Training Camp Battles Part III
July 7 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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It is not a highly talked about position at any point in the season or off-season, but this area of the 49ers roster will see plenty of competition for the backup role. The tight end position, currently manned by second year player, and former seventh round pick, Eric “Bill Walsh’s Son” Johnson, will see plenty of competition for its secondary position.
With the success that Johnson has had with the team, the 49ers will likely be looking for a compliment tight end, rather than a mirror image. That would thus mean, that rather on trying to dig up another tight end with great hands and route running ability, they’d like a bigger guy, whose strength is blocking, but can still find soft spots in defenses and provide a good target for Garcia to bail out to.
In Justin Swift and rookie Mark Anelli the 49ers have two players that fit the compliment role. Swift has been in the system for a number of years already. He had a much larger role last season with Greg Clark out the entire season, and Johnson just learning his role. Swift’s experience will be of great aid to him as he tries to fend off Mark Anelli. Anelli was drafted to improve the tight end position - and he may very well do that. The rookie excels in the blocking field, and has good enough hands and awareness to make plays. He fits the Greg Clark mold, but is not quite as good a blocker (who is?). Swift and Anelli will have a real battle this training camp.
There is also an off chance to the Ben Steele, who spent this off-season in NFL Europe could make the roster. Steele has been with the 49ers as a practice squad player and at times on the actual roster. He’s less of a compliment than the other two and unless the experience in Europe worked miracles, he’s less talented too. Still he will be around in training camp.
There’s a chance the 49ers would keep three tight ends on its roster. That would likely mean Johnson, Smith and Anelli on the squad. Figuring into the plans somewhere, will also be Brian Jennings who is technically a tight end but typically does nothing other than long snap. Jennings is a player the 49ers are thrilled with. His position on the roster is very safe.