Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
The San Francisco 49ers head into training camp with eight tight ends on the roster. The team dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries to the position last season, so adding more depth to compete in training camp makes plenty of sense. Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier and Garrett Celek all missed time with injuries, with all but Davis spending time on one injured list or another. McDonald, Carrier and Celek combined to miss 26 games in 2014.
Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald stand a strong chance of remaining the top two tight ends in 2015, but the competition for the third, and potentially fourth tight end spots will be significant. The team drafted Blake Bell in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. While his exact role is yet to be determined, it would be a shock for him not to make the 49ers roster. That leaves potentially one roster spot for competition between Derek Carrier, Garrett Celek, Asante Cleveland, Busta Anderson and Xavier Grimble.
Carrier has been with the 49ers for the last two seasons, after entering the NFL with the Oakland Raiders as a 2012 undrafted free agent. Carrier signed with the 49ers practice squad the first week of the 2013 season, and was promoted to the active roster that November.
Carrier appeared in five games in 2013, and then made the 53-man roster out of training camp in 2014. He appeared in 11 games, including a start in Week 3 when both Davis and McDonald were inactive. He finished the season with nine receptions for 105 yards, and one rush for two yards. It was a fairly low key 11 games for Carrier. PFF gave him positive marks for three games, negative marks for one game, and fairly middle of the road marks for six games.
After Week 12, Carrier was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. He was signed through 2015, but the 49ers gave him a 2-year contract extension locking him up through 2017. He sat out open portions of the offseason workout program due to the foot injury. He was spotted wearing a protective boot on his right foot, but Jim Tomsula said he did not re-fracture his foot.
Why he might improve in 2015:
Assuming the foot gets better, he will potentially see an improvement in his position coach, which could result in improvement. Eric Mangini coached tight ends last season, even though the bulk of his career was spent coaching defensive players. I can't say for certain that that hurt the group last year, but new tight ends coach Tony Sparano has extensive offensive coaching experience. Maybe it means nothing, but it makes sense that it could lead to some improvement.
Carrier converted from wide receiver to tight end, and blocking was an area he needed to improve. We very well could see some improvement, but we also could see him in more of a strictly receiver role to build on his strengths. We'll find out more once he gets on the practice field and into preseason action.
Why he might regress in 2015:
The foot injury slows his development in the new offense. He could attend meetings, watch film, and otherwise observe practice, but missing the early installation period is not going to help him. He still seems like a developmental talent, and missing time is not going to help.
A potential regression could also happen depending on the type of role he fills with the 49ers. If the team wants to get him into a more well-rounded tight end role, he just might not show the blocking improvement needed to hold down such a role. And again, the foot injury could slow that progress.
Odds of making the roster:
The fact that the team signed him to a two-year extension while he was under contract for one more year (and would only be a restricted free agent next year), seems to indicate his roster chances are strong. He got a $400,000 signing bonus, so it's not like releasing him this year would cripple the team. However, does it really make sense for him not to make the team?
One possibility of course is that he opens training camp on the PUP list due to his foot injury. We'll know that status in late July when the team reports for training camp. If he is healthy however, he probably makes the team, right?