Video: Blaine Gabbert sets eyes on starting position next season
The 49ers haven’t done much in free agency. When they assemble for the start of the offseason program next week, the roster will look a lot like it did at the end of last season, at least from a personnel perspective. The big difference, of course, is the coaching staff. Here’s a stab at a rough depth chart for the beginning of the offseason. The theme: A lot of bodies; not a lot of experience.
Italics: Players not on San Francisco’s 2015 roster.
Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, Thad Lewis, Dylan Thompson.
Notes: Gabbert replaced Kaepernick as the starter in 2015, fared better than Kaepernick in the starting role and, unlike Kaepernick, will begin the offseason program healthy.
Running back: Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis, Kendall Gaskins, Jarryd Hayne
Notes: There’s no question Hyde, fully recovered from his foot injury, will be the 49ers’ top runner. After him, the depth becomes fuzzy. A team source, who did not want to go on record because he didn’t have the authority by the 49ers to comment, said recently that Draughn and Harris were the 49ers’ two best runners after Hyde was injured last year. Hyde and Davis are the only draft picks in this group, and because of that Davis will be given every chance to succeed. He was ineffective last year until the season finale. It will be interesting to see if Chip Kelly and his staff can better carve out an offensive role for the talented but still unrefined Hayne than their predecessors.
Fullback/H-back: Bruce Miller
Notes: Kelly never had a fullback in Philadelphia. But he said that doesn’t mean the 49ers will be without one. Or rather it doesn’t mean the team will cut Miller. He noted Miller often was used as an H-back or split out wide as a tight end. That is, he’s multi-talented. “I’m not pigeon-holed to anything,” Kelly said last month. “You have to utilize your personnel the best way you can. We ran a lot of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) in Philadelphia because we had Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. We would’ve been 13 if we had a third (tight end).”
Wide receiver: Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter, Jerome Simpson, Eric Rogers, Dres Anderson, DeAndrew White, DiAndre Campbell.
Note: Without Anquan Boldin, who is currently a free agent, Smith is the group’s elder statesman, a role that should suit him well. After Smith, starting jobs are up for grabs. Kelly hinted that he’s intrigued by Ellington. If he’s able to stay healthy this offseason – a big if, given his history – Ellington could be in line for a quasi receiver/running back role. The team has high expectations for Smelter, whose traits mesh well with Kelly’s system but who is raw and untested. Look for Simpson, as he did last year, to make an impact during the offseason. The question, as it seems to be every year with Simpson, is whether he can rise up in the regular season as well. Anderson is interesting. He was the team’s most prized undrafted rookie last year but struggled with a knee injury.
Tight end: Garrett Celek, Vance McDonald, Blake Bell, Rory Anderson, Je’Ron Hamm
Notes: Celek and McDonald seem to fall nicely into the roles Brent Celek and Ertz had in Philadelphia. Bell has been used as a lead blocker in college, and his role may end up being similar to Miller’s.
Tackle: Joe Staley (LT), Trent Brown (RT), Erik Pears, Colin Kelly
Notes: The unknown here is former right tackle Anthony Davis, who has been adamant (on social media) about returning to the team following a year away from the game but who still hasn’t taken the first step in that return: filing for reinstatement with the league office. The 49ers are proceeding as if Davis is not on the team. Without him, Brown – who looked quite solid at the end of 2015 – is the frontrunner for right tackle. Alex Boone’s free-agent departure was bit of a double whammy. Not only did the 49ers lose their starting left guard, they lost their backup left tackle. As of now, the job of jack-of-all-trades/swing tackle seems to fall to Pears.
Guard: Zane Beadles, Marcus Martin, Andrew Tiller, Erik Pears, Ian Silberman, Brandon Thomas, Jordan Devey
Notes: Beadles appears to be the frontrunner at left guard. The hope is that the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme will be a better fit for Beadles, who wasn’t very good in Jacksonville’s power-blocking system. The rest of the depth must be sorted out. Tiller was once considered a power-blocking mauler only. But a better diet and training regimen has allowed him to become more light on his feet. The 49ers love Martin’s athleticism but some in the organization wonder whether he’s been dedicated enough in the weight room and whether he has developed enough strength to be an effective blocker. The 49ers signed Pears last year to play guard, but Davis’ unexpected retirement forced Pears to play tackle. He could be active on game days because of his versatility. Thomas has struggled to move past his 2014 knee injury. Silberman showed promise in training camp but just did not have enough experience for a role in 2015.
Center: Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin, Ian Silberman
Notes: The 49ers’ offensive line gained noticeable stability when Kilgore finally returned to the lineup late last year. Martin got shoved around most of the season but at least has experience. Silberman played some center in training camp last year. He moves well for his size and just needs to add strength and seasoning.