The next important date on the 49ers off-season calendar is August 2 when all the players report to Santa Clara for the start of training camp. Here is a list of five training camp competitions the 49er Faithful should keep an eye on starting in August. Tomorrow I will post five more intriguing training camp competitions.
Wide Receiver: Josh Morgan vs. Ted Ginn Jr.
At the start of the 2009 season Josh Morgan was in the starting lineup opposite Isaac Bruce. He won the starting job with his talent but with Michael Crabtree holding out the first five games of the season was a big reason why he was the number two receiver. After Crabtree signed with the 49ers he bumped Morgan down to the number three receiver on the depth chart. That did not last long as an aging Bruce started to breakdown to injuries and Morgan regained his starting role as the second wide receiver on the depth chart.
Unless Crabtree decides to sit out training camp again, there are no indications that will happen, he will be the number one receiver. Morgan is the presumed number two receiver after posting 52 receptions for 527 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season. Morgan had a chance to shine during the five-game sit out by Crabtree but his only successful game was the blow-out loss to the Falcons in week five when he caught 4 receptions for 78 yards. Shaun Hill started the first five games at quarterback and the 49ers were not much of a passing offense under Hill. Morgan flourished with Alex Smith as the starter as the 49ers went to a more pass oriented offense.
Ted Ginn Jr. is more known for his abilities running back kick-off returns but he is also a speedy yet raw receiver. The 49ers would love to develop Ginn Jr. into a more pure receiver but that may not happen by the end of training camp. If Ginn Jr. loses the second WR spot he will be used on third-and-long situations using his speed to get behind the secondary.
Also in the hunt: Jason Hill, Dominique Zeigler, Brandon Jones and rookie Kyle Williams.
Right tackle: Rookie Anthony Davis vs. Adam Snyder
One of the biggest problems last season for the 49ers at offensive line was depth after their starters. This was evident when left tackle Joe Staley went down to injury in week eight and missed the next six games. The 49ers patched up their offensive line well enough to stay in the playoff hunt but the O-line was a big reason why they did not close out a few games that should have been wins. The 49ers used their first two draft picks to shore up the offensive line with players that are expected to start right away and make an impact.
The first offensive lineman the 49ers selected in the draft was right tackle Anthony Davis. At 323 pounds Davis is the physical type of player head coach Mike Singletary envisions on the offensive line. Even with his size Davis has quick feet and the explosiveness off the line that you need to run the ball and to quickly get to the outside to protect the quarterback on passing plays. Even though Davis is a rookie as a first-round draft pick he is expected to start. Adam Snyder has played every O-line position minus center for the 49ers since he was drafted in 2005. He also started all 16 games at right tackle last season but only had a mediocre year of play which is why Davis was selected. Unless Davis cannot grasp the fundamentals of his position he will win the starting job. Injuries will occur on the line so having Snyder as a backup and that he can play four of the five O-line positions is a benefit for the 49ers.
Left guard: Rookie Mike Iupati vs. David Baas
David Baas is like Adam Snyder in that he started all 16 games last season however his production at left guard was not enough for the 49ers to stick with him as the starter as they drafted guard Mike Iupati. Iupati was considered the best guard available in the draft. Baas will most likely lose his job as the incumbent starter to Iupati. Evidence of this was during the Organized Team Activities with Baas also lining up at center to show how versatile he can be as a backup. It is not a sure thing Baas will lose the starting job because Iupati is learning the 49ers offense and how to play guard in the NFL. Iupati was notorious for holding penalties while at Idaho which is one hole he needs to fix in order to win the starting job. One positive thing for Baas is that he can take over the right guard position from Tony Wragge if he does not have a strong training camp.
Defensive line: Seven players, only six spots on the team.
There are potentially seven defensive linemen who can start but probably only six spots on the roster. The 49ers did record 40 sacks last year however not many came without the blitz which left the secondary exposed. The D-line needs to step up their pressure to avoid using the blitz all the time to get to the quarterback. Veterans Aubrayo Franklin, who the 49ers placed the franchise tag on, Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga will for sure make the team however their starting roles are not set in stone. The 49ers think highly of Ricky Jean Francois and Kentwan Balmer and both are the front runners for taking over the starting job at defensive tackle but we do not know what we will get out of both. Entering his second year Jean Francois saw limited playing time last year but is expected to get more playing time this year. He will have to have a tremendous training camp to take over a starting spot. Balmer is in his third season after he was selected in the first-round of 2008. Balmer had a lot of promise after the draft but the last two seasons have been disappointments. This will most likely be Balmer’s last chance to make an impact on the team so expect him to have a good training camp. With Franklin not having signed a long-term contract since being designated the franchise tag and Smith and Sopoaga getting older the coaches are looking for replacements of the future.
Also in the mix is Demetric Evans (most likely the odd-man out) and Ray McDonald (had a DUI this off-season).
Outside linebacker: Manny Lawson vs. Ahmad Brooks
One of the biggest keys to the 49ers 3-4 defensive formation is at outside linebacker. Manny Lawson is the starter at left outside linebacker however Ahmad Brooks took over on third-down situations over the last six games last season and excelled. Brooks ranked second in sacks in the final five games last season recording five sacks. Lawson missed the voluntary workouts this off-season which allowed Brooks to take snaps with the first team defense. Lawson said he missed the workouts because wanted a “change of scenery” for his workouts. He was in Arizona working out improving his strength, coverage skills and explosion off the line. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Lawson missed all of the voluntary workouts while only having one more year left on his contract. Lawson has been professional about expressing his desire for a new contract and he definitely deserves a long-term contract. Lawson however will need to continue his professionalism through training camp and not pull a Brandon Marshall by participating in training camp but protesting for a new contract at the same time. Otherwise Brooks is ready to step in.
Also in the hunt: Scott McKillop, Travis LaBoy and rookie Navorro Bowman.
Look for Part II tomorrow with five more training camp competitions to watch.
Topics: 2010 NFL Draft: With The 13th And 17th Picks The 49ers Select…, 49ers, 49ers 2010 Off-season, 49ers 2010 Training Camp, 49ers Injuries, 49ers Preseason, 49ers Training Camp, Alex Smith, Isaac Bruce, Joe Staley, Josh Morgan, Justin Smith, Kentwan Balmer, Michael Crabtree, Mike Singletary, NFL Draft 2010, San Francisco 49ers