The San Francisco 49ers begin training camp today with the same Super Bowl aspirations as before. This year, there are new position battles to keep a close eye on with several revamped units moving forward.
Here is a look at the position battles which will be examined throughout the 49ers training camp:
1. Cornerback: Every man for himself
The 49ers initially started Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, which was the tandem that began in 2011. As Brown and Rogers were both injured at various time due to injuries, Tramaine Brock was inserted as a CB where he flourished. Brock’s presence made both players expendable in the process and now it will be a question mark of who takes the opposite side of the field with him.
Chris Culliver, who was recently cleared to practice for the first time in almost a year after tearing his ACL, would be the presumed favorite to win the starting CB job based on his experience in Vic Fangio’s system. Chris Cook, Darryl Morris, Perrish Cox and the team’s 2014 fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson will provide competition. All players listed should be competing with first-round draft pick DB Jimmie Ward for the nickel cornerback role.
2. Center: Marcus Martin vs. Daniel Kilgore
Kilgore was extended through the 2017 season shortly after the season ended, but he will have competition to earn his starting role as the 49ers selected Martin in the third-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Kilgore has been with the team since 2011 and has been groomed under Mike Solari since. Others who could provide depth competition include Joe Looney, who has received snaps at both center and guard.
This position will not be judged as easily in training camp as it will take some preseason games to figure out who is leading the way.
3. Slot receiver: Stevie Johnson vs. Quinton Patton vs. Brandon Lloyd
Johnson has been the most productive in recent years out of the WRs listed, but Lloyd has been the veteran with the most experience. There are question marks of who will be on the field behind Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin entering training camp. Patton started to show promise near the end of 2014, but wasn’t utilized much after suffering a fractured foot which held him out most of the year. Johnson is the favorite to win this role, but the 49ers are hoping to see growth from Patton.
Fourth-round draft pick Bruce Ellington would have been listed here, but he is starting training camp on the non-football injury list
4. Backup Running Back: Kendall Hunter vs. Carlos Hyde vs. LaMichael James
Frank Gore is entering his contract year in what appears to be his final season with the 49ers. This will be a significant battle at the RB for the first time in awhile which will impact 2014 and beyond. Hunter has been a solid RB on both special teams behind Gore in the last three seasons, but Hyde can be a power running back as he learns under Gore. James has the largest uphill battle as he saw limited playing time with the 49ers last season on offense, but he saw time on special teams as a kick and punt returner.
Marcus Lattimore, who was a compensation pick of the 49ers in 2012, begins training camp on the non-football injury list for the second consecutive season. He is recovering from two torn ligaments which he suffered at South Carolina in November 2012. When healthy, he has the ability to become a starting RB in the near future.