The two most-crowded and tightly contested competitions on the 49ers’ practice field during training camp will be waged at wide receiver and cornerback.
Although it’s far too early to make any major pronouncement, the past week was good for a couple of players looking to earn regular-season roles at those positions.
And that’s how we enter this latest edition of our 49ers Mailbag. . .
Who is standing out at the cornerback position? (Bryan Bawell)
The most declarative statement of the week came from defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, who met with the media for the first time on Wednesday. O’Neil answered questions directly and concisely.
And he left little room for interpretation when he spoke about his expectations for defensive back Jimmie Ward.
“I know he’s one of our best 11. That I do know,” O’Neil said. “We’re trying to find ways to get our best 11 on the field. So far what he’s shown now on the practice field, I’m confident he could be out there (at cornerback).”
Then, Ward went onto the practice field and lined up at right cornerback with the first-team defense, and looked very good. He’s got the speed to run with anyone. He’s physical. He made the best play of the day when had a diving breakup of a Blaine Gabbert pass intended for Quinton Patton.
As things stand right now, Tramaine Brock and Ward are lining up with the starters. It’s going to take consistently strong play from any of the other cornerbacks to move past one of those players.
Which receivers seem to be separating themselves from the pack as potential starters? (Robert Scott Johnson)
If Chip Kelly handles the wide receivers this season like he did a year ago with the Philadelphia Eagles, expect at least 40 percent playtime from four different wide receivers. The top two receivers will be on the field for at least 65 percent of the snaps. The other two receivers will fall in the 40- to 55-percent range.
Torrey Smith is one starter. That much seems certain. The other three spots are completely up for grabs.
Based on the practice Wednesday, which was open to the local media, Eric Rogers appears to fit nicely into that group. He has unique size and ability to go up and get the ball. He’s a big target for whomever will be throwing passes this season.
Rogers had six receptions, including a leaping grab in traffic, in 7-on-7 and team drills. The only other receiver who was anywhere near as active was DeAndrew White. Patton, who is likely to figure into the mix, did not see much action come his way after he recently returned to the field from an undisclosed right arm injury.
Bruce Ellington looks to be the best candidate to fill a slot position. His teammates have talked about how well he has performed in the offseason program. On this particular day, he caught four passes, including a deep seam route.
We all know the offensive line is/has been a big issue. With the new additions and all, do they look like they could be a cohesive unit? (Jeff Rimando)
It’s almost impossible to make any judgments about players on the offensive and defensive lines during this time of year when pads are not allowed. Right now, it's just a form of flag football that's taking part on the practice field.
Left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Zane Beadles and center Daniel Kilgore appear to be virtually set as starters. The right side of the line is not settled, so that does not help build cohesion. In recent offseasons, the 49ers have to built much more chemistry due to such players as Alex Boone and Anthony Davis failing to take part.
The biggest setback is that rookie Joshua Garnett is prohibited from taking part in the workouts – due to antiquated NFL rules that dictate a rookie can’t join the offseason program until classes at his college have wrapped up. Stanford is on the quarters system.
The right side of the offensive line continues to be a reason of concern. Garnett must get up to speed, and right tackle remains in question. The three players working at that position are Erik Pears, Trent Brown and rookie John Theus.