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12 questions facing the 49ers as they enter 2017 training camp

The 49ers are making a lot of changes this season. That brings plenty of questions as training camp gets underway.

It’s reporting day!!! The San Francisco 49ers veterans and rookies return to Santa Clara and report on Thursday for physicals and conditioning tests. The team will make any PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) and NFI (Non-Football Injury) list decisions, and begin preparations for their first practice, scheduled for Friday.

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will meet with the media Thursday at 11 a.m. PT, followed by the first player availability. Jennifer Chan will be on hand for the bulk of training camp practices, and we’ll also hear from 49ers Fan Girl, Tracy Sandler. In the meantime, as we wait for things to get going, here are some of the top storylines heading into camp. Feel free to offer up the storylines you’ll be tracking throughout camp.

1. When will Solomon Thomas report?

The first round pick remains unsigned on reporting day. More than likely he will sign his contract today and be ready for practice on Friday. Joshua Garnett went through a similar process last year. If Thomas does hold out, it will likely be because of a hold-up over offset language. If a contract has offset language, that means if a player is released before his deal ends and signs elsewhere, his new salary offsets what the 49ers still owe him. If the 49ers still owed him $5 million and he was released and signed elsewhere for $3 million, the 49ers would only owe him $2 million. If there is no offset language, in that situation, Thomas would collect $5 million from the 49ers and $3 million from his new team.

2. When will Reuben Foster be a full practice participant?

Foster took part in individual drills but not team drills during the offseason workout program. However, reports suggested he was getting particularly physical with his shoulder by the end of the program. He has remained in Santa Clara to prepare for the season, and John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have sounded optimistic about his chances of being ready at the start of camp.

3. What do we make of the new coaching staff?

The coaching staff was plenty busy in the offseason workout program, but with preseason and the regular season approaching, we’ll get a better idea of where this group stands. The bigger questions reside on the defensive side of the ball, with Robert Saleh working as a defensive coordinator for the first time. Kyle Shanahan is a noted offensive mind, and has brought in some familiar offensive minds. Saleh remains a mystery in many regards.

4. What will the 49ers defensive line rotation look like?

The 49ers invested a first round pick in the defensive line for a third straight season. They also signed Earl Mitchell and Elvis Dumervil, making the defensive line arguably the deepest unit on the roster. The big question is how the team will rotate all these options. It’s not a bad problem to have, but one that will need to be addressed.

5. What will the offensive line look like next to Joe Staley?

Staley will play left tackle, but the other four positions are up for grabs. Jeremy Zuttah is likely the favorite to secure the center job, but will compete with Daniel Kilgore and Tim Barnes. Joshua Garnett, Zane Beadles, and Brandon Fusco are competing for the starting guard positions. Trent Brown and Garry Gilliam are competing at right tackle.

6. Who will claim the starting cornerback role opposite Rashard Robinson?

Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon and veterans Keith Reaser and Dontae Johnson are competing for the job. All three got some first team reps during the offseason workout program, but none appears to have emerged as “the guy.”

7. What will C.J. Beathard look like?

The 49ers moved up into the third round to draft Beathard, and Kyle Shanahan said he was the one QB in this year’s class he really liked. He is expected to spend his rookie season developing as the third string quarterback. It is unlikely he supplants Matt Barkley for the backup role, but we have yet to see much of Beathard, so I suppose anything is possible.

8. Will Bruce Ellington be able to stay healthy?

The one-time fourth round pick has a ton of athleticism, and the potential to be used in a variety of roles. The problem is he has never been able to remain consistently healthy. He could be a dynamic weapon in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but his history suggests he will get hurt at some point. And given the new coaching staff, missing any significant amount of time in cam would likely result in him not making the final roster.

9. Will anybody other than Carlos Hyde claim a significant role by Week 1?

The 49ers are looking to the future in Joe Williams and Matt Breida, but for now Carlos Hyde is the No. 1 running back. I don’t think we see the 49ers cut or trade Hyde, but could someone emerge and force their hand?

10. How will the tight end position shake out?

The team tried to trade Vance McDonald, and George Kittle impressed in the offseason workout program. How much change will we see given the three offseason additions?

11. What will NaVorro Bowman look like following his Achilles rehab?

The 49ers linebacker suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last October, which was his second leg injury in three years. He is still in the prime of his career age-wise, but multiple leg injuries are something that can slow even the best player down. He was a full participant in the offseason workout program, but the big question is how he looks once pads go on and he gets into real football action.

12. What will we see in the changes to the defensive philosophy?

The 49ers are making big changes on defense. The switch in base defenses is notable, but the chance to be more aggressive could be a bigger deal. The team will likely spend more time in sub-packages than in their base 4-3 defense. But Saleh is expected to give his pass rushers more opportunities to get going rather than spending too much time reading and reaction. Additionally, the corners could be much more aggressive than we have seen in recent years. The team is turning over much of the secondary, and added more talent to get to the quarterback. The defense will likely be ahead of the offense this season, but that also puts some pressure on Robert Saleh to put together a sound game plan.