Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio today said that two starting spots remain up in the air as the 49ers begin preparing for Sunday's season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Those positions are cornerback and free safety where the team is dealing with injuries to would-be starters Shawntae Spencer (hamstring) and Dashon Goldson (knee).
There's also likely a little gamesmanship at play here as the 49ers try to keep the Seahawks guessing who will start at those key positions. Tarell Brown would appear to be the leading candidate at cornerback. He's started the last two preseason games, he's appeared in 55 games over his career and he is eager to show the new coaching staff that he can be a starter in the league.
"It's a fresh start, man," Brown said. "I think for all the guys, it's a fresh start. We all had to make a name for ourselves and let the coaches know who we are."
Fangio conceded it would be a "tall task" to ask Spencer to play Sunday after missing nearly the entire training camp and preseason. "Maybe he can come back and play parts of it," Fangio said. "That all remains to be seen."
Free safety is a little trickier. Goldson would start if he were healthy. He's dealing with a knee injury that, while not considered serious, kept him out of both last week's practice and Thursday's preseason finale. Another top option, Reggie Smith (knee), will return to practice this week, but the team is not certain if he's ready to play a full game.
The only healthy option right now is free-agent pickup Madieu Williams. He had strong preseason games against the Raiders and Texans but struggled a bit in run support Thursday against the Chargers. Williams took a poor angle on a 56-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews, which was the rap on Williams during his stint with the Vikings.
Fangio said that newcomer Tavares Gooden was signed mainly for special teams. "He's a good athlete and can run very well," he said. "He's been a good special teams athlete throughout his career. And I think he just improves our overall speed."
In fact, Gooden said he's even faster now that he's started doing yoga. Gooden said he took up the exercise this summer on the suggestion of his agents as a way of avoiding injury. Gooden has missed 22 games in three seasons due to an array of injuries ranging from a torn labrum to a hernia.
In fact, if you're a yoga instructor in the Bay Area, you have an opportunity to land a high-profile client. "I'm looking for a place out here where I can find a stretch doctor or a yoga instructor to help me out," he said. "I think I'll continue that because it has helped me out."
Fangio said that Gooden would play inside linebacker like he did with the Ravens. The idea is to get Gooden up to speed at "Mike" linebacker to be Patrick Willis' backup and to do the same at "Ted" with Larry Grant, who is NaVorro Bowman's backup.
As for going into the season with just three outside linebackers? "Not comfortable with three outside linebackers but we thought this was worth the gamble to upgrade our special teams over the insurance of having a fourth outside linebacker," Fangio said.
There was a sea change on the roster as far as new numbers. Braylon Edwards, as expected, took No. 17 after Dominique Zeigler was released. Starting center Jonathan Goodwin thought No. 66 was too symmetrical and went with the grittier No. 59.
Other changes: DE Will Tukuafu 92, Gooden 56, NT Ian Williams 93, DE Demarcus Dobbs 96, TE Konrad Reuland 88, CB Cory Nelms 23. The last two are on the practice squad.
Newcomer quarterback Scott Tolzien, who wore No. 16 at Wisconsin, said he went into the equipment room and asked for that number. Told he couldn't have it, Tolzien demanded, "No, I want 16!" He was joking, of course. He'll wear No. 3, which - fittingly - was Joe Montana's jersey number at Notre Dame.
-- Matt Barrows