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Final week of 49ers training camp: Where things stand on offense

08/12/2014 9:13 AM

10/08/2014 12:13 PM

As the 49ers head into their fourth week of training camp, some positions are beginning to take shape. Others remain cloudy. Here's where things stand on offense as the team returns home from six days in Maryland.

Quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick is solidly No. 1 while McLeod Bethel-Thompson looks like the No. 3. Between them is murkiness. At one point this spring, it seemed as if the No. 2 job belonged to Blaine Gabbert. But he struggled in the preseason opener in Baltimore and certainly didn't erase that memory in the three-day scrimmage that followed. That rap against Gabbert thus far in his career is that he looks great in practice but loses his poise in games. Josh Johnson was better than Gabbert in the game and in the practices. He throws a very pretty pass, is accurate when on the run and can do damage with his feet. Of course, he had all those attributes when he was with the 49ers in the 2012 offseason but didn't even make it as the No. 3 passer. The coaching staff wants to see consistency, which was perhaps missing in 2012 when they cut him in favor of Scott Tolzien. One not-insignificant-advantage for Gabbert: The 49ers would owe him $2 million if he makes the team or not.

Running back: The battle royale among Kendall Hunter, rookie Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore ended almost as soon as it started. Everyone but Hyde is injured, and Hyde has looked every bit the heir to Frank Gore the 49ers were hoping he would when they took him in the second round. The only questions at this point are how soon James and Lattimore can return and how many snaps they can eke out when they do. James has fallen down the depth chart due to early-season injuries the previous two years, and he made little effort to conceal his unhappiness at his lack of playing time. Lattimore, meanwhile, could begin his second straight season on the non-football injury list.

Fullback: Bruce Miller is well beyond the scapula injury that ended his 2013 season and has never had any competition for the starting role. He might next season when rookie Trey Millard is recovered from his ACL injury. Will Tukuafu, meanwhile, is interesting. He holds value as a short-yardage blocker, as an emergency defensive lineman and as a special teamer. Of course, the 49ers were able to sign him off the street last season.

Wide receiver: Nothing has changed since the spring. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are the starters while Stevie Johnson looked very good in Baltimore and appears close to locking down the No. 3 role. The 49ers will hang onto youngsters Bruce Ellington (who stood out all week against the Ravens) and Quinton Patton. The wild cards are Brandon Lloyd and Kassim Osgood. Lloyd looks ready to return from the minor muscle strain that has kept him out a week and a half. He had been a quarterback favorite up until the injury. Osgood, meanwhile, is really competing against fellow special teams aces like Ray Ventrone and Blake Costanzo for a spot on the team. It's hard to see three 30-something coverage specialists making the final roster.

Tight end: Vernon Davis scored a 99-yard touchdown against the Ravens in Sunday's practice. Playing in front of friends and family who live nearby in Maryland, Davis stood out in all three sessions. He remains a thorn for defenses, who cannot cover him with a linebacker. (Davis' prowess also suggests that spring drills, which he skipped, are meaningless to someone with his experience.) Vance McDonald is dealing with a minor injury and didn't take part in the joint practices. He leads the team in training-camp drops but was solid both as a pass catcher and blocker in the preseason game. Derek Carrier, meanwhile, appears to be putting some distance between him and injured Garrett Celek (back) for the No. 3 job. He's becoming a favorite target for quarterbacks, which is expected considering his athleticism and his background as a wideout. What's not expected: He performed well as a blocker in the preseason game.

Tackle: If you said Joe Staley is the top offensive tackle in the league, you'd get no argument from the Ravens, who play in the same division as another candidate, Cleveland's Joe Thomas. Staley's speed and quickness were on display all week. Right tackle Jonathan Martin, meanwhile, struggled at times in one-on-one blocking drills. But he mostly performed well in 11-on-11 situations. His feet aren't as quick as Staley's, but Martin still moves well for a man his size. He's better at mirroring smaller pass rushers at this point in his career than he is anchoring against bigger-bodied players, and he must continue to add strength. After them, the 49ers might have a hard time picking which linemen to keep on the roster or practice squad. Carter Bykowski is quietly having a solid camp at left tackle with the second-team unit. He has classic tackle size -- 6-7, 306 pounds with long arms and legs. Ryan Seymour, Dillon Farrell and Michael Philipp, meanwhile, can play both guard and tackle. All three have taken turns at right tackle and have held their own there. Seymour and Farrell also can play guard and center. Seymour in particular seems like someone who could take over the jack-of-all trades role Adam Snyder has filled on the line in recent years.

Guard: De facto right guard Joe Looney had a mixed game against the Ravens on Thursday but seemed to have improved his technique during the three days of practice. He did not stand out, which is good for an interior lineman. As discussed above, Seymour, Farrell and Philipp have good versatility, though their most natural NFL positions are likely guard or center. The other two guards are Snyder and Al Netter, both of whom are very familiar to the coaches. Snyder obviously was dealing with a nagging injury even before he left Sunday's practice. He also can play all five offensive line positions, but is best used at guard. The true wild card, of course, is Alex Boone, who has now missed 21 days of training camp. His return would add some stability to the right side of the offensive line, which as of now is dramatically weaker than the left.

Center: After the 49ers used a third-round pick on Marcus Martin in May, some speculated that he could push aside Daniel Kilgore for the starting center spot. Any offseason competition, however, will happen next year. Martin looked very much like a rookie in Owings Mills over the last three days, getting beaten soundly on some plays by the Ravens interior defensive linemen. Farrell, who went undrafted out of New Mexico, looked like the more competent rookie. Meanwhile, Kilgore has been assignment-sound all offseason. During the three-day practice, one of the snaps to Colin Kaepernick ended up on the ground. It was only noteworthy because that's the first time that type of miscue has happened in training camp. (And Kaepernick said it was because the running back hit the ball as it was being snapped). Kaepernick worked extensively with Kilgore during their rookie season in 2011 when they both were backups. That is, they already had chemistry heading into this season

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

About This Blog

Matt Barrows was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Sacramento Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green. Reach Barrows at mbarrows@sacbee.com.
Twitter: @mattbarrows

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