The 49ers have two more days of training camp and some of the murkier position battles are starting to have a bit of clarity. Keeping in mind that this is mere tea-leaf reading, here is how I see some of the roster competitions as the team heads into the third of four preseason games.
No. 3 tight end. A year ago, it was easy to tell that Bear Pascoe was having a rough go of it. All you had to do was stick your head out the window and hear position coach Pete Hoener yelling at the rookie. This year the tirades are few and far between. Rookie Nate Byham has done a good job picking up blocking technique, so much so that the 49ers have not hesitated to use him with the first-team unit in practice and in games. Byham also has been used in the backfield as a so-called F-back. He appears to have pulled ahead of J.J. Finley and Tony Curtis in what was a close competition heading into camp. Curtis, meanwhile, missed practice today with a quadriceps injury.
Wide receiver. At the beginning of training camp, four players - Brandon Jones, Jason Hill, Dominique Zeigler and Kyle Williams - were competing for perhaps two spots. Jones is out of the running and Williams is out with a toe injury. (He was seen walking in a boot today). But while Williams has been recuperating, no one has stepped forward to take his place as the top punt returner. Bobby Guillory has a similar skill set to Williams, but after muffs in Indianapolis and against Minnesota, he cannot be considered a regular-season option. Mike Singletary also has said he'd rather not give Ted Ginn that role. Which means that at this juncture Williams is still a safe bet to make the squad even if he sits out the rest of the preseason. Meanwhile, Zeigler has been decidedly more productive than Hill in both practices and games. Williams and Zeigler appear to be the fourth and fifth receivers at this point.
Offensive line. This one is tougher to call. Last year the 49ers went into the season with nine offensive linemen on their active roster. The starters right now are, from left to right, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, David Baas, Chilo Rachal and Anthony Davis. Eric Heitmann's leg injury is not long-term, so he's No. 6. Tony Wragge can play all three interior positions and is needed as a backup center while Heitmann is out. Adam Snyder can play all five positions. That means if the 49ers go with nine again this year, they'd have to decide what is more valuable: Barry Sims' experience or Alex Boone's potential. Boone is practice-squad eligible. ***Update*** Here's an indication of how popular young offensive tackles are: Denver waived Tyler Polumbus, an undrafted fee agent in 2008, on Wednesday. Three teams made claims for him, Detroit, Houston and Seattle. He landed with Detroit.
Outside linebacker: Four or five outside linebackers? If four, Travis LaBoy or Diyral Briggs?
Fullback: One or two fullbacks? Byham's f-back ability might have the 49ers thinking they only need one. If two, who has more value, Brit Miller or Jehuu Caulcrick?
Safety: Four or five safeties? Does Curtis Taylor have enough special teams value to make the team?
Cornerback: Four or five corners? If five, does rookie Phillip Adams' potential trump Will James' experience?
-- Matt Barrows