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May 29, 2013
The other half: Which 49ers benefit from starters' absences

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By my count, 11 of San Francisco's 22 presumed starters either were not on hand or were rehabilitating from injuries during Tuesday's voluntary OTA session. No one should panic. The only one of that group not expected to be ready for training camp in late July is Michael Crabtree (though Mario Manningham is unlikely to be on hand, either).

Meanwhile, the absences are allowing rookies and newcomers to get up to speed with the playbook and giving coaches time to evaluate young players. Here are the beneficiaries when it comes to the 49ers' offense.

Offensive tackle: Joe Staley rehabilitating from arthroscopic knee surgery; Anthony Davis absent.

Beneficiaries: Kenny Wiggins and draft pick Carter Bykowski.

Wiggins has been lining up at Staley's left tackle spot so far this offseason. (I wrote about him earlier this month). Bykowski, a seventh-round pick, lined up at left tackle with the second-team offense. The right tackles were Adam Snyder and Patrick Omameh.

The team presumably is looking for a "swing" offensive tackle - someone who could step in if either Staley or Davis went down during the season. However, here's what Jim Harbaugh said when asked about the need for a swing tackle: "Yeah, I think that's something that Adam brings the ability to do that. But, you also have Alex Boone can play either tackle as well, very versatile player. So, it gives us some options." Both Snyder and Boone are listed as guards.

Guard/center: Mike Iupati rehabilitating from shoulder surgery, Jonathan Goodwin training at home in South Carolina.

Beneficiaries: Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney.

The excellent health of the offensive line last year meant that Kilgore, and especially Looney, saw scant snaps. Goodwin is unlikely to be re-signed when he becomes a free agent in the offseason, and the 49ers are looking for either Kilgore or Looney to be the heir at center. The goal this offseason is to make both players versatile at guard and center. On Tuesday Kilgore was the center with the first-team offense while Looney played Iupati's left guard spot.

Wide receiver: Crabtree out with an Achilles tear; Manningham and Kyle Williams recovering from ACL tears.

Beneficiaries: Every other receiver on the roster.

The only thing clear at this stage is that Anquan Boldin will be the starter at flanker. Williams is expected back for training camp and is likely to land a roster spot because he is both proven at receiver and as a punt returner. Manningham's injury was more serious, and there's a chance he begins the season on PUP.

That means there may be as many as four wide-receiver spots up for grabs among Chad Hall, Joe Hastings, A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore and rookies Quinton Patton and Chuck Jacobs. Boldin stood head and shoulders above every other receiver on Tuesday. However, Jenkins looked infinitely more comfortable than he did a year ago and was lined up with Boldin (and Hall) when the first-team offense ran a two-minute drill at the end of practice. The other guy who jumped out to me - perhaps because I was seeing him for the first time - was Moore, who has a nice combination of size, speed and special teams worth.

Running back: Frank Gore (working through something); Kendall Hunter recovering from Achilles tear; rookie Marcus Lattimore recovering from ACL tear.

Beneficiaries: LaMichael James, Jewel Hampton.

Hunter's injury on Nov. 25 gave LaMichael James his first significant workload of the season, and he played well. However, he still needs more refinement, which this offseason will supply. There also has to be a curiosity factor about Hampton, who was a prolific college runner who spent most of last season recovering from a college injury. Hampton has the build and running style to be a workhorse-type runner. Undrafted rookie D.J. Harper and veteran Anthony Dixon also benefit.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW 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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