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Jimmie Ward, Reuben Foster, guard are three of the big question marks for the 49ers starting lineup

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We know most of what the starting lineup will probably look like, but there are some big questions remaining.

The next month of OTAs and minicamp will provide teams with a better glimpse at what their starting lineup might look like heading into training camp. The San Francisco 49ers have a host of questions on both sides of the ball, but the starting lineup is coming into shape. It’s far from settled, but clarity is approaching.

NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal has been going around the league offering a look at projected starters. He took a look at the NFC West recently, and while he hits on some of the 49ers starters, he appears to be off the mark on the defensive side of the ball.

Offense

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Jerick McKinnon
WR: Pierre Garcon
WR: Marquise Goodwin
WR: Dante Pettis
TE: George Kittle
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Laken Tomlinson
C: Weston Richburg
RG: Jonathan Cooper
RT: Mike McGlinchey

For the most part, I suspect this is the unit we see the most of this fall. The wide receiver rotation is tough to start out, but spending a second round pick on Pettis suggests they have big things in mind for him. I think we end up seeing Pettis and Trent Taylor getting similar snap totals, but Pettis is a guy the team wants to move into a big role down the road.

The guard position is the only one where there is not as much clarity. Jonathan Cooper had knee surgery early in the offseason, which has Laken Tomlinson and Joshua Garnett taking first team reps at the guard positions. Erik Magnuson will also be in the mix for one of the two starting spots, and he is a leading candidate for a big reserve role given his versatility.

Other than that, I mostly agree with what Rosenthal put together

Defense

DE: Solomon Thomas
DT: Earl Mitchell
DT: DeForest Buckner
DE: Arik Armstead
OLB: Malcolm Smith
ILB: Brock Coyle
CB: Richard Sherman
CB: Ahkello Witherspoon
CB: K’Waun Williams
S: Jaquiski Tartt
S: Jimmie Ward

The defense is where Rosenthal goes off the rails. One note: he did not include Reuben Foster because of his uncertain legal situation and the potential for a suspension. That’s reasonable, but things go south from there.

Rosenthal goes with a nickel lineup, which makes sense given that teams spend more time in “sub-packages” than in the 4-3 look that is usually referred to as a “base” look. The problem is that in the nickel, Arik Armstead would kick inside in place of Earl Mitchell, and then Cassius Marsh, Eli Harold, and Jeremiah Attaochu would compete for the edge rusher role. Additionally, Solomon Thomas will rotate in and out, particularly in pass rush situations.

At linebacker, I suspect we see Fred Warner working his way into a significant passing down role. He is strong in coverage, but given that he’s a rookie, it may take him some time to establish his role. Malcolm Smith and Brock Coyle both have experience in Robert Saleh’s style of defense, which could very well give them an edge early on. Although, Coyle will be competing with Korey Toomer for opportunities, and Toomer himself has experience in this defense in his time with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The secondary is also off at the safety position. Jimmie Ward has been moved to cornerback for the team’s offseason workout program, with Adrian Colbert starting at free safety opposite Jaquiski Tartt. Ward is getting starter reps opposite Ahkello Witherspoon during the offseason workout program, but that is because Richard Sherman is still rehabbing his Achilles injury. Once Sherman is cleared to return, he will likely move right into the starting lineup.

Once Sherman does return, I am curious what happens with Ward. I suspect we see him serving as a Swiss Army knife in the secondary, working outside, inside, and even some safety. It provides some welcome versatility to a secondary that dealt with a lot of turnover and injuries last season.