Yesterday, I looked at three soon-to-be- offseason competitions: safety, right tackle and inside linebacker. Here are three more ...
Guard. You might say the true competition is at left guard where David Baas will try to hold off first-round draft pick Mike Iupati. But if Iupati were to supplant Baas - and I fully expect he will - you have to wonder about the repercussions. First let's talk about Iupati. Both acting GM Trent Baalke and offensive line coach Mike Solari described Iupati as special, the type of guard who only comes along every few years. Iupati is massive, he moves that bulk like a man who weighs 250 pounds and he's comfortable at left guard. All that seems like a very bad omen for Baas, a former 33rd overall pick who had trouble cracking the starting lineup when he first arrived with the 49ers and who has dealt with injuries in recent years. Baas also is playing on a one-year contract.
But if Baas is dislodged, it might put pressure on two other positions. (This is what Jimmy Raye was anticipating when he said that intra-squad competition breeds success). Baas also has played right guard in the NFL and center in college. The 49ers fully expect Chilo Rachal to blossom in his third year, but he was inconsistent last year. Having Baas on the bench puts more pressure on Rachal. It also will be interesting to see whether Baas snaps the ball this offseason. He played center - and played well - his senior season at Michigan. Eric Heitmann is the unquestioned starter at center. But there are question marks about his backup, Cody Wallace.
Meanwhile, here's what Rachal recently told 49ers.com about his mindset this season: "It's more serious now, because I know what to do and now I just have to do it versus last year. In the beginning, I wasn't playing at a high level but towards the end I picked it up and started playing good ball. I just have to use what I did at the end of last season to continue to get better and not have the same season this year. I want to make last year my worst season."
Return man - Only one under-contract player returned punts in the recent OTA/minicamp. That player was undrafted CB/WR LeRoy Vann. If he dropped an attempt, I must not have been looking. Nevada running back Brandon Fragger also tried his hand at punt returns, but obviously was not as comfortable as Vann. Fragger has not received a contract offer. As I wrote last week, Ted Ginn Jr. certainly is an option as a return man, but the team wants him to concentrate on his receiver duties. The more he excels in that area, the less he will take part on special teams.
The other option is sixth-round draft pick Kyle Williams, who pulled a hamstring in the Friday afternoon session and sat out Saturday. Williams was walking without a limp on Saturday, and the hamstring injury doesn't appear to be severe. Still, my experience with young receivers and injuries is that A.) Most rookie receivers come down with a sprain or strain at some point. B.) When that happens to newcomers, they quickly fall behind and it's impossible to catch up. Just ask Jason Hill and Brandon Jones.
Outside linebacker. On Friday, I asked Mike Singletary about free-agent linebacker Adalius Thomas, someone the 49ers were very interested in during free agency three years ago. Singletary, who coached Thomas in Baltimore, acknowledged that past interest but said he was content with the OLBs the 49ers have on the roster right now. Those linebackers are Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, Ahmad Brooks and Travis LaBoy. Diyral Briggs, Martail Burnett and Brandon Long provide depth.
The best 3-4 defenses in recent years - Baltimore and Pittsburgh - have had a steady rotation at outside linebacker, and I expect that will be the case with the 49ers. With Lawson absent Friday morning, LaBoy seemed to get most of the snaps at strong-side outside linebacker. It was only one abbreviated, non-contact practice, but LaBoy, a defensive end early in his career, definitely showed the agility of a linebacker. Lawson, meanwhile, is in the final year of his contract and wants an extension. One can only assume that he has stayed away from the voluntary OTAs to this point for fear of getting injured. The 49ers won't have a mandatory session until June 17-19.
Join me for a noon chat today. We can talk about the draft, the undrafted players, the minicamp, Maiocco's makeup-applying techniques, etc. Click here for the chat.
Finally, I usually barf at anything even remotely sentimental. But I have to admit that this story made my eyes well. (Just for a second and it was probably my allergies acting up).
-- Matt Barrows