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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Five 49ers training camp battles to watch

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jun 24, 2021 at 2:56 PM--

Training camp is just over one month away, and is the next stage in the San Francisco 49ers' offseason program. While it may be a time to get reps for some players, others will be fighting for a roster spot, and maybe even a starter role.

The main spotlight will be on the quarterbacks, despite coach Kyle Shanahan indicating on the TK Show podcast that it would be difficult for rookie Trey Lance to be the starter come Week 1.

However, there are five other position groups that face implications as a result of the upcoming training camp battles.

1. Wide Receivers

The first battle will come within the wide receiver group. The first two spots, filled by Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, are set, but with the departure of slot receiver Kendrick Bourne, the third starting receiver spot is still available heading into training camp.

Mohamed Sanu, Richie James, Jr., and Jalen Hurd seem to be the top three candidates for the spot.

Sanu received praise from the coaching staff following his performance in the early stages of the 49ers offseason program, but is coming off a year during which he only caught 17 passes for 187 yards.

James was best known for his Week Nine performance last season, during which he caught nine passes for 184 yards. However, James has been inconsistent throughout his pro career, which has raised questions about his ability to take on a bigger workload on a weekly basis.

Hurd is the most intriguing option of the three as he possesses great size and athleticism, which would complement Samuel and Aiyuk well in the 49ers system. However, Hurd has faced multiple injuries since being drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

In his rookie season, he suffered a back injury and was put on injured reserve. Last year, Hurd tore his ACL in training camp, ending his season once again before it even started.

With three intriguing options for the third wideout spot, along with potential sleeper candidate Austin Watkins, the wide receiver battle will be interesting to watch at training camp.

2. Running Backs

After drafting two running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers had a loaded roster at the position with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Wayne Gallman, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, and Elijah Mitchell.

However, with the injury to Wilson and the uniqueness of Sermon, the running back room has opened up.

Heading into training camp, Mostert is tending to a knee injury, but is expected to be fine.

With Wilson out, there could be a battle between Sermon and Gallman for that second running back spot.

While Gallman was impressive with the Giants after Saquon Barkley tore his ACL last year, Sermon provides the 49ers with a different type of halfback, as he works well inside the tackles, which could open up the run game for Shanahan.

With the number of players at the position, Hasty and Mitchell could also be fighting for a roster spot, with the loser potentially being relegated to the practice squad.

Hasty had his moments last year, filling in for the injured backs, but only ran for 3.8 yards per carry. While Mitchell is only a rookie, a good performance in training camp could motivate the 49ers to bump him on their depth chart ahead of the regular season.

3. Linebackers

The linebackers group is another depth-heavy position for the 49ers, as they signed many players ahead of training camp to compete for roster spots.

Like the wide receiver group, two linebacker spots are filled with All-Pro Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw.

However, that third spot is up for competition.

Currently, the linebacker group consists of free agent additions Samson Ebukam, Nathan Gerry, and James Burgess, team veterans Azeez Al-Shair, Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles, and Jonas Griffith, and undrafted rookies Justin Hilliard and Elijah Sullivan.

Ebukam will likely slide down to the defensive line and play in a role similar to Dee Ford's, leaving the outside linebacker spot open.

Al-Shair currently stands as the most likely candidate to win that spot, but don't be surprised if special teams standout Flanagan-Fowles provides some competition.

As for roster spots, Burgess and Gerry will look to compete with Hilliard, who showed promise coming out of Ohio State.

However, both Gerry and Burgess have no guaranteed money allotted to them, keeping the 49ers in an ideal situation if they don't pan out in training camp.

Griffith was a practice squad standout who will look to also compete for a roster spot in 2021, and potentially an increased role in the linebacker room.

With many players in this depth-heavy group, the linebacker competition will certainly be one to watch out for.

4. Defensive Line

The defensive line has been a strength for the 49ers during their rebuild over the past few years, as they've drafted talent such as Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, and D.J. Jones. All four players are penciled in to be starters for the 2021 season.

The backups slots along the defensive line are where the competitions become interesting.

The 49ers currently have Jordan Willis, Arden Key, and Zach Kerr at the edge position, as well as Kevin Givens and Maurice Hurst at the defensive tackle position.

Willis was recently suspended six games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, but will still be allowed to participate in training camp.

With the injuries to the position last year, the backups may be in line for an increased role, stressing the importance of these training camp battles.

The defensive tackle position will be one to watch for with multiple intriguing candidates looking to take the primary backup role.

Hurst was a solid contributor for the Oakland Raiders last year, and is still only 26 years old.

Givens went undrafted in 2019, but received praise from defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans in organized team activities, and could see a bigger role in 2021.

This group is certainly one of the more talented positions for the 49ers, and the backups will have a chance to prove themselves in training camp.

5. Safeties

The safety position is primarily set with the starters, as both Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are returning at their positions in 2021.

The backup positions are where the battles will mainly take place.

The 49ers recently signed safety Tony Jefferson, a veteran formerly of the Baltimore Ravens coming off a torn ACL.

In addition, during this year's draft, they selected USC's Talanoa Hufanga, who projects to be a potential starter down the line for the team.

The 49ers also brought in defensive back Tavon Wilson, who will compete alongside returnees Marcell Harris and Tarvarius Moore for a backup job on the roster.

With multiple veterans and some young talent, there will certainly be training camp battles for roster spots at the safety position.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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