When the 49ers kicked off training camp, I posted a position battle preview video I put together with help from SB Nation Studios. If you haven't seen it yet, or want to refresh your memory, I've posted it after the jump as part of a playlist including a Pro Football Weekly preview and then the awesome 49ers-Saints highlight video I've posted before.
I posted that video the second day of training camp, and in the week since then, we have already had some notable changes. The team signed Leonard Davis, and we've seen some solid performances move people around in position battles. The bubble is constantly changing, so I thought it was time for a bit of a position battle update.
The 49ers will be playing their first preseason game next week, so I thought it would be helpful to come up with a complete list of pertinent position battles. We've discussed a variety of the position battles, but coming up with a single list will help when we start reviewing performances after next Friday's game.
I think I got them all, but considering I almost forgot the backup QB position battle, I probably missed something. After the jump we go.....
1. Right Guard
Whether or not this is the "biggest" storyline or position battle remains to be seen, but it went from sure thing Alex Boone to at least a modest question mark with the addition of Leonard Davis. I remain convinced Boone is the guy who will secure the job, but it's nice to see the 49ers bring in a guy to both push Boone in competition, while also providing veteran advice on which to rely.
The rest of the depth chart is still a bit up in the air. Heading into camp, it seemed like Daniel Kilgore was on track to take firm control of utility interior lineman, as the primary backup at center and guard. Now, Leonard Davis could be working his way into that role. Add in Joe Looney officially cleared to practice and there is a fair amount of depth to be worked out.
2. Wide Receivers
Randy Moss continues to have a solid camp and would seem locked into the starting lineup. The press has been quiet about Mario Manningham, but there is nothing to indicate he won't start the season as the number three receiver. However, Kyle Williams seems to be having a strong camp thus far. Could it be enough to have him emerge as the number three receiver ahead of Manningham? The general belief appears to be no, but maybe a strong preseason performance changes that. At the very least, he could be working himself into quite a few more snaps, even as the fourth receiver.
The more notable emergence has been undrafted rookie Nathan Palmer. While he remains a long-shot to make the roster due to the numbers game, we have heard almost nothing but positives about Palmer. It becomes a really interesting roster decision if he continues his strong camp.
3. Running Back
I'd say the biggest news out of training camp thus far at the running back position is that Brandon Jacobs has dropped from 275 pounds to 260 pounds. Potentially more important is that Jacobs said he is adding muscle in his thighs and possibly regaining some of his burst from his early days in New York. We'll have to wait and see how he looks in preseason action, but if Jacobs can get into prime shape, that would be a huge benefit to the 49ers offense. Even with a limited number of power-related carries, Jacobs could be a big benefit to keeping Frank Gore at 100%, while providing an effective alternative.
4. Nickel and Dime Backs
Since the start of camp, Perrish Cox has received a good deal of praise. He is reportedly asking plenty of questions of Carlos Rogers, so that could continue to boost his stock. Chris Culliver would seem to remain the heavy favorite at the nickel back role. He is also getting some chances to compete with Tarell Brown as a starter, but it seems like he is more likely headed back to the nickel role. However, having a strong fourth in Perrish Cox creates significant depth. The 49ers lack significant safety depth, so when they go with six defensive backs, I'd imagine Cox and Culliver would be those two additions.
5. Backup Safety
This is another position that has seen a youngster emerge. UDFA Michael Thomas has been getting work at nickel back, while also learning the intricacies of being an NFL safety. It is hard to tell where he fits into the potential depth chart, as he is dealing with veteran C.J. Spillman and recent draft pick Trenton Robinson. Spillman and Robinson have filled in at the starting lineup when Goldson and Whitner were out during OTAs (Goldson more so). However, it sounds like Thomas is impressing the coaching staff. This is a position I look forward to tracking during the preseason games once backups enter the game.
Those were the five position battles/storylines I spoke about in the video below, albeit with some different details than what I have above. There are numerous other position battles worth tracking. These include:
6. Reserve Outside Linebacker
Parys Haralson is lining up as the primary backup at outside linebacker due to his veteran experience. According to Vic Fangio, Haralson is actually getting a similar number of snaps to Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith as they are rotating the three of them pretty evenly. His salary cap number is in the three million range, which is normally a bit high for a backup. However, given the need for at least one quality backup, it makes sense to keep him around.
After that, it seems fairly wide open between Eric Bakthiari, Cam Johnson and Kourtnei Brown. According to Barrows, Bakhtiari is lining up with Haralson and the number twos. He's got some solid experience, and that might be enough to get an edge in playing time. There hasn't been a lot of chatter about the backup OLBs thus far, so we might have to wait until that first preseason game to see what they bring to the table in real action. Johnson entered camp at less than 100% due to a procedure on his knee, so we'll see how much that hurts his roster chances.
7. Third tight end
This started as a battle primarily between Nate Byham and Konrad Reuland. Now we're suddenly talking about Demarcus Dobbs as a realistic option as the third tight end. Dobbs is apparently doing some solid work in practice, but again, seeing him in real, live football action next Friday will give us a better idea of where he is at. A preseason game isn't the be-all, end-all, but it's going to tell us something.
8. Defensive Line depth
There is no question about who will be starting on the defensive line, and we know the limited group that is competing for backup time. The question is how that will sort itself out, particularly as it applies to Ian Williams. Although Williams made the roster last season, he spent most of the season on the inactive list, thus retaining his practice squad eligibility. The 49ers already have Isaac Sopoaga dedicated solely to nose tackle, with Ricky Jean Francois as the primary backup. Will there be enough room for a second player solely working as a nose tackle?
9. Backup Quarterback
The reports have indicated Colin Kaepernick is leading this battle. Josh Johnson apparently has the better form, but has struggled at times with accuracy. And then there's Scott Tolzien. It's hard to tell where they all stand at this point. We can't put too much into preseason performances (see: Davis, Nate), but hopefully it can help square this away a little bit more.
10. Kicker/ Punt Returner
This would seem to be Ted Ginn Jr.'s job to lose, but if he can't produce enough as a wide receiver, maybe the team rolls the dice. Personally I think I'm over-thinking it. Given how important the return game was to the 49ers, and given how the NFC championship game went down, do the 49ers really consider entrusting the return game in the hands of Kyle Williams, Perrish Cox, and/or rookie LaMichael James? It seems like simple logic to stick with Ginn. But, given the depth of the roster this year, it might not be that simple.
Am I missing any position battles? Feel free to fire away in the comments, and of course, check out the video below. Your SB Nation overlords would appreciate it!