Competition for five 49ers' starting jobs


Competition for five 49ers' starting jobs

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SANTA CLARA -- With three games to be played in the exhibition season, there appears to be some degree of uncertainty regarding only five of the starting positions on the 49ers.

One of those spots is quarterback, but all signs are pointing toward incumbent Alex Smith opening as the starter while coach Jim Harbaugh continues to groom promising rookie Colin Kaepernick.

The wide receiver positions will undoubtedly see different forms this season, as the 49ers will have to re-arrange the furniture based on the availability on their players. The only spot where obvious competition remains on the offensive line is at center.

On defense, two key positions remain up for grabs. Rookie Aldon Smith and incumbent Parys Haralson are battling at right outside linebacker. (Ahmad Brooks appears to have a good handle on the left outside linebacker position). Carlos Rogers will be one starting cornerback. The job on the other side is wide open.
QB -- Alex Smith vs. Colin Kaepernick: Harbaugh is clearly favoring Smith. After solid practices Monday and Tuesday, Smith had created "separation" in the competition over the rookie, Harbaugh announced.RELATED: Harbaugh says Smith widens lead over Kaepernick
RB -- Frank Gore: He's still their best back for all downs. The challenge for the 49ers will be to figure out how to best use backups Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter.
FB -- Moran Norris: There might not be any competition for the fullback position, per se, but look for the 49ers to deploy second tight end Delanie Walker more than they use a fullback.
WR -- Braylon Edwards, Joshua Morgan, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn: Two of these wideouts will be starters. Edwards was the team's best wide receiver during training camp. But a possible league suspension is still pending. When the 49ers signed Edwards, they did so with full understanding that he might be suspended a game or two. Crabtree is getting healthy, and he's expected to be activated off the PUP list in time for the season opener. When Crabtree is healthy, expect him to jump into a starting role. Morgan belongs in the conversation, too.
TE -- Vernon Davis: He's been their best offensive player. Davis will be counted upon to have a huge season in this offense.
LT -- Joe Staley: Harbaugh said, "Up front, Joe Staley's having the best camp, I would say, of any of the offensive lineman." So no competition here.
LG -- Mike Iupati: Had an encouraging rookie season, and should only get better as he develops into an elite mauler in the run game.
C -- Adam Snyder vs. Jonathan Goodwin: Snyder has done a good job of learning a new position in his seventh NFL season. But it was clear when the 49ers guaranteed 4 million to Goodwin as a free agent, they were envisioning him as the starter. Snyder and Goodwin have split time with the first unit in practice, and they'll do so again Saturday night. Snyder will start, but Goodwin will enter in the first quarter.RELATED: 49ers camp report -- Competition on O-line
RG -- Chilo Rachal: Theoretically, Snyder is also in competition at this spot. But Harbaugh on Thursday made it clear he is happy with Rachal's performance during camp and considers him the starter.
RT -- Anthony Davis: Backup Alex Boone has been seeing action on both sides of the line as the "swing tackle." Davis, the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, is still in line to be the starter.Defense
LDE -- Ray McDonald: After getting the largest contract of any of the 49ers' free agents, he'll get an opportunity to play all downs. McDonald will move inside on third downs to rush the passer.
NT -- Isaac Sopoaga: He's back at full strength after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury to open camp. His job is to clog the middle, replacing Aubrayo Franklin, whom the 49ers showed no great interest in re-signing.
RDE -- Justin Smith: Mr. Dependable.
LOLB -- Ahmad Brooks: His name has been mention in the same sentence as Justin Smith and Patrick Willis among the 49ers' top defenders. Right now, there's no question he's a starter.
ILB -- NaVorro Bowman: He has done everything right, as he takes over for veteran Takeo Spikes.
ILB -- Patrick Willis: Spending time this camp working on adding pass-rush moves to his arsenal.
ROLB -- Parys Haralson vs. Aldon Smith: Haralson has been a primary starter since 2007, but Smith, the seventh overall pick, is closing in. Once the 49ers are comfortable with Smith as a three-down player, he's going to be moving into a starting role.
LCB -- Carlos Rogers: Team believes they improved in the area of pass coverage after cutting Nate Clements and signing Rogers to a one-year deal.
RCB -- Tramaine Brock vs. Shawntae Spencer vs. Tarell Brown: This position is wide open. Spencer entered camp as the favorite to win the job, but he has taken part in only two full practices because of a hamstring strain. He returned for limited work Sunday, and then was out of action the next four days. Brock has taken the biggest leap among everybody in the secondary. Brown is working back into action after missing some practice time this summer. Rookie Chris Culliver has turned some heads, but it might be too early for him to be seriously considered as a starter. Phillip Adams is still getting stronger after being unable to run for much of the offseason because of a broken ankle he sustained late last year.
FS -- Dashon Goldson: After the first 10 days of camp, it appeared Reggie Smith had solidified this spot. But Smith has not gone through a full practice since Aug. 5, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee three days later. Goldson re-signed with the 49ers after Smith's injury. Goldson will start, and Smith will see significant action as an extra defensive back.RELATED: 49ers officially ink S Goldson to one-year deal
SS -- Donte Whitner: He's a true strong safety who'll morph into a linebacker role when the 49ers go with extra defensive backs. His take-charge personality allows him to step in immediately as the leader of the secondary.

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”


Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”