NinersDigest Q&A: Who stays and goes at WR?

How many wide receivers will the 49ers carry into the regular season? Why is Jim Harbaugh still refusing to publicly name his starting quarterback? What's the deal with Jonathan Goodwin still working as the second-team center? Are San Francisco coaches looking more at positional battles or execution of plays as the preseason winds to a close? NinersDigest answers your questions and more inside.

Q: How many WRs do you think Harbaugh will carry? Really, what are the chances Ronald Johnson can make the roster? WR depth so far – Edwards, Crabtree, Morgan, Ginn Jr., Zeigler (injury), Kyle Williams and Ronald Johnson.
--- Jackmaul

Craig Massei: The 49ers finished last season with four wide receivers on their final 53-man roster. They also had four tight ends on that final roster, and they almost certainly won't carry four TEs this season. That opens another spot for a wide receiver, but when determining a final roster for the regular season, there are so many different ways the Niners can go, and that's taking the overall scope of the roster into consideration. I would think the 49ers would be leaning toward keeping five wide receivers, but six is possible, and there still is a lot of gray area right now because of the possibility Braylon Edwards will miss the start of the season due to a NFL suspension. There also are no guarantees right now that Michael Crabtree will be ready for the season opener – or that the Niners would feel he's ready to contribute right away after having missed all of training camp and probably all of the preseason. It's possible Crabtree could remain on the physically unable to perform list into the season, which would free up a roster spot for another receiver until he is ready. Edwards and Crabtree obviously will be on the final roster, but if they can't play in the opener, then the 49ers ostensibly would have to keep four other receivers on their 53-man roster for the Sept. 11 season opener against Seattle. I would say you pretty much have the correct order above, though I believe the time Zeigler has missed due to his knee injury has hurt him and put him behind to the point he may not be able to catch up enough to win a roster berth. That would leave Johnson fighting for the fifth and final WR spot in my five-WR projection, and he wouldn't get the nod over Williams in my book based on summer performance. Johnson and Williams both still are practice-squad eligible, so that gives the Niners some options if they want to try and hold onto both players. I believe a healthy Williams has shown enough as both a receiver and returner that the 49ers would like to keep him on the roster. The return capabilities of Williams and Johnson help both players, but I don't think enough for the Niners to surprise people by keeping one of them ahead a veteran such as Ginn, who has a lot of ability but has been inconsistent since joining the team.

Q: Why is Harbaugh refusing to name his starting QB when everybody knows it will be Smith who will get the start against Seattle?
--- questfor6

CM: Because he doesn't have to. It's pretty much that simple. With Harbaugh, you will see him making decisions the way he wants to make them, and not predicated on accommodating the media, fans... or anybody else for that matter. Reporters already have learned that they can forget about trying to pull any updates or information about the status of injured players from the coach, or from the team now that he's in charge. Those used to be simple answers with previous coaches, but Harbaugh basically is telling everybody that injury situations are nobody else's business but the players, the coaches, and the team – at least during the summer when the team doesn't have to release an official injury report. To a certain degree, it's the same way with the QB question. It's pretty obvious by now that Smith will be the starter to open the season – barring any unforeseen circumstances that could shake that picture between now and then – but there are no requirements in place for the coach to actually have to state that publicly, so he doesn't.

Q: With the limited playing time this year, why is Goodwin still with the No. 2s? I thought for sure we would see him with the No. 1s last week. I'm sure we are not paying him that kind of money to be a backup and I would think he should be taking as many snaps as possible with the starting O-line so they can jell and get used to each other. As center is the voice, they will have to be used to hearing him on the pre-snaps calls.
--- gldnwht

CM: That's a good question for which I really don't have a definitive answer. I would have thought Jonathan Goodwin would be moved in with the regular starters by now, or even more than a week ago. Snyder had a solid training camp learning a new position, and I suppose he has performed well enough in practice since his shaky outing in the preseason opener to remain with the first team. So perhaps it shouldn't be presumed the position is just going to be handed to Goodwin after all. Because if he's going to be the starter by the season opener, as many reasonable minds still expect, he should be getting regular work in that role now. Goodwin is a proven veteran performer, however, and there still is time for the 49ers to make that move and for Goodwin to be ready for the season. Some second-teamers will get early looks with the first team during Saturday's preseason game against Houston. Keep an eye on Goodwin to see if he is one of them, and how much work he actually gets in this game, which as the third exhibition game is generally considered the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season when starters get their most extensive action of the preseason.

Q: With the starting units likely to get a good chunk of playing time in this upcoming game against Houston, what do you think the key things the coaching staff will be evaluating (i.e., specific position battles, specific formations/plays, performances?) Stated another way, do you think position battles are still a big consideration, or do you think they will be starting to look more at execution of play calls as they start to consider their game plans for the regular season?
--- pudding

CM: Both. That's a generalization, but it's true. The new coaching staff still is in full evaluation mode, both in relation to their players and how those players are adapting to the new systems. There are still several position battles getting big consideration from the coaches, but the execution of play calls and live performance in games both play into those positional battles. Remember that the 49ers still have been practicing together less than a month. Coaches are still trying to put together a team here, in addition to starting units, so I think the primary concern is still learning the system and getting it down rather than putting together a game plan for the opener. That task will come soon enough, and after the team has a better read on its players and who those will be that are playing regularly in the system. I don't believe the 49ers are – or can be – really at a point yet where they are concerned about seeing polish on their product.

Q: How different (if it is any different) is the team looking offensively and defensively this year compared to the previous regimes in terms of organization and execution?
--- Q8ty49er

CM: It's too early to make any sweeping statements in that regard, but early observations suggest there is definitely a different structure in place that has led to the appearance of more organization at several levels of the team – in how it operates, in how it practices, in how it makes decisions. The 49ers have crisp practices and there is little waste involved in the way the team functions. As far as execution, well, like any team learning new systems with new coaches, there are some good days and some not-so-good days, some shining moments and some moments that suggest there is much work still to be done.

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