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49ers bubble watch: Offensive line features intriguing under-the-radar options

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The San Francisco 49ers have questions at almost every position while they work to figure out their 53-man roster. We’ll break down the bubble watch for each one. Today we look at the offensive line.

Welcome back to another week without 49ers football. I know that sounds particularly inspiring. But we are now less than six weeks away from the start of training camp, so that’s a plus. With that in mind, we’re back for another round of the 49ers bubble watch.

Over the next week and a half, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for many years now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we'll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Thus far, we have looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Today we look at the offensive line.

Lock: Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore, Joshua Garnett

Strong bubble: Andrew Tiller, Brandon Thomas, Marcus Martin, John Theus, Fahn Cooper, Trent Brown, Erik Pears

Weak bubble: Alex Balducci, Ian Silberman, Colin Kelly

Longshot: Norman Price, Blake Muir

There are a whole lot of options along the offensive line. And it’s a good thing because after last year’s train wreck, the team needs to find the right combination in 2016. Although a lot of things are not assured, we can say with some certainty who four of the five offensive linemen will be for the bulk of the season. Barring injuries, Staley, Beadles, Kilgore, and Garnett are starting at left tackle, the two guard positions, and center. Garnett may not be practicing with the first team when training camp starts, but at some point he will move into the starting lineup.

It gets interesting after that. Right tackle remains wide open, with Erik Pears and Trent Brown looking like the top two options. I had pondered including Brown as a lock, but his conditioning is a bit concerning. A lot of players needed time to get used to the pace of Chip Kelly’s offense, but Brown has a history of conditioning questions. I think he ends up making the roster, but those first reports from training camp will be something to watch.

The reserves are also very much up in the air. Marcus Martin is likely the front-runner at center, but defensive line convert Alex Balducci has been getting center work, and reportedly is impressing. I think Martin remains on the roster, but with an entirely new coaching staff working with Trent Baalke, who knows what it will bring. After that, the reserves remain up for debate. I had considered John Theus and Fahn Cooper as locks. They were getting positive reviews through minicamp. I expect them both on the roster, but as fifth round picks, I’m keeping them just off for now.

Colin Kelly joins Alex Balducci as an interesting one further down the radar. He got a $15,000 signing bonus and $65,000 in guaranteed money on his first-year salary. It is worth noting that if he is waived and ends up on the practice squad, that $65,000 goes to offset his practice squad salary. I would not be entirely shocked if one of the weak bubble guys ends up on the roster.