SANTA CLARA — A bumpy preseason opener didn't provide many answers for the San Francisco 49ers regarding their muddled situation at wide receiver.
Except for maybe one.
In limited playing time, newcomer Austin Collie appeared healthy and effective while emerging as a veteran who could step up and climb up an uncertain depth chart for a team in search of legitimate candidates to fill front-line roles at the position.
With three of their top wideouts injured, the 49ers started unproven Marlon Moore opposite Anquan Boldin at receiver Friday night in their 10-6 exhibition loss to Denver.
Moore has just 12 career receptions, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman is still determining what the team has in its receiver corps.
"I don't know if there's always going to be one guy who's in there with the ones," Roman said on Sunday. "I think we've got some flexibility there, and that flexibility will continue to grow."
Collie and Lavelle Hawkins give the 49ers some options they didn't have at receiver before both veterans were signed by the team on Aug. 2. Each has produced at the NFL level: Collie had 173 receptions in his first three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts; Hawkins had 47 receptions with the Tennessee Titans in 2011.
No other healthy receiver on the roster besides Boldin has more than 35 career receptions.
Though coaches are still advising him to not go full bore in practice, during Thursday's exhibition Collie looked recovered from the ruptured patella tendon that forced him to miss all but one game for the Colts last season.
He had two receptions, including a 16-yard catch on fourth down to extend San Francisco's final drive late in the fourth quarter. Veteran newcomer Kassim Osgood's three receptions for 34 yards led all 49ers wideouts against the Broncos.
Collie has been making an impression as coaches ease him into increased action.
"Austin brings a great pedigree with him," Roman said. "He had an injury before that kind of halted that, but Austin's a guy who understands the game, a disciplined guy. He's learning our offense, but any time you have a guy who knows what to do, how to do it, understands coverage and all that, that's a bonus."
With younger receivers experiencing mixed results throughout the summer, the 49ers are taking a longer look now at both Collie and Hawkins, who had four receptions during one drive Saturday as the 49ers returned to practice with a "Fan Fest" event at Candlestick Park.
While saying both veterans will get an increased workload this week in practice, Harbaugh indicated each has a chance to move up the depth chart.
"Pleased with what they're doing, definitely," Harbaugh said. "They're studying hard, working hard to get out there and chomping at the bit to be out there."
Not so pleasing has been the inconsistent development of A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco's 2012 first-round draft pick. After finishing his rookie season with zero receptions, Jenkins was expected to make a much bigger contribution this year, particularly with the injuries to other top wideouts.
But he has been slow to come around this summer, and did not make much of an impression in the exhibition opener despite playing 39 snaps — 11 more than any other 49ers receiver.
Jenkins lost a fumble after his only reception, and was the intended receiver on both of San Francisco's interceptions - the only two other passes thrown his way. He didn't turn around to look for the football in time on the first pick, and on the second he didn't go up in the air to fight for the football with a safety on an overthrown pass.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco's No. 1 wideout, is out until at least November with a torn Achilles tendon. Mario Manningham, the team's second-leading receiver last season, has yet to practice this summer as he continues to recover from a December knee injury.
With veteran Kyle Williams also coming off a knee injury suffered late last season, Collie is battling not just to make the roster, but also for a possible key role in September's season opener against Green Bay.
"I feel a lot more comfortable as the days go by," Collie said. "But it's cutthroat out there. That's just the way it is. I haven't done this for almost a year, so it takes some time to get used to. You can't just snap your fingers and all the sudden you have it within a week. That's stuff that takes time, but we're working on it."