Since training camp starts later this week, I put together a short list of position battles heading into training camp. I could wait until the day before, but since nothing is likely to change in the next few days, now is as good a time as any. We previously went over quarterback, right guard and the third/nickel back. At each position I've posted who I think is the early leader in the battle.
Right Outside Linebacker
Leader at the first turn: Tully Banta-Cain
When TBC was brought in last season, there was hope that he would help generate the pass rush that has been missing for some time. Unfortunately it did not work out quite like that. While he pounced on Kurt Warner's end zone fumble in overtime, that was probably the only highlight of significance from 2007. While with the Patriots, TBC was a veritable super-sub and it's possible he ends up back in that role with the 49ers. I list him as the leader simply because he's the incumbent. He'll see competition from my boy Jay Moore and Parys Haralson and will lose playing time to Justin Smith if the 49ers continue mixing him into the linebacker corp. Moore missed all of last season with a high ankle sprain but certainly had an opportunity to learn the system. I'm quite curious to see how he looks once the games get going.
Haralson got a big bump in playing time and while he wasn't spectacular, he certainly showed some skills. I would expect even more playing time for him this season. Considering the competition for playing time, I could definitely see the right OLB being a rotation between TBC, Haralson, Moore and Smith. While it'd be nice to see a single guy step into the role, each competitor brings something different to the table. Would you expect a platoon situation?
#2/#3 Wide Receiver
Leader at the first turn: Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle
It seems pretty clear that Bruce and Johnson are the guys we'll see starting every week. While the team isn't rolling out the likes of Boldin and Fitzgerald or Holt and Bruce (back in the day), the depth at wide receiver is intriguing nonetheless. Arnaz Battle is the guy who comes into training camp behind some new toy and is expected to take a step backwards. And then every year he steps up once again and is the 49ers most consistent receiver. Barring Isaac Bruce losing all his skills, Battle will primarily be battling Bryant Johnson for playing time. As much as I enjoy Battle on the field, I also know that if Johnson steps up and takes the #2 (or even #1) position, the 49ers will be better for it. Johnson brings more athleticism to the position and I think long term, Battle is better suited as the #3 guy.
I certainly would like to see Ashley Lelie step up and make a name for himself, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see Jason Hill or even Josh Morgan leap him on the depth chart. He has supposedly climbed out the doghouse, but until he produces, I'm not holding my breath. Hill is an interesting option as he spent much of last year injured. This training camp, particularly the exhibition games, will be very important if he wants to not get relegated to the scrap heap.
Leader at the first turn: Mark Roman
We've heard plenty of reports about Dashon Goldson looking sharp in practice. Roman had to get his shoulder cleaned out and that gave Goldson more first team time during OTAs. Roman isn't getting any younger and as is the case so often in professional sports, it's always nice to improve the team while getting younger. This may actually be the training camp battle I'm most excited about. Assuming Roman is healthy, I'd imagine he'll have the edge. They say the challenger has to truly beat the champ to take the title and Goldson will really have to step up. Roman is a solid free safety, but it would certainly be nice to get the position locked up with a young talent like Goldson.
Aside from the positions mentioned above and previously, the remaining positional battles are more playing time than starting or not starting. Nose tackle will be interesting because there are so many bodies to mix in that I don't see a single full-time guy there. Aubrayo Franklin is the nose tackle, but Balmer will get some time and I'm curious to see how they move around Sopoaga. And, of course, if they mix in some 4-3 schemes the nose tackle disappears.
So, if there's a position battle you think I missed, feel free to let us know about it.