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49ers vs. Broncos: Bubble watch heading into the preseason opener

We take a look at the 49ers bubble watch heading into Thursday's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. Who is a lock, strong bubble, weak bubble or longshot?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers head into tonight's preseason contest with the Denver Broncos with a lot of roster spots figured out, but several still to be determined. Jim Harbaugh met with the media yesterday, and early on he was asked a lot of questions about which of the veterans would play. He gave a few details, but then went off on one of on tangent about all the roster spots up for grabs this season. He said it felt different than any other preseason game the last couple years.

[T]he reason I say that is that there are pretty much every, almost every position group there is a fight for either a starting spot, a backup spot, to make the team more so than I can ever remember the last two years. That's exciting on one hand because there's been several players that have risen and gained traction to be officially in the hunt to take a job. And, neck and neck in terms of battles for starting jobs or backup spots or making the team, and so much so that you can't just look at it like there'll be this number of tight ends, this number of offensive line, this number of linebackers, this number of secondary players, corner or safety, wide receiver. It's going to be the best player. So, if there is a better corner than an extra offensive lineman or tight end or linebacker, all those things will be in play to add to the competition.

As we look through the 49ers depth chart, battles rage throughout the backup positions. Free safety, nose tackle and some wide receiver work remain up for grabs in the starting lineup, but otherwise, there is a lot of competition for backup spots.

With the first preseason game tonight, I thought I'd take a look at the bubble watch, broken down into lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and long shots. We've done 53-man roster projections, but I think at this point, the bubble watch is a little more helpful, particularly as we try and figure out who to watch tonight after the starters exit the game.

Right now, I've got 34 players listed as locks and 19 as strong bubble. That gives our 53-man roster, but obviously some of the weak bubble folks could sneak in. This is not a roster projection, but rather, it reflects that I think certain players are looking particularly good right now.

I suppose some guys could move down from lock, but I just don't see it. For example, I included Tramaine Brock and C.J. Spillman. Plenty of people are not sold on one or both, but given the kind of reps they're getting, I would be pretty shocked if either did not make the roster. Both are special teams demons, and both have been getting some first team defense snaps as well. Brock seems more likely than Spillman to secure significant starting time, but I think both are locked in. I'm sure some will disagree.

I've posted players on an injured list at the bottom, but the one exception was Kendall Hunter. I'm almost positive he will be removed from the PUP list before the season starts, and if so, he is a lock to make the roster.

The strong bubble question marks would be that trio of safeties. Bubba Ventrone is getting virtually no playing time at safety, but seems like a strong candidate because of his special teams work. For a lot of these guys, it will depend on how many special teams specialists the 49ers will carry.


QB (1): Colin Kaepernick
RB (4): Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Bruce Miller
WR (4): Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton
TE (2): Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald
OT (2): Joe Staley, Anthony Davis
OG (2): Alex Boone, Mike Iupati
C (2): Jonathan Goodwin, Daniel Kilgore

DT (2): Justin Smith, Ray McDonald
NT (2): Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey
OLB (3): Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier
ILB (2): Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman
CB (3): Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Tramaine Brock
FS (2): Eric Reid, C.J. Spillman
SS (1): Donte Whitner

P (1): Andy Lee
K (1): Phil Dawson

Strong Bubble

QB: Colt McCoy
RB: Anthony Dixon
WR: Marlon Moore, Austin Collie
TE: Garrett Celek
OG: Adam Snyder, Joe Looney

DT: Demarcus Dobbs, Will Tukuafau
OLB: Parys Haralson, Dan Skuta
ILB: Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Perrish Cox
FS: Trenton Robinson, Raymond Ventrone
SS: Craig Dahl

LOS: Brian Jennings

Weak Bubble

QB: Scott Tolzien, B.J. Daniels
RB: Jewel Hampton, D.J. Harper
WR: Kassim Osgood, Ricardo Lockette, Lavelle Hawkins, Chad Hall
OT: Kenny Wiggins, Carter Bykowski

DT: Tony Jerod-Eddie
OLB: Cam Johnson
ILB: Nate Stupar
CB: Marcus Cooper
FS: Michael Thomas
SS: Darcel McBath

LS: Kevin McDermott


RB: Jason Schepler
WR: Chuck Jacobs
TE: MarQueis Gray
OT: Patrick Omameh
OG: Al Netter, Wayne Tribue

DT: Lawrence Okoye
NT: Lamar Divens, Mike Purcell
ILB: Travis Johnson
CB: Lowell Rose, Darryl Morris

K: Colton Schmidt


PUP: Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham
NFI: Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Marcus Lattimore, Luke Marquardt
Likely IR: Chris Culliver