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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

5 position battles to watch for the 49ers in training camp

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jun 28, 2023 at 4:40 PM

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The NFL announced every team's reporting day for training camp this season, with the San Francisco 49ers scheduled to hit the field on July 25th, although rookies are eligible to report one week earlier on the 18th.

With camp now less than a month away, it's time to start delving into the knicks and knacks of the 49ers roster, such as identifying where roster spots may be available and who's fighting for them in the last stage of the offseason.

Which position battles are going to be the most important for the 49ers in training camp?

5. Cornerback

The 49ers have a few locks at cornerback in Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir, with Isaiah Oliver and Samuel Womack likely to make the 53-man roster, given the offseason signing to be the team's nickelback and the second-year corner's versatility and special-teams play, respectively.

That leaves one potential spot open, as I believe the 49ers will carry five cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, leaving a competition between fifth-round pick Darrel Luter and 2021 third-round pick Ambry Thomas.

Thomas has seen an unconventional start to his career, being initially outplayed by Lenoir as a rookie before jumping him in the rotation to end the season, where he started on the outside and made strides as the year went along.

However, Thomas took a step back last offseason, struggling while other cornerbacks jumped in on the depth chart, leaving the possibility that the 49ers may cut their losses if the third-year player has another uninspiring training camp performance.

In comes rookie Darrel Luter, who is a prototypical press corner, which seems to fit what the 49ers want to do on the outside in their defensive scheme. Luter comes in as a fifth-rounder, but I thought he was a good selection back in April at No. 155 overall.

Luter obviously has to catch up to the rest of the cornerback group, but he possesses a real threat to Thomas for the last cornerback spot on the 53-man roster in what should be a competitive training camp battle come July.

If the 49ers carry all six cornerbacks on the 53-man roster, then the crisis is averted, but if they can only take five, then we've got a battle on our hands.

4. Linebacker

The 49ers' top two linebackers are obviously set in stone with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw leading the charge. But, behind them, the room becomes a little uncertain, although it's not for a lack of depth at the position.

San Francisco returns Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles from a season ago, while drafting Dee Winters and Jalen Graham, and retaining Marcelino McCrary-Ball and Curtis Robinson on the practice squad in what should be a competitive group for the final 2-3 spots on the 53-man roster.

Burks seems primed to step into the void filled by Azeez Al-Shaair, having played that role at times last season, while retaining his special-teams responsibilities, making it likely he remains on the roster for the last year of his contract.

Flannigan-Fowles has been on the team for a long time, with the 49ers valuing his special-teams capability. However, with the chance of losing other competitors on the roster, it doesn't seem that he has a guaranteed spot on the 53-man roster, leaving two spots for a multitude of players.

Winters and Graham both provide intrigue as draft picks, with the former possessing solid instincts and blazing speed at the position, while the latter moves very well from sideline to sideline, which may not be seen through his 40-time.

McCrary-Ball was a camp standout last season, and should return to the fold this offseason with a good chance to make the 53-man roster, while Robinson showed flashes at times last offseason, which led to the 49ers stashing him on the initial roster, although he hit Injured Reserve immediately.

There are several capable players fighting for roster spots at the position for the 49ers, leading to a competitive training camp battle in July.

3. Safety

The 49ers return their top two safeties from a season ago in Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson, while adding third-rounder Ji'Ayir Brown via the draft, marking three near-guarantees at the position to make the 53-man roster.

However, the fourth and potentially fifth spots could be up for grabs in training camp.

The 49ers return special-teams ace George Odum to the fold on the second year of a three-year deal that he signed last offseason, and he should be the favorite to earn the fourth roster spot at the position come training camp.

But, the 49ers have a trio of intriguing candidates in Qwuantrezz Knight, Tayler Hawkins, and Myles Hartsfield, who shouldn't be forgotten about.

Knight, a nickelback/safety hybrid, struggled at times in camp last season while working with the third-team defense, but possesses versatility that the 49ers have coveted in the past and currently don't have with Jimmie Ward's departure in free agency.

Hawkins showcased flashes last offseason as an undrafted free agent, and could vie for a roster spot, possessing better measurables and coverage ability than the smaller-framed Odum.

Hartsfield comes to San Francisco after being a starter in 19 games over the past two seasons in Carolina, where he worked under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. That relationship and experience could be a vital piece in the 25-year-old safety making the 53-man roster.

There are several candidates that should fight for a roster spot come July, with the 49ers' choice of carrying four or five safeties playing a significant role in the outcome of this group.

2. Running Back

The 49ers have a strong starter in Christian McCaffrey, who will now play his first full season with the team in 2023. He's paired with a duo of talented running backs in Jordan Mason and Elijah Mitchell, who have proven to be capable when on the field in a complementary role.

Mitchell was the premier backup when on the field in 2022, but his availability has been the biggest question mark over his career. Can he be dependable for a full season? That's yet to occur going into Year 3.

In comes Mason, who shined in training camp last year, leading to a role towards the end of 2022, where he averaged over six yards per carry as a rookie.

Mason has continued to develop, according to reports, this offseason, working to become a better pass-catcher, which could increase his playing time.

With Mason's emergence, as well as Mitchell's dependability, could there be a battle for the backup job to Christian McCaffrey in training camp? Absolutely.

1. Offensive tackle

The biggest question on the 49ers' roster in regard to depth comes at offensive tackle, where there aren't any clear options behind starters Trent Williams and Colton McKivitz.

San Francisco returns Jaylon Moore, who has significantly struggled at tackle during his career, and signed former Indianapolis Colts tackle Matt Pryor in the offseason to compete as depth behind the starters.

However, neither option has shown much promise in his career, with Pryor struggling as a starter with the Colts last season, leaving worries about the team's depth, should a starter have to miss games, which has happened every season for the 49ers.

Moore and Pryor seem like the top two candidates to compete for the swing tackle room, but the 49ers could also look outside the building if the returns aren't promising in training camp.
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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