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Fann Mail: Which 49ers Position Battles are Still Up for Grabs?

It’s time for the San Francisco 49ers annual “dress rehearsal”. This Sunday’s preseason contest against the Minnesota Vikings will provide the 49ers with their most accurate barometer going into the regular season. Here’s this week’s mailbag ahead of San Francisco’s upcoming road game. Thanks to all who asked questions.

I don’t believe that there are too many starters who are unknown at this point. I wouldn’t expect any drastic lineup changes regardless of how Sunday plays out. The game in Minnesota is far more for self-evaluation and preparation for the regular season.

That said, both guard spots as well as the starting tight end remain to be positions of intrigue. It’s also important to note that while the official “starters” on the defensive line may vary, we know the names that will be heavily mixed into the rotation.

Speaking of the guard positions, the team’s coaching staff may continue to tinker until they find the combination they like best. Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco have started the first two preseason games. Tim Barnes, Erik Magnuson and John Flynn may also figure into the equation. I’d guess Beadles and Fusco are the leaders in the clubhouse but anything can happen, especially with Joshua Garnett still sidelined due to a knee injury.

Who do you see taking over that 3rd corner back spot? — 〽️ (@MylesStayMackin) August 25, 2017

If you are suggesting that the 49ers starting nickel is the team’s No. 3 corner, it appears that K'Waun Williams has a strong grasp on that role. If you referring to the No. 3 outside corner behind Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson, I’d say it’s either Keith Reaser or Ahkello Witherspoon. Those two have been the primary cornerbacks with the second-team defense.

According to Witherspoon, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley has informed each guy that it’s an ongoing competition. The depth chart could be fluid should someone really rise to the occasion.

Kyle Shanahan confirmed during Friday's press conference that Jimmie Ward will not play on Sunday.

As much as we’d all love to see Ward play, there is zero point in rushing him back onto the field. He’s too important to this defense. The same thing can be said for DeForest Buckner.

I think Pierre Garçon, Joe Williams and Matt Breida are locks. Then it comes down to whether or not the 49ers opt to keep four running backs. In that case, Tim Hightower and Raheem Mostert would likely be next in line.

If CJ outplays Hoyer once again is it possible he could win the starting job? — Z$ (@ZMONEYMFFL) August 25, 2017

The first question has a quick answer. Barring an injury, there’s no chance that anyone other than Pierre Garçon starts at quarterback in Week 1.

The second question is a bit more nuanced. C.J. Beathard will be on the team in 2017. We know that. If Beathard wins the No. 2 job, it comes down to whether or not the team wants to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. Beathard will continue to be the backup against the Vikings, but that competition is still yet to be decided.

“Those guys are still battling it out, not just in games but in practice,” Shanahan told KNBR on Friday.

Beathard has looked good through two preseason games (211 passing yards, three touchdowns and no picks), but Shanahan would have to feel absolutely certain the rookie is ready to be a backup before the 49ers let go of the veteran Barkley.

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