Breaking Down 49ers Depth Chart at the Start of Training Camp
With training camp starting, we can officially say football is back. The dreadful offseason is finally over. No more discussions on opposing team hats or anything of that matter, just football.
The 49ers, like most good teams, will have serious competition at several key positions, including cornerback. The botched Eric Wright trade was a key indicator that the 49ers are likely not satisfied with what they have at corner, despite the numbers at the position.
The wide receiver position is also of concern, but I'll hold judgment until we get well into training camp. The same goes for a few positions on special teams.
However, until then, let's break down the 49ers depth chart in the first moments of training camp.
Starter: Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick is the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the 49ers, especially with Alex Smith's departure to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The real competition seems to be third-string quarterback. Colt McCoy has all but locked up the backup spot behind Kaepernick, so expect Scott Tolzien or B.J. Daniels to grab that third spot.
As of right now, I would have to give the nod to Tolzien. While Daniels has the athleticism and arm strength, Tolzien should win out due to his experience.
Expect Daniels to be added to the practice squad.
Starter: Frank Gore
Frank Gore is the clear starter at running back, but the depth chart behind the inconvenient truth is a bit muddled.
If healthy, Kendall Hunter has the backup spot locked up. In his first two seasons, Hunter has shown all the tools needed to be a exceptional every-down back.
However, health may be a concern. Also, Hunter will have to watch his back with second-year player LaMichael James on his tail.
James didn't do much during the regular season, but come postseason time, James was fantastic as a situational rusher behind Frank Gore.
Additionally, we should also look at a roster spot competition between Anthony Dixon and Jewel Hampton. Hampton has impressed this offseason, which could only mean Dixon is possibly on the chopping block.
Starter: Bruce Miller
The former defensive-lineman-turned-fullback has done a tremendous job as a lead blocker for Frank Gore and the myriad of 49ers rushers.
As much as Jim Harbaugh craves competition, this is one spot that needs little explanation.
Starter: Vernon Davis
The 49ers love to use "22" personnel packages which feature the tight ends heavily within the offense. Both Davis and Vance McDonald will play huge roles within this offense, especially with the Michael Crabtree injury news.
McDonald is the real question mark at this point. Is he ready to be featured as a versatile receiving threat? At Rice, it was McDonald's versatility and size that intrigued Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh. How will that translate to the pros?
While I personally think McDonald will have a big year, I do, however, think the rookie could struggle early in the season. If so, this could put a lot of pressure on Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers' inexperienced receivers, excluding Anquan Boldin.
Garrett Celek will also look to carve a role as a solid in-line blocker. He will likely serve as the third tight end behind Davis and McDonald.
Starters: Anquan Boldin, A.J. Jenkins
Anquan Boldin will line up outside and in the slot for the 49ers. However, with Crabtree's injury, the 49ers will likely rely on A.J. Jenkins to play opposite Boldin.
Jenkins has been getting rave reviews from both the coaching staff and Colin Kaepernick. He actually looks like an NFL receiver who can win at the line of scrimmage. He can thank whoever led his strength and conditioning program during the offseason.
After Boldin and Jenkins, it gets a bit crazy. Kyle Williams seems to be getting healthier, but Mario Manningham is a question mark in regards to the start of the regular season.
Ricardo Lockette and Quinton Patton will have their work cut out for them in regards to playing time. We may not see these guys on the field unless another injury or two occurs.
Of course, this is only my personal opinion. Who knows? Lockette, Patton or even Williams could be the starter opposite Boldin. However, from what I've gathered thus far, it seems Jenkins is in the lead.
Starters: Anthony Davis (RT), Alex Boone (RG), Jonathan Goodwin (C), Mike Iupati (LG), Joe Staley (LT)
We shouldn't have much controversy here. The 49ers boast the best offensive line in football, and it isn't even close.
The center position is probably the only concern, but Goodwin would have to seriously look his age if either Daniel Kilgore or Joe Looney wins out at the conclusion of training camp.
Starters: Justin Smith (DE), Ray McDonald (DE), Ian Williams (NT)
When healthy, the 49ers boast one of the best front seven in football. It all starts with one man in Justin Smith.
Of course, Ray McDonald is no slouch. In fact, I think McDonald has been severely underrated in his last two years. He has shown to be a exceptional run defender and a very capable pass-rusher.
The competition on the defensive line will focus on the nose position. With the departure of both Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sopoaga, the 49ers only have Ian Williams and, potentially, Glen Dorsey.
Dorsey has the versatility to play as both a end and nose guard and will likely see time at both spots. The same for Williams.
It will be interesting to see who lands on top at the conclusion of training camp.
Starters: Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks
Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks will return as starters at OLB. It was a bit shaky with Brooks considering his off-the-field transgressions, but this likely won't affect his status for the regular season.
Parys Haralson and Corey Lemonier will likely fight it out as the first pass-rusher off the pine, especially in situational downs. I call this the sixth man.
Lemonier is a very intriguing prospect, but I would probably have to give the edge to Haralson. Haralson made a huge impact for this 49ers defense as both a starter and situational rusher.
Haralson can rush the passer off the edge and has shown to be a excellent run defender. His presence was missed last season.
Starters: Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman
I'll make this quick. Barring injury, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will man the two inside 'backer positions for the next five years or so.
The rest of the inside backers are either inexperienced or strictly special teams players. Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody are prime examples.
Darius Fleming rounds out this group, though I doubt he receives playing time.
Starters: Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver, Carlos Rogers
This is a position where we should see heavy competition. After a mediocre postseason last year, this 49ers secondary needs a shot in the arm.
Brown will likely remain a starter, though the same can't be said for both Rogers and Culliver. I like Culliver, but his inconsistencies during the postseason proved troubling.
Rogers is getting up there in age and might be a late cut, especially if Nnamdi Asomugha pans out. Since we haven't heard much from Asomugha, I can't make an informed prediction on whether he'll even make the team, let alone start.
Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox round out the roster at DB. Both guys should receive little-to-no playing time, barring injury.
Starters: Donte Whitner (SS), Craig Dahl (FS)
The battle at safety should be interesting. While Whitner has the SS position locked up, the same can't be said at FS.
Craig Dahl and Eric Reid will battle it out for the right to start. Reid is the player 49ers fans are rooting for due to the fact that Baalke moved up to get the former LSU safety.
Dahl should get the nod at first due to experience, but expect a fight. Reid is a smart cat who should challenge Dahl for the other starting safety spot.
Also, watch out for Trenton Robinson and C.J. Spillman; Robinson, especially. He could be the sleeper at safety.
Starter: Phil Dawson (K), Andy Lee (P)
Nothing much to report here. Dawson was brought on to be the starter at kicker, at least for this season. Also, despite the 49ers signing another punter, Lee's job should be safe.
The 49ers will have some great new additions on special teams. For a unit that was somewhat down in this department last season, at least compared to their 2011 season, given the additions of Raymond Ventrone and three-time Pro Bowler, Kassim Osgood.
Expect a much improved unit in 2013.