The 49ers have 89 players on their roster, one short of the offseason maximum. They likely will give tryouts to undrafted rookies during their minicamp in two weeks, and there could be more roster changes in coming weeks.
Still, the current group provides a picture of where the best battles will be.
Punter: Like the “long-snapper watch” two years ago, one of the best battles – though perhaps not the most exciting one – will be at punter, where veteran Andy Lee will try to hold off fifth-round pick Bradley Pinion. It’s worth noting the 2013 long-snapper battle was won by the younger, cheaper challenger. The consolation prize in this battle: The loser is unlikely to be unemployed for long.
Left guard: The 49ers signed veteran Erik Pears to compete with Brandon Thomas as the replacement for Mike Iupati. Marcus Martin also could figure into the mix. Pears also might turn out to be the team’s best option at swing tackle. But also keep an eye on youngster Dillon Farrell. He can play all five spots on the line and is stronger than he was a year ago, when he came to the team as an undrafted rookie.
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Outside linebacker: One of the better battles may be on the left side, as Ahmad Brooks tries to hold off Aaron Lynch for the starting spot. If Lynch wins, it may be hard to justify Brooks’ big salary. And, the team used a third-round pick on a pass rusher, Eli Harold, to add depth. Corey Lemonier was more effective as a rookie in 2013 than he was in 2014 and will try to get back on track.
Cornerback: As long as he’s healthy, Tramaine Brock is a lock for a starting spot. If the season started tomorrow, Shareece Wright would be at the other spot. Wright, however, is smaller than what the 49ers prefer, and there appears to be an opening for a young player to come in and grab a starting role. Tall, smart Dontae Johnson made the most of his playing time last season. Kenneth Acker may have been a Day 2 pick in 2014 had he not been hurt (ACL) at draft time.
Defensive end: It’s not known where all the youngsters at the position will line up. First-round pick Arik Armstead played on the left side at Oregon. Tony Jerod-Eddie and Quinton Dial also played on the left last season. On the right, Tank Carradine likely will platoon with Darnell Dockett after the veteran is finished rehabbing last year’s ACL tear. Justin Smith, if he returns, also plays on the right. One more player to consider is Glenn Dorsey, who is listed as a nose tackle but can also play end.
Tight end: It’s never a good sign for the incumbents when a team drafts two players at one position, like the 49ers did at tight end. Vernon Davis will be No. 1, but he’s entering the final year of his contract and his future is in doubt. Derek Carrier showed the most promise of any tight end last season and looks safe. So does fourth-rounder Blake Bell. Everyone else – Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, rookie Rory Anderson etc. – is fighting for a spot.
Running back: The 49ers typically keep three running backs on the active roster. Carlos Hyde is a lock, and everyone else – Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, fourth-round pick Mike Davis – is jockeying for position. Newcomer Jarryd Hayne is listed as a running back, but his main role likely will be on special teams. Hunter has returned kicks in the past.
Wide receiver: The first two spots are set with Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. The role of No. 3 wideout is interesting with Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Jerome Simpson, who has gotten rave early reviews during the offseason program, in the mix. The 49ers also signed five undrafted rookies who should see plenty of work in the offseason and training camp.
Safety: The real battle probably will not happen until 2016. At that point, second-round pick Jaquiski Tartt could be gunning for Antoine Bethea’s starting job. For the short term, Tartt seems like a backup at safety and a special-teams ace, which could be trouble for the player who holds that role, Craig Dahl.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at sacbee.com/sf49ers.