This week, I’ve decided to cut out the issues and go general – and pick out the ‘ones to watch’ for the whole preseason. These can range from specific players to overall topics. Let’s get started.
Boone To RG: For my money, probably the biggest weakness on the 49er team the last few years has been the position of right guard. We’ve had a revolving door of crap out there, that could’ve easily put (more) QBs in hospital than they did. It’s continued to be a problem, or at least the weakest position on the field, whether the starter was Adam Snyder last year – who, in the interests of editorial fairness, didn’t actually do that bad of a job – to scrubs such as Chilo Rachal (the worst offensive lineman I have ever seen at the NFL level) in previous years. One could argue it’s still a position of contention now. Trent Baalke, however, doesn’t seem to see it that way. His only move to fix the problem throughout the entire offseason was to draft Joe Looney in the 3rd round of the recent NFL draft. Looney has looked good in camp after finally coming off the PUP list, but he’s certainly more of a long-term solution than anything in the short term. With that in mind, I think many of us thought that someone emerging, like Daniel Kilgore or possibly Mike Person, would make the jump to starting RG. We’ve ended up instead with Alex Boone, who was last seen as a backup ‘swing’ tackle for the last 2 seasons. I happen to rate Boone highly, and I think his promotion to the top rank is more about getting the 5 best linemen on the field, but there’s a lot of questions he’ll need to answer in the preseason. For one thing, his height could become a natural barrier to gaining leverage. That’s even before we discuss the other practicalities of switching positions after years at the NFL level learning another. If he falters, recent FA signing Leonard Davis and the aforementioned Looney will be waiting to take over.
Battles at WR: In a strange offseason, the path taken at the WR position seems to have baffled onlookers the most, from being one of the undoubted weaknesses of the team last year, to being a possible strength of the team this year. Players like Joe Hastings suddenly become Kyle Williams, as Randy Moss and Mario Manningham (not to mention AJ Jenkins) provide more depth and probably become starters. What’s interesting is there are likely 6 spots on the team at WR, and a lot of competition. Crabtree, Moss, Manningham, Jenkins and Ginn would appear to be locks. That 6th spot? Not so much. So this preseason we’ll have a lot of questions, and I’d wager that we will get a lot of questions answered. Can Manningham produce New York form in SF? Can Moss still go? Is Crabtree really the next big thing? Who starts, of those three? Will Ginn develop into a WR? How will Jenkins take to the NFL? And for that 6th spot, the battle between (in my mind) Kyle Williams, Nathan Palmer and Chris Owusu promises to be something fun to watch in preseason. It’s nice to have a well-stocked position, it’s just how it will be handled by Harbaugh/Baalke that will be interesting.
The backup QB carousel: Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson and Scott Tolzien all have different things to prove, but all are fighting for the same spots. Tolzien must prove his viability as an NFL QB. Josh Johnson has to show consistency, and Colin Kaepernick has to prove he’s the QB of the future. Of those guys, it looks like Kaepernick is getting the first crack at earning his job – he’s expected to run the no.2 offense in pre-season. However, all of the players will be looked at in their own way and for their own abilities. There’s 3 spots at QB, and 4 players. One has to go. Logic suggests, what with Kaepernick being a 2nd round pick, and Josh Johnson having the experience in Harbaugh’s system, that Tolzien is the odd man out. But that’s why they play the games – and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a surprise there come final cut-down day. Tolzien may just hold off Johnson. Don’t rule it out.
Young DL fighting for spots: Ricky Jean-Francois, Demarcus Dobbs, Will Tukuafu, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Ian Williams might not be household names. But they are the young defensive linemen fighting for a spot. Dobbs, Tukuafu and Williams made it last year. This year, its Issac Sopoaga’s contract year, giving someone an opportunity, no further depth has been added, and Dobbs is moonlighting as a TE. What will come out of this logjam? I expect Dobbs to make it, purely on versatility. I think Francois makes it, he’s long been seen as the NT of the future (although he needs to take a step up this year). Beyond that, no idea. Williams lack of versatility and Jerod-Eddie’s lack of experience could well lead to neither of them making it. Tukuafu? Hard to know – he made the team last year, then got injured. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
And that’s me. Enjoy preseason! Your feedback as always is appreciated.