Bubble Watch for San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
Since Jim Harbaugh rode into town to take the job as the San Francisco 49ers head coach, the organizational standard has been immediately raised, particularly in regards to how this team prepares. There is an underlying theme that even when it comes to vets or starters, no jobs are safe.
Players fearing for their livelihood, as well as others fighting for a chance to get in the spotlight, have both responded to this philosophy. It has guys lunging for tackles, studying that extra hour before bed (instead of playing Madden), asking veterans questions until they’re blue in the face, and so forth.
This collective initiative of 90 men working to get better and show everything they are made of in the span of a month—in an elimination-type situation—has led to some very competitive training camps with some real nail biters.
With the high level of competition and overall talent, it is only natural that San Fran winds up cutting a few good players. The following profiles seven notable 49ers currently on the roster bubble.
Experience: 8 years
Depth Chart Position: 2nd-string tackle/3rd-string guard
Analysis: Following a short-lived run with the Cardinals, the ‘Niners brought Snyder back on a two-year, $2.45 million deal. With 83 career starts under his belt and having played every position on the OL except center, Snyder will bring a decent pedigree for a backup.
However, if the 49ers have a chance to go younger and develop a player with more promise for the future, the 31-year-old may find that his job is in jeopardy. The organization has brought in several line prospects—Snyder is just the contingency plan for this year if one fails to step up right away.
The team has invested in Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney at guard, while also bringing in a handful of developmental tackles. Undrafted free agent Luke Marquardt and seventh-rounder Carter Bykowski are very much in the picture.
Will Snyder be thrust back into free agency if cut-down day comes down to the wire?
This team is always looking to develop talent for the future. If there is a younger, less expensive talent on this roster, the 49ers might not need Snyder.
Experience: 10 years
Depth Chart Position: 4th-string cornerback
Analysis: The 49ers rode their three featured cornerbacks—Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver—to the Super Bowl in 2013. This trio will carry seniority over Asomugha, who will have to prove himself all over again in 2013.
From 2011-2012, the corner caught a bad wrap in Philly, having been jammed into a system that did not suit his strengths. The team was a mess defensively, and not because of a lack of talent. Former OL coach turned defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, went against the grain rather than building around the personnel.
It was a shame, too.
Prior to the fact, Asomugha boasted an All-Pro prestige, widely known as one of the league’s premier shutdown corners. Having washed his hands of the failed experiment with the Eagles, he now has a legitimate chance to return to form in San Francisco’s pressuring 3-4 defense that contains man-friendly elements.
But he will have to earn it.
According to ESPN, the one-year deal he signed bears no guaranteed money. However, it happens to be laced with incentives that could see Asomugha make up to $3 million this year.
For this reason, he is the epitome of a player on the bubble. Based on his performance in training camp, the 32-year-old defensive back will either fizzle out or perhaps stake his claim among the 49ers’ top-three CBs.
Experience: 3 years
Depth Chart Position: 4th-string running back
Analysis: To be frank, since Jim Harbaugh’s inauguration in 2011, the 49ers have drafted as if Anthony Dixon were not on the roster. Each year, he has been bumped down the depth chart, while receiving fewer and fewer reps.
In 2013, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James will take precedence in this offense, providing an added dimension behind No. 21. As Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area confirmed, San Fran has been readying a dynamic stable of runners to field a “three-headed monster”.
With a trifecta of prolific tailbacks ahead of him—not including one on reserve—Dixon will be feeling the heat. At this point, he cannot even be considered their best option for third-and-short, which might now be James.
Moreover, Dixon will be clinging to his role on special teams. That also might now be in jeopardy considering San Francisco’s offseason acquisitions, which included Nick Moody, Kassim Osgood, Dan Skuta, Marcus Cooper, Craig Dahl and Ray Ventrone.
Experience: 2 years
Depth Chart Position: 3rd-string quarterback
Analysis: In eight preseason showings, Tolzien went 43 of 74 for 467 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Entering his third year, he has no starts or regular season throws to his name.
