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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Several battles at 49ers’ training camp will be worth watching

Jul 18, 2018 at 9:13 AM


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The 49ers are set to continue their off-season program when training camp begins on July 26th. Training camp in 2018 will look very different than last year, when the team had various roster spots up for grabs in an obvious rebuilding year.

The team needed players in 2017 so badly that it held an open audition for spots on the roster during the off-season. Since then, the 49ers have increased their overall talent and depth with a solid 2017 draft class and key free agent acquisitions over the last two years. Needless to say, it will not be necessary for an open audition, and the team should already have its focus on the 53-man roster.

With the competition increasing significantly at nearly every position on both sides of the ball, there will be several spots to key on during training camp. Below are the top battles to keep an eye on:

Offensive Guard


Laken Tomlinson returns as the lone remaining starter at guard for the 49ers, after signing a three-year extension in the offseason. His contract, worth up to $18 million, gives him the edge at retaining his starting left guard spot. Tomlinson had an up and down year in 2017, but his play improved significantly when Jimmy Garoppolo became the starting quarterback, per Pro Football Focus.


Brandon Fusco, last year's starter at right guard, signed a three-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons in the off-season. To counter the loss, the 49ers went out and signed free agents Jonathan Cooper and Mike Person, from the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.

Cooper has yet to make an appearance during the off-season as he is recovering from off-season surgery on his MCL. He started a career-high 13 games for the Cowboys last season after struggling early on in his career. The 49ers made it clear that Cooper would be a top competitor for one of the guard spots by signing him to a one-year deal for nearly $5 million, with $2 million of that being paid up front as a signing bonus.

Cooper's main competition for the starting right guard spot will come from 2016 first-round pick, Joshua Garnett. Many have thought that Tomlinson's contract extension would put Garnett's roster spot in jeopardy, but that may be too early to tell. Garnett missed the entire 2017 season and used that time to get into better shape. He has lost nearly 25 pounds and looks like a completely different player. Garnett has been the starting right guard for most of the off-season, but the intrigue of the competition will not truly begin until training camp.

Person will join the competition at right guard and can be a serviceable backup center. He came into the league as a seventh-round pick, drafted by the 49ers in 2011, and has started games for both the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts.

Wide Receiver


The 49ers' top two wide receivers are pretty much set with Marquise Goodwin on one side and Pierre Garçon, who is returning from a season-ending injury, on the other. The remainder of the depth chart is where things could get interesting.

Slot receiver Trent Taylor returns from a successful rookie campaign during which he caught 43 passes for 430 yards. The 49ers, however, traded up in the second round of this year's draft to select wide receiver Dante Pettis, who is likely to receive significant playing time during his rookie year.

Pettis brings versatility and speed to the table, something that Taylor lacks. He is explosive as both a wide receiver and returner, which is why the 49ers were so excited to get him in the draft. If Pettis develops quickly, Taylor could see his snaps decreased to more of a third down role.

The outside wide receiver to watch aside from the top two should be Kendrick Bourne. Bourne has been seen training daily during the off-season, and he demonstrated at the end of last season that he has the skills to succeed in the NFL. Bourne may push Garçon for snaps on the outside, but he is unlikely to see a significant role in 2018. However, he will be a wide receiver to keep an eye on for the future.

Linebacker


Reuben Foster's two-game suspension has left the 49ers in a position where they need to figure out who will be the starter opposite Malcolm Smith to begin the season. The battle for that role will start with rookie Fred Warner and Brock Coyle, who signed a three-year extension in the off-season.

Warner quickly established himself as a contender for a starting spot during the off-season, and the coaches have complimented the rookie's ability to pick up the defense.

Coyle started 10 games for the 49ers last year and played admirably during that time. Coyle is limited athletically but he is tough and instinctive, and he played better in 2017 as the season went along. However, he had off-season shoulder surgery and was not able to participate in OTAs. He may be behind the curve in his bid to remain as a starter going into 2018.

This position group may be even more intriguing during the season after Foster returns from suspension. Does Warner supplant Smith as a starter? Will Foster regain his starting position immediately after his return? Who lines up at MIKE and WILL if so? A lot of questions with this position group overall that will be interesting to watch throughout the season.
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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