Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Most Intriguing 2022 Training Camp Battles

Brian Renick
Jul 22, 2022 at 12:40 PM--

Rejoice! 49ers football is returning next week with the start of training camp on July 26th. The dead period for football is over and it's time to gear up for an exciting 2022 season.

With that in mind, let's look at some of the most intriguing roster battles that will occur during camp and the preseason.

Strong Safety

This is arguably the only unsettled position on the entire roster. Long-time starter Jaquiski Tartt is now a Philadelphia Eagle, so for the first time since 2014, safety Jimmie Ward will have a different running-mate on the back-end of the 49ers defense. The team has four candidates vying for the starting role in 2nd-year player Talanoa Hufanga, veteran Tarvarius Moore—who missed the entire 2021 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, free agent signee George Odum, and undrafted rookie Leon O'Neal, Jr.

Of those four players, Hufanga is the only one with any playing experience in defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans' scheme. That would seem to give him a leg up on the competition. However, Hufanga seemed to struggle a bit last season when on the field, especially in coverage. According to Pro Football Reference, Hufanga allowed a 114.1 rating to opposing quarterbacks and two touchdowns on 24 targets. That's a small sample size to be sure, but is a little concerning heading into a season where he may be asked to step into a starting role. His struggles appeared to be more mental than physical, so perhaps another offseason of film study and digesting the defensive playbook will make the mental lapses in coverage a thing of the past.

Of the remaining three candidates, Moore is the most physically gifted with legit 4.3 speed, however, returning from an Achilles tear may affect that aspect of his game. Only time will tell. Another option is Odum, the former Indianapolis Colt who was brought in as a Special Teams ace but acquitted himself pretty nicely in seven starts for his former team last season. Odum is a sure tackler, but like Hufanga, seemed to struggle in coverage, allowing a 122.9 rating on 28 targets, while allowing 292 yards and 3 touchdowns.

O'Neal is the biggest unknown—and a dark horse in my opinion—as a UDFA out of Texas A&M. The 49ers interviewed O'Neal over Zoom during the draft process, so he was definitely on their radar. A 4.63-4.71 official 40-time in the run-up to the draft is the likely culprit for O'Neal going undrafted, but his film and production from college are impressive. He was a three-year starter for the Aggies, logging 48 games against SEC competition, which tells me that his recorded 40 time is likely not an accurate reflection of his athleticism or game speed. You can't be slow and play in the secondary in the SEC. He was voted by his peers as the top player at his position at the Senior Bowl, and he was PFF's top-graded SEC safety in man-coverage.

His Twitter handle is @WakeEmUp9 and he may wake some people up during camp.

Interior Offensive Line

The interior of the offensive line currently appears to be set with Aaron Banks at left guard, Jake Brendel at center, and Daniel Brunskill at right guard. However, I have to believe that the team, and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Chris Foerster, are likely open to those three positions being won by either the players currently slotted there or by players who earn it through their play in camp and the preseason.

At center, the competition seems to be between Brendel, UDFA Dohnovan West, 6th round tackle-turned-center Nick Zakelj, UDFA Jason Poe, and possibly Brunskill as well. There is a lot of unknown at a position that is considered a lynchpin in any Kyle Shanahan offense, which is a little scary going into the season. Alex Mack's retirement didn't seem to catch the team off guard, so their lack of urgency in addressing the position could be seen as a vote of confidence in the guys they have in the building, but it's going to be a "wait and see" approach.

At left guard, it seems to be Aaron Banks' job to lose, more due to his draft pedigree (2nd round selection) than his play on the field, which was non-existent in 2021. Shanahan is on record saying that Banks was ready to play by the midpoint of last season, and they almost made a move to insert him into the starting lineup, but then they went on their win streak and didn't want to mess with the chemistry on the line. Slotting him in next to Trent Williams, the best left tackle in football, should help Banks fill the rather large shoes left by the departure of Laken Tomlinson.

At right guard Brunskill is the incumbent starter and it's his job to lose—unless he ends up spending time at center. The likely candidates to win that job, or take over in the event Brunskill does move over to center, would be 2nd-year player Jaylon Moore, and rookie 4th-round pick Spencer Burford out of the University of Texas-San Antonio. Moore saw time last season mainly at the right tackle in the wake of the Mike McGlinchey injury, but when the team drafted him in 2021 they stated that they viewed him more as a guard—though positional versatility seems to be a hallmark of the offensive linemen this current regime has drafted. Burford played primarily at left tackle at UTSA, but did see time at right tackle and both guard spots (there's that versatility again!) and is an accomplished zone-run blocker, which could work to his advantage as he tries to unseat Brunskill.

Slot Cornerback

The Lynch/Shanahan regime made K'Waun Williams their first ever free-agent signing in February of 2017 and he was the starting slot corner from 2018 through last season. This offseason Williams signed with Denver Broncos, leaving a large hole on the roster. The current candidates to fill the role are veterans Darqueze Dennard and Dontae Johnson, 2nd-year player Deommodore Lenoir, and rookie Samuel Womack. One other option the team has is Emmanuel Moseley, who is currently slated to start on the outside opposite newcomer Charvarius Ward. Moseley could slide inside and man the slot, especially if Jason Verrett proves himself healthy and back to the form he had during the 2020 season when he was the best cornerback on the 49ers roster.

Currently, it seems that Dennard is the frontrunner for the role, having impressed Shanahan last season during his limited time with the team. Perhaps the most intriguing candidate is the rookie Womack. He is almost a clone of K'Waun Williams in his physical profile, but significantly faster having clocked a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and incredibly long arms—31 ⅞", which is impressive considering he stands at 5'9" (for reference, Richard Sherman has 32" arms at 6'2"). Womack isn't just an impressive athlete, he also had a very productive career at Toledo. In 2021, his final season as a Rocket, he set a Toledo record with 45 passes defended and he was second in the nation with 15 pass break-ups. While he spent most of his time outside at Toledo, his willingness to stick his nose in against the run should set him up for success in the slot for the 49ers defense.

Training camp is gearing up to be an exciting time for the 49ers and these battles should provide significant fodder for fans and content creators alike.
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.


  • zinn
    It's a solid club.. You never know with injuries. Let's hope they get lucky in that department this season. They are overdue for some injury luck..
    Jul 24, 2022 at 3:02 PM
  • James
    Tarvarius Moore has had 3 years to win a starting spot, so I think Hufanga wins it by default. Hope they give Odum a real shot at the position, but Hufanga appears to have the full support of the coaching staff.
    Jul 23, 2022 at 1:26 PM
  • BigAl
    Idk I dont agree I think backup TE, nickleback, 3rd down RB, RG, C, LB, backup QB or even LE are close to being in stone. Its already been discussed that Ebukam could potentially be replaced, especially considering the potential cap relief. Same with Greenlaws trade value I mean I like him but Al-Shair was very, very good last year. Hufanga was targeted alot compared to his usage last regular season and essentially was attacked. Meanwhile Odum has quietly been solid for the Colts for years and many Colts fans were calling for him to be the full-time starter... Tyler Kroft has potential as a receiver and isnt some bum. Of course Dwelley seemed to slide to the 3rd TE spot last year but you know I dont think Ive ever seen him drop a pass? There might be one a few years ago but he seemed to do ok filling in for Juice. Also, is it a guarantee that Armstead wont go back to big end on base downs? If so, that means theres competition next to Kinlaw- who could be a 3 technique, opening up a battle for the 1 tech DT
    Jul 22, 2022 at 8:04 PM

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