The 49ers rescued this blog entry in the 11th hour. By signing veteran guard Leonard Davis on the day the team reported for training camp, the 49ers created perhaps the only training camp battle for a starting position, one that likely will pit Davis against Alex Boone at right guard. (I say "likely" because we still don't know exactly where Davis will play; today's initial practice will provide a better idea.)
Right guard: You still have to like Boone's chances of winning this spot. After all, Davis has been healthy since May at the latest, according to Davis, and the 49ers could have signed him at any point during spring drills. What his signing provides is A.) someone to push Boone, a prototypical tackle who has never set foot in a game at guard and B.) someone with experience on the offensive line. Before Davis was added, the only offensive line backup with any sort of NFL playing experience was Daniel Kilgore. He played one snap last year.
Backup quarterback: This competition is between The Freak (Colin Kaepernick), Mr. Smooth (Josh Johnson) and The Gym Rat (Scott Tolzien). Kaepernick has by far the biggest upside of this group. The question is how quickly and efficiently he can he harness all the power at his disposal. This competition at least will make exhibition games - often unwatchable - required viewing from start to finish.
Outside linebacker: The first three spots appear set with Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson. The fourth spot may come down to seventh-round pick Cam Johnson or journeyman Eric Bakhtiari. Johnson has the bigger upside. But Bakhtiari looked solid during spring drills and he excels in the area in which a No. 4 OLB must - special teams. It could be that the 49ers hold onto Johnson via the practice squad; Bakhtiari is not eligible.
Tight end: On the first day of full-contact drills in last year's training camp, Konrad Reuland found himself flat on his back starting up at the blue sky. The culprit: A 300-pound defensive end named Justin Smith. It was at that point that Reuland knew he had to add strength if he was ever going to make the 53-man squad, and he's dedicated himself to doing just that. Nate Byham, who is returning from an ACL tear, still is the superior blocker and he's underrated as a receiver. There's also an outside chance that a two-way player like Will Tukuafu could make a No. 3 tight end superfluous.
Cornerback: One of the storylines of the spring practices was how good newcomer Perrish Cox looked. He'll battle last year's No. 4 cornerback, Tramaine Brock, for that role, which can be a big one if there's an injury to the Top 3. Five cornerbacks figure to make the final roster.
Safety: Sixth-round pick Trenton Robinson appears to have the edge for the No. 4 role at safety. But he'll have to hold off others like Darcel McBath, Michael Thomas and Mark LeGree for the role. It also could be that the 49ers become enamored with a young cornerback -- or a player like McBath or Cory Nelms who can play both -- and decide to keep only three safeties.
-- Matt Barrows