Seven camp sleepers

There have been several unheralded players who have captured some attention the past two weeks at 49ers training camp, and with the team now preparing for its preseason opener Friday night in New Orleans, here's a look at a few camp sleepers who will continue trying to make an impression in their battle for rosters spots now that enemy players will be lining up on the other side of the football.

G Nick Howell: The USC product spent the last month of the season on San Francisco's practice squad last year as an undrafted rookie, and he came to camp ready to take the next step up to the 53-man squad with some roster spots open for backups at the interior line positions. Howell got a few days of work with the first-team offense at right guard early in camp in place of regular starter Chilo Rachal, but he found himself listed third on the depth chart behind rookie fifth-round draft pick Daniel Kilgore when the team released its first depth chart of 2011 earlier this week. Howell figures to get a lot of work in the early preseason games as the 49ers see where he fits with Kilgore and veteran Tony Wragge also fighting for backup spots at guard behind starters Rachal and Mike Iupati.

DT Ian Williams: The undrafted rookie has been making an impression along the defensive line, and the leg injury that has kept starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga sidelined throughout training camp has given Williams an opportunity to get on the field more often at that position behind Ricky Jean Francois, who has been running throughout the summer as the first-team nose tackle. Williams also can play end in San Francisco's 3-4 system, and that versatility will help him when it comes time for the 49ers to make final cuts along their defensive front wall.

QB Jeremiah Masoli: It appeared that a lack of bodies at the quarterback position was the only reason the 49ers had Masoli playing there when camp began, but two weeks later, he's still there and running third on the depth chart behind Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. And, even more significantly, the 49ers have yet to bring in another veteran at the position as insurance behind Smith and the three other rookie QBs in camp. Masoli has his 5-foot-11 height working against him, but he seems to have a good grasp of the offense and he knows what to do with the football in his hands. Could the 49ers really be considering keeping this guy around as their No. 3 quarterback? If Masoli can continue to assert himself in preseason opportunities, the answer could be yes, particularly if Masoli shows he also can contribute in other areas.

DE Will Tukuafu: The 49ers like this youngster who finished last season on the 53-man roster after spending most of his rookie season on San Francisco's practice squad, and he appears tough enough and agile enough with his well-proportioned 293-pound frame to make an impact in the trenches. Tukuafu has packed on almost 20 pounds since last year, making him big enough to play anywhere along the team's defensive front, and right now he's running a solid second on the depth chart behind Justin Smith at right end, taking the lead for a final roster berth at the position.

OT Mike Person: When the 49ers drafted Person in the seventh-round of the April draft, the intention was to move him to the interior line positions from his college position of tackle. But, lacking reserve depth at the position, coaches decided to first give Person a look on the edge of the offensive line, and he has remained there ever since. Person has maintained a No. 2 standing on the depth chart at right tackle behind Anthony Davis, and with untested Alex Boone currently the second-string tackle on the other side, Person's chances look better and better every day he continues to improve and every day that the 49ers don't bring in a veteran tackle to camp as insurance.

OLB Antwan Applewhite: Applewhite is no secret to anybody, since he started 13 games and had three sacks last season for the San Diego Chargers. But instead of just being a veteran pickup thrown into the OLB competition, Applewhite is looking like he might do better than just challenge to be San Francisco's fourth player at the position behind Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and rookie Aldon Smith. Applewhite has the tools for the position, and the 49ers will want to take a long look at him during the preseason to see if he should factor a little more prominently into their defensive plans.

ILB Keaton Kristick: All Kristick does is be Mr. Steady in training camp, and that has earned him the No. 2 spot on the initial depth chart behind Pro Bowl star Patrick Willis at inside linebacker. Kristick is ahead of two more accomplished pros at the position, Blake Costanzo and Scott McKillop, and he's already given the 49ers a glimpse what he can on special teams last year as a rookie. The 49ers don't figure to keep Willis on the field very long during the preseason, meaning Kristick will get ample opportunities to show what he can do, like he's been doing so far in his practice opportunities.


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