Training camp has been a staple of San Francisco's offseason since the days of Montana, Young, Rice and well before they even arrived.
So far, we've given you seven position battles to watch on the San Francisco 49ers, plue 10 rookies who could shine in training camp. Now, we've added more food for thought for the Faithful readers of 49ers.com
Our camp previews continue with a look at five players who could enjoy career-best seasons in 2015.
1. Quinton Dial
Stepping into Justin Smith's cowboy boots might not be a one-man job. But Dial, a third-year pro, has looked like the man for the role this offseason. Dial enters camp as one of San Francisco's top defensive linemen after earning a spot in the team's line rotation to close out the 2014 season. Dial posted 21 tackles and two sacks in his sophomore campaign. He'll surely surpass those numbers in the coming year, especially if he's able to fend off veteran teammates and first-round pick Arik Armstead to be the team's starting left defensive tackle in Eric Mangini's 3-4 scheme. That, of course, remains to be seen. But judging on what we saw in Organized Team Activities and minicamps, Dial has a knack for collapsing running lanes and using his brut strength to occupy opposing linemen. He even has the ability to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage like an NBA shot-blocker. Dial can play all three spots along the defensive front. That's a plus, too.
2. Pierre Garçon
The 2014 second-round draft pick carried the ball 83 times for 333 yards as a rookie. He did tie Frank Gore for the team lead with four rushing scores. Hyde is in line to inflate those rushing statistics with Gore moving to Indianapolis to be the Colts featured runner. Hyde will have to earn San Francisco's bell-cow role in camp. Veterans Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush, as well as rookie Mike Davis, all offer potential production in the 49ers offense. But in our estimation, Hyde has been groomed to be a star performer in Geep Chryst's offense. Hyde has zone-read rushing experience, which is an excellent pairing to go with Colin Kaepernick's dynamic skills in the run game. Hyde's cut-back ability also makes him an strong fit should the team elect to use more zone-rushing schemes, something it tinkered with this offseason under respected line coach Chris Foerster.
3. Marcus Martin
Working out alongside Vernon Davis is a wise decision. The former USC product made that very decision this offseason as he looked to get into the best shape of his football career. Martin made eight starts at center as rookie. The 6-foot-3, 321-pound lineman appeared to improve with each opportunity to play with his veteran teammates. Martin has shown he can be an effective snapper. He also spent most of the 2015 offseason proving to coaches that he can be an asset at guard. Martin's landing spot for the coming season hasn't been determined as of yet, but the promising lineman has shown that he can compete in the proffesional ranks. His development should only improve in what figures to be a season of change along the 49ers offensive line.
4. Quinton Patton
There's a number of young receivers who could be worthy of the "breakout" designation, but we'll go with the wideout who earned high praise from his position coach. Ronald Curry said the third-year receiver is going to get a lot of opportunities in camp, so that leads us to believe Patton will be ready to emerge with added snaps. In two seasons with the 49ers, the 6-foot, 204-pound wideout has six catches for 78 receiving yards and zero touchdowns. Patton aims to change that in 2015. The battle to be San Francisco's third receiver is not as challenging as in previous seasons when the 49ers depth chart was full of veterans with starting experience. Patton, second-year wideout Bruce Ellington and free-agent addition Jerome Simpson appear to be the frontrunners to be the next receiver up behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Patton did his best to temper expectations for the coming year. The instant-energy receiver said he's tired of talking about making plays and that it's time to showcase his skills. Camp sounds like the perfect venue for the pride of Nashville, Tenn.
5. Keith Reaser
We don't know who will start at cornerback for San Francisco when the season begins on Sept. 14. We're not even sure who will get the nod when preseason play opens in Houston on Aug. 15. For now, we're going to assume that Reaser, 23, will be in the mix as one of the top cornerbacks on the roster. That's not to say a player with no NFL experience (Reaser missed his rookie campaign due to a collegiate ACL tear) will be a starter. But after what we observed in the offseason, the 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback has the speed and instincts to excel against first-string opponents. Reaser's 4.3-speed was evident when he repeatedly broke on incoming passes. The Florida Atlantic product even knocked down a Kaepernick corner route intended for Boldin at the team's mandatory minicamp. Reaser has a ways to go before he can claim a key role as a starter with the likes of Tramaine Brock and Shareece Wright, or as a nickel or a dime defender, but for the sake of predicting breakout players, we'll put him on the list.