49ers enter camp with battles in the trenches

Last week, SFBay took a look at two positions whose training camp battle will be vital for the success of the San Francisco 49ers moving forward in 2016.

But for a team that’s been void of talent, receiver and corner are hardly the only slots to upgrade in camp.

Whether it be a loss through free agency, or a suspension handed down by the front office, the 49ers find themselves scrambling to fill holes at both the offensive line and outside linebacker position.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Injuries and free agency departures created a rotating door of underwhelming contributors to the offensive line last season, one that surrendered 53 total sacks for a loss of 330 yards on the season.

Simply put, the 49ers need to find an upgrade at the right tackle position, as well as stability at right guard, in order to have a chance of running head coach Chip Kelly’s offense properly. Luckily, though, there are some options for the 49ers.

The clearest answer come at right guard, where first-round draft pick Joshua Garnett is expected to step in and compete for the starting job during his first NFL training camp.

General manager Trent Baalke was obviously high on Garnett’s ability to make an immediate impact for the 49ers dilapidated offensive line, electing to make a late trade to move back into the first round to snag the bruiser from Stanford with the 28th overall pick.

Andrew Tiller will be Garnett’s main source of competition, as free-agent addition Zane Beadle’s is almost assured a starting role next to left tackle Joe Staley. Tiller impressed after earning a starting role in November, going on to make seven total starts before closing out the season.

Right tackle is where things get a bit trickier for Kelly’s offense.

Eric Pears was atrocious last year after Baalke had to scramble to sign a replacement with the sudden departure of Anthony Davis before camp began.

In a situation that has come full circle, Davis now has a chance to reclaim his position from his replacement, as the 26-year old has reportedly signed for reinstatement after taking a year hiatus from the league.

It’s easy to be skeptical of statements made by Davis, but it represents the opportunity for two first-round draft picks to line up next to each other on the right side of an offensive line that resembled more of a turnstile last season than a wall of bodies.

Should Davis come back to camp healthy and with a clear and focused head, which is perhaps an even bigger concern than his conditioning, the 49ers suddenly find themselves with a revamped line that is capable of competing at a high level.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER 

The changes at offensive line represent more of a season-long fix, the 49ers find themselves in need of crucial short-term contribution at the outside linebacker.

With linebacker Aaron Lynch being handed a four game suspension for violating the league’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse, the 49ers are in need of an immediate contributor to support an already meager pass rush.

A leading contender to step into a starting role opposite linebacker Ahmad Brooks is second-year player Eli Harold, whose work in the weight room this offseason has not gone unnoticed.

The sophomore out of Virginia packed on a reported 23 pounds of muscle since entering the NFL at 247 pounds during the 2015 season.

It remains to be seen how Harold will handle carrying his newfound weight, but if the edge rusher can retain the speed off the line that he was known for while adding more power to his frame, he can be a force for the 49ers moving forward.

Defensive tackle Tank Carradine remains an interesting option as well. The second-round draft pick from 2013 has had a hard time finding playing time among the defensive line since entering the league.

But the 49ers may continue an experiment started by former head coach Jim Tomsula, where they tried to shed weight from the defensive tackle in order to utilize him more on the outside. While not necessarily an outside linebacker, Carradine could see work as a defensive-end pass rush specialist, which may see the 49ers go to more four-man lines.

Finally, Corey Lemonier may be in the mix for playing time early in the season despite a lackluster 2015 campaign.

After being drafted in the third-round in 2013, Lemonier has failed to live up to the expectations that the 49ers had for him coming out of Auburn. Lemonier’s plodding athleticism have been amplified in the NFL level, which has led to decreased playing time heading into a contract-year with the 49ers.

But the suspension of Lynch and the start of a fresh training camp and new defensive system may give Lemonier one final chance to prove himself as a viable contributor to the team that drafted him.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.