Before the 49ers took the field for the first day of organized team activities last week, coach Chip Kelly declared the competitions throughout the roster had not yet started.
“There’s no rankings of the depth chart or whatever,” Kelly said. “…(We) didn’t have any depth charts or anything set where, ‘Hey, this guy is here, here and here.’ Or, ‘He’s got to beat this guy out.’ We were not that far along.”
Even though it’s just the starting point, there is still plenty of relevancy to the offseason workouts.
The 49ers enter their second week of OTAs, and here are some notes and observations from Week 1:
--Ten-year veteran Erik Pears lined up with the first-team offense. When the 49ers signed Pears a year ago, they envisioned him as a starting guard. But when Anthony Davis retired, they were forced to put him at right tackle.
A year later, the 49ers do not have a clear-cut starting right tackle.
It’s common for long-time starters to practice with the first team at this stage of the season. So it should not be a surprise that Pears lined up with the first group. Trent Brown could end up as the starter, but he must complete all the mental and physical work that's required. This is not an easy offense for any offensive lineman, and Brown appeared to struggle with his conditioning in the fast-paced practices worse than anyone.
--Despite Kelly’s words about the lack of a depth chart, it was interesting to note inside linebacker Gerald Hodges lined up alongside NaVorro Bowman.
One benefit of an entirely new defensive staff comes a fresh start for everyone. Hodges was acquired after the beginning of the regular season. He was never going to seriously challenge Michael Wilhoite for the starting job. Hodges started the final four games of the season when Wilhoite was injured. But, now, Hodges and Wilhoite are on equal footing. This position will be a true competition.
--General manager Trent Baalke will often defer to the coaching staff when he is asked about projected roles for players.
However, Baalke was quite specific in recent interviews about Tank Carradine and Jimmie Ward. And, it appears, the coaching staff has plans for Carradine and Ward that are different from those Baalke revealed.
Baalke said Carradine would not be an outside linebacker. Instead, he would be an edge rusher in the 49ers’ sub packages – when they go with a four-man line. But Carradine last week lined up at outside linebacker in seven-on-seven and team drills.
Baalke also said that Ward would get more work at safety, in addition to his usual role as a nickel back. But Ward last week lined up at right cornerback with the first-team defense.
--If Ward's position sticks, the 49ers would have spent seven picks in the past three drafts on cornerbacks. All of those players – Ward, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker, Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and Prince Charles Iworah – remain on the team’s 90-man roster.
Ward would not have a legitimate opportunity to be an every-down player this season at safety. But with no clear-cut pecking order at cornerback, where Tramaine Brock returns on the left side, it makes sense to see if Ward can distinguish himself on the outside.
--The 49ers might need Carradine to get after the quarterback this season. The 49ers had one of their worst pass-rushes in franchise history in 2015, recording just 28 sacks on the season.
Eli Harold has a chance to compliment Aaron Lynch as a pass-rusher. He underwent a noticeable body makeover in the offseason. At the urging of Baalke, Harold got significantly bigger and stronger in the offseason.
He ended his rookie season at around 245 pounds. Now, he’s up to 270 pounds, giving him a better chance to set the edge in the run game and incorporate power into his repertoire as a pass-rusher.
“I was eating quite a bit, even when I wasn’t hungry,” Harold said. “If this is something I want to do, got to take it serious and I just want to do whatever I could to get there.”
--On paper, the 49ers’ weakest – or at least most-unproven groups – are those responsible for making plays in the passing game. Torrey Smith is a starter. Quinton Patton, who missed time in the offseason program with a cast on his right arm, is probably the favorite to win the other wideout spot.
The group of wide receivers did not make many plays made during the one practice that was open to the local media last week. However, Eric Rogers stands out due to his size and ability to go up and get the ball. Veteran Jerome Simpson shows flashes in practice, and he has the best NFL resume of those competing for playing time.
The 49ers’ tight ends lack a proven playmaker, too. It’s not out of the question that converted fullback Bruce Miller could be the best route-runner and pass-catcher of the bunch.