As training camp looms near for the San Francisco 49ers, there are going to be several excellent position battles. Here are the three most important:
1) Right side of the offensive line
Candidates – Alex Boone, Marcus Martin, Joe Looney, Brandon Thomas, Trenton Brown and Erik Pears
With the surprising retirement of Anthony Davis, the right tackle position is now up for grabs and fortunately for the Niners, there are a couple good candidates to take the job.
The most likely replacement for Davis is veteran Erik Pears, the 49ers’ free agent pickup this offseason.
He is 6’8 and stronger than ever.
Coach Jim Tomsula is looking to move Pears from guard, where he played at Buffalo last year, back to tackle, where he has played his whole career. “That’s what we’ve evaluated him most at,” Tomsula said of Pears and the right tackle spot. “I liked the way he was moving. The biggest thing with Pears is since he’s gotten here, with his weight room, he’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been. He’s moving really well. But again, we don’t have pads on. So we’re talking about this without any pads on.”
Another possibility is to move Boone from right guard to right tackle, where he has played well before. Boone is listed as the backup left tackle and is also the number one candidate to replace Mike Iupati, who left for Arizona during free agency.
Rookie Trenton Brown is a longshot to be the starting right tackle, but figures to get a chance. He is also 6’8, so no matter what, there will be a 6’8 starting right tackle for 2015. At this point, it looks like Pears will be the right tackle and Boone will switch to left guard. That would leave a vacancy at right guard that will be filled by either rookie Brandon Thomas, who was redshirted last year, second year center/guard Marcus Martin, who is now healthy, or four-year veteran Joe Looney.
Obviously, we will know more after training camp, but at this point, I believe Marcus Martin has the inside track to start at right guard with Thomas as the primary backup for both guard positions.
There is also the possibility that the 49ers still sign released all-pro guard Evan Thomas. Stay tuned.
2) Starting cornerback opposite Tramaine Brock
Tramaine Brock, when healthy, is among the top corners in the league, so if he’s recovered, he’s starting. The question mark is, who will start opposite him?
There are likely three candidates, possibly four. Shareece Wright was signed as a free agent from San Diego. Keith Reaser is a promising rookie who was red-shirted last year, and second year standout Dontae Johnson will be in the mix. It’s possible that the large frame of Chris Cook gives him a chance to compete to start, but it’s unlikely.
Wright is the favorite at this point. He has the most experience and he also carries the highest salary. It’s his job to lose.
Reaser has turned heads in minicamp, but it’s more likely he competes for the nickel position.
Johnson may be the most talented of the bunch, but after giving up some long plays at the end of last season, he may be more suited to play in the slot, where he played well last year.
I believe Wright will be the starter with Johnson beating out Reaser and Jimmy Ward for the nickel corner position.
3) Defensive Ends
My last article covered the details on the defensive line, but the main candidates are Glenn Dorsey, Darnell Dockett, Tank Carradine, and Quinton Dial.
As I detailed a couple weeks ago, a healthy Dockett will start on the left side and Dorsey starts on the right side. Dial and Carradine will get plenty of reps but will have to wait their turn this year.
All of these battles will be great to watch, but no matter who ends up being the starter, 49er fans should feel optimistic about the talent that is on this roster. The media may sleep on this team, but the Niners will be a tough out in 2015.