Predicting 49ers Depth Chart, Post OTAs
While OTAs are considered "voluntary," the 49ers usually have good attendance, especially when it comes to veteran players. Just look at Anquan Boldin, who skipped the Baltimore Ravens White House trip with President Obama.
Though the point is somewhat moot, considering Boldin wasn't on the practice field at the start of OTAs, according to Matt Barrows. Oh well, at least he wasn't celebrating. Not sure how that would work in the 49ers locker room.
In all honesty, the name of the game when it comes to voluntary OTAs has been injuries.
Some expected injury news (Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore) combined with a few head scratchers (Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter) have made OTAs a bit quieter than usual, but interesting nonetheless.
Here is an updated depth chart, post-OTAs.
The No. 2 spot behind Colin Kaepernick seems all but locked up. Colt McCoy will likely back up Kaepernick, unless an injury occurs.
The more interesting battle is at No. 3. Who will back up Colt McCoy? Both Scott Tolzien and B.J. Daniels are fighting for that third spot.
Tolzien is heading into this third season, and while the 49ers like the former Wisconsin Badger, Daniels brings a more diverse skill set to the table.
The rookie seventh-round selection has a lively arm and the ability to make plays outside of the pocket. Tolzien is mobile, but not quick enough to make a difference with his legs.
I say Daniels wins the match, but expect a hard-fought battle.
Unless injury occurs, Frank Gore will be the starter. However, the backup situation is somewhat murky.
In usual circumstances, Kendall Hunter would the backup. Before his injury, Hunter was a fantastic change-of-pace back for the 49ers and showed major flashes as a potential full-time halfback.
Of course, skill isn't a question with Hunter; rather, it's health. He's coming off major surgery and could still be shaky heading into training camp.
Additionally, the 49ers have a young star in the making in LaMichael James. As we saw during various points in 2012, James brings an explosive element to the 49ers backfield.
While small in stature, he also has made strides as a blocker—not to mention his ability to make a difference on special teams. Look up the New England Patriots game for proof.
James will push for that backup role, but I can't see Hunter slipping unless injury occurs. Look for James to make an impact on special teams and as a third down back.
Also, there seems to be a battle brewing between Jewel Hampton and Anthony Dixon. I expect Harbaugh to carry four backs, with Hampton being the likely cut despite the heavy workload in OTAs.
This is Bruce Miller's spot to lose.
Miller has shown to be one of the more underrated fullbacks in the league. The 49ers are one of the few teams who still use fullbacks as primary personnel.
Miller sure makes it easy for Harbaugh, though. He has become a difference maker as a blocker, and at times, Miller can look like a very viable receiving option.
Anthony Dixon was listed as the backup to Miller on the depth chart and will likely find himself in the same role if he makes the roster.
With the 49ers using a lot more 22 (two RB and two TE) and 12 (one RB and two TE) personnel packages, it means Vance McDonald will have to make up ground in a hurry.
Vernon Davis is entrenched as the starting tight end. While the 49ers may feel comfortable with the stock of receivers they gathered, this offense runs more smoothly with multiple tight ends.
Delanie Walker filled that role perfectly last season, but he's gone. Now, the 49ers will have to rely on rookie second-round selection Vance McDonald or second-year tight end Garett Celek.
Celek has promise, but is still far behind as a receiver. While McDonald is known for his versatility as a receiver, lining up outside and at slot while at Rice, his inexperience may hurt him.
I predict the 49ers will use more 11 personnel packages (one RB, one TE) until McDonald is up to speed. Celek still has value as a third tight end because of his blocking ability.
Michael Crabtree's absence because of an Achilles injury will open up some playing time for a handful of 49ers receivers.
Boldin will be the obvious starter; however, the number two and three spots seem to be wide open. Harbaugh has declared this to be an open competition.
It seems Ricardo Lockette, A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton will battle it out come training camp, though it seems no one pulled ahead of the race in OTAs.
Patton and Lockette are intriguing, but I think Jenkins wins out the role. The former first-round selection has the speed and quickness to open the field. If his newly built frame can hold up, he should have an easier time creating separation.
I think Manningham, who adds big-play ability, will be used effectively if he's healthy. Watch out for Kyle Williams as well.
The 49ers "big uglies," as we like to call them, should be intact for at least another season. The only potential question mark is at center.
Barring injury, Anthony Davis (RT), Mike Iupati (LG), Joe Staley (LT) and Alex Boone (RG) are locked in as starters; however, it seems Jonathan Goodwin (C) will have competition at center.
