Center Jeremy Newberry, who finished last season on injured reserve after deciding to undergo knee surgery, is expected to be on the practice field when open training camp. The 49ers and Newberry took the cautious route and held him out of the offseason team work. But the big question will be whether Newberry can withstand the demands of blocking 300-pound defensive tackles. Newberry rarely practiced last season because of the pain he had to endure. He hopes to practice nearly every day during training camp. The club has only seven double-day practices in which Newberry would be expected to participate. The 49ers also have seven afternoon practices devoted entirely to special teams.
Smith has a lot to prove in his second season in the league after throwing 11 interceptions and just one touchdown. As a rookie, Smith looked unsure of himself and did not exhibit the athleticism that drew the 49ers to select him with the No. 1 overall pick. Smith remains confident that he will show a lot more of his good qualities this season. At least this season he will have some veteran support behind him. Dilfer was acquired in a trade with the Browns for Ken Dorsey to help tutor Smith, who struggled with 11 interceptions and one touchdown as a rookie. Pickett will see action at other positions as he tries to hold onto his roster spot. He disappointed the organization this spring when he opted not to play in NFL Europe.
Good competition is expected to unfold between Barlow and Gore. Gore was impressive when he played last season, but he is coming off two offseason shoulder shoulders and his durability is a question. Hicks, the third-stringer, also was impressive when he played. Robinson will look to unseat Jackson as the third-down back. Jackson's hopes for sticking around another season is directly tied to his play on special teams. Veterans Hetherington and Norris will compete at fullback.
Davis comes to the 49ers as the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. He is probably the fastest player on the team, and figures to play a large role in the passing game as a rookie. Johnson had a good offseason after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Johnson could work his way into a lot of two-TE sets. Walker is an intriguing talent who played WR at the NCAA Division II level. Bajema is the most accomplished of all the players here.
Starters - Antonio Bryant, Arnaz Battle. Backups - Brandon Williams, Bryan Gilmore, Jason McAddley, Rasheed Marshall, Marcus Maxwell, Derrick Hamilton, Otis Amey, Chris Baker, C.J. Brewer.
The 49ers are excited about the work ethic and level of commitment that Bryant brings to the club. The coaching staff was tired of babysitting Brandon Lloyd, and the club dealt him to the Redskins for a third-round pick in '06 and a fourth-rounder in '07. If Battle can remain healthy, he should make big strides. The 49ers are lacking a clear-cut No. 3 receiver, as Williams, Gilmore and McAddley are the top candidates. Marshall, a highly successful college quarterback, has to show this season that he can make the transition to become a productive receiver.
Starters - LT Jonas Jennings, LG Larry Allen, C Jeremy Newberry, RG Justin Smiley, RT Kwame Harris. Backups - C/G Eric Heitmann, C/G David Baas, T Kwame Harris, T Harvey Dahl, T Patrick Estes, G Tony Wragge, C Ben Sobieski, T Sam Wilder, T Bobby Harris, T Tavares Washington.
The 49ers added future Hall of Famer Allen, who will start at left guard. Allen should bring a run-blocking presence to a team that needs a good run game to be competitive. The key is LT Jennings, who missed 13 games with a shoulder injury after signing a lucrative free-agent contract. The big competition takes place at RT, where Harris tries to hold off Snyder. Newberry tries to return from major knee surgery, but the club still believes it's a 50-50 proposition. Newberry is more confident, though. He said he feels good, and even dabbled in race-car driving a couple times this summer. Heitmann and Baas will backup at center, while competing with Smiley for the right guard spot.
Young, the team's best pass-rusher last season, begins his 13th NFL season and is not expected to be the dominant player he has been in the past. He led the team with eight sacks last season, but none came in the final nine games. Douglas is solid on the other side. Adams can play end in the 3-4 or nose tackle. The club is expecting a big leap from Sopoaga after tasting his first NFL action last season. Depth is a problem here, as some of the younger players will have to step forward to earn significant playing time in the rotation.
Starters - WLB Manny Lawson, ILB Derek Smith, ILB Jeff Ulbrich, SLB Brandon Moore. Backups - OLB Parys Haralson, OLB Corey Smith, OLB T.J. Slaughter, ILB Jim Maxwell, ILB Zak Keasey, ILB Reynauld Williams, OLB Andre Torrey.
Ulbrich and Smith are solid on the inside, but it's the other positions that have the 49ers worried. Ulbrich returns after missing most of last season with a torn biceps muscle. Smith led the team in tackles and was voted co-MVP of the squad. Lawson, an explosive pass-rusher in college, makes the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 to take over for departed Julian Peterson. Lawson must supply a big pass rush as a rookie after being selected with the No. 22 overall pick. On the other side, Moore gets the first shot to replace Andre Carter, who left as a free agent. Haralson, Corey Smith and Slaughter have chances to contribute.
Starters - LCB Walt Harris, RCB Shawntae Spencer, FS Mike Adams, SS Tony Parrish. Backups - S Chad Williams, CB Mike Rumph, S Ben Emanuel, CB Sammy Davis, CB Derrick Johnson, CB Bruce Thornton, S Keith Lewis, CB B.J. Tucker, CB Kris Richard, S Marcus Hudson, S Vickiel Vaughn.
Harris has taken the lead to become a starting cornerback. The 49ers signed the veteran during free agency, but hoped they could find a role for him as the nickel back. When the club failed to acquire another starting-caliber corner, Harris looks secure as a starter. Spencer is set on the other side at cornerback. He showed a lot of promise last season during the 49ers' miserable year. Rumph, Davis, Thornton and Johnson are competing for the nickel job. Parrish returns from a broken ankle and will be the starter at strong safety. Williams, Adams and Emanuel compete for free safety, with rookie Hudson already making an impression, too.
Starters - K Joe Nedney, P Andy Lee, LS Brian Jennings, KOR Maurice Hicks, PR Brandon Williams. Backups - P Tom Rouen, K Luis Berlanga, K Andy Jacas, KOR/PR Arnaz Battle, KOR/PR Otis Amey, KOR/PR Rasheed Marshall.
Nedney was the co-MVP of the team last season, which tells you all you need to know about a team that was held without an offensive touchdown in eight games last season. Veteran Rouen was signed recently to compete with Lee at punter. Long-snapper Jennings is as steady as it gets. The 49ers' return game is unsettled, but Williams will get a long look at punt returner, while Hicks looks like the top kickoff return man.
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