Nearly every position group on the San Francisco 49ers will have battles to watch once training camp kicks off on July 27th. There are so many new faces on the roster and a new coaching staff which won't necessarily factor in what a player's role was in previous seasons when deciding on the depth chart.

One of the more wide open training camp battles will be among the tight end group. Returning are Garrett Celek, Vance McDonald, and Blake Bell. The other three tight ends on the roster are all new to the team. One is a veteran and the other two are intriguing rookies. Logan Paulsen was among the first new faces to arrive once free agency kicked off in March. George Kittle was selected in the fifth round of the draft while Cole Hikutini was signed as an undrafted free agent.

Looking at the group, many would feel comfortable saying that none of the returning veterans should feel safe with their roster spot – even McDonald, who signed a five-year extension under the old regime in December.

On our latest "No Huddle" podcast episode, Al Sacco and Zain Naqvi discussed the upcoming tight end battle with 49ers.com and 49ers Studios Senior Reporter Joe Fann.



"I think, to me, that might be – if not the best training camp competition – certainly one of the most intriguing," Fann said. "Because, like you said, you have the two veterans. The incumbent three if you throw in Blake Bell. And then a pair of young guys who are really interesting and they both made plays during the offseason program.

"Again, way too early to even begin to make roster decisions unless you're using the phrase, 'My way too early roster prediction.' But you're right, it's fascinating. I think they could go so many different directions. It makes it hard to predict. It also makes it hard to predict because you don't know how many they'll keep, right? Do they keep three and count (Kyle) Juszczyk as three-and-a-half? Do they keep four with a fullback all to himself?

"You know Juszczyk's going to be on the roster but how does that change how they feel about the tight end position? I think that's a huge factor that you have no idea because you don't know what those meetings are going to be like. It might be something where they plan on keeping three but if they get blown away and feel like, 'We can't get rid of this guy,' then they keep four and have the fullback position for five. Who knows? But I think it's certainly going to be a fun one to watch."

Fann went on to say that the tight end battle will be one of those which he will be watching closely.

How open is the tight end battle? Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area said last week, while on the Taylor Price Talk podcast, that he would not be surprised to see the rookie draft pick win the starting job.

"Right now, if you were to ask me who the favorite is to win the starting tight end job, I would just say, 'Keep an eye on George Kittle – the fifth-round draft pick from Iowa who really didn't catch a whole lot of passes in Iowa,'" Maiocco said. "Brian Hoyer was kind of joking he knows the offensive coordinator with Iowa pretty well and he's going to call him up or text him and tell him how badly he used Kittle as a pass-catching threat. He just didn't use his skills."

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said last week that the 49ers have six tight ends who belong on an NFL roster.

"Yeah, we have some good competition there," Shanahan said. "We have six guys who I believe are all NFL players. Very rarely just six guys on our roster, if ever. So, we've got some good competition there. It's going to be tough for the coaches, but it's definitely a good problem to have."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has pointed out that Shanahan kept four tight ends on the Atlanta Falcons' 53-man roster over the course of the past two seasons. Barrows feels that Kittle is the biggest lock to make the 49ers' roster. Why?

"Because he personifies Shanahan's offense in that he's equally good as a run blocker and pass catcher," wrote Barrows. "He was a top target during the team's recent minicamp, and while he had a couple of drops, he came away with more receptions."

As for the other tight ends on the roster, Barrows feels that third-year player Bell has the best size of the group. Although, this is likely a make-or-break year for him.

Hikutini was the 49ers' most pursued undrafted free agent. Once the draft ended, vice president of player personnel Adam Peters called Hikutini's agent while tight end coach Jon Embree repeatedly pitched the benefits of signing with the 49ers over another team to Hikutini himself. Peters later estimated that Embree called Hikutini five times that day. The 49ers were so enamored with the prospect that they eventually offered a $10,000 signing bonus and $100,000 in guaranteed money.

Barrows describes McDonald as the team's most athletic tight end, evident last season by two touchdown catches of 65 yards or more. Of course, the 49ers admittedly attempted to trade McDonald during the draft so the emergence of someone like Hikutini could rekindle trade talks.

Shanahan is a fan of Celek and even studied him while he was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. "I've been a fan of him throughout his career," the 49ers head coach said last week. "I remember studying him a couple years ago when I thought he was going to be a free agent. I think it was last year, but they ended up signing him before he went to the market."

Paulsen is the only tight end with experience playing for Shanahan. "He entered the league as an undrafted rookie with Washington in 2010 when Shanahan was the team's offensive coordinator," wrote Barrows. "Over a two-year span in Washington (2012-13), he caught 53 balls for 575 yards and four touchdowns."