The 49ers open the offseason program on Tuesday in Santa Clara with more question marks and unsettled positions than they have faced in recent seasons.
With Justin Smith’s status remaining uncertain, there are no clear-cut starters at any of the spots along the defensive line. There are a lot of potential starters, but how the pieces fit together will be a puzzle that coach Jim Tomsula figures to play a large role in assembling.
“You look at the defensive line, the outside linebackers,” Tomsula said recently at the NFL owners meetings. “The depth on the defensive line right now is as deep as we’ve ever had it. I’m real excited about the guys we have there.”
The offensive line has some question marks of its own after the 49ers did not compete for the services of Mike Iupati, who signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Veteran Erik Pears and first-year player Brandon Thomas are main figures in that competition.
Daniel Kilgore and Marcus Martin will engage in competition for the starting center job. Kilgore won the battle a year ago with a strong training camp, but Martin ended up starting eight games after Kilgore sustained a season-ending fractured leg.
NaVorro Bowman’s return to health is a key for the defense. The 49ers expect him to fit back into his spot at the mike linebacker after missing all of last season while rehabbing from a severe knee injury.
Michael Wilhoite, who started 16 games last season, proved he can handle the duties at the other spot. He is the clear front-runner to start after Patrick Willis and Chris Borland announced the end to their careers.
There also figures to be competition at the cornerback spot opposite Tramaine Brock. Veterans Shareece Wright and Chris Cook, and second-year player Dontae Johnson are the main competitors. And they might receive a challenge from a draft pick, as well.
Here’s the 49ers’ projected depth chart:
Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson, Chuck Jacobs
Left tackle: Joe Staley, Chris Martin
Left guard: Erik Pears, Brandon Thomas, Joe Looney, Fouimalo Fonoti
Center: Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin
Right guard: Alex Boone, Dillon Farrell, Andrew Tiller
Right tackle: Anthony Davis, Erik Pears
Tight end: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier, Garrett Celek, Asante Cleveland, Xavier Grimble
Wide receiver: Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Trindon Holliday, Lance Lewis
Fullback: Bruce Miller, Trey Millard
Running back: Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, Kendall Gaskins, Jarryd Hayne
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
Left defensive tackle: Glenn Dorsey, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Kaleb Ramsey, Lawrence Okoye
Nose tackle: Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Quinton Dial, Mike Purcell, Garrison Smith
Right defensive tackle: Justin Smith, Darnell Dockett, Tony Jerod-Eddie
Left outside linebacker: Ahmad Brooks, Aaron Lynch
Mike inside linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, Desmond Bishop, Shayne Skov
Jack inside linebacker: Michael Wilhoite, Nick Bellore, Nick Moody
Right outside linebacker: Aldon Smith, Corey Lemonier, Chase Thomas (torn ACL)
Left cornerback: Tramaine Brock, Chris Cook, Leon McFadden, Marcus Cromartie
Right cornerback: Shareece Wright, Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser
Free safety: Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward
Strong safety: Antoine Bethea, Craig Dahl, L.J. McCray
Nickel back: Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Leon McFadden
Punter: Andy Lee
Kicker: Phil Dawson
Holder: Andy Lee
Punt return: Bruce Ellington, Reggie Bush, Trindon Holliday, Jarryd Hayne
Kick return: Bruce Ellington, Trindon Holliday, Kendall Hunter, Quinton Patton
Long snapper: Kyle Nelson