April 27 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
Now that the 49ers off-season roster is just about complete, the off-season competition for a spot on the opening day 53-man roster has started. The starting positions on the team are for the most part already established, though there could still be some wavering at linebacker, receiver, cornerback, kicker, return man and running back. The offensive and defensive lines may shuffle a little bit, but the starters penciled in at those positions will likely remain starters.
At linebacker, it's quite likely that Jamie Winborn will win over a starting spot. That likely means Jeff Ulbrich will be the first man off the bench. Rookie Saleem Rasheed however will push the top four in the hopes of making a name for himself.
At receiver, it's possible, now that Stokes has a reduced salary, that the team looks to either promote Tai Streets (if he has a great camp) or find a free agent. Nate Jackson a UDFA may even weasel his way in - but not likely as a starter. The other issues will be whether Owens can stay healthy while playing basketball, if not, the 49ers will have to make some move to strengthen their receiving core.
The cornerback position, mainly the one opposite Ahmed Plummer is still up for grabs. Third year player Jason Webster has done a tremendous job so far, but Mike Rumph will really push him. Doesn't really matter how this one plays out, these three will all see significant play time.
The place kicking position is up for grabs. Rookie Chris Chandler has the inside track at it, but neither Jamie Rheem nor Jose Cortez will relinquish the spot to him very easily. Also on special teams, returner, Vinny Sutherland will have a hard time holding onto his position with lots of competition from this years youngsters.
Finally, at running back, if Kevan Barlow looks incredible this off-season there is a possibility the 49ers would move him up the depth chart a head of Hearst. It's rather unlikely, but it is possible.
Further starting spots could make themselves available due to injury, but for the most part the 49ers know what twenty-four players will open the season on September fifth. Of course there are some heated battles on the depth chart too. Safety, quarterback, and cornerback all have lots of young competition.
At safety, behind Zack Bronson and Tony Parrish, there will be a battle for two spots between Kevin Curtis, John Keith, Al Blades and Ronnie Heard. If the first mini-camp is any indicator, Heard has the inside track here.
At quarterback, behind Jeff Garcia is Tim Ratty. But the third QB spot will see immense competition between Aaron Garcia, Giovanni Carmazzi and rookie Brandon Doman. The 49ers have not yet ruled out the idea of carrying four quarterbacks.
Behind Plummer, Webster and Rumph the 49ers will have Anthony Parker, Rashad Holman and Ronnie Heard duke it out for one maybe two roster spots.
There are plenty of heated battles for a position on the 49ers 53-man roster. With half the off-season already behind us, it's great to know the 49ers still have plenty of time to make some critical decisions.