San Francisco 49ers Backups Destined for Starting Role in Near Future
The early-season struggles seem to be in the past for Colin Kaepernick and company. Even more impressive is that the 49ers are flourishing despite key injuries on both offense and defense.
With the injuries to Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Patrick Willis, LaMichael James, Cornellius (Tank) Carradine, Quinton Dial, Ian Williams, Glen Dorsey, etc., many teams would have folded by now, but not the 49ers. They just keep churning along.
Let's not forget that star pass-rusher Aldon Smith has voluntarily left the team to enter a rehab facility, though 49ers GM Trent Baalke has said the third-year linebacker could be back after the Week 9 bye.
The reason for the 49ers success lies in their excellent depth. They have backups at several key positions that are more than capable enough of filling in for a starter.
In reality, this could benefit the 49ers down the line. Like great teams should, the 49ers are preparing a handful of their backups for starting roles in the near future.
Who are the players I speak of?
Tramaine Brock (CB)
With the injury to veteran Nnamdi Asomugha, Tramaine Brock was simply the next man up. However, his play of late has been nothing but spectacular.
When Brock was given playing time in the past, I often noted his inconsistencies, which proved frustrating considering his talent level.
He has all the talent to be a superior playmaker, but at times Brock can play reckless, as we saw this week against the Jaguars when receiver Mike Brown burned him for a touchdown.
Brock has a tendency to jump routes, which I have no issue with, but sometimes going for the big play isn't necessarily the best play.
However, Brock has shown little of his past inconsistencies thus far in the season. In just his fourth season, Brock looks far more patient and mature.
The 49ers didn't tender a $1.323 million contract to Brock for nothing, despite GM Trent Baalke bringing in veteran talent at his position.
To further toot his horn, Brock is reminding me more and more of Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers from the Kansas City Chiefs. If true, the 49ers have a stud on their hands.
The corner position will likely be in flux next season with major changes looming. I have stuck up for this secondary many times before, but with Carlos Rogers likely a cap casualty in the upcoming offseason, and Tarell Brown heading for free agency, Brock should find playing time easier to come next season.
Brock is also a free agent, but I'm sure the 49ers can devise a fair contract that helps both sides in the long term.
Eric Wright (CB)
As I stated in the previous slide, the corner position for the 49ers should be in transition next season. Tramaine Brock, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown could all depart next season, leaving only Chris Culliver and restricted free agent Perrish Cox at the position.
Eric Wright, who was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was originally added to the team for depth purposes, but he could end up being a starter next season.
When healthy, Wright has the versatility and speed that this 49ers secondary craves. He has the versatility to play outside and as a slot defender, which should make 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio crack a smile.
Wright could takeover for Carlos Rogers in the slot next season, while also helping out on the outside if needed. Rogers, as I stated before, could be a cap casualty next season.
I may be getting ahead of myself with this prediction, especially since Wright just made his practice debut last week, but I have a good feeling that he could make an impact as early as this season.
We'll see how the chips fall, but watch out for Wright in the near future.
Daniel Kilgore (C)
As soon as next season, Daniel Kilgore will likely takeover as the starter at center. Jonathan Goodwin, who has been rock solid in his two years with the 49ers, will either retire or move on.
Like Brock, Kilgore is a guy that I've closely watched over the past few seasons. He fits the mold of a 49ers offensive lineman.
His tenacity, combined with brute strength and short-area agility, makes Kilgore a very intriguing prospect. His versatility, being able to play both guard and center, should also help the third-year player.
This is a run-oriented offensive line, and with the addition of Kilgore we could see the 49ers pushing the ball up the middle more. Goodwin has shown great balance over the last few years, but Kilgore is an athletic mauler in the middle.
Second year guard Joe Looney could provide some competition, but he's more of a guard. This should be ripe for the taking for Kilgore.
Trust me, the 49ers won't miss a beat with Kilgore up front.
Cornellius "Tank" Carradine
The 49ers defensive line has been up and down this season, but help could be on the way. With injuries to Ian Williams (IR) and Glenn Dorsey, the 49ers should activate Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine after the Week 9 bye.
Dial should help up front at the nose position, but Carradine will provide some relief at defensive end for both Justin Smith and Ray McDonald in the 49ers base defense.
Carradine also has the versatility to move inside in pass-rushing situations in nickel and dime packages, which is his preferred role anyway.
Now, how soon will Carradine start? This all depends on how long Justin Smith intends to play. It's no secret that Carradine is being groomed to eventually start, but if Smith continues to play at a high level, playing time will be sparse.
After this season, Smith will have two years left on his current deal. Smith could realistically retire a year before his contract is set to expire, and if so, Carradine will be ready.
Carradine is going to be a special talent for the 49ers in the future. At 6'5'' and 273 pounds, Carradine is a physical specimen coming off the edge.
If the 49ers intend to play him at defensive end in their 3-4 alignment, Carradine will have to put on more weight, though the rookie might already have done so. Nothing has been reported on that front, however.
Smith and Carradine are two different players. Carradine is an exceptional pass rusher off the edge, and with Aldon Smith also playing on the right side the 49ers could have a fearsome duo for years to come.
It won't be the same duo as Aldon and Justin, but a fearsome combination, nonetheless.
You want some proof? Check out the highlight clip above of Tank playing against my Maryland Terrapins.
Kendall Hunter (HB)
Many expect Marcus Lattimore to eventually takeover as the starter, but I am still a big believer in the Kendall Hunter train.
I don't view Hunter as a change-of-pace back, though he has played that role perfectly thus far in his career. Hunter, in my opinion, can be a fantastic lead back in this league.
His game is reminiscent of his teammate, Frank Gore. Hunter has the elusiveness, agility and underrated strength to be an explosive playmaker.
I'm shocked at his lack of involvement within the screen game. I have argued this ever since Hunter arrived in San Francisco, but over time I've come to the conclusion that the screen game is simply not a part of this offense.
If Lattimore indeed is the future at the position, and believe me he has the talent to be special, I can't envision him being the "guy" next season. The 49ers are committed to bringing him into the fold as slowly as possible.
Regardless, the future at running back is very bright for the 49ers.