The San Francisco 49ers are less than a month from their first practice of 2015 training camp. Once camp gets going, there will be daily media reports leading up to the preseason opener on August 15. That time will give us a better grasp on the depth chart, and which players have climbed onto the bubble.
As we approach training camp, we'll be assessing the roster in several ways. We'll start with this bubble watch post. We'll go position-by-position, and break down whether players are locks, strong bubble, weak bubble and longshots. The discussion for each article will not follow a specific format, but rather will focus on the more interesting aspects of the particular roster competition. In July, we'll follow this with a look at contract numbers for each position, and we'll close with a look at key questions facing each position.
Locks: Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward (listed as both CB and S)
Strong Bubble: Craig Dahl, L.J. McCray
Weak Bubble: None
Longshots: Jermaine Whitehead
The San Francisco 49ers head into the 2015 season with their same pair of starting safeties for the second straight year. This marks the first time that has happened since 2012 when Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner entered their second year together. Those two are locked in at the starting safety positions, but the door is open for some other opportunities.
I have listed Jimmie Ward here along with the cornerback position due to his "defensive back" listing. He will be competing for the nickel back role in August, but there is a chance down the road he to one of the safety positions. In the meantime, Craig Dahl likely heads into training camp as the favorite to be the primary safety backup. Had Jimmie Ward been fully healthy all last season and this offseason, I could see him potentially taking over that backup role, but his foot injury likely slowed that progress to some extent.
A year ago, the 49ers kept five safeties on the roster (including Ward). This year, the addition of Tartt to the mix makes this a little more interesting. McCray was exclusively a special teams player, while Dahl was a special teams player who was also entrusted with backup safety duties. If McCray does not improve as a potential defensive option, his lack of versatility could cost him a roster spot.
McCray is not necessarily only competing with Dahl for a roster spot. He is competing with all the other special teams options. A new special teams coach also means he has a new coach to impress. That doesn't mean he won't be making the team, but it is one more hurdle to overcome for the small school prospect.