The doldrums of the NFL offseason roll on. Hopefully everyone is spending plenty of time enjoying the summer sun while we await the return of football.
It's time for this week's mailbag, which is full of intriguing conversation starters. Thanks to all who participated and sent in questions.
I could easily go tight end here, but I'll save that commentary for another question down below. I'll choose offensive line instead. Every position excluding left tackle feels genuinely up for grabs. First-team reps were a constant rotation during the offseason program, and the 49ers have a number of players on the roster with starting experience. Zane Beadles (left guard), Daniel Kilgore (center), Joshua Garnett (right guard) and Trent Brown (right tackle) are the incumbents. However, reigning Pro Bowler Jeremy Zuttah, Garry Gilliam, Brandon Fusco and Tim Barnes could all challenge for starting roles.
An honorable mention for best training camp competition is cornerback. While Rashard Robinson appears to have a spot locked up, the battles at the No. 2 corner position as well as nickel corner should be interesting. Keith Reaser and Dontae Johnson each played well during minicamp. They're the favorites to start opposite Robinson with third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon probably in third as it stands right now. K'Waun Williams and Will Redmond are the two prominent names to start at nickel.
Jimmie Ward has looked just fine, but more importantly, he seems to be really enjoying the return to his natural position. Ultimately his position carousel during his three NFL seasons should serve him well in 2017. Ward knows what goes into being a single-high safety and now has the complimentary cover skills that he gained as a nickel and outside cornerback.
Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley raved about Ward a few weeks back and called his role "The Eraser", because it's up to him to clean up other mistakes in the secondary. He's a player whose production could have a huge impact on the overall success of Robert Saleh's defense this year.
Expect defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina to take advantage of the depth at his disposal. He's said his group will be in constant rotation in order to keep fresh bodies on the field. I'm assuming the "Twin Towers" you're referring to are Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. It's possible that those two could be on the field at the same time with Armstead at LEO and Buckner at the 3-tech. It's also possible that they're on different personnel groupings and both see playing time, just not together. The addition of Elvis Dumervil is a wildcard here. Should he prove to be healthy and productive, it's logical that he'd receive a bulk of the snaps at the LEO position on passing downs.
DeAndre Carter is a fascinating story. He was serving as a substitute teacher before getting his shot with the 49ers. Carter is a San Jose native and went to college at Sacramento State. He's been a diligent worker since his time here and is trying to maximize his chances at a roster spot by playing on special teams at both punt and kick returner.
There are currently 12 wide receivers on the 90-man roster, but Carter has definitely shown well so far.
Kittle is going to be another really entertaining player to follow. He's got a colorful personality and was one of the standouts of minicamp. Kittle was known for his blocking skills at Iowa, but he's already shown to have impressive ability as a pass-catcher as well. As I alluded to earlier, I'm eager to see how the competition at tight end unfolds in August. The mix of veterans and young talent gives the 49ers a deep crop of tight ends with limited roster spots to dole out. Kittle is sure to go through the standard ups and downs that all rookies endure. That said, he's shown flashes of being a quality find as a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.