No. 1: Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert.
The 49ers seemed ready to wash their hands of Kaepernick this offseason and Kaepernick had a foot out the door, too. But Chip Kelly wanted the quarterback on his roster, suggesting that he sees Kaepernick as a strong fit in his high-paced offense. So far in training camp, Blaine Gabbert has been the more accurate passer and a quicker decision-maker, Kelly’s two most important attributes for his quarterback. But Kaepernick my be the more aggressive of the two, and Kelly’s offense is nothing if not aggressive. The 49ers head coach has said that the preseason games – especially with how the quarterbacks handle pressure – will play a big role in who starts during the regular season.
No. 2: Cornerback Jimmie Ward
He’s the only would-be starter switching positions this year – from nickel cornerback to outside cornerback. The 49ers love Ward’s aggressive, physical style, and they see him as a near twin of the team’s other starter, Tramaine Brock. The difference, however, is that Brock is entering his seventh season at cornerback; Ward is playing his first. Ward makes a lot of nice plays in practice, but he also is the victim of some big ones. That is, his inexperience shows at times. Which is why every snap he takes this preseason is a valuable one.
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No. 3: Tackle Anthony Davis
The big right tackle said this week that “cream always rises to the top,” and noted that he has been doing just that. After a year away from the game – and after missing the 49ers’ spring practice sessions – Davis began as the third-team right tackle. He’s already been elevated to the second team and expects to be named a starter at some point. Davis’ new, slimmer build suits him well. The question between now and the Sept. 12 season opener is whether he is a better fit than second-year tackle Trent Brown, who will start the game against the Texans.