Goodwin played well last season, but the veteran turns 35 in December. Plus, the 49ers have suitable, young replacements waiting in the wings if Goodwin is cut or gets injured.
The two players that come to mind are Joe Looney and Daniel Kilgore. Looney is more of a guard but he does have some versatility to play center.
Kilgore, on the other hand, is a more natural center and has shown promise in preseason games and OTAs over the last two seasons.
Goodwin will likely stay on as a starter after taking a pay cut, but I fully expect either Looney or Kilgore to take over in 2014.
Ray McDonald and Justin Smith will return as starters in the 49ers' 3-4 base package. However, don't be surprised if the 49ers introduce some more 4-3 principles this season.
They have versatile players that can line up in both schemes, especially with the addition of Glenn Dorsey.
Some think Dorsey will be used as a 0-technique, but I think he'll have more success as a 5-technique in the 49ers' scheme or as a 3-technique in situational downs. The key is using Dorsey in limited snaps.
As a backup, I can see Dorsey flashing some of the potential that many saw when Kansas City selected him with the fifth overall selection in 2008.
Additionally, the 49ers may have to lean on Tank Carradine for some depth up front. Of course, the former FSU product is coming off of a serious surgery, so expectations must be tempered.
However, he can be a big time player for the 49ers toward the end of the season and into 2014.
Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle
This spot is up for grabs, though I'm assuming the 49ers would like Ian Williams to step up to the mantle, considering they re-signed the third-year defensive lineman.
At 305 pounds, Williams isn't your typical 0-technique. Usually teams look for more of the bigger linemen at this position, but DC Vic Fangio loves his nose guards to be on the lighter side.
Fangio loves athletic players inside, and Williams is a guy that can fit the bill. I fully expect Williams to take this spot, despite the 49ers playing more nickel last year.
Glenn Dorsey could also see some time here, though I expect him to play more end, as I stated in the previous slide.
Like McDonald and Smith, Aldon and Brooks will return as the starting OLBs. However, it will be interesting to see whom Fangio selects as the primary situational rusher.
Parys Haralson could fit that role, but he's coming off a serious injury. Rookie third round selection, Cory Lemonier, could also be an option.
Either way, the 49ers will have some options at OLB this year. Seeing as this defense looked rather pedestrian at times without a consistent pass rush, finding another outside pass-rusher should be a high priority.
The 49ers could also look in the free-agent market if they find the in-house options to be limiting.
I predict the 49ers stay in house and look to the rookie for some heat off the edge in situational downs.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the most fearsome tandem at ILB, but it seems the 49ers also got some depth in case of injury.
Dan Skuta was a nice pickup for the 49ers. He can play both mike positions in a 3-4/4-3, while also bringing value as a special teams ace.
Nothing really more to say. Bowman and Willis are just that good.
With Tarell Brown training in Texas, it gave Nnamdi Asomugha a chance for more reps in OTAs.
Brown's status as a starter should be safe, but the same can't be said for Culliver or Rogers—likely more so for Culliver, since I don't expect Asomugha to play in the slot.
Culliver has gobs of potential, but his inconsistencies have been well documented, enough so that the 49ers could potentially start Asomugha opposite Brown.
I don't see this happening, but don't expect Culliver to be handed the job. In fact, I think it will be open competition.
Asomugha will likely start off with limited snaps, but over time could eventually increase his playing time, especially toward the latter half of the season where Culliver has been known to struggle.
Behind Asomugha, Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox will fight for the scraps. I think Brock should win out because of his potential impact on special teams.
Cox will be a likely cut.
Craig Dahl and rookie Eric Reid are fighting for the safety spot opposite Donte Whitner. It seems Dahl is getting more first-team reps, though that is to be expected when your only competition is a rookie DB.
I envision a scenario where Dahl starts off as the starting free safety until the coaching staff feels Reid is ready for a bigger workload.
Reid's time will come, but expect the veteran Dahl to win this battle early on. Trenton Robinson and C.J. Spillman will likely be the backups.
Newly signed kicker Phil Dawson will be the 49ers kicker this season, while Pro Bowler Andy Lee returns as the designated punter.
The 49ers will have some new faces at special teams, which should improve their rather average coverage units from last season.
Dan Skuta should be a welcome addition as stated before, plus don't forget the recent signings of Raymond Ventrone and former Pro Bowl special teamer, Kassim Osgood.
Expect a much improved special teams unit next season.