Training camp is just about here for all teams, and the San Francisco 49ers are one of the more interesting teams, at least among last year’s dumpster fires hoping to extinguish the flames in 2017. The roster has seen plenty of turnover, there’s a new (qualified) head coach, new coordinators, as big a defensive change the franchise has seen in nearly a decade and so much more.
Position battles will dominate the 49ers headlines for the next several weeks, going into the third preseason game. After that, it comes down to roster battles but for the most part, there are several positions the 49ers need to settle.
Most importantly, the new coaching staff believes heavily that no veteran is really safe. Everyone on the roster has to earn his spot, including reliable veterans like NaVorro Bowman and Eric Reid. Offensively, things are pretty interesting, too.
Quarterback isn’t really a battle, as Brian Hoyer is the unquestioned starter. That is the most important position going into 2017 but again, it’s not a competition.
Running back, though, is an interesting one. Carlos Hyde is the starter, but the 49ers drafted Joe Williams, who is a much better fit for the kind of offense that Kyle Shanahan will be installing. How much Williams will play will likely be dictated by his own performance in training camp and the preseason.
At wide receiver, Pierre Garcon is a starter and then from there it is pretty wide open. Jeremy Kerley is coming off a good year, but he’s far from guaranteed a starting job. Marquise Goodwin is in the mix, as well as a few others.
The tight end position is a mess, and has been for years. George Kittle has received plenty of hype in OTAs and what not, but he’s still a rookie with a questionable ceiling. Vance McDonald is a perpetual disappointment and the guys after him are all big question marks or have already hit their ceiling.
And finally we get to the offensive line. Staley has a spot, Jeremy Zuttah will have a spot and the 49ers would certainly like Joshua Garnett to solidify his spot. But there’s a battle at right tackle and at one of the guard spots, and given the type of offense the 49ers will be running, these positions are incredibly crucial.
So which of these battles is the most important? For me, it’s the right tackle spot, though I will admit that if one tight end blows all the others out of the water it could wind up being a bigger deal for the 49ers, at least in 2017. There are so few expectations from that position right now.