A month ago, as we were heading into training camp, I took a look at position battles and who the leader was at the first turn (Part I and Part II). Although the 49ers have only played two games, the third game is really the final game of importance. That's when you get the most snaps for your starters. The fourth game, on the other hand, is all about staying healthy and you usually know what your roster will be at that point.
Since the 49ers and Bears are throwing down later tonight, we might as well see where we're at in the various position battles. We've got some answers and we've got some new questions raised.
Leader coming down the home stretch: J.T. O'Sullivan
I think it's safe to say that barring injury or an incredibly bad performance, "Just Touchdowns" O'Sullivan will be quarterbacking the 49ers week 1 against the Cardinals. This has been one of the more bizarre quarterback competitions in recent memory, but we have no say in this, so that's life I guess.
Leader coming down the home stretch: N/A
This is a unique positional battle. Up to this moment Jeff Ulbrich has outperformed his competitors. However, the 49ers signed Takeo Spikes to play the Ted role, not to come off the bench. Mistakes in his first game are excusable as he is still learning the defense. It wouldn't surprise me to see a bit of a split in playing time at the Ted initially as Spikes continues to get his feet wet. However, even though Ulbrich has gotten the lion's share of the time there, it's Spikes's job to lose.
Leader coming down the home stretch: Tony Wragge
The saying goes that a veteran won't lose his starting job due to injury. However, Wragge has been getting rave reviews and may be doing just enough to take control of the job. In every discussion of this positional battle I've made mention of the chemistry and cohesion issue. I think Wragge is certainly playing himself into a starting role, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Baas reinserted into the starting lineup. Of course, with the other injuries along the offensive line, another opportunity may open up for Wragge.
Leader coming down the home stretch: Shawntae Spencer
The great hit on Rodgers aside, Spencer has not really done anything too bad or too good to change his status with the team. He's done enough to maintain his hold on the third corner position, while none of the younger folks have done anything to force him aside. I certainly wouldn't have minded Reggie Smith or Tarell Brown pushing him a little harder. However, we all know Spencer is a solid DB when healthy so I'm not concerned.
Right Outside Linebacker
Leader coming down the home stretch: Parys Haralson
Tully Banta-Cain appeared to have the lead, but in reality I think the coaching staff realized he is better coming off the bench in a variety of roles. TBC started the first game of the exhibition season, but against the Packers he gave way to Parys Haralson. I think TBC will get plenty of playing time each week on defense and special teams, but Haralson seems to have a bit better motor for the job.
#2/#3 Wide Receiver
Leader coming down the home stretch: Hell if I know
I honestly don't know what is going on with the wide receivers. Josh Morgan has clearly been the man of the hour and is pushing for starter snaps. He's shown a chemistry with O'Sullivan, has made some seriously big plays and has shown improvement each week. So why have I not plugged him right in? Well I honestly don't know what the plan is with Bryant Johnson and Arnaz Battle. Neither has seen the field in a preseason game. Both are veterans who know how to prepare for the season, but I wonder how ready they'll be without game action?
I'd like to hope we'll see them next week against San Diego, but even then I wouldn't expect a lot of time. A QB and his wide receivers need to be on the same page to make things happen. I can honestly say I don't know what to expect from those two early in the season. So now, if Josh Morgan has another quality performance, does he get the initial starter snaps while Johnson and Battle get up to speed? It follows the idea of "going with the hot hand." I think I'll throw up a poll question following the Bears game on this topic.
Leader coming down the home stretch: Mark Roman
On the one hand I love the ball-hawking skills of Dashon Goldson. On the other hand I feel safe with the veteran presence of Roman. The good news to come out of all this? The emergence of Goldson makes the 49ers' six DB package that much better. I'd be rather surprised if Goldson didn't wrest away the starting job next year, but for now, he'll be an amazing asset off the bench.