Rating the top camp battles

The 49ers sped through an abbreviated practice beneath cloudy, damp skies Saturday morning as a prelude to Showtime later that afternoon, when they took to the field at Spartan Stadium in San Jose for a scripted mock game before an adoring throng of San Francisco Bay Area fans. That public practice brought to an end the first stage of the team's training camp and, as the Niners reach their first off day Sunday, SFI rates the top battles for playing time - and starting time - in camp so far.

--- Jim Flanigan vs. Anthony Adams at right defensive tackle: Travis Kirschke and Josh Shaw also play into this competition, but it appears now that the starter's role will come down to Flanigan vs. Adams, just as expected. Flanigan - despite missing all but a handful of practices during the first nine days of camp - was winning this battle be default early, because youngsters Adams and Shaw failed to distinguish themselves, though Kirschke - slated all along for a backup role - did well for himself. But now Adams is coming on strong - picking up the system, developing technique and letting his talent take over. This battle figures to go down to the training camp wire.

--- Derrick Deese vs. Kwame Harris at left offensive tackle: Harris' impressive development definitely is loosening Deese's grip on the starting position for the season opener. Harris has gotten a lot of work and experience while the Niners bring back Deese slowly from his ankle injury. Deese still figures to start the opener at this point, but Harris already appears ready to step in at any time. And once he does, he might never leave.

--- Garrison Hearst vs. Kevan Barlow at tailback: Barlow is ready to play and could be ready for stardom as a featured back in coach Dennis Erickson's offense. But Hearst - who was showing signs of fading at the end of last season - has been in top form at camp and hasn't lost a step. He might even look better than he did in camp last year. He's not ready to give up the position yet, but he'll have to share it on a more equal basis this year - even more so than last year.

--- John Engelberger vs. Andrew Williams at left defensive end: Engelberger has solidified his standing as the starter. Williams could still be a factor as an edge rusher, but he needs work on his technique and will only see time as a situational player at this point.

--- Cedrick Wilson vs. Brandon Lloyd at No. 3 receiver: Wilson has carried over his progress of the spring to the summer, and he might be the team's fastest receiver - if not fastest player. But Lloyd is gaining ground with his smooth and graceful play. He figures to see action this year even if he ends up as the No. 4.


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