49ers training camp 2020: 5 most important position battles to watch

Kelvin Taylor #23 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Kelvin Taylor #23 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /
1 of 5
Dante Pettis, 49ers
Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are scheduled to kick off training camp later this month, and Niner Noise looks at the five biggest position battles to watch.

As long as things go according to plan, and hopefully they do, the San Francisco 49ers will kick off their on-field efforts later this month in training camp aimed at eventually leading the squad back to the Super Bowl.

And winning it this time.

The Niners retained all but four of their starting cast from last season on both sides of the ball, meaning there aren’t too many open spots up for grabs. It’s one of the luxuries being a team with great continuity amid a Super Bowl window, meaning the vast majority of camp battles are going to be focused on depth and reserve roles.

There aren’t too many of those spots on the 53-man roster either.

Still, there are more than a handful of camp battles to watch later this month and into August. Reserve jobs are important, especially when recalling the sheer multitude of injuries San Francisco suffered last year. And while the vast majority of starting positions have been established, there are a few that need to be evaluated, too.

So, while the eventual outcomes of these camp battles are yet to be determined, Niner Noise explores the top five position bouts you’ll want to watch later this summer.

No. 5: Who returns kicks, punts for 49ers?

The last two years, the primary kick- and punt-return duties for San Francisco fell on the shoulders of wide receiver Richie James.

James was OK in these duties, particularly recalling his 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown late in 2018, yet his efforts were marred by some muffs last season and into the playoffs. With James now sidelined with a broken wrist, which could keep him off the roster to start the season, it’s anyone’s guess who winds up serving as the primary return specialist.

Another option would have been defensive back D.J. Reed. But Reed is also out with a pectoral tear, meaning he’s not an option right away either.

It’s possible the 49ers lean back on either wide receiver Trent Taylor or fellow wideout Dante Pettis, who both filled the punt-return role earlier in their respective careers. The rookie, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, is another option. But one might guess head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers to keep his Round 1 NFL Draft investment away from the added wear and tear.

Last season, the Niners had an average offensive starting position on their own 32.1-yard line, which was third best in the league.

If you’re thinking this battle isn’t important, think again. It’s wide open.