49ers training camp: 1 key battle to watch at each position

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers gets pressured by Nick Bosa #97 (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers gets pressured by Nick Bosa #97 (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /
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49ers training camp, San Francisco 49ers
49ers defensive linemen Mandatory Credit: Sean Logan/The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports /

With 49ers training camp kicking off later this week, Niner Noise breaks down one key battle to watch at each position heading into the 2021 season.

The 2021 edition of San Francisco 49ers training camp officially kicks off this week with players reporting to the team facility at Levi’s Stadium on Tuesday, July 27, and then on-field practices officially kicking off on Saturday, July 31.

After weeks of speculation, overthinking and overanalysis, the ramp-up in intensity leading towards the preseason and eventually into Week 1 will tell us a lot about how the Niners’ eventual 53-man roster will look.

And, more specifically, how the team is looking overall.

For the most part, 49ers training camp will be focused on developing the proper depth behind a long list of presumed starters, as there aren’t too many starting jobs up for grabs entering 2021.

But the jobs that are open should be pretty intriguing.

In this 49ers training camp encompassing preview, Niner Noise breaks down the top battle to watch for at each position, including special teams, which has an open-ended competition for the return game.

49ers training camp battle: Primary return man on special teams

With the battery of specialists — kicker Robbie Gould, punter Mitch Wishnowsky and long-snapper Taybor Pepper — locked in place, the primary wonder point for the third phase of the game focuses on who winds up returning kickoffs and punts.

This is an area in which the Niners have struggled a bit in recent years. And while wide receiver Richie James might be in line for more offensive contributions in 2021, his performance as a return specialist has been so-so at best.

There’s a thought second-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk could excel here, as he admirably performed similar duties in college. But that would potentially expose one of San Francisco’s top offensive weapons to greater injury.

Instead, look for one of the 49ers’ rookies, like cornerback Ambry Thomas or even running back Elijah Mitchell, to potentially threaten James’ tenuous hold on the role heading into camp.