The continued development of Shaun Hill is vital to the 49ers offense. Despite being in his eighth season, Hill's ten starts the past two seasons were the first of his career.
Hill hit 58 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions once taking over as starter in Week 10. But more importantly, the 49ers are 7-3 when Hill starts.
Officially, former starter Alex Smith is in competition at quarterback, but he'll likely be reliant upon poor play or an injury to Hill to see the field.
Whoever takes snaps will have a talented group of receivers that will have to fight for jobs in camp. Rookie No. 1 pick Michael Crabtree will likely be paired with Titan-import Brandon Jones, or emerging speedster Josh Morgan (20-319-3 in 2008) at wideout.
Despite never having more than 41 catches or 500 yards in a season, the 49ers signed Jones to a signed a 5-year, $16 million contract in the offseason.
He'll also have to fend off 2008 leading receiver Isaac Bruce (61-835-7), who decided against retirement in the offseason.
Jason Hill (30-317-2) and former starter Arnez Battle will also compete for roster spots and time in multiple wideout sets.
Former No. 1 pick Vernon Davis faces a make-or-break season at tight end. Davis was benched by Singletary late in 2008, but with only Delanie Walker behind him, the 49ers need Davis to perform. New coordinator Jimmy Raye wants to see Davis used more, so opportunities will exist.
The 49ers also need a recommitted Frank Gore to establish the running game. Gore has had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, but hasn't come close to his 1,600 yard breakout season of 2006.
To accommodate Gore, good friend a adequate fullback Moran Norris was brought back from Detroit in the offseason to clear the way. Rookie third rounder Glen Coffee was also brought on to spell Gore.
The run game should benefit from a talented, but inconsistent line that returns intact.
Joe Staley provides solid play at left tackle, and returns for his second season after moving from the right side prior to the 2008 season. Finding a bookend with Staley has been the problem.
If former Steeler Marvel Smith's back holds up on the right side, former regular Adam Snyder would be free to move inside to compete with guards David Baas and Chilo Rachel.
Baas and second-year man Rachel have yet to start full seasons at guard, but have the size and ability Raye looks for in lineman. The duo flanks able veteran center Eric Heitmann.
There is decent depth up front, with spot starter Tony Wragge and former Jets starter Jacob Bender inside, and Snyder and longtime Raider starter Barry Sims at tackle.
The 49ers are hoping continuity breeds success on defense.
In the only change to the front seven: last season's invisible first round pick, Kentwan Balmer, will go to camp ahead of Redskin-import Demetric Evans opposite returnee Justin Smith (seven sacks in 2008) at left end.
Veteran run stoppers Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin return at nose guard. When size is needed across the line, Sopaga will continue to kick out to end.
The inside linebacker duo of tackling machine Patrick Willis and veteran Takeo Spikes return to anchor the NFL's 13th ranked run defense. Former starter Jeff Ulbrich and rookie Scott McKillip will compete for depth.
The largest improvement needed from the 49ers front seven is a boost to the pass rush. The 49ers hope for improved play from former No. 1 pick Manny Lawson (three sacks in 2008) and the continued development Parys Haralson (eight sacks) on the outside. Otherwise, former Bengal starter Ahmad Brooks, moved from inside during the offseason, will could get a look.
The 49ers also need improved play from their 2008 20th ranked pass defense.
The loss of veteran starting cornerback Walt Harris during offseason mini camps didn't help. Nickel corner Tarrell Brown (one career start) will get first crack at his job. However Veteran Dre Bly, signed after Harris' injury, and former starter Shawntae Spencer will also compete for time. Whoever starts is likely to get picked on, as the other side is ably manned by Nate Clements.
Third-year safety Dashon Goldson was handed the free safety job in the offseason after playing primarily as a reserve his first two seasons. The 49ers hope his athleticism and range overcome a lack of experience. Pedestrian strong safety Michael Lewis returns, but will get a push from converted cornerback Reggie Smith.
Incumbant free safety Mark Roman remains, but will likely get his walking papers.
Probable Depth Chart
WR CRABTREE J. HILL
LT STALEY SIMS
LG BAAS BENDER
C HEITMANN WALLACE
RG RACHEL WRAGGE
RT M. SMITH SNYDER
TE DAVIS WALKER
WR JONES MORGAN
QB S. HILL A. SMITH
FB NORRIS KEASEY
HB GORE ROBINSON
DE BALMER EVANS
NG SOPOAGA FRANKLIN
DE J. SMITH McDONALD
OLB LAWSON HARRIS
ILB SPIKES ULBRICH
ILB WILLIS McKILLOP
OLB HARALSON BROOKS
CB CLEMENTS SPENCER
CB BROWN HARRIS
SS LEWIS R. SMITH
FS GOLDSON ROMAN