San Francisco 49ers: Top 5 Position Battles in the Upcoming Season

Kyle Vassalo@VassaloBRFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2011

San Francisco 49ers: Top 5 Position Battles in the Upcoming Season

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    Jim Harbaugh is a big fan of competition. It isn't clear when training camp is going to occur, but players need to bring their A-game when it finally rolls around.

    Harbaugh has only had brief interaction with players on the roster. His first impressions of the majority of players is going to come when the team finally hits the field.

    Tape can only tell so much about a specific player. Everyone wants to appeal to the better nature of the new coaching regime. Some positions are locked down, but others are wide open. Position battles are among the most-intriguing story lines to follow during an offseason.

    There are five position battles that are going to be all-out dog fights. Here they are.

Manny Lawson vs. Aldon Smith

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    The 49ers brought Aldon Smith in to be a rush outside linebacker. Manny Lawson is a solid contributor against the run, but far from exemplary at getting to the quarterback.

    It appears the 49ers are going to ease Smith into the lineup. Nickel situations are where he has a real chance to excel immediately.

    At the moment, Lawson looks like he could hold down the starting role, but the designation may be only temporary. The 49ers expect Smith to develop into the three-down linebacker Vic Fangio's defense needs. Lawson's weaning out of the lineup is inevitable. Time will tell how soon Smith will knock him down the depth chart.

Alex Smith vs. Unnamed Veteran vs. Colin Kaepernick

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    Alex Smith is the frontrunner for the starting role going into training camp. The last thing the 49ers want to do is eliminate competition from the quarterback position and hand him the keys to the franchise, as they did in 2009.

    The 49ers need to bring in a veteran who can push Smith in training camp. While Colin Kaepernick is being groomed for the future, he is still raw. He's got a ton of potential, but he needs to learn the ropes of the NFL.

    The 49ers aren't in a hurry to thrust Kaepernick into the lineup. Even so, Smith has a tendency to melt down midseason. It's the reason why the backup QB in San Francisco is always one of the most popular players on the roster among the fanbase.

    Having a safety net and someone to push Smith is a necessity for the 49ers going forward.

Isaac Sopoaga vs. Ricky Jean-Francois

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    Isaac Sopoaga can play both the nose tackle and defensive-end positions. It looks like the 49ers are going to require his services in the middle of next season, with Aubrayo Franklin's contract situation in limbo.

    Ricky Jean-Francois is a promising rotational nose, but he is slightly undersized and was slain in the Green Bay game last season in the starting role.

    The 49ers are probably going to look for a nose in free agency and possibly through trade, but there isn't exactly an overabundance of suitors lined up for the picking.

    This could very well be the closest position battle on roster, should the 49ers decide to go with what they already have at nose tackle. A 3-4 defense is largely predicated off of the performance of the nose. It was a huge reason the team declined defensively last season.

    RJF is the best dancer on the team. The peanut-butter jelly dance moves may be brought out in a last-ditch effort to display his coordination and agility, should the race be as close as advertised. Perhaps this comes down to Sopoaga's Haka against RJF's peanut-butter jelly time, shown at 4:50 in this video.

Kyle Williams vs. Ronald Johnson vs. Ted Ginn Jr.

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    It's very possible two players make it onto the roster from this group. All three players are burners who can help out on the special-teams front.

    Ted Ginn has the best wheels of the group, but also has the worst hands and is the longest in the tooth. All three players were brought in by current GM Trent Baalke, though the Ginn experiment failed, for the most part.

    Kyle Williams hasn't been on the field enough to evaluate, but he was impressive at training camp. There isn't enough room on the roster for all three players. If Johnson looks the part, Ginn could be on his way out.

    Elaborate sets and formations are anticipated. Both Williams and Johnson are young wide receivers who could be the beneficiaries of being on the field with a ton of talent and an intricate offensive scheme.

Reggie Smith vs. Taylor Mays

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    Reggie Smith covers better than Taylor Mays, but the new coaching regime is optimistic about Mays' chances to succeed in the defensive scheme.

    Obviously, Mays is a high-ceiling guy with a ton of untapped potential. He's the sort of project coaches dream about. Mays was thrust into the lineup too early. He got some premature, but useful, playing time. It's far too early to write him off.

    How much more time is needed for him to get his bearings, though. The secondary was quite possibly the worst performing group on the entire team. If Mays proves to be a liability in coverage once more, the 49ers are almost obligated to go with the Smith.