The San Francisco 49ers start training camp later next week, which means we’ll start to get some resolution on who will make the roster, and how the starting lineup will look come Week 1. As we come down this final stretch, I thought we’d go through some of the notable position competitions facing the 49ers in training camp. We’re going to focus primarily on starters, but we might mix in some pertinent reserve roles from time-to-time. We’ll start things off with the right tackle position.
The incumbent(s): Erik Pears, Trent Brown
Yep, there’s two incumbents for one position. The team signed Erik Pears seemingly as a swing option, but Anthony Davis’s retirement pushed him into the starting lineup. Pears started the first 14 games, but then moved to right guard for Week 16 and 17. Alex Boone suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve, and the team moved Andrew Tiller from right guard to left guard, thus opening up a spot. Trent Brown replaced Pears in the starting lineup. The two of them have split most of the right tackle work at the top of the depth chart through the offseason workout program.
The challengers: John Theus, Fahn Cooper, Collin Kelly, Blake Muir
The 49ers have a lot of youth in their offensive line depth. They drafted Theus and Cooper in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and signed Muir as an undrafted free agent. The 49ers signed Kelly as a free agent out of the CFL, giving him $65,000 in guaranteed money. Theus spent the offseason workout program splitting time between right tackle and left tackle. Cooper spent the program working at right tackle and right guard. Kelly worked mostly at left tackle with the second string offensive line, while Muir handled that role with the third strong offensive line.
Leader in the clubhouse: Erik Pears
He was getting the bulk of the first team work, and would then move over to left tackle to spell Joe Staley once in a while. Brown would replace him at right tackle in those instances, although Theus also got a little bit of second team work at right tackle in place of Brown.
Contract implications: None. Pears is on the final year of an inexpensive contract, and everybody is a rookie or Kelly (CFL free agent). Based on the current make-up of the 49ers roster, it’s an inexpensive position.
Wild card: We can’t go through the right tackle position without an Anthony Davis mention. He has not filed for reinstatement, but he continues to say he’ll return. He could be jerking our chain, but until we actually see what happens when training camp arrives, there’s always a possibility. I am skeptical he returns, but if he did, it could throw this competition for a bit of a loop.
Way too early prediction: The conservative play has Erik Pears starting Week 1. Trent Brown has dealt with conditioning issues, and I’m worried that carries over further. That being said, I don’t think Erik Pears starts all 16 games at right tackle. John Theus seems to be getting the most extra work at the tackle positions, but my guess is he ends up as a swing tackle. I’m mostly just having a difficult time figuring out what happens with Brown if the conditioning issues don’t improve.