The 49ers are in trial-and-error mode when it comes to their depth chart, and the final 22 might not be set until the final preseason game Sept. 1. Here's a synopsis of all the position groups in late May, starting with the offense. Keep in mind that no rookies* even have cracked the second-team lineup at this point but certainly will do so by August. That is, the 49ers seem to want them to learn the system now and compete for roles in training camp.
Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick should end up competing for the starting role in training camp, but Gabbert will have a significant head start. He's been running with the 49ers' first-team offense throughout the offseason while Kaepernick might not get a chance until late July. He has not yet been medically cleared for practice. He is back in the weight room, regaining the strength he lost while recovering from various injuries, including to his left shoulder, and working on his flexibility. The 49ers will hold their mandatory minicamp late next week (June 7-9). Even if Kaepernick is cleared before then, it's hard to see him jumping straight in with the first group for that session. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Lewis has been working with the second-team offense; rookie Jeff Driskel with the third.
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The two practices open to the media have had the same composition on the offensive lines:
First team: LT Joe Staley, LG Zane Beadles, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Brandon Thomas, RT Erik Pears
Second team: LT Colin Kelly, LG Ian Silberman, C Marcus Martin, RG Andrew Tiller, RT Trent Brown
Third team: LT Norman Price*, LG Blake Muir*, C Alex Balducci*, RG Fahn Cooper*, RT John Theus*
First-round pick Joshua Garnett can't join the 49ers until midway through their mandatory minicamp next month. It's not known where he will line up when he returns but it's possible he'll start out with the third-team line along with the rest of the rookies. At right tackle, the team obviously was optimistic about Brown at the end of the 2015 season. But it appears as if Brown was not in great shape -- or at least Chip-Kelly-pace shape -- to begin the spring whereas Pears looks as if he's in excellent condition. Anthony Davis, meanwhile, continues to state on social media that he is coming back to the 49ers. But he has yet to apply for reinstatement, signaling that he will not be on hand at all for the spring session, which ends next week.
Torrey Smith mostly has lined up on the right, Quinton Patton has been on the left and Bruce Ellington has seen a lot of work as the slot receiver. When safety Antoine Bethea, the most veteran defender on the field right now, was asked last week which receivers stand out in practice, the first name out of his mouth was Ellington's. Given Gabbert's predilection for shorter, safer throws, the slot receiver might become his favorite target. (Kelly also also has said he's intrigued by Ellington). Ellington has been in and out of the lineup in previous offseasons due to nagging injuries. His rapport with Gabbert largely will rest on whether he can remain healthy. Eric Rogers* has stood out for his ability to snag contested throws, which also is likely to build confidence in the quarterback. Bethea also mentioned Jerome Simpson, the veteran of the group, who always seems to stand out in the offseason. He and last year's training camp superstar, DeAndrew White, have been the next-most prolific receivers.
As expected, veterans Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald get most of the work with the first-team office with Blake Bell, Rory Anderson and Je'Ron Hamm working in with the rest of the units. The wild card is Bruce Miller, who is smart, well-liked in the locker room and who looks comfortable in his new role as a tight end. It was notable that when the 49ers trotted out for their first snaps in 11-on-11 drills on Wednesday, Miller was with the first group for the initial snap. Which is to say, the coaches are treating him like the multi-year veteran he is, not as someone taking baby steps in a new role.
It's hard to evaluate running backs in spring practices because there are no pads, no hitting and very few run plays. The pecking order at the position is as expected with Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris in the top three spots and Mike Davis and Kelvin Taylor* working with the second- and third-team groups. When training camp begins, this group will see a lot more action. And with Jarryd Hayne no longer on the roster, the 49ers may have to add another runner.