Are you ready for some football? Are you counting down the days until kickoff? Well wait no more as the San Francisco 49ers will finally take the field in front of the Forever Faithful for the first time this season.
The first practice to kickoff this year’s training camp will take place on Saturday Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. and will see plenty of changes including head coach Jim Tomsula in his new role. One word you will hear Tomsula yell is…”Tempo!” Why you ask? Because he wants to mimic game day situational football, so don’t be surprised if ‘tempo’ is a word you hear often.
While Tomsula stresses ‘tempo,’ what camp battles should the Forever Faithful keep an eye on as the season nears? I have identified three that I believe will be the most intriguing and of the utmost importance as the 49ers round out their final 53-man roster. And while other players can step up at any given moment, it’s these six players that I will be closely monitoring, as I feel it’s their job to lose as the competition heats up. So without further ado the top three camp battles to watch are:
WR Quinton Patton vs. Bruce Ellington
I wrote an article back in May in regards to this camp battle and nothing has changed since then despite the emergence of WR Jerome Simpson and undrafted rookie free-agent WR Dres Anderson. There is no doubting Patton’s ability. Coming out of the 2013 NFL Draft, I believed that Patton had arguably the best combination of hands, agility and speed. And while he does catch balls away from his body it’s his willingness to go across the middle that should have Forever Faithful excited.
Not to mention, Patton’s downfield blocking is also an added bonus, I can’t help but think that Patton will see plenty of targets from QB Colin Kaepernick as the two are very close friends with each other while being on the same page. The nickname I gave back in 2013, as I nicknamed Patton 7-11, look for that connection to blossom this season.
But do not count out Ellington. One thing that 49ers GM Trent Baalke raved about Ellington was his versatility and basketball background. Baalke loves players with basketball backgrounds simply because they understand spacing. They know how to set up defensive backs and can do more with less space. And that’s what Ellington brings to the table. If Ellington can show the explosiveness to come off his stem in stride that should bode well for Kaepernick.
DE Quinton Dial vs. DE Tank Carradine
Sure the 49ers drafted DE Arik Armstead in the first-round (No. 17) but to think he will start over Dial or Carradine Week 1 is a head scratcher at best. Dial is a better run stuffer with the versatility to play the nose if needed, while Carradine is easily the team’s best pass-rusher from the defensive-end position. I even went as far as saying why the team should pass on drafting Armstead one month prior to the draft but as you know they drafted him anyways. A raw talent with a high ceiling, it is now Tomsula’s job to ensure that Armstead reaches his full potential.
In the end, I believe that it will be Dial who will start opposite of DE Darnell Dockett Week 1. I spoke to many players who go up against Dial on a day-to-day basis and they believe he has the best combination of length, power, and football IQ. He can stack and shed while peaking into the backfield while also anchoring the point of attack, allowing linebackers to flow naturally to ball-carriers. A behemoth of a man as Dial stands 6-5, 318, it’s hard to keep a guy like that off the field especially in short-yardage situations.
It’s safe to say that CB Tramaine Brock will lock down one cornerback position but who will start opposite of him? That competition at the moment is wide open. Two second-year players will likely fight for that spot as DJ and Reaser will battle it out.
So far it has been Reaser who has been the ball-hawking cornerback that has the Forever Faithful optimistic. Whether staying stride for stride with receivers at the hip or intercepting Kaepernick during OTAs, Reaser has been a pleasant surprise thus far.
But don’t count out Johnson as he has the length, size, and experience that the team will surely take into account as the season nears. In 2014, DJ finished with 34 tackles, one interception (pick six), and six pass break-ups.
With the 49ers set to begin training camp it will be fun to see who steps up, as this team is may not be as bad as NFL analysts make them out to be in 2015.