid numbers against backups during the exhibition games.

3. Battling next to Bowman: The 49ers have consistently rotated Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges and Ray-Ray Armstrong at their second inside-linebacker spot beside NaVorro Bowman during training camp and, if the game follows the practice schedule, Hodges will get the start against the Texans. But all three players will get opportunities, not only in this game but in the rest of the preseason contests. All three have had some good moments in camp but nobody has been able to separate. Putting the pads on and tackling live will offer a much better clue as to how this one might play out.

4. Keeping Hyde healthy: Running back Carlos Hyde's No. 1 goal for this season is to stay healthy. That obviously means avoiding injuries during the preseason. Hyde needs to get some live action because he's coming off injury, but the 49ers would be wise to protect him and limit those reps so he can make it through this and the rest of the preseason healthy.

5. (Defensive) Line dancing: Another defensive group that is still seeking its best combination is the defensive line, where defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil has been unafraid to cycle through his options. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Quinton Dial seem to be best positioned to nail down jobs in some capacity, but that could easily change with Mike Purcell pushing for the nose tackle job and the pending return of Glenn Dorsey. The 49ers have been cautious with Armstead, who is battling a shoulder issue, so we'll see if he plays against the Texans. If not, it's just another chance for others to get key snaps. One name to watch: rookie Ronald Blair. O'Neil has praised Blair's versatility and he could see some snaps with the first defense against Houston.

6. Tempo, tempo, tempo: Kelly and the Niners have practiced as expected, which is to say that they constantly push the tempo and attempt to get in as many reps as possible during a normal practice session. They'll continue to do that against the Texans, and the game should offer a good look at how the offense is grasping Kelly's system and how quickly it's getting snaps off. It also should clue us in on just how much those fast-paced practices are helping the team's conditioning.