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  • Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    Michael Crabtree's offseason Achilles' tendon tear pushed Anquan Boldin into the No. 1 wide receiver spot. Who's No. 2?

  • Jim Gensheimer / San Jose Mercury News

    Colin Kaepernick was unstoppable as a read-option quarterback at times last season, but can he be just as effective as a pocket passer should defenses hamper his opportunities to run?

As 49ers open camp, they have a score to settle - again

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013 - 6:18 am

So long to non-padded practices, touch tackles and half-speed drills.

The 49ers report today for training camp, where they will don pads and commence tackling and hitting for the first time since the Super Bowl. For the second consecutive season, San Francisco heads into the summer warmup looking to avenge a stomach-wrenching, last-second playoff loss.

No team has bounced back from a Super Bowl loss to win it the following year since the 1972 Dolphins – 24-3 losers to the Cowboys the previous year – beat the Redskins to complete their undefeated season.

The 49ers, however, are capable of breaking that four-decade drought. The team is talented from top to bottom and has one of the game's most exciting young quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh not only retained his coaching staff, he added to it by hiring Eric Mangini this offseason.

Still, not everything is settled as the season approaches. Here are five questions facing the 49ers as they start training camp practices:

Who's No. 2?

The 49ers had every starting spot on offense settled until wide receiver Michael Crabtree fell to the ground on an innocuous, non-contact play May 21. The diagnosis – a completely torn right Achilles' tendon – thrust newcomer Anquan Boldin into the No. 1 receiving spot and sparked the biggest question of training camp: Who will start Week 1 across from Boldin?

Returning players Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham are obvious choices. Both, however, are recovering from ACL tears suffered late last season and both will begin training camp on injury lists.

The other contenders have talent but are light on experience. They include A.J. Jenkins, the 2012 first-round pick whose rookie season was a flop; Ricardo Lockette, the speedster who happens to be quarterback Colin Kaepernick's housemate; Quinton Patton, the 49ers' eager fourth-round pick, and Marlon Moore, a former Natomas High School standout who impressed Harbaugh during the spring sessions.

The 49ers likely will use some sort of rotation at receiver to start the season as they did last year. But Harbaugh and his assistants will look for one or two of those young players to pull away from the pack this summer.

Can Kaepernick counter?

Summer reading for the NFL: "How to Beat Read-Option Quarterbacks." Beginning Week 1 with the Packers, who were trampled by Kaepernick in the playoffs, San Francisco's opponents will be intent on hemming in the quarterback and making sure he doesn't beat them with his feet.

That means Kaepernick must be effective in a more traditional role. He was brilliant at times as a pocket quarterback last season, especially in his first start against the Bears. But he needs to be more consistent and make fewer mistakes. He fumbled 10 times in 13 games last season.

Ironically, Kaepernick must work this summer on becoming more like the quarterback he replaced. Alex Smith wasn't flashy, but he didn't commit many turnovers, and his methodical drives allowed his defensive teammates plenty of time to rest.

The five cornerbacks are?

The 49ers are loaded with veteran cornerbacks, but it's doubtful the same will be said at this time next year.

That's because four of those veterans are due to become free agents, including starter Tarell Brown and newcomer Nnamdi Asomugha. The other starter, Carlos Rogers, is due to count $8.1 million against the salary cap, which as of now is the highest figure on the team.

Receiver may be the 49ers' biggest question mark this year but cornerback promises to be the issue next offseason. They will have to make some big decisions about the critical position between now and March, beginning with cut-down day in September.

More breathers for Smiths?

Why did the 49ers' once-stout defense wilt at the end of last season? As it turns out, three of the team's front-line starters – Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks – were dealing with injuries from which they only recently recovered.

In the past two seasons, the 49ers' defensive starters have played well more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps, a rate that adds up when the team plays deep into January.

This year, the 49ers brought in reinforcements through the draft. The question this summer is when will rookie defensive linemen Tank Carradine (ACL) and Quinton Dial (toe) be able to take the field, and will they be effective substitutes for Justin Smith and Ray McDonald this season? Third-round pick Corey Lemonier and veteran Parys Haralson should provide relief at outside linebacker for Brooks and Aldon Smith.

Will Tolzien triumph?

The hottest summer battle last year turned out to be the one between Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson for No. 3 quarterback. Tolzien won it, but he'll have another fight on his hands this camp from seventh-round draft pick B.J. Daniels.

Daniels is a coach's dream in that he occupies just one roster spot but can play three positions – quarterback, running back and punt returner. That versatility will work in his favor on cut-down day.

But don't count Tolzien out. He's a smart, savvy gym rat who thinks like a coach. He's an asset to the starting quarterback in the run-up to Sunday and game days.

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



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