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49ers Training Camp Battles after the first turn: Part I

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The 49ers open training camp at the end of this week and we'll finally start to get some answers to the numerous burning questions facing the 49ers.  If you ask the mainstream media, the 49ers training camp questions boil down to learning Mike Martz's offense, the QB battle and, oh yea, the QB battle.

We all realize that there are a variety of battles to consider.  Some of them are pretty obvious, while others are a little more subtle.  Post-draft minicamp and the OTAs are done and while not a lot has been answered, the picture is starting to clear up.  I had considered titling this something to do with coming down the stretch, but there is too much training camp for us to already be coming down the stretch.  So here are my thoughts on the various battles and who the leader is after the first turn.

Leader at the first turn: Alex Smith
We'll just get this out of the way.  Alex Smith is the more mechanically and fundamentally sound QB so it's natural that he would be the leader going into training camp.  Throw in the biggest contract and it makes the answer even easier.  Once we get into games, we'll see how things play out.

Ted Linebacker
Leader at the first turn: Jeff Ulbrich
Until recently this seemed like a 3-horse race between Jeff Ulbrich, Dontarrious Thomas and my boy Larry Grant.  Well, Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan had a conference call with reporters yesterday and some interesting news came out.  According to them, Ulbrich has a clear handle on the position, but it is in competition with Larry Grant and Brandon Moore.  Apparently Thomas has been moved to the backup Mike position behind Patrick Willis.  It sounds to me like Thomas will end up in a super-sub kind of role.  It's also possible he's struggling picking up the defense and they figure he could do less damage backing up Willis.  Thoughts?

Right Guard
Leader at the first turn: David Baas (if you ask Nolan)
In the conference call, Nolan said the 49ers fully expected Baas to be ready in time for the regular season and step into the starting role.  Training camp however will see a battle between Tony Wragge and Chilo Rachal.  This leaves a lot of questions on the table, if Wragge or Rachal clicks with the rest of the offensive line.  Matt Barrows made mention of this last week and it is certainly something to consider.  On the plus side, having multiple guys playing well is certainly good for depth.  On the minus side, the offensive line is built on chemistry and cohesion.  You don't want to be bumping guys around throughout the game.  Looking at the 3 guys, Baas is only 26, Rachal 22 and Wragge 28.  So age really isn't an issue.  Of course, while it's all just rumor-mongering, throw in the highly speculative but still potential return of Larry Allen and it creates all sorts of confusion.  Larry Allen aside, the injury to Baas leaves things in limbo.  We'll have an answer as to who is ahead on the depth chart between Wragge and Rachal.  However, unless Baas has a setback or has a miraculous recovery in the next week or two, right guard will remain a question mark.

3rd/Nickel Cornerback
Leader at the first turn: Shawntae Spencer
Surprisingly there has been very little talk about this position battle.  Obviously the national media could care less, but even among local media things are quiet.  Barrows briefly mentioned the position in relation to Walt Harris's eventual successor.  The battle comes down to Spencer, Tarell Brown and Reggie Smith.  Brown got a little playing time last season but clearly he's still got a lot to learn.  Back during the draft, Scouts Inc felt Reggie Smith could step right into the 49ers sub packages.  He can play corner and safety so he certainly brings some versatility.  Of all the positional battles, this one could yield the most for team depth.  I'd expect Spencer to be the guy coming out of camp (if he's healthy), but I think Brown will see a lot more playing time from last year and Smith will get a nice chunk of time.  The 49ers play some receiver heavy teams this year so cornerback depth will be huge.  Furthermore, if the pass rush is weak and the corners are crazy-busy, the more quality guys they can rotate in the better.

Stick with these for conversation for now.  I'll have another post late this afternoon later tonight discussing the likes of right outside linebacker, wide receiver and free safety.