Last year, the 49ers returned all 22 starters on offense and defense. Ergo sumatra, there was no place for any of the 2012 rookies to squeeze into the starting lineup. That’s not the case this year. There are three vacancies on defense and one on offense.
2013 first round pick Eric Reid is either going to be the new starting Free Safety this year or be the subject of bust talk all year long. Free agent Glenn Dorsey is apparently the front runner to take over at Nose Tackle, with Ian Williams the expected backup.
The other defensive opening is the D-line rotation guy formerly represented by Ricky Jean-Francois. That position is a crap shoot encompassing the surprising and versatile Demarcus Dobbs, second round pick Tank Carradine who may not be ready by the season opener, fifth round pick Quinton Dial, discus thrower turned footballer Lawrence Okoye, and perennial roster fringer Will Tukuafu.
If the team keeps the normal six D-line guys, then only two of the above contestants can make the squad. If Carradine opens the year on the PUP list, three can make the team. And if we go with seven D-liners, only one contestant will be shown the door.
The 49ers went all last year with only one backup OLB guy, but that’s not likely to happen again. With Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith entrenched as the starters, there would appear to be two backup spots open for the taking. The contestants: a fading Parys Haralson, 2012 rookies who spent the year on IR Cam Johnson and Darius Fleming, and 2013 third round pick Corey Lemonier. Lemonier would have to be a mega-bust to not make the team, so the other three guys will have a dog fight for the last spot.
With Reid moving into Dashon Goldson’s old FS spot, the rest of the secondary seems likely to remain the same. Donte Whitner is the QB of the group at SS, Tarrell Brown was our best corner last year, and Carlos Rogers was the slot CB as well as the starter on the outside last year. Chris Culliver was the nickel back and played very well until his unfortunate melt down in the Super Bowl.
So why did we sign Nnamdi Asomugha? There’s no guaranteed money in his contract, so that isn’t a problem. But it doesn’t make sense to stifle Culliver’s young career. And Asomugha doesn’t play in the slot. The best he could do would be to oust Rogers as the starter, but who would then play in the slot? This is one camp battle that will be interesting to watch. In a hypothetical sense. In reality, none of these guys is a lock down corner and none of them can cover Percy Harvin. Or maybe Tavon Austin of the Rams.