49ers vs. Broncos: Breaking Down the Battle for Depth at Safety

HOUSTON - AUGUST 18: Michael Thomas #36 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after making a defensive stop against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on August 18, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Houston defeats San Francisco 20-9. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

With two preseason games left in the 2012 exhibition, San Francisco has the majority of their roster already figured out. But with two cutdown days soon approaching, the staff needs to get a better idea of the fringe players trying to make the final 53.

The competition to look out for, as insisted by Vic Fangio, should be at the safety position, where the depth is yet to be determined. In fact, it's the most unsure position in terms of depth on San Francisco's top-to-bottom stacked roster. The 49ers defensive coordinator suggested this week that the position is wide open, and it's likely that the competing players caught wind of this.

On Sunday, the 49ers will take on the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. After safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner have taken a seat, the competition should really get going.

In the preseason match-up, fans should be on the lookout for Michael Thomas (#36), Trenton Robinson (#30), Colin Jones (#43) and Darcel McBath (#32). Fangio suggested that the 49ers will carry four and perhaps up to five safeties, so 1-2 of these players can potentially make the Niners' final 53-man squad (Outside Goldson, Whitner and Spillman).

For that to happen, they would have to show they can provide versatility, discipline and instincts. Robinson has received solid reviews from camp and is the only player among this group that San Francisco invested a draft pick in. The Michigan State product has more than likely done enough to secure a spot on the team.

That narrows the battle down further to Thomas, Jones and McBath.

If the 49ers were to carry one of these players, it would have to be a pretty unanimous decision. Outside of being a backup player, they would ideally be a great special teams gunner and possible contributor in the nickel. It would also be nice if the Niners staff could get excited about using them in quarter defense against a pass-happy schedule.

This should be a heated battle between these three, and personally, I have to give the edge to Michael Thomas.

At Stanford, then-DC Vic Fangio converted Thomas from cornerback to safety. Thomas, 5'11", has the versatility, athleticism and ball-skills to win the job. Having been familiar with the staff, he had a leg-up on his competition early, which is advantage when time is a factor. I believe that of the three players, Thomas has the most upside. He is a smart player but right away he would have to show he can make up for what Colin Jones adds to special teams.

I think with the high level of special teams play, that San Francisco could afford to make the switch by bringing Thomas aboard in place of Colin Jones. I'm not discounting McBath, but that's what the preseason games are for -- he has to show the staff that he is clearly the better player.

With San Francisco going against this new-look Denver offense led by Peyton Manning, the three safeties should get their chances to be noticed. But like Fangio mentioned, one of these players needs to step up and take it. This should be an exciting position group to watch on Sunday, and the work week that follows should be even more interesting.

Follow @DeSimone80

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