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49ers position battles 2017: Handicapping the offense heading into training camp

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The 49ers have a lot of changes in store, and it reflects in the position competitions on offense.

The San Francisco 49ers kick off training camp on Thursday with coach, GM, and player media availability, and the first practice follows on Friday. We have had all offseason to speculate on who might claim what jobs, but the start of training camp means we will start to get some firm data to influence our opinions.

Before things get started, I wanted to get all the position competitions out there. We’ll use these lists to follow up after each preseason game as the coaching staff makes their decisions. We’ll start with the offensive side of the ball, and move over to the defensive side of the ball later today.

Center

Participants: Jeremy Zuttah, Daniel Kilgore, Tim Barnes

Kilgore replaced Jonathan Goodwin as the 49ers center in 2014, but has struggled with injuries. The team acquired Zuttah in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens, and signed Barnes to a free agent deal late in free agency. Zuttah was getting first team snaps in the offseason workout program, but a leg injury limited him for periods of the program. Barnes seems close to a lock to be competing for no more than a backup role for now.

Favorite: It would seem to be Zuttah for now.

Both guard positions

Participants: Joshua Garnett, Zane Beadles, Brandon Fusco

The 49ers interior line was not impressive last season, and yet the 49ers did not make a lot of changes. They signed Brandon Fusco as part of their late free agency offensive line additions. Daniel Kilgore and Garry Gilliam can both play some guard, but these three are the primary players for the starting jobs. The switch to a full zone-blocking scheme (as opposed to mixing it in at times) will be interesting to track. Garnett seems better suited for power, but his college head coach, David Shaw thinks he is suited for zone. Beadles brings the most versatility, with the ability to play all five offensive line positions.

Favorite: It would be nothing but a guess right now. All three rotated in. Beadles could be better suited as a swing guy across the entire offensive line. Fusco has not exactly been overly impressive throughout his career, but given the line struggles last year, nobody can really be counted out.

Right tackle

Participants: Trent Brown, Garry Gilliam

Gilliam was the third of the 49ers offensive line free agency signings. He has struggled in Seattle, but there is some thought that he could be a better athletic fit in the zone blocking scheme. Brown brings tremendous athleticism for a player his size, but controlling his weight remains a question mark.

Favorite: Brown has the better combination of size and athleticism. This one is likely in flux until we see how the depth chart looks the first two preseason games.

Tight end

Participants: George Kittle, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen, Blake Bell, Cole Hikutini

The 49ers are looking at potentially a complete overhaul of their tight end depth chart. Along with attempting to trade Vance McDonald during the offseason, the 49ers signed veteran Logan Paulsen and rookie Cole Hikutini, and spent a fifth round pick on George Kittle. There has been extensive rotation in the starting role, so Kittle getting first string snaps does not guarantee a starting role. That being said, by all accounts he was impressive in OTAs and minicamp.

Favorite: Kittle, Paulsen, McDonald - Cole Hikutini is the tough one to figure out in this. I only include McDonald because he remains a talented tight end, even if he has issues holding onto the ball. We could very well see a Kittle, Paulsen, Hikutini depth chart, but I’m not prepared to make that jump quite yet.

Running back

Participants: Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Joe Williams, Matt Breida, Kapri Bibbs

This is kind of a weird position for competition. Carlos Hyde enters training camp as the No. 1 guy, but with plenty of speculation swirling about his future. Tim Hightower seems locked in as a complementary option, but Joe Williams and Matt Breida are the intriguing names for the long-term.

I don’t view this competition in the same fashion given the unusual nature of things. The team is making big changes, but Hyde is a strong option if he does in fact remain around. It’s an intriguing situation to say the least.

Favorite: Hyde is starting, but Williams and/or Breida are the names to watch.

4th, 5th & 6th wide receiver

Participants: Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson, Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge, DeAndre Smelter, DeAndre Carter, UDFAs

I actually think Robinson is on the stronger side of the bubble heading into camp, but let’s keep things interesting. Trent Taylor is not guaranteed anything, but I think he is also pretty close to a roster lock. Where it gets interesting is if the team keeps a sixth receiver, and how they potentially mix and match receivers. Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, and Jeremy Kerley are currently the top three receivers on the depth chart. Kyle Shanahan rotated in plenty of receivers in Atlanta, so those fourth and fifth options won’t be sitting on their butt most of the game.

Favorite: Taylor, Robinson, Ellington

Swing tackle

Participants: Trent Brown, Garry Gilliam, Zane Beadles, John Theus

Given the injuries the 49ers offensive line has dealt with the past three seasons, the swing tackle role stands a good chance of being very important this year. It will likely come down to whomever loses the right tackle job, but Zane Beadles seems like a real possibility given his versatility at tackle, guard, and center.

Favorite: Gilliam or Beadles

Backup quarterback

Participants: Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard

We’ll throw a bone out there for this one. I would be surprised if Beathard supplanted Barkley, but I suppose anything is possible. It would take a seriously surprising jump out of the gates for Beathard to supplant Barkley.

Favorite: Barkley