The 2023 49ers begin training camp Wednesday afternoon, and it’s officially football season again. While all eyes will be on the quarterback position for the team, there are a few battles and positions up for grabs. For the most part, the team is in place on both sides of the ball, but the fun of training camp is watching players ascend and take over roles.
Here are the three non-quarterback battles to watch during camp:
Can Drake Jackson lock in the other starting EDGE position opposite Nick Bosa?
All the buzz surrounding Jackson has been positive. From his weight gain to his technique, the praise has been loud for the second-year player from USC. While there is a bevy of premium EDGE rushers who can instantly contribute and provide a veteran presence, the 49ers seem ready to roll with Jackson.
Jackson represents the final “infinity stone” for the starting defensive line. Things become terrifying if Jackson rounds into a three-down EDGE player. His presence and ascension could put the 49ers starting four defensive linemen in a conversation over the vaunted 2019 line.
The secondary rotation?
Mooney Ward and Demo Lenoir are locked in on the outside at cornerback. Talanoa Hufanga is coming off an all-pro season at safety. The other two positions have presumed answers with Tashaun Gipson Sr. playing free safety and Isaiah Oliver at the nickel spot. But what if someone else rises to the challenge for those positions?
Steve Wilks wasn’t shy with his praise of Oliver, referring to him as the best nickel cornerback available. Oliver provides a boost in run defense and has the physical traits the 49ers covet at the position.
Samuel Womack began last season as the starting nickel cornerback, and it will be interesting to see his development. Whether he can challenge for the spot remains to be seen. During the spring, Womack worked at outside cornerback.
As far as Gipson goes, he’s the presumed placeholder for the free safety position while Ji’Ayir Brown gets up to speed, but there has been talk of a three-safety look in certain situations.
Brown is a ball hawk who plays fast, and the 49ers haven’t been shy about pushing their guys on the field early on like they did with Hufanga in his rookie year. Can Tig make a case to start over Gipson?
The Colton McKivitz plan?
Heading into last season, there was panic among 49ers fans regarding the three new starters across the offensive line. The starters were solid and showed upside. Fast-forward to this year, and following the departure of Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers are showing confidence in Colton McKivitz to replace McGlinchey and not miss a beat.
On the one hand, when McGlinchey went down with an injury in 2021, Tom Compton filled in admirably despite being thought of as an “out of the league” tackle. Kyle Shanahan was able to scheme Compton into favorable looks at times, and there is no reason to think he won’t do that for McKivitz.
On the other hand, his lack of experience is a concern. Also, what about points of the game where game flow and score dictate your offensive plan? You can’t always run the ball, especially when behind on the scoreboard.
The 49ers seem confident in his development, and Chris Foerster deserves the benefit of the doubt with his great work on the line.
Do these camp battles interest you? Or is it quarterback or bust?