The regular season is getting closer each day.
The San Francisco 49ers, one win and one play removed from a sixth Super Bowl championship last year, stand poised to return to the Super Bowl and win it this time.
San Francisco remains mostly intact from last season. There are the core of young stars which include linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman along with tight end Vernon Davis. There are also timeless veterans like running back Frank Gore and defensive end Justin Smith who have defied the aging process. Then there are the newly emerging stars such as quarterback Colin Kaepernick and linebacker Aldon Smith.
Each one of those players are supplemented by a commendable group of talented and diverse athletes that helped the 49ers become one of the most dominant franchises in today's NFL. Add to that a mix of newly-drafted rookies, headlined by the highly-touted safety Eric Reid, and there are plenty of reasons to believe San Francisco is a Super Bowl favorite this year.
Amidst all that hype and chatter however are the stories, controversies and circumstances that face each and every NFL team. The 49ers are no different this year.
San Francisco has already endured a hectic and busy offseason.
Whether one wants to cite the trades of Alex Smith and Anquan Boldin, the stockpiling of picks before the 2013 draft, or perhaps the loss of wide receiver Michael Crabtree to an Achilles injury the first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), the 49ers have already had their fair share of headlines.
Why would their training camp be any different?
If there is one understatement about San Francisco's coaching staff, it is that they love competition. Much of the 2013 49ers roster was designed that way. Some of that competition emerged during the team's OTAs last month. More shall be showcased during training camp which is set to begin on July 19.
Of course there will be the "no-doubters" who will perform at or above expectations. Willis and Bowman shall be amazing as per usual. Gore will do his thing and Boldin has already established that he is the top wide receiver.
Yet there are a number of other players who may turn some heads and wind up being pleasant surprises during camp. Certainly many are driven by the competition that the coaching staff has created. There are still roles and positions on depth charts to be filled. In some cases, those players are yet to be determined.
Here are seven players plus some notables to keep an eye on this month during training camp. Some of them, perhaps all, may wind up performing integral roles once the regular season commences.