All eyes this 49ers training camp will be on Trey Lance, with or without Jimmy Garoppolo in the shadows amid his comeback from shoulder surgery.
Camp 2022 serves as Lance’s runway to his first full season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
Competition certainly exists among the supporting cast. Here are the hot spots to watch:
The 49ers have had a different leading rusher in each of coach Kyle Shanahan’s five seasons. That should change this season, presuming 2021 rookie star Elijah Mitchell regains full health after offseason knee surgery. Just in case: who’ll be the 49ers’ next-men-up in the backfield?
Veteran Jeff Wilson Jr. has the experience and the lead to be RB2, not to mention a mentality that carries over to special teams.
The 49ers invested third-round picks in Trey Sermon and Ty Davis-Price the past two drafts, so both figure to make the cut. Sermon barely played as a rookie but new running backs coach Anthony Lynn is believed to be high on him.
Does JaMycal Hasty stick for his speed and versatility, or do the 49ers go with a new version of an undrafted product, that being Jordan Mason from Georgia Tech?
The 49ers burn through multiple rushers each season, so handicapping the depth chart is always a worthy endeavor. It might even be too presumptuous to make Mitchell an undisputed starter until his knee responds well in practice.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
Offseason practices never showcased the 49ers’ expected starting line (left to right) of Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Daniel Brunskill and Mike McGlinchey. The latter two linemen sat out for precautionary health reasons (knee tendinitis for Brunskill, quadriceps repair for Mighty Mike).
Banks, by virtue of his 2021 second-round draft status, is the favorite to replace Laken Tomlinson. But no job is guaranteed, not for him at left guard nor Brendel at center nor Brunskill at right guard.
It’s not, however, like the 49ers have veterans waiting in the wings to seize interior-line roles. Instead, they have homegrown candidates such as Jaylon Moore, Colton McKivitiz and rookies Spencer Burford and Nick Zakelj. May the best linemen win.
With Jaquiski Tartt gone after seven seasons, the 49ers need a new wingman next to his old high school teammate, Jimmie Ward. The offseason program saw Ward paired with Talanoa Hufanga, who is eager to learn, lead and be a bigger play-maker than Tartt, who excelled most as a communicator in the secondary.
Lingering in the background is Tarvarius Moore, whose ascent to a starting role was thwarted a year ago by a torn Achilles. Moore returned to the practice field this offseason, and was eased in on the second string with newcomer George Odum, a special-teams ace from Indianapolis. Undrafted rookie Leon O’Neal Jr. has shown the passion to make a move up the depth chart.
Out went K’Waun Williams in free agency (to Denver) and in comes … well, it was Darqueze Dennard in spring workouts. But the 49ers certainly could go two other ways when it comes to a three-cornerback look. One, they could bring on Ambry Thomas and shift Emmanuel Moseley inside to cover the slot receiver while Charvarius Ward anchors the left side. Or, two, they could rely on rookie Sam Womack III, who impressed in organized team activities. A year ago, Deommodore Lenoir figured to be Williams’ heir apparent, so don’t rule him out yet, either.
FIVE OTHER QUESTIONS
1. Who could sneak on as a No. 6 wide receiver, behind Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud and Danny Gray?
2. Could rookie Drake Jackson poach a starting spot from edge rusher Samson Ebukam?
3. Will Javon Kinlaw’s reconstructed knee respond well in camp or must the 49ers look harder at keeping an extra defensive tackle, such as Maurice Hurst, Kevin Givens, or Hassan Ridgeway?
4. Is Nate Sudfeld a strong enough option as Lance’s backup, or should the 49ers really splurge to keep Garoppolo around on the bench?
5. The linebacker corps is steeped in talent and familiarity with starters Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair, but who would be best as a backup offering special-teams value, among Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Oren Burks, Curtis Robinson and rookies Marcelino McCrary-Ball, Segun Olubi, and Jeremiah Gemmel?
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