The San Francisco 49ers have their first day off of training camp, which makes now as good a time as any to re-assess the bubble watch. The timing is even better because general manager Trent Baalke provided some insight into how the team views the roster. Or at least, how Baalke views it. During a 45-minute sit-down with the media on Saturday, he said that there are 4 or 5 roster spots up grabs in training camp. It is worth noting that these comments came after Kendall Hunter's injury, and before LaMichael James's injury.
Now that camp is officially underway, we've had some movement on the injury lists. The 49ers have removed four players from their various injured lists, and also placed Alex Boone on the Reserve/Did Not Report list.
Physically Unable To Perform (3)
DT: Ian Williams, Kaleb Ramsey
LB: NaVorro Bowman
Non-Football Injury (3)
RB: Marcus Lattimore
FB: Trey Millard
OG: Brandon Thomas
CB: Keith Reaser
Eventually IR (1)
RB: Kendall Hunter
Reserve/Did Not Report (1)
OG: Alex Boone
Based on Baalke's comments, that would seem to indicate that 48 or 49 roster spots are just about settled. I don't know how he views Alex Boone, or even guys like Ian Williams and Marcus Lattimore, on the PUP and NFI lists, respectively.
On my list of active players, I added LaMichael James, Stevie Johnson, and Joe Looney to the offensive locks. James suffered his dislocated elbow on Sunday, and is expected to miss approximately a month. That would likely cover all of training camp, which means we probably will not see him play in the preseason. On Wednesday, Jim Harbaugh discusses James's recovery, and said the team expects him back in time for the start of the regular season. The 49ers could find better return and rushing options between now and then, but for now, that would seem to indicate he will be on the roster.
I had Stevie Johnson listed as strong bubble because of his hamstring and his contract. Health-wise, he appears to be 100 percent. He has been a frequent mention in practice reports. I can't wait to see what he does in the preseason, but in the meantime, there's no reason from a performance perspective to think he won't make the roster, even a little bit. I'd love to see Patton and Ellington impact the team this year, but I this most us are quite comfortable with a 1-2-3 of Crabtree, Boldin and Johnson.
Joe Looney has been getting the first team reps during training camp, and appeared to receive most of them during the 49ers offseason workout program. Adam Snyder could still work his way in there, but with all the praise we've heard thus far from both Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke, it's sounding more and more like he's the guy for the job if Alex Boone holds out, and a capable backup if Boone returns. I do reserve the right to change my mind, but for now, based on Trent Baalke's comments, I'm willing to make the move.
And of course, with Hunter and LMJ's injuries, I've moved Jewel Hampton from long shot to weak bubble. LMJ is only expected to miss a month, but it does at least open the door a crack for Hampton.
The defensive line group is a tough nut to crack. We're hearing a lot of good things about Quinton Dial thus far, and Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs have last year to build on moving forward. The 49ers could very well keep all three, but I'm not entirely positive about that. Tony Jerod-Eddie has joined Tank Carradine in the starting lineup while Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are out. I've added TJE and Dial to the defensive locks, while keeping Demarcus Dobbs at strong bubble. I could see all three making the roster, but Dobbs's RFA salary is high enough that the 49ers could decide to look elsewhere to save some money.
At outside linebacker, I moved Dan Skuta into the lock category. Corey Lemonier could show enough to completely replace him, but at the very least, we can be almost assured Skuta will be on the Week 1 roster while Aldon Smith sits out his suspension.
At cornerback, I moved Perrish Cox into the locks. Aside from just his strong performance on Wednesday, his special teams versatility plays well, particularly with LaMichael James injured. Cox will be in the mix at the return positions, along with any other special teams work he can provide. If Jimmie Ward and Darryl Morris continue to develop, the 49ers could very well decide to go young at nickel and dime. And if LaMichael James shows he's back from his elbow dislocation, Cox could be an early season cut. But for Week 1, I can see the 49ers viewing him as a lock.
The safety position is one area where I would not be at all surprised if the 49ers had C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl locked in on the 53-man roster. I am a little skeptical given that they focus so much on special teams over safety work, but given Baalke's comments, I'm prepared to move them in as locks. Consider this bubble watch a mix of my own projections combined with influence from Trent Baalke. The team could decide more roster spots are open, but for now, I'll stick with what he had to say.
With all that, I've for 44 locks, 9 strong bubble, 12 weak bubble, and 17 long shots. In light of Baalke's comments, who do you see as a more clear lock than I am seeing among the strong bubble players?
QB: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
RB: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James
FB: Bruce Miller
WR: Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington
TE: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald
OT: Joe Staley, Anthony Davis
OG: Mike Iupati, Joe Looney
C: Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin
DT: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Tank Carradine, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Quinton Dial
OLB: Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta
ILB: Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite, Chris Borland
CB: Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Jimmie Ward, Darryl Morris, Perrish Cox
S: Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, C.J. Spillman, Craig Dahl
K: Phil Dawson
P: Andy Lee
LOS: Kevin McDermott
Strong Bubble (9)
TE: Garrett Celek, Derek Carrier
OT: Jonathan Martin
OG: Adam Snyder
DT: Demarcus Dobbs
OLB: Aaron Lynch
ILB: Nick Moody
CB: Chris Cook, Dontae Johnson
Weak Bubble (12)
QB: Josh Johnson, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB: Jewel Hampton
FB: Will Tukuafu
WR: Brandon Lloyd, Kassim Osgood
OT: Carter Bykowski
OG: Ryan Seymour
ILB: Blake Costanzo, Shayne Skov
CB: Kenneth Acker
S: Bubba Ventrone
RB: Alfonso Smith
WR: Jon Baldwin, Chuck Jacobs, Devon Wylie, David Reed
TE: Asante Cleveland, Kevin Greene
OG: Al Netter, Michael Philipp
C: Dillon Farrell
DT: Lawrence Okoye, Mike Purcell
OLB: Chase Thomas
S: D.J. Campbell, LJ McCray
P: Colton Schmidt
LS: Kyle Nelson