Training camp battleground: Right guard

This week, SFI takes a look at what should be some of the most competitive and consequential battles for the several jobs that are up for grabs this summer at 49ers training camp. Today: Right guard.

The Niners have not wavered this spring from announcing that third-year veteran Kyle Kosier is their choice to replace veteran Ron Stone as their starting right guard entering training camp.

Stone was a big, physical presence in the line who made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the team in 2002. But several happenings during the offseason suggest the Niners aren't so convinced that Kosier - who's versatile enough to play several line positions - is a lock to be the starter at right guard come September.

First, the Niners signed fifth-year veteran Greg Randall, a season-long starter at right tackle for the Houston Texans last year, and it was expected that Randall would immediately be penciled in to replace Stone in the starting lineup. But an overweight Randall did not pan out during spring drills, failing to display the versatility to play guard, and the team released him June 16.

That was, of course, almost two months after the Niners selected stud Alabama junior Justin Smiley in April with the 46th overall choice in the second round of the NFL draft. Smiley is an athletic 300-pounder who can provide a new dimension to San Francisco's running game with his power and ability to get out on sweeps.

The team is comfortable with Kosier, who has packed on some added muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame this year after starting 12 games at three positions last season - including three at right guard.

But there is a sense that Kosier is more valuable to the team as a jack-of-all-trades along the line, including as the top backup at both tackle positions, tackle being the position he played when he entered the NFL.

But after an impressive spring, there is no denying that Smiley is of starting quality, and this position might be the best place for him to fit in as a rookie. There is some talk that he also could be a challenger to start at left guard as the Niners seem intent on getting their best five offensive linemen onto the field as a starting unit.

"I see a battle with Justin Smiley at a lot of different places," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's going to fight for a starting position, whether it is against Kyle or whether it's at left guard or wherever the heck it's going to be. He's a quality football player. He's going to battle for a starting position."

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