Strong Safety: Michael Lewis vs. rookie Taylor Mays
The match-up between Lewis and Mays has many factors. Most importantly is Lewis’ health. He suffered three concussions last year, two in the preseason and the last one in week 5. Even though Lewis only missed one game his health will be a concern as the next concussion he suffers could be the end of his career.
Taylor Mays is a hard hitting physical stud but needs to better develop his coverage and footwork. The 49ers brought in Ronnie Lott in the off-season to help Mays with his development. Lewis just needs to stay healthy through training camp and the preseason and he will win the starting job. If Mays is not the starter he will contribute on defense as the blitzing safety and on running downs when the D stacks the box to prevent the run.
Free Safety: Dashon Goldson vs. Reggie Smith/Curtis Taylor
The 49ers were known for giving up big pass plays last season. This however had more to do with a lack of getting a pass rush without using the blitz which left the secondary exposed. Dashon Goldson had a break out year last season recoding 94 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 sacks. Unless Goldson has a horrible training camp he is a lock for the starting job. I hope Reggie Smith and Curtis Taylor have a great training camp because it will bring depth to the secondary that was beat deep often last season. Goldson is in a contract year so we should see another good year out of him as NFL players bring out everything they have to get awarded with a new hefty contract. Smith and Taylor know that if they have a solid training camp the 49ers can look to them in the future as starters if Goldson does not sign a contract. Smith can come in and make an impact right away if Goldson goes down to injury.
Cornerback: Nate Clements vs. Tarell Brown
Age might be finally catching up with Nate Clements. Clements can still get the job done as a reliable cornerback but the 49ers signed him to be a play-making defensive back. Even as a dependable corner the 49ers had better talent on the bench last season. Clements was benched against the Colts in week 8 last season and was replaced by Tarell Brown. Clements did not start in another game the rest of the season. Despite Clements big contract the 49ers seem willing to let Brown into the starting lineup if he proves to be the better of the two corners. Brown did well finishing with 38 tackles and two interceptions after taking over for Clements. Clements is the better open field tackler which helps with the run but he knows that Mike Singletary and Greg Manusky are willing to replace him in the starting lineup if he does not have a good training camp. This will be motivation for Clements as he does not want to become the highest paid cornerback that is not a starter. Regardless of who wins the starting job both will be a factor in the Nickel defensive set.
Running Back: Glen Coffee vs. rookie Anthony Dixon
Frank Gore has the starting job locked up. The battle at running back in training camp will be who backs up Gore. After Gore went down to injury against the Vikings in week 3 Glen Coffee had a great opportunity to show his talent but only averaged 57 rushing yards a game, 3.0 yards a rush, with one touchdown in the three games. Coffee was still developing but not being able to take advantage of playing time last season does not make him the clear favorite to be the number two running back. Each season the 49ers try to keep Gore’s legs fresh to avoid injury. One way to do this is not bringing Gore in on third-and-short and goal line situations. Coffee was not reliable last season on those plays and with the physical and blowing ball style of running Anthony Dixon showed in college he should transition well into this role. But Dixon is a rookie and learning the offense. Coffee has the advantage of a year of knowledge of the offense under his belt.
Quarterback: Alex Smith vs. David Carr
The training camp battle at quarterback is not one many people expect to pay attention to however the 49er Faithful showed keep an eye on this one. Alex Smith has been named the starter, will have the same offense in constructive years for the first time in his career and is coming off last season with the most confidence in his career. After going 5-5 as a starter Smith finished the season with 2350 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, completed 60.5 percent of his passes and had an 81.5 QB rating. The 49ers have upgraded their offensive line with draft picks that can start right away so this will make Smith more comfortable in the pocket. The 49ers passed up on drafting quarterbacks and trading for some of the available ones like Donovan McNabb to show their faith in Smith. They did however sign former number one draft pick David Carr. I expect Carr to have a great training camp and give Smith good competition for the starting job. Unless Smith has a bad showing in camp and in the preseason or if he goes down to injury, which is prone to doing, Smith will be under center at the start of the season. Carr brings stability as a back up and will be a great mentor to Smith as he has been a back up for two Super Bowl quarterbacks. Both Smith and Carr have a lot to prove as they have been written off by many as quarterbacks who cannot start in the NFL and lead their teams to winning records.
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, Anthony Dixon, Dashon Goldson, David Carr, Glen Coffee, Isaac Bruce, Joe Staley, Josh Morgan, Justin Smith, Kentwan Balmer, Michael Crabtree, Michael Lewis, Mike Singletary, Nate Clements, NFL Draft 2010, Reggie Smith/Curtis Taylor, San Francisco 49ers, Tarell Brown, Taylor Mays