Broncos, 49ers open first NFL game at Levi's stadium

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The Denver Broncos are in the Bay Area, helping the San Francisco 49ers debut in their new home - Levi's Stadium. 

Cornerback Kayvon Webster did not make the trip after he rolled his ankle during practice.

It's not clear how much the starters will play on Sunday. Last week, Peyton Manning and the first teamers got 24 snaps, including a 14-play, 9-minute-plus drive.

If Manning had his way, the offense would get more reps against one of the NFL's top-ranked defense on Sunday.  He said this game is not only a good measuring stick, but the Broncos will see those same Niners again in the regular season.

"It's a good test when you play the 49ers. It's a physical game. It's a team we're going to play again in the regular season, it's a 3-4 defense and so there's lot of things, I think, we can get out of this," Manning said.

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. MDT.


49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't likely to play more than a series or two when San Francisco plays its first preseason game at newly finished Levi's Stadium.

Kaepernick completed his only pass and led San Francisco to a field goal in his only series of work in last week's 23-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Backups Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson split the majority of playing time the rest of the way. McLeod Bethel-Thompson mopped up in the fourth quarter.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said the plan will be the same when the 49ers host the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

"It's going to be the same plan going into this game," Harbaugh said Friday. "I can't just say the starters are playing this amount or the starters on defense are playing this amount or certain backups are playing this amount. It's more individualized to each player, each position."

Teams generally play their starters longer each week through the first three preseason games then back off in the fourth game.

With his team having practiced with the Ravens in the days leading up to the preseason opener, Harbaugh isn't as pressed to play his starters as he might have been.

That means Gabbert and Johnson will get extended looks as they continue their competition for the backup job.

The 10th overall pick in 2011, Gabbert is listed ahead of Johnson on the depth chart, but is coming off a rough debut with the 49ers. He completed only 3 of 11 passes for 20 yards. He was also intercepted once, drawing criticism from the media and fans.

Johnson completed 6 of 8 for 63 yards.

Harbaugh, however, insisted he likes the progress being made by Gabbert, who was traded to the 49ers in the offseason after three injury-filled seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"It was a good first step," Harbaugh said. "He's continuing to compete well. I feel good with the way he's coming along."

Still, Harbaugh stopped short of saying the backup job is Gabbert's to lose.

"There's a lot of jobs up for grabs," he said. "Nothing's set in stone. I'm very pleased with the job Blaine Gabbert's doing."

Johnson, a fifth-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2008 played at Stanford when Harbaugh coached the Cardinal.

One player who won't be playing at all is running back Marcus Lattimore. The 2013 fourth-round draft pick has been "making gains" according to Harbaugh, but remains on the team's non-football injury list.

Lattimore spent his rookie season on injured reserve after tearing three major ligaments in his left knee in October 2012. He was expected to compete for a backup job behind Frank Gore, but strained a hamstring during offseason workouts.

"He's doing well," Harbaugh said. "There's been gains. That's where we're at. Not quite there yet. He's making gains every day.

Note: Harbaugh took part in an ice-bucket challenge to raise money and awareness for ALS research after being called out by his brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Jim Harbaugh, in turn, issued the challenge to President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.


Meanwhile, the 49ers are looking to start a new tradition at Levi's Stadium. 

Kaepernick understands the legacy left by Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and so many others during a historic four-decade run at Candlestick Park.

As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for their first preseason game at new Levi's Stadium, Kaepernick is determined to start something special in the team's flashy new digs next-door to the practice fields where the quarterback spends most of his waking hours.

And his Niners will get a nice test Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, who lost in the Super Bowl to San Francisco NL West rival Seattle. The Broncos beat the Seahawks 21-16 in a rematch last Thursday in both teams' preseason opener.

"It's an opportunity for us to start our own legacy," Kaepernick said. "There was a lot of tradition, a great legacy at Candlestick and this is an opportunity for us to really make this our home and start something new here."

Stevie Johnson, for one, has a few mixed emotions as he prepares for his home debut after an offseason trade from the Buffalo Bills back home to the Bay Area. He grew up throwing rocks off Candlestick Point and would have loved to play there. The wide receiver understands what a new stadium means to the franchise, taking a glance up at the $1.2 venue after a recent practice.

"I've said it all the time, growing up you'd always see Candlestick," Johnson said. "That's right there where home is. Being able to play there for a season would be sweet, but look at that thing over there. You can't deny that that's a beautiful stadium right there and we're opening it up."

Not without a few concerns from coach Jim Harbaugh about his defense after a 23-3 preseason loss at Baltimore to big brother, John, and the Ravens on Aug. 7.

The Major League Soccer San Jose Earthquakes beat the Seattle Sounders in the first sporting event at Levi's Stadium on Aug. 2, and now it's the Niners turn at last. They held a public practice in Levi's on Aug. 1, and now things get going for real.

Those former 49ers and San Francisco Giants who spent their best years making history at The 'Stick are sad to see it go, though many welcome a state-of-the-art, tech-savvy stadium in the heart of Silicon Valley — even if it's some 43 miles from San Francisco proper. The Giants left for AT&T Park on the San Francisco waterfront in 2000.

Place kicker Phil Dawson, punter Andy Lee and second-year long-snapper Kevin McDermott have been regulars testing out the new conditions, which should be a far cry from the unpredictable blustery winds and cool temperatures along the shores of San Francisco Bay.

"I'm looking forward to getting in there and getting acclimated to the wind, sun and the shade," backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "It's brand new and it's in beautiful shape."

Aside from the fanfare, there's a tough schedule ahead to be most concerned about. That includes a pair of dates with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in what should be another wild NFC West race.

The Levi's Stadium regular-season opener is a prime-time date against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 14.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman appreciates Kaepernick's thinking about starting off the right way.

"There's a lot of credence to that. That's our home," Roman said. "And I think people knew when they were coming to Candlestick, to quote who was it, (Robert) De Niro, 'They're in for a dog day afternoon.' But, we've got to go out and prove that all over again in our new stadium. So, I think guys are really excited about everything about the new stadium. So, just got to go defend the flag."

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