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49ers position battles: Handicapping the offense following OTAs

The 49ers have numerous position battles to assess in training camp. The 49ers wrapped up their 2013 offseason workout program last week. We take a look at the offensive side of the ball with training camp on the horizon.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, before the 49ers got into their OTAs, we put together a pair of posts looking at the offensive position battles and defensive position battles. The offseason workout program doesn't provide winners or losers to position battles, but they do give us at least a little more information about the different participants. With the offseason veteran program officially a wrap last week, I thought I would go back and re-assess the position battles. We'll start with the offense today.

Minicamp practice reports: Day one Day two Day three

Backup quarterbacks

Participants: Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien, B.J. Daniels

I did not see a clear leader behind Colin Kaepernick, but after a month of practice, it seems like Colt McCoy is the sizable leader heading into training camp. He has joined Colin Kaepernick in getting work with the No. 1s, while Scott Tolzien and B.J. Daniels have been getting work behind them. A strong training camp showing by Tolzien or Daniels could conceivably change that, but as it currently stands, McCoy seems just about a lock to handle backup quarterback duties this season.

The real question then becomes the third quarterback position. Scott Tolzien has stuck around for two seasons, and would hopefully have the playbook down pretty well. B.J. Daniels lacks the experience, but he brings athleticism and positional versatility Tolzien lacks. The final decision at quarterback could come down to whether the 49ers value Daniels positional versatility, or if they think Tolzien could develop to the point where he could be traded for any kind of draft pick(s).

I previously projected Daniels to the practice squad in the 90-in-90 post I wrote this past, but as I've repeatedly said, it's hard to fully assess Daniels' worth thus far. He is learning multiple positions, but we don't know where he stands in his contributions at each position. Training camp and the preseason will give us more to work with.

Backup running backs

Participants: Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton, Marcus Lattimore, B.J. Daniels

While Colt McCoy is emerging as the number two quarterback, the running back position battle is not quite so simple behind Frank Gore. Of all the running backs, Jewel Hampton has seemingly received as much work with the ones as anybody else. Frank Gore has been doing individual work, and no team drills. Kendall Hunter is recovering from his Achilles tear, so he is not doing any team drills. LaMichael James has gotten some work in, but a minor hamstring strain sidelined him for some of the team drills recently.

Hampton spent most of last season on the Non-Football Injury list, before getting added to the 53-man roster late in the season. The team obviously sees something in him to add him to the 53-man roster late in the season. With Marcus Lattimore likely spending the season on the NFI list, it opens the door for Hampton to compete for a spot. Hunter and James seem just about locked in to platoon behind Gore. After that, Dixon and Hampton would be competing for that next spot.

That first preseason game Hunter is back will be a big one to see how he is moving, how he is cutting, and just generally how the injury is or is not effecting him, both physically and mentally. I think LaMichael James slides ahead of Hunter overall on the depth chart, but without seeing a healthy Hunter on the field yet, it's hard to say for certain.

As for the Dixon/Hampton competition, Dixon has become a significant part of the special teams unit. Hampton will have to show what he can do on special teams to potentially force the issue. This is another one where we need to see Hampton on the field during contact work to see if his college skill translates at the next level.

As for Daniels, I added him to this spot from last time because of his work at running back. If he did make the roster, it would likely be due to versatility that includes work at running back.

Wide Receivers

Participants: Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette, Chad Hall, Chuck Jacobs, Marlon Moore, Kassim Osgood

Well, this position battle certainly changed. When I wrote about the wide receiver position back in May, the focus was on the third and fourth receivers. Two days later, Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles. Whoops.

Anquan Boldin is the number one receiver, and everything else is up in the air after that. Injury will likely sideline Mario Manningham well into training camp, and possibly into the season. Kyle Williams should be back for the start of training camp, as he completes his recovery from an ACL tear. And then you've got A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and the rest of the crew.

If Williams is back practicing at or close to 100% at the start of training camp, I fully expect him to get the starting nod opposite Boldin. He knows the offensive system, and he has shown sparks of big play ability in the past. It all comes down to health for Williams.

After that, you've got A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton likely competing in the third receiver spot. The 49ers will have times where they roll out that fourth receiver, but given their extensive use of tight ends, the split in playing time between the third and fourth receivers will be noticeable. Jenkins received quite a bit of praise from most of the media, although Grant Cohn was less than thrilled with Jenkins overall work.

Take that however you want, but the team has been doing what it can to pump his confidence. Jenkins hasn't been getting a lot of passes thrown his way, but has reportedly made some spectacular catches when he does get a shot. The most important thing to track with him come August is what kind of separation he is getting when cornerbacks can start to get physical. It won't be as much about the balls he's catching, as just getting open in the first place.

A year under his belt gives Jenkins an edge over Patton, but until we see how Jenkins handles the physicality, I don't think we can say anything with anything close to certainty. I think Jenkins gets the overall edge for now, but take that with a significant grain of salt.

Tight end

Participants: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek

This one cleared itself up as the 49ers released tight end Cameron Morrah. Reports from camp are that McDonald is doing a great job as a pass catcher. His blocking cannot be assessed yet because teams cannot do contact work in the offseason workout program. He will have to prove he can handle some of the Delanie Walker blocking duties, but otherwise I think he has to be the clear favorite to be the number two tight end.


Participants: Jonathan Goodwin, Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney, Adam Snyder

This is another one that seems to have cleared itself up. I figured Goodwin was a heavy favorite, but given his salary, there was always the potential the 49ers might decide to release him for cap space. A few days after the last handicap post, word got out that Goodwin had re-negotiated his contract, lowering his cap figure. That would seem to all but lock up his spot as the starting center.

The real question now at offensive line is how Kilgore, Looney and Snyder sort themselves out. Snyder got work outside at tackle with Joe Staley out, while Kenny Wiggins got first team guard work in place of Mike Iupati. Wiggins will be a guy to watch at camp. Kilgore and Looney would seem to be locks for those interior reserve line positions, but Wiggins is not going to go quietly.