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49ers position competitions heading into second open OTA practice

The 49ers return to practice Friday for their second open OTA session. What do we make of the position competitions thus far?

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The San Francisco 49ers are set to hold their second open OTA session of the offseason Friday, kicking off the practice at 12:45 p.m. PT. The session will be followed by an open locker room at 2:45 p.m. The Friday session marks the 49ers sixth OTA over the last two weeks. NFL rules require at least one practice each week of OTAs is open to the media. The remaining OTAs are set for June 1-2 and June 4-5. I believe only one of those four will be open, but we'll see. The team will also have some or all of the June 9-11 mandatory minicamp open to the media.

We don't have a ton of insight at this point, but I thought I would open the door to some discussion about the position competitions that continue to develop. Some of the positions cannot be completely assessed until pads are on and it gets more physical. But we can at least start to see what kind of work is going on, and how the depth chart is starting to shake out.

There are other position competitions that could shape up as training camp gets going in a couple months. Right now, Michael Wilhoite seems all but locked in next to NaVorro Bowman. There is really no word on what to make of Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch opposite Aldon Smith. I suspect we see an extensive rotation at outside linebacker to keep players fresh. As for the punter competition? Andy Lee has not been at voluntary activities, while Bradley Pinion has been working on a side field. He has not stuck out for the most part, so there is not much to figure out at this point. Barring an Andy Lee holdout, this competition will take on more meaning in training camp.

Left guard

Competitors: Brandon Thomas, Erik Pears, Andrew Tiller, Joe Looney

Some reports last week suggested Tiller was handling the bulk of first team snaps at left guard. However, it sounds like he has split them with Thomas to some degree. Pears has been handling first team right guard duties while Alex Boone is absent. Offensive line performance is next to impossible to assess in shorts, so we just look at who is getting what snaps. My guess is we continue to see Thomas and Pears alternating. One question for minicamp will be where Pears fits in if Boone has returned, as expected.

At this point it appears Joe Looney is not really in the mix for a starting opportunity. That could change when training camp gets here, but the 49ers might be looking at their final 2012 pick as a basic utility option.


Competitors: Tramaine Brock, Shareece Wright, Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Chris Cook, Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser, Marcus Cromartie, Leon McFadden, Mylan Hicks

Injuries: Tramaine Brock, Jimmie Ward

Brock and Ward are generally expected to be in the starting lineup outside and at nickel, respectively, but both are dealing with injuries. That has resulted in Wright and Johnson getting a good chunk of first team work. It sounds like Reaser is flashing his speed with work in the slot. Reaser, Acker and Cook likely lead the race for dime work. Again, all of this assumes Brock and Ward get healthy for the season. Odds are pretty good an injury creeps up to impact this competition.

Running Back

Competitors: Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, Mike Davis

Injuries: Carlos Hyde

I suppose it is possible Bush or Hunter claim the top of the 49ers running back depth chart, but I just see little to no reason it will not be Carlos Hyde. In reality, Bush, Hunter and Davis are competing for complementary work. Last week, Hyde was dealing with what was described as a minor leg injury. Davis is down in LA for the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event, so Bush and Hunter will be getting the bulk of the snaps on Friday.

Running backs are another position where no live contact makes it hard to assess much. The key at this point is which players do the best job learning their role. Once we get to training camp and preseason action, we'll start to get a better handle on things. Reports out of camp indicate Hunter is looking solid coming off last year's ACL, so maybe he ends up claiming a fairly significant role behind Hyde.

Wide Receiver

Competitors: Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, Jerome Simpson, Chuck Jacobs, Dres Anderson, DiAndre Campbell, DeAndrew White, Issac Blakeney, Darius Davis

Injuries: Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter

Patton has gotten a lot of work with Anquan Boldin's absence from the voluntary portion of the workout program, and reports are very positive. Boldin is likely going to be back for mandatory minicamp, so that leaves Patton, and of course the other receivers, with another week to show what they can do. Dres Anderson is getting some love for his speed, and a very talented Jerome Simpson recognizes he is dealing with potentially his last chance.

Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are locked in as the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers. As we head toward training camp, Patton could very well be emerging as the third receiver, but Ellington will be a guy to watch. He was dealing with a hamstring injury last week, so my guess is he will not take part in Friday's session. Ellington brings a dynamic that could allow the 49ers to utilize him in a variety of roles. Getting him back to 100 percent for training camp is the most important issue.

Tight end

Competitors: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Derek Carrier, Blake Bell

Injuries: Derek Carrier

Vernon Davis is the No. 1 tight end, and this is not changing in 2015. Beyond that, anything is possible. I imagine McDonald remains the No. 2 tight end if he can stay healthy, but there is a lot of talent competing. Carrier was in a walking boot last week that Jim Tomsula said was not any kind of break or fracture. McDonald and Celek dealt with back injuries last year, but all indications are that both are healthy.

Blake Bell is the X-factor in this group. He converted to tight end last season, so a 2015 impact is hard to see. The 49ers could focus him for some red zone work, but it will take time for him to develop his all-around game.


Competitors: Bruce Ellington, Jarryd Hayne, Reggie Bush

Injuries: Bruce Ellington

This is another one where we know next to nothing until there is live contact work. It is a lot easier to catch punts when nobody is coming at you. Ellington seemed the favorite for the role heading into the offseason, but the 49ers have added some talented options behind him. And maybe the 49ers figure out more particular roles for Ellington in the offense.

Defensive line

Competitors: Quinton Dial, Tank Carradine, Darnell Dockett, Glenn Dorsey, Arik Armstead, Ian Williams, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Kaleb Ramsey, Mike Purcell, Lawrence Okoye, Garrison Smith

Injuries: Darnell Dockett, Glenn Dorsey

With Dockett and Dorsey still rehabbing injuries, there is a lot in the air with this group. And without live contact, there is not much to be learned from this group in OTAs.

Dial and Tank are two of the more interesting guys, but one player that will be interesting to track is Kaleb Ramsey. He was a talented defensive lineman in college, but he could never stay healthy. He ended up on the PUP list after an injury in the 49ers offseason workout program. According to Matt Maiocco, Ramsey got work at left defensive tackle along with Jerod-Eddie last week. Ramsey remains a mystery at the NFL level, but he's a guy I will be paying close attention to as we get into preseason action.


Competitors: Marcus Martin, Daniel Kilgore

Injuries: Daniel Kilgore

I'll include this one, but it is not a competition until training camp when Kilgore is hopefully back to 100 percent. Kilgore is rehabbing his leg injury, and not participating in on-field work. This gives Martin a huge chance to establish his knowledge of his role.