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5 Position Groups to Watch in 49ers OTAs

Posted May 22, 2017

From Eric Reid and the safeties, to Pierre Garçon and the wide receivers, here are positions to keep an eye on.

The San Francisco 49ers offseason program is nearing its grand finale. The team began OTAs on Monday, which lasts for three weeks and is followed by a mandatory minicamp from June 13-15. At that point, players will be off until the beginning of training camp at the end of July.

The next month allows players to go against each other on a daily basis. Whereas Phase 1 and 2 limits guys to going against air, practices during OTAs will feature 7-on-7 and full team drills. The rules forbidding contact and full pads remain.

From an onlooker’s standpoint, these four weeks provide a barometer for where the depth chart currently stands. Each week will feature one open practice, beginning with this Tuesday. Here are five position groups worth keeping an eye on.

1. Cornerback

Rashard Robinson feels like a sure bet to open OTAs as a starter. But who will be patrolling the other sideline? Will it be one of the veterans, Dontae Johnson or Keith Reaser? Or has Will Redmond impressed the new coaching staff enough to earn a shot? Third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon will also be a player to watch. Seeing all of San Francisco’s corners do battle in 1-on-1 drills will be one of the most entertaining parts of each practice.

2. Safety

Jimmie Ward’s move from corner to safety has been one of the more noteworthy storylines of the offseason. Tuesday will be our first chance to see Ward in the Earl Thomas-esque role as a free safety in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s new scheme. Eric Reid is also acclimating to a new role. Saleh confirmed last month that Reid will be playing much more in the box in 2017. Is Jaquiski Tartt going to play an interchangeable role with Reid? That’s another question to ponder over the next month.

3. Wide Receiver

Pierre Garçon and Jeremy Kerley are going to be key cogs in the 49ers passing game in 2017. The rest of the group is a bit harder to predict. Marquise Goodwin has elite speed that will make him a factor this season, but there’s no telling how big that role will be. Aldrick Robinson has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system which gives him a leg up on some of the others. Fifth-round pick Trent Taylor and undrafted rookie Kendrick Bourne both showed well during rookie minicamp. Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter, Aaron Burbridge, Victor Bolden, DeAndre Carter, BJ Johnson III and Rashad Ross round out San Francisco’s crop of 13 wideouts who will look to impress.

4. Quarterback

This has less to do with roster competitions than it does the intrigue of seeing new players on the roster. It’s an entirely new group of quarterbacks for the 49ers in 2017. Brian Hoyer is back in Kyle Shanahan’s system and is penciled in to be the team’s starter. Eyes will be on his chemistry with Garçon and overall comfort in the offense. Matt Barkley backed up Hoyer last season with the Chicago and he will do so again in 2017 here in San Francisco. Fans will also be eager to hear how third-round pick C.J. Beathard fares in his first action with the full roster. Undrafted free agent Nick Mullens is the fourth arm currently on the roster.

5. Tight End

This group got a whole lot more interesting during the 2017 NFL Draft. The 49ers used a fifth-round pick on George Kittle out of Iowa, and John Lynch confirmed reports that San Francisco was shopping Vance McDonald. It appears any trade talks have subsided, but it’s clear that Lynch and Shanahan want to make their imprint on the roster sooner rather than later. McDonald and Garrett Celek are the incumbent starters, but the 49ers added Logan Paulsen in free agency, drafted Kittle and signed Cole Hikutini as an undrafted free agent. Kyle Juszczyk is also a candidate for reps at tight end.