The 49ers 2013 training camp starts today on Thursday afternoon. Here are some key position battles to watch as training camp unfolds:
1. Wide Receiver
Anquan Boldin should easily be a starting receiver, but the questions remains as to who is behind him. Michael Crabtree will be out for a significant amount of time with a torn Achilles tendon and it forces others to step up their game. A.J. Jenkins was the first round pick of 2012, but failed to record a single reception. The coaching staff has praised him throughout OTAs and minicamp saying he has improved. Quinton Patton, the fourth-round draft pick from 2013 has a similar skill set to Jenkins as well as having a productive college career as a top receiver.
The most NFL experienced of the bunch of Kyle Williams, who was just activated from the PUP list in time for training camp. He showed signs of promise as a receiver during the regular season, before he got hurt against the New Orleans Saints last year. Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall were practice squad members in 2012, but the coaches have felt both guys have looked adequate. The former spent time with Colin Kaepernick and Jenkins training in Atlanta during the offseason while the latter had a productive minicamp.
Mario Manningham would’ve been the number two receiver, but he will not return until some point in the regular season. He is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks last year.
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown were the starting cornerbacks last year, but the addition of Nnamdi Asomugha in the group makes this position worth watching. In the regular season, the 49ers were the 4th ranked passing defense in the NFL, but this unit struggled in the postseason, giving up more than 100 yards above the team’s regular season average.
This is a contract year for Brown, Perrish Cox, Tramaine Brock and Asomugha so there is something to prove for several players. Rogers also has a $6.25 million cap hit in 2014 and could be a cap casualty regardless of what happens after this season. The 49ers will be looking for someone in the mix to stand out among this competition.
3. Punt Returner
With Ted Ginn Jr. signing a deal with the Panthers in free agency, the punt returner position is wide open. Kyle Williams and LaMichael James are the two players returning with experience returning punts. Other players the 49ers tried out include Perrish Cox, B.J. Daniels and Quinton Patton. This is the most wide open competition for the team with uncertainty prior to training camp.
4. Free Safety (Craig Dahl vs. Eric Reid)
The 49ers expect Reid to be the safety of the future when they drafted him at 18th overall, but Craig Dahl has the experience of being the starting safety. Both players had a good OTA minicamp showing and this position battle isn’t decided yet.