The San Francisco 49ers are 14 days from their first training camp practice which means we'll start to get a better handle on who will rise and who will fall in the competition for roster spots. To prepare for training camp, we're going to go through a bubble watch of the entire roster. The plan will be to go position-by-position, and then compile it into our first bubble watch of training camp.
We continue our run through the positional depth charts, with a look at the safeties. Thus far, we've broken down the quarterbacks, the running backs, the fullbacks, the wide receivers, the offensive line, the defensive line, the outside linebackers, the inside linebackers, the tight ends, and the cornerbacks. We're back to wrap up the defense with the safeties. Rookies will report on July 16, and veterans will report on July 23
Locks: Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jimmie Ward
Strong Bubble: C.J. Spillman, Craig Dahl
Weak Bubble: Bubba Ventrone
Longshot: D.J. Campbell, LJ McCray
The 49ers have their starting safeties set, as Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea will get the starting spots. It remains to be seen how much of his 4-year contract Bethea will be starting, but he will be starting in 2014.
Jimmie Ward will open his career as the nickel back, but the coaching staff has said he'll be learning the safety position as well. I have to think the 49ers would love to see him develop into a solid backup safety option as soon as possible. If Darryl Morris can emerge as a solid cornerback, the 49ers might prove sufficiently comfortable with moving Ward to safety if Reid or Bethea is hurt or needs a spell, and in turn moving Morris (or whomever) to nickel back. I don't know if that happens this year, but it's got to be on the radar.
I wasn't entirely sure what to do with Spillman, Dahl, and Ventrone. I initially had all three as strong bubble, because I figured they all had a decent shot at making the roster. However, I decided Ventrone is a little bit less safe than Spillman and Dahl. Ventrone is exclusively a special teams guy, which means he is battling guys like Kassim Osgood and Blake Costanzo for a shrinking number of specialists only roles. I almost think Ventrone is somewhere above weak bubble, but below strong bubble because of that.
On the other hand, Spillman and Dahl have roles in the 49ers defense as needed. Spillman operates as the third safety when they go with that look. Dahl operated as the primary backup when Reid got hurt last year. Until Ward proves he can handle that kind of work, Dahl would seem to be somewhat safe. If Ward comes out and looks great, and picks up the nickel AND safety role well, that could change. But in the meantime, I think Dahl remains somewhat safe.
D.J. Campbell and LJ McCray would seem to be competing for a single practice squad spot between the two of them. It is possible one could somehow emerge for a spot on the 53-man roster, but the odds seem pretty long.