Considering the inaccuracies in the various 49er depth charts out there (49ers home page, 49ers ESPN page, and 49ers NFL.com page), I started poking around with what I thought the 2007 depth chart would look like. However, I think there could be quite a few changes of the course of the season that will affect several key positions. Obviously anybody could be cut or traded, but just thinking of realistic scenarios would indicate several potential adjustments.
Offensive positions like quarterback, tight end and much of the starting offensive line is just about set. On defense, we know most of the starters. However, there are a few positions that I wanted to bring up for discussion.
Inside Linebackers - The most obvious one by far. I think the general expectation is that Patrick Willis is starting alongside Brandon Moore at some point this season. Maybe it's right away, maybe it's Week 13. Derek Smith is the "incumbent" and barring injury or an obscene Willis preseason, Smith is the guy.
Wide Receiver - So when we're running 2-receiver pro sets, obviously Darrell Jackson's the 1. Does Lelie get the first crack at the 2nd starting spot, or is Battle the incumbent and getting the first crack? I'd guess Lelie would be the 2 and Battle the 3 based on their individual skill sets. Then the question is the 4th and 5th receiver. Brandon Williams didn't make a reception last year but got rave reviews at mini-camp. However, I know I and several others here are high on Jason Hill. I'd expect that when the starters are getting pulled in preseason games, Hill and Williams will be 1/2 in terms of most playing time. I'm more intrigued by this position battle than any other.
Left Tackle/Right Tackle - I'd guess it would be safe to assume Jonas Jennings starts the season at left tackle. At right tackle, can we expect a training camp battle between Kwame and Snyder? If so, where does Joe Staley fit into this. Is he pretty much locked in as Jonas Jennings back up? Another option is if he impresses early on, do we start him at left tackle, move Jennings to right tackle where he played in the past? As long as Kwame isn't starting at right tackle I'll be happy. I say start Snyder and Jennings at right/left tackle, let Staley learn from Jennings and let Kwame rot on the bench.
Backup Running Back - The team has had a need to develop a quality back up to Frank Gore for some time now. Maurice Hicks is technically the backup, but considering he's an unrestricted free agent next off season, I'd assume Nolan will do everything in his power to get Robinson and Clayton the playing time to prove they can back up Gore. Robinson has the edge in being in the system for a year, while Clayton is an actual running back out of college. I'd assume Clayton will see a lot of time in special teams and the occasional running back snap, once the regular season gets here. In the meantime, this might be my second favorite training camp battle behind wide receiver. Will Clayton give Robinson a run for his money at the backup running back position?
Backup Nose Tackle - Behind Aubrayo Franklin, we'll see Isaac Sopoaga, Joe Cohen and Ronald Fields battling for playing time. If Cohen is closer to the 310-315 playing weight than 290, that could benefit him in turning into a legit NFL nose tackle. Fields was starting as a DT in the 4-3 before breaking his arm last December, so he'll certainly get a crack at playing time. This could definitely lead to a big-time rotation at nose tackle to keep everyone fresh.
Cornerback #2 - Nate Clements is firmly entrenched as the #1 corner. It should be a fun competition between Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer for the 2nd spot. While Harris had the Pro Bowl season last year, I'm still convinced Spencer is the better corner, when healthy. Of course if Spencer can't stay healthy it really won't matter. However, Spencer is only 25 years old and entering his 4th season in the NFL. He may never be a premier cover corner, but I really think he could be a legit #2 to Nate Clements. Either way, we'll have a great 1-2-3 when we add that extra DB in certain passing situations.
Backup DBs - After the Spencer/Harris battle, there will be a battle for playing time at safety/general defensive back positions. Michael Lewis will be the starting strong safety. Personally, I think Keith Lewis gets the majority of snaps at free safety, unless he gets in Nolan's doghouse. However, with the addition of Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown in the draft, there are plenty of bodies to compete for time at DB. I'd be more specific on my thoughts here, but this seems like the area where we could see the most fluctuation in potential backups.
The good news with all these legitimate position battles is that the competition will improve the depth this team has. As the team has struggled in the recent past, a lot of the talk was about how the team had to resort to guys who couldn't make it anywhere else. Now, we've got quality starters at every position, along with quality backups. Depth wins championships and this team is taking the steps to develop a deep offense AND defense. Is training camp here yet?