Aug. 19, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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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.