49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 2, 2010
Battle stations! Competition at key spots for 49ers.

It's hard to come out of the 49ers weekend rookie minicamp with anything definitive. The main goal of the session was to show the rookies exactly what's expected of them - what condition they need to be in, the pace of practices, etc. - when the full squad meets later this month. One thing that is clear, however, is that the 2010 49ers are more talented than any 49ers team since Steve Mariucci was coach.

"I need to get competition," offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said when asked what he wanted out of the team's top draft picks. "I think if we get competition at positions - we are on the brink of being a pretty good football team inside-out, theoretically. If we can get competition for positions, and the best guys are in there playing, then we are better as a football team."

So where will the best competition be found when June OTAs and August training camp roll around? Here are my picks:

Strong safety: Acting GM Trent Baalke said recently the 49ers want their starting safeties to be able to play both deep and inside the box. That may be the theory, but Michael Lewis certainly has spent a lot more time along the line of scrimmage in recent years than his counterpart. Lewis is a punishing tackler, but he does not have the speed to be a cover safety. Second-round pick Taylor Mays, meanwhile, not only played free safety in college, he may be the fastest player on the 49ers' roster. (Vernon Davis and Ted Ginn may disagree). That is, it would seem that Mays gives the 49ers the ability to have so-called "mirror" safeties more than Lewis does. Still, Lewis is a smart and savvy veteran; Mays is a rookie. How quickly Mays can get up to speed at the challenging safety position will decide this one. Subplot: Undrafted Chris Maragos will push Reggie Smith for the backup job at free safety.

Right tackle: Make no mistake. Anthony Davis is the favorite to win this battle beginning in Week One, but he won't be handed the job. Adam Snyder was rolling with the first-team offense at right tackle while second-year player Alex Boone already has worked himself into the conversation after transforming his body in the offseason. Raye called Boone's conditioning "tremendous," and the best competition might end up being between Snyder and Boone for the backup spot. Conditioning will be one of the hurdles for Davis. His feet were as quick and impressive as advertised during the rookie minicamp, but he wilted toward the end of each session. He might want to do a few (hundred) gassers between now and the next OTA.

Inside linebacker: Providing Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes stay healthy, the No. 3 linebacker won't see much action on defense this year. But the No. 3 guy also will be the front runner to replace Spikes, who is entering the final year of his contract. The three candidates are Matt Wilhelm, Scott McKillop and third-round draft pick Navorro Bowman. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky obviously trusts Wilhelm with the job, and both McKillop and Bowman will have to win over the coaching staff to dislodge Wilhelm from the roster. McKillop was a special teams ace as a rookie, but he wasn't physical enough for Manusky, Mike Singletary and the defensive coaches last season. Bowman's motor and frame, meanwhile, are similar to Willis'. The key question is: Can he hit like Willis? We might not find out until training camp.

Coming: Guard, return man, outside linebacker.

May 17-20
June 7-8
June 10-11
June 14-16

Mandatory minicamp
June 17-19

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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