The 49ers were originally drawn to Tolzien after he posted a 97.4 rating against them in 2011. After the Chargers waived him, San Fran put in a claim not long afterward, stashing him on the bench as a developmental pocket passer.
Since he was brought in, there has been quite a bit of change behind center. Without exploring the timeline of activity regarding the starting job, the factors more directly affecting Tolzien’s status are two newcomers at the position.
As a calculated decision by the front office, San Francisco traded for Colt McCoy, who is a shoe-in as the No. 2. Then there is B.J. Daniels, the rookie from South Florida. He is the only other QB outside of Colin Kaepernick to have been drafted in the Harbaugh era, and also fits a similar athletic mold.
As a gamer, Daniels wears many hats (RB, QB and KR), which will bring more value to the roster spot and may open all kinds of interesting possibilities on Sundays. He is a bona fide threat to replace Scott Tolzien this year.
Depth Chart Position: 5th-string cornerback
Analysis: From 2011-2012, four of San Francisco’s 17 draft picks did not make the roster to one degree or another (final 53 or practice squad). All four of those players were drafted in the sixth round or later, which puts Cooper in the danger zone.
The Rutgers CB was the third-to-last player taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
Moreover, with five starting-caliber corners on the roster, Cooper will have an uphill battle trying to earn a spot as a developmental player. Considering that he never earned a starting role in the NCAA, the rookie would be a liability as San Fran vies for a Super Bowl this season.
He is, however, a very enticing candidate for the Niners' practice squad. At 6’2”, 192 pounds with 4.4 speed, Cooper has a lot of upside, but needs to learn the nuances of the position from a technical and systematic standpoint.
If Marcus Cooper can become a presence on coach Brad Seely’s S/T coverage unit, he will give himself a shot to make the roster. As a corner, he will be in direct contention with Tramaine Brock, Nnamdi Asomugha and Perrish Cox.
Experience: 2 years
Depth Chart Position: 5th-string wide receiver
Analysis: Standing tall at 6’2”, 211 pounds, Lockette is the one wideout on the roster that physically differentiates himself from the rest of the pack. He is the prototypical height/weight/speed receiver that, until now, the Niners have intentionally avoided jamming into their system.
Since they’ve built under Jim Harbaugh’s watch, the 49ers have taken a liking to athletic receivers that run everything on the route tree. In their eyes, they do not have room for a one-trick pony that most of the league’s teams are so gung-ho about.
The low-risk signings of Randy Moss and Braylon Edwards to minimal deals over the years revealed their lack of interest in investing in that type of WR. Lockette is a curious prospect since he is the first of that mold of player in his early 20s to have caught the 49ers’ interest.
The 49ers could have taken Stephen Hill in Round 1 of the 2012 draft. They didn’t.
The 49ers could have stolen Da’Rick Rogers in Round 7 this year. They didn’t.
What makes Lockette so special? In two NFL games played from 2011-2012, the former track star from Fort Valley State nabbed two balls for 105 yards and a score. And since he did it wearing Seattle teal, Harbaugh certainly took notice of Lockette and his 52.5 YPC.
If the 23-year-old wideout can harness his big-play ability, Lockette has a very real shot to make the final roster. His edge in training camp this year is that he is the only receiver of his kind.
Experience: 1 year
Depth Chart Position: 4th-string outside linebacker
Analysis: In 36 games played in the NCAA, Johnson accrued 32.5 tackles for loss, including 12.5 career sacks with Virginia. As a rookie last year, he was slowed by injury, only suiting up for two games at the end of the season.
Unfortunately for Johnson, there has been a lot of activity between now and then.
Since he was drafted in 2012, Aldon Smith emerged as a starter, Parys Haralson restructured his deal to stay on as the No. 3 OLB and San Francisco traded up for Auburn pass-rusher Corey Lemonier.
That third and final factor—the offseason addition of Lemonier—may have been the transaction to seal Johnson’s fate in San Fran. Seeing as how the third-rounder comes in with a higher profile and seemingly more natural edge rush ability, it makes Johnson the odd man out.
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80.