Now that the World Cup has come to a close, that can only mean that football is right around the corner (46 days to be exact, but who’s counting?) The only thing standing between the fans and watching some preseason action is training camp, and this article is going to take a look at the biggest question marks and stories heading into the 49ers training camp.
Will Vernon Davis be present? The Pro Bowl tight end was absent from the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp a few weeks ago in protest of his contract. The prolific veteran still has two years left on his contract and is currently the third highest paid at his position in the entire NFL, but Davis would argue his production over the last few years should earn him a raise. The 49ers’ front office doesn’t see it that way.
The 49ers see other players who will be free agents next year as much bigger priorities, so saving cap space for them is more pivotal than paying a player who they know is going to stick around for a few more years before they need to pay him again. Recent reports have stated that Vernon will indeed hold out on training camp, and while this may scare some fans, Davis already knows the offense extremely well and I personally find it hard to believe that the 49ers’ offensive star will hold out into the preseason. Davis has already said that he is not going to lose sleep over not receiving a new contract, so even if he is gone from training camp, I believe he will return soon after.
Who will play next to Patrick? After the gruesome injury to NaVorro Bowman in last year’s NFC Championship against Seattle, the speculations immediately began on when the 49ers would get Bo back. The All-Pro middle linebacker was the team’s best defender last year and had serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, so his production will be irreplaceable. The 49ers’ trainers expect Bo to come back about midseason, so until then someone is going to have to play next to Patrick Willis in Bowman’s spot in the middle of the vaunted 49er defense.
The 49ers have a few candidates who could fill Bowman’s shoes, so training camp will be the perfect time to see who will be able to fill his shoes. Michael Wilhoite is the most likely candidate to fill in next to Pat at the beginning of training camp due to his experience playing with the defense when Willis went down with an injury for a few games last season. His biggest competition during training camp will be Chris Borland, the rookie third round pick by the 49ers out of Wisconsin. While critiqued for being a bit undersized, Borland was a tackling machine with incredible instincts at the collegiate level, and can end up starting in Bowman’s place if those skills transfer over to the professional level.
Will Kaepernick find chemistry with all his new weapons? The 49ers’ offense will have a lot of new faces this upcoming season. Between drafting WR Bruce Ellington, trading for Stevie Johnson from Buffalo and Brandon Lloyd from free agency, who actually originally began his career with the 49ers many years ago. Crabtree has solidified his spot as a starter when healthy, and every 49ers’ fan fell in love with Anquan Boldin last year with the way he almost single handedly carried the offense in some games (week one vs. Green Bay, anyone?) With those two on the outside, there will be a battle for the third and fourth receiving spots on the depth chart.
Stevie Johnson was the number one in Buffalo and flashes an exquisite skill set for going up for the ball, but also has a tendency to drop very catchable passes. Quinton Patton, the 49ers’ second year receiver was not on the field a whole lot last year but is extremely quick and possesses great hands, he just needs to be able to stay healthy. Bruce Ellington was placed on the non-football injury list for the 49ers recently, which could potentially hurt how many reps he receives during training camp depending how long he is off the field, which would prevent him moving up the depth chart. Brandon Lloyd has had some good years with the Broncos, Rams and Patriots, but did not play at all last year so he will have to really impress the coaches in order to just make the 53 man roster.
Although they contain one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, no team is perfect. The San Francisco 49ers still have some holes to fill and positions to sort out, but don’t doubt Harbaugh’s ability to put the best players in and get every ounce of skill they have. The 49ers will be as dangerous as ever this year, and training camp will be the first warning to the rest of the league what will be in store when the men in red and gold take the field.