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49ers position battles: DL, OLB, ILB, CB all have things to look for in Week 2

The San Francisco 49ers position battles are slowly coming into focus with one game down. We take a look at the defensive side of the ball as game two approaches. On Friday we broke down the offensive side of the ball.

The San Francisco 49ers welcome the Dallas Cowboys to town on Sunday for the second game of their 2015 preseason schedule. The third game is the big "dress rehearsal" type game, but the second game will provide a quality look at things. I don't think we would expect more than a half of playing time, but we will see more from the starters than in Week 1.

The 49ers first preseason game saw the bulk of the offense only play for one series, and the defense get a little bit more in. Many of the starters are already set, so this was a valuable opportunity to see what some of the backups would be able to do. Roster competition is still on-going, but we got a little context for the various position battles. I thought I'd take a look at the offense, defense and special teams in three separate posts. On Friday we looked at the offensive side of the ball, and this morning we look at the defensive side of the ball.

Reserve linemen

Competitors: Tank Carradine, Mike Purcell, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Lawrence Okoye, Arik Armstead, Garrison Smith, Kaleb Ramsey, Darnell Dockett
Week 1 DNP: Darnell Dockett

Some might disagree, but it seems likely that the 49ers base defense starting line will consist of Quinton Dial, Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey. We will see changes in the nickel, but I see that as a pretty sure thing for the base defense. That being said, there will be rotation along the line. The 49ers have some intriguing depth along the line, and I have a hunch we will see them roll it out plenty when the regular season gets here.

Tank Carradine was fairly active early on in the preseason opener. He got time on the line, in the nose tackle role, and really just in a whole lot of ways. I think we see him taking a particularly active role in the nickel, but the team is looking to see what else he can do.

Mike Purcell was the big winner from last week's preseason opener. He made some key plays on the big goal line stand, and had an all-around great game. He is competing primarily with Tony Jerod-Eddie and Lawrence Okoye for one, maybe two roster spots.

What to look for in Week 2: Can Mike Purcell build on Week 1? Do we see Lawrence Okoye and/or Arik Armstead a little earlier in the game? Does Darnell Dockett get some playing time?

Outside linebacker

Competitors: Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold, Corey Lemonier, Marcus Rush, Shawn Lemon
Week 1 DNP: Aaron Lynch

The departure of Aldon Smith opened this one up in a big way. It was even more wide open when Aaron Lynch spent the first two weeks of camp getting back in shape following an offseason back injury. Lynch missed Saturday's game, but returned to practice on Tuesday. After one practice, he was moved into the starting left outside linebacker role in place of Corey Lemonier.

The 49ers gave Lemonier a lot of snaps in the preseason opener, and while he still has the bull-rush move, he did not show much more. Given how quickly Lynch moved into first team reps, odds are pretty good that he will be starting opposite Ahmad Brooks as soon as this weekend.

Eli Harold is a lock to make the roster, and while Lemonier's chances improved with Aldon's release, he could find himself in a tough competition. Shawn Lemon is likely a long-shot, but UDFA Marcus Rush has gotten some positive publicity during camp. If Harold ends up as the team's third outside linebacker, it might make more sense to cut Lemonier and keep Rush. It is possible they also slide Rush to the practice squad, but he very well could end up on the roster, albeit as one of the game-day inactives.

What to look for in Week 2: Does Lynch or Lemonier get the start? Who of the remaining group gets more snaps among the non-starter and the rest of the group?

Inside linebacker

Competitors: Nick Moody, Shayne Skov, Desmond Bishop, Steve Beauharnais, Michael Wilhoite
Week 1 DNP: Michael Wilhoite

The inside linebacker position went through plenty of turnover this offseason, and it continues to deal with issues due to injuries. Michael Wilhoite was projected as the starting ILB, but a muscle strain has kept him on the NFI list through the first three weeks. He missed the opener, and will not play in Week 2. That opens the door for Nick Moody, Shayne Skov and Desmond Bishop to all show their stuff.

Moody and Skov ended up the biggest beneficiaries this past week. Skov led the team in snaps, with Moody third. Desmond Bishop strained something, and while he is back at practice, it cost him a chunk of the preseason opener. With Wilhoite still sidelined, Skov will get another opportunity to show his stuff. Moody seems like a lock to make the roster. Wilhoite is expected off the injury list sooner rather than later, and if that does happen, Skov and Bishop are fighting for no more than one roster spot.

What to look for in Week 2: Who starts? Does NaVorro Bowman get some action?


Competitors: Shareece Wright, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker, Marcus Cromartie, Leon McFadden
Week 1 DNP: N/A

Tramaine Brock seems locked in as the team's number one cornerback. After that, it is hard to tell what is next. Shareece Wright opened camp opposite Brock, and started in the first preseason game. Dontae Johnson came on in the nickel However, this week, we have seen Keith Reaser get time with the first team defense all four days. Additionally, Kenneth Acker got some time as the first team nickel back.

It is entirely possible the 49ers are just using this week to try out a different combination, with plans on reverting to Wright in the starting lineup next week. I do hope we see Reaser in the starting lineup to see him up against the Cowboys No. 1s. The Week 3 game is where we really learn a lot, but the more starting time for Reaser, the more likely it is he is moving into the starting lineup.

What to look for in Week 2: Will Reaser start opposite Brock? Who will be the nickel back?

Reserve safeties

Competitors: Craig Dahl, Jimmie Ward, L.J. McCray, Jaquiski Tartt
Week 1 DNP: N/A

The 49ers welcomed Jimmie Ward back to the practice field this week, and the 2014 nickel back ended up getting time with the safeties. Tramaine Brock has taken control of the slot role, so it is possible the 49ers are moving on to Plan B to get him ready as the primary reserve at safety. Craig Dahl holds the role, but I have to think the 49ers would love to get younger at the position.

L.J. McCray and Jaquiski Tartt got plenty of playing time this past week. Both are big hitters, with some questions about coverage work. Both are expected to be strong special teams options, but Tartt had the better Saturday in a safety role. If Ward is healthy, I could see him moving ahead of Dahl at some point, but this week is a big week for Ward in terms of potentially getting back on the field.

What to look for in Week 2: Does Jimmie Ward play? Who are the first reserves off the bench?