Two starting jobs unsettled on 49ers' defense

Two starting jobs unsettled on 49ers' defense
February 5, 2014, 9:15 am
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Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers are the only two defensive players whose starting spots are not secure. (AP)

Twenty of the 53 players on the 49ers’ roster for the Super Bowl a year ago did not make the team’s roster for the 2013 season.

The 49ers replaced two starters on both sides of the ball while keeping a constant churn of key backups, role players and players who regularly found themselves among the seven inactives on game days.

The 49ers’ defense heads into the offseason with a starting front seven that appears set.

In the defensive backfield, free safety Eric Reid is a definite starter. Cornerback Tramaine Brock, after signing a four-year, $17 million extension even before performing admirably as a starter, figures to start at one cornerback position.

Strong safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown are scheduled for free agency. Veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers most assuredly will not return at his $6.6 million price tag after he declined the club’s request to take a pay cut a year ago. (The 49ers kept Rogers at his scheduled $5.85 million pay in large part because of Chris Culliver’s season-ending knee injury.)

[RELATED: 49ers' scheduled free agents]

Here’s an early look at the 49ers’ projected defensive lineup for 2014:

Left defensive tackle: Ray McDonald. Tank Carradine, a second-round draft pick in 2013, will be expected to get healthy and work his way into the rotation.
Nose tackle: Glenn Dorsey. After the way Dorsey played, it’ll be difficult for Ian Williams to regain the starting job he lost when he sustained a season-ending broken ankle in Week 2.
Right defensive tackle: Justin Smith. He’s getting up there in years, but he’s still productive. Tony Jerod-Eddie and Quinton Dial will compete for backup roles. Demarcus Dobbs does not figure to be tendered as a restricted free agent, but could re-sign later for a minimum-level deal.
Left outside linebacker: Ahmad Brooks. The second-team All-Pro sees his salary drop for a second year in a row. In 2014, his scheduled $5.15 million pay is reduced to $4.25 million due to escalators. 
Inside linebacker: NaVorro Bowman. He might not be ready for Week 1 after undergoing knee surgery on Tuesday. The 49ers have Bowman wrapped up through the 2018 season, so they can't rush him back. The 49ers feel good about exclusive-rights free agent Michael Wilhoite, who played well in two starts in place of Patrick Willis. Nick Moody is also an option. And, of course, the 49ers could add a player in the offseason.
Inside linebacker: Patrick Willis. He’ll be going for his eighth Pro Bowl in eight seasons.
Right outside linebacker: Aldon Smith. He is eligible this offseason to sign a contract extension. How the 49ers approach that situation will hinge more on what they feel about his off-field situation than anything they see on the field. During Smith's leave of absence, Dan Skuta (base downs) and Corey Lemonier (nickel situations) filled in and fared well.
Left cornerback: TBD. Rogers could be back with a pay cut. Culliver will certainly get a chance to compete. Perrish Cox and Eric Wright are free agents. And the 49ers will bring back speedster Darryl Morris for his second season. Expect the 49ers to invest a draft pick or two in this position. They might also bring in a bargain veteran free agent.
Right cornerback: Tramaine Brock. He seemed to solidify his job as a starter entering 2014 with an impressive eight-game stint as a starter. He led the 49ers with five interceptions in the regular season.
Free safety: Eric Reid. The 49ers traded up to select him at No. 18 overall to replace Dashon Goldson. It was a wise financial and football move.
Strong safety: TBD. Whitner is a free agent who wants to return. But the sides must get together on a contract that works for both sides. Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman are options behind Whitner. In any event, the 49ers are likely to address this position in the draft.

[RELATED: 49ers contracts: Whitner wants to re-sign]