The San Francisco 49ers return most of their starters on offense and defense this year, but there are three names you would not expect in the starting lineup on the first day of Training Camp. A.J. Jenkins, Craig Dahl and Ian Williams all got first-ream reps in the first practice.
With Michael Crabtree out until at least midway through the season, the 49ers are looking for the starting receiver opposite of Anquan Boldin. With Manningham still recovering from a torn ACL, the logical choice to start opposite of Boldin is last years first-round pick, Jenkins. He trained this offseason with Colin Kaepernick and has noticeably looked bigger, saying he put on about 10 pounds of muscle to be able to handle the rigors of being an every down receiver for the Niners.
Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said today that the competition for the now vacant free safety spot is between four players: Dahl, Eric Reid, Trenton Robinson and C.J. Spillman. Dahl, a free agent signing from the St. Louis Rams, is the initial starter in Training Camp, but Reid is already breathing down his neck. Reid must earn the starting spot like Aldon Smith earned his role on the team as pass-rush specialist his rookie year to finally becoming the starter at outside linebacker this past year. Dahl is intelligent, but lacks the overall skill that Reid possesses. Fangio did point out today that he is impressed by former sixth-round pick Robinson.
Williams, a nose tackle in the Niners 3-4 defense, got a surprising $1 million guaranteed contract despite being at the bottom of the depth chart last year. The 49ers lost Isaac Soapoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois to free agency, but they decided to hold onto the former undrafted free agent out of the University of Notre Dame. The Niners signed former Kansas City Chief first-rounder Glenn Dorsey to presumably start at NT for the Niners, but Williams earned first-team reps – at least on the first day.