The 49ers get back out on the exhibition field tomorrow night as they face the Houston Texans. This past weekend, Wes provided an overview of some of the position battles that were impacted by the Vikings game. He followed that up with looks the wide receiver position, the third quarterback and the backup running backs, while I took a look at right guard and the third tight end battle.
As the 49ers head into week two, the only battle that might be more or less answered is right guard. Alex Boone could very well struggle and allow Leonard Davis to get past him on the depth chart, but as it currently stands, he would seem to have a firm grasp on the right guard position. If he hasn't already "won" the battle, he could very well do so tomorrow.
The third tight end battle has changed up a bit with the departure of Nate Byham, and it would seem to be focused between Konrad Reuland and Demarcus Dobbs. Guys like Garrett Celek and Joe Sawyer will get opportunities to show what they can do, but both would seem to be a clear step behind Reuland and Dobbs. I think Dobbs makes the team no matter what given his athleticism at defensive end. It remains to be seen whether he will also claim the third tight end role, but with Delanie Walker sidelined this weekend, it should mean plenty of playing time for both Reuland and Dobbs higher up the depth chart.
The outside linebacker position has continued competition for the second backup spot. Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith will start, with Parys Haralson expected to be the primary backup. However, Eric Bakhtiari, Cam Johnson and Kourtnei Brown are competing for playing time after that. Those three operate primarily as pass rushers, while Haralson is more of a solid run stopper. Given that, it seems highly likely that the 49ers keep four outside linebackers.
If that is in fact the case, tomorrow's game will provide a significant opportunity. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks would both appear likely to sit out the game, meaning Parys Haralson moves into the starting lineup, along with one of the other three. Cam Johnson has been dealing with the after effects of his knee clean-up, so he could be ticketed for the practice squad. Bakhtiari and Brown will likely get the benefit of a lot of playing time tomorrow night, with one of the two starting opposite Haralson.
Coach Harbaugh indicated earlier in the week that Colin Kaepernick was creating some separation as the backup quarterback. That leaves Josh Johnson and Scott Tolzien battling for third QB scraps. Johnson will get the third QB snaps against the Texans following Tolzien getting them against the Vikings.
While I don't think we'll get an answer in this game, it could lead to significant answers next week. The 49ers face the Broncos next week in what is generally considered a dress rehearsal for the starters. If the starters play at least the first half, that could considerably limit the number of snaps available to the fourth quarterback. Whichever quarterback gets third snaps in week three might give us a better idea of who holds the lead in this roster battle.
The backup running back positions are less about roster battles and more just about how they will all be utilized. At this point, it would likely be a bit of an upset if the 49ers do not have Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs backing up Frank Gore in some order. Another strong showing would likely lock Jacobs into the third and short role. Kendall Hunter would seem to be the primary "every-down" backup running back. The 49ers will look to utilize LaMichael James' speed, but that won't happen extensively until the regular season.
Beyond that, there are some questions to be answered. Anthony Dixon is likely still alive for a roster spot, but he's a long-shot at best. As for Rock Cartwright? While I do think he earns a spot on special teams, it will be interesting to see how many touches he gets on offense tomorrow. He rushed eight times and caught two passes last week in a bit of a surprising role. Will he get a similar number of touches tomorrow? I'd be surprised by that, but I was also surprised last week.
At cornerback, Perrish Cox and Tramaine Brock continue to battle for opportunities behind the starting trio of Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver. It sounds like Culliver is having a very solid camp, which would seem to lock up those top three spots. While Cox could be used to spell the starters, it would seem like his best opportunity for playing time is as the sixth defensive back after the nickel. The 49ers do not use that a ton, so if he is playing as well as reports indicate, they may look to get creative in how they use him.
While the top of the wide receiver depth chart might seem mostly set, we'll still have plenty to watch tomorrow. Mario Manningham is expected to make his regular season debut. Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn will continue battling for some kind of role in the passing game. And we'll likely see more of Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Williams and Ginn would seem to be the two most likely battling for a roster spot at this point, given their standing on the depth chart. I think both make the roster, but any slip-ups would be damaging.
I'm sure there are other position battles you will be following. Any more important than this group?