While the offseason program focuses on installation, training camp is when position battles take center stage. The month-long evaluation process will give Kyle Shanahan and Co. ample opportunity to determine which 53 players the San Francisco 49ers will go to battle with in 2017.
Shanahan has made it clear that each player will have to earn his spot on the roster. That means there are a number of intriguing position battles set to take place beginning on July 27. Here are the top five.
5. Offensive Line
If your name isn't Joe Staley, you've got lots of work ahead of you to secure a starting role. The 49ers have the potential to start the same starting o-line as they did a year ago. Zane Beadles at left guard, Daniel Kilgore at center, Joshua Garnett and Trent Brown at right tackle are all still viable options. However, San Francico added several pieces this offseason who have starting experience.
Tim Barnes has started all 32 games over the last two seasons for the Los Angeles Rams. He played center in LA but worked at both guard spots during the 49ers offseason program. Garry Gilliam was a two-year starter for the Seattle Seahawks at right tackle. Brandon Fusco spent five seasons as a starting guard (both right and left) for the Minnesota Vikings. Finally, Jeremy Zuttah has eight years of starting experience as an interior lineman and made the Pro Bowl in 2016 with the Baltimore Ravens.
That's a lot of names all vying for four spots in the starting lineup.
4. LEO (top pass-rusher)
This is another crowded position. The Elvis Dumervil signing completely shook up the potential depth chart. Dumervil is the most decorated pass-rusher on the 49ers roster, and is likely to have the first crack at earning significant playing time on passing downs. The veteran has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons with the Ravens but claims that he has a clean bill of health in 2017.
Arik Armstead, Eli Harold, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch are the other names to watch here. Each enters camp with a clean slate and on level ground in the eyes of the new coaching staff. That means there is an opportunity for playing time, but also the pressure to perform both in practice and in the preseason games.
3. Wide Receiver
We know who is likely to see a bulk of reps on Sundays – Pierre Garçon, Jeremy Kerley and Marquise Goodwin. Free agent addition Aldrick Robinson and fifth-round pick Trent Taylor were also brought in by the new regime and have a great shot at making the roster. That's five names right there, which begs the question, how many receivers does Shanahan plan on keeping? Six? Seven?
Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge and DeAndre Smelter were with the club last year. DeAndre Carter was brought in as a free agent. Kendrick Bourne, BJ Johnson III and Victor Bolden Jr. are undrafted free agent additions and each showed promise during the offseason program.
Special teams contributions could be the deciding factor when it comes to final roster spots at this position.
Rashard Robinson is an incredible story. The 2016 fourth-round pick, who had been previously been dismissed from LSU's program, is now a near lock to start at cornerback for the 49ers in 2017. San Francisco's coaching staff has lauded Robinson's athleticism and mentality.
But enough about Robinson. Who is going to start opposite him? Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser are the most likely candidates. Ahkello Witherspoon is a name to watch in this competition, but the third-round pick has a lot of work ahead of him in order to truly become a contender.
Nickel corner is an equally open competition. Will Redmond and K'Waun Williams split first-team reps during the offseason program.
*1. Tight End *
I've long said this is my favorite looming camp battle. Garrett Celek and Garrett Celek were last year's starters. Blake Bell was a 2015 fourth-round pick as a player with upside. Now Logan Paulsen, George Kittle and Cole Hikutini have been brought into the mix. You could sell me on a number of different situations playing out, and I'm very intrigued to find out who ultimately makes the roster.