The future of the 49ers' 2012 draft class


The future of the 49ers' 2012 draft class

SANTA CLARA -- A year ago, the 49ers required immediate help from their rookie class.The 49ers needed a pass-rusher, so they used the seventh overall pick to select Aldon Smith. He was immediately penciled in as a defensive end in pass-rush situations. He would have a full season to learn how to make the transition to an every-down outside linebacker, which he has successfully done in Year 2.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was chosen in the second round to see if he could unseat Alex Smith. Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and lineman Daniel Kilgore -- the selections in the third, fourth and fifth rounds -- were added for depth.Injuries allowed Culliver a chance to take over as the third cornerback. Hunter beat out Anthony Dixon to become the No. 2 running back. And Kilgore was inactive most of the season but now is a top backup.This year, the 49ers have needed nothing from their rookie class. And they've gotten nothing.RELATED: Healthy team means no need for rookies Jenkins or James
The 49ers returned every starter on defense. On offense, the 49ers had two holes. They promoted Alex Boone to start at right guard, and they signed veteran receiver Mario Manningham to fill the other starting job.When I asked coach Jim Harbaugh on Wednesday about the contributions -- or lack thereof -- from the 49ers' rookie class, he said it was a matter of the 49ers remaining healthy.So what's the plan for these guys? The 49ers have not slotted any of these players into roles as future starters because Harbaugh has repeatedly said jobs must be earned.Here is a look at where each member of the 49ers' 2012 draft class could fit in:WR A.J. Jenkins, first round: It would probably take two injuries for him to get a chance to play as a rookie. Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn rank ahead of him on the depth chart. Moss and Ginn are signed only through this season. Manningham and Williams have deals that expire after 2013. Crabtree is signed through 2014. Jenkins had an up-and-down first offseason with the club. Some of the flashes he showed on the practice field were spectacular. If Moss is not back on the team next season, Jenkins has a chance to surpass Williams as the No. 3 receiver. Williams has the advantage of versatility. He figures to have a spot because of his contributions in the return game. Games in uniformgames played: 10.RB LaMichael James, second round: He bypassed his final season at Oregon to jump to the NFL. And James has not suited up for a game, as he is stacked behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. James is also behind veteran Brandon Jacobs, who has not played season, either. So for James to see action this season, it would likely take two or three injuries to players ahead of him. Gore and Hunter are both signed through 2014. Dixon, who is active for games because of his play on special teams, is signed through 2013. Jacobs signed a one-year deal and does not figure to be back next season. The 49ers work daily with James on handling punts. If he can become reliable in that area, perhaps he has a future in the return game, as well as a change-of-pace back. Games in uniformgames played: 00.OL Joe Looney, fourth found: He got a late starter after recovering from a foot injury. When he saw action in the exhibition season, he was the team's most-impressive rookie. The 49ers have a young offensive line at the guard and tackle positions. The only opening for a starting job in the near future could be at center. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin is scheduled to make 3.7 million next season in the final year of his contract. Goodwin has played very well, so the 49ers might not feel the urge to make any change there. Kilgore, who is Goodwin's backup this season, and Looney figure to be competing in the future. Games in uniformgames played: 00.OLB Darius Fleming, fifth round: He sustained a torn ACL in his left knee during rookie minicamp and is out for the season. He will have a chance to return next season to compete for a roster spot as a backup to Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Games in uniformgames played: 00.S Trenton Robinson, sixth round: He is the team's fifth safety behind starters Dashon Goldson and Donte Whiter, and veteran backups C.J. Spillman and Darcel McBath. Robinson is the only 49ers draft pick who has gotten on the field this season. He had one special-teams tackle while suiting up for the first three weeks. He has been inactive for the past five games. Whitner is signed through 2013, and Goldson is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season. The 49ers could retain Goldson with another franchise tag of 7.45 million next season. Robinson will have a chance to work his way up the ladder in future seasons. Games in uniformgames played: 33.OL Jason Slowey, sixth round: He was among the 49ers' first cuts of training camp and he was not brought back to the practice squad. The Raiders recently signed him to their practice squad. Games in uniformgames played: 00.OLB Cameron Johnson, seventh round: He underwent offseason knee surgery and did not play much in the exhibition season. He was among the 49ers' final cuts and is now on the team's practice squad. He will compete, along with Fleming, for a backup role next season. Games in uniformgames played: 00. Undrafted rookie tight end Garrett Celek has contributed more than the entire 2012 draft class combined. He has suited up for each of the past five games. He sees limited action as the No. 3 tight end behind Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, but he has two catches for 10 yards. With Walker scheduled for unrestricted free agency, it's possible Celek could be the 49ers' primary backup next season.

Ward injures hamstring under team supervision, placed on PUP


Ward injures hamstring under team supervision, placed on PUP

SANTA CLARA – Safety Jimmie Ward was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list to open training camp with a hamstring injury, the 49ers announced Friday morning.

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan stated on Thursday that all of their players were healthy and no players would be headed to PUP or the non-football injury list.

But that was before the 49ers were scheduled to have their conditioning test. Ward sustained the injury on Thursday during the team's conditioning test. The team lists him as "week to week."

He can be activated to begin practice at any time. Ward is also eligible to begin the regular season on the PUP list. Any player who opens the regular season on PUP is ineligible for the first six weeks of the season.

Ward is expected to be one of the key members of the 49ers' defense from the free safety position. His role is dubbed "The Eraser," fellow safety Eric Reid said, because of his role as a playmaker in the secondary. However, one of the major questions about Ward is his ability to remain healthy through the rigors of an NFL season.

Ward missed eight games as a rookie due to a foot injury. Last year, he sat out five games due to a shoulder injury.

Hyde 'flipped a switch' this offseason, sets lofty goal in contract year

Hyde 'flipped a switch' this offseason, sets lofty goal in contract year

SANTA CLARA – Carlos Hyde has been the 49ers' unchallenged starter since the organization allowed Frank Gore to leave in free agency after the 2014 season.

Finally, he has been challenged.

The 49ers drafted Joe Williams in the fourth round, signed veteran Tim Hightower and acquired Kapri Bibbs in a trade. Moreover, Hyde appears to be challenging himself, too.

“My goal is to be the No. 1 rushing running back in this league,” Hyde said. “I feel like I have the best opportunity to do that now with this new staff.”

General manager John Lynch said he has noticed Hyde “flipped a switch” in the offseason. Hyde remained in the Bay Area to use the 49ers’ facilities to work out and eat at the team’s cafeteria. At one point, he even asked coach Kyle Shanahan about being included on special teams.

Hyde reported to training camp Thursday at 228 pounds – the least he has weighed since his high-school days, he said. Hyde could be a good fit for Shanahan’s running scheme.

“It’s outside zone, which is downhill. I’m a downhill back. I feel like I fit the scheme very well,” said Hyde, who enters the final year of his contract.

Hyde had career-best totals of 988 yards and six touchdowns last season with a 4.6-yard average. Although the 49ers could use more a multi-pronged approach at running back, Hyde could be set up for a career year heading into free agency.

“I ran into him in the hall and he looks tremendous,” Lynch said. “He really has dedicated himself. He’s changed his body type this offseason and that to me at the least bit shows a commitment. There’s those stories, but we’re excited to see this whole thing as we take the next step.”