Who's odd-man out on OL now that Allen is in?
OT Adam Snyder: Snyder, the team's third-round draft pick in 2005, ended last season strong as the starting left tackle, asserting himself as the best healthy tackle on the team. The addition of Allen will all but assure that Snyder will be worked solely at tackle for the foreseeable future. With Jonas Jennings returning as the starter at left tackle in 2006, Snyder was slated to battle Kwame Harris for the starting role at right tackle this season, but he also was expected to be in the mix as a top backup at guard. Now, he'll be allowed to develop strictly at his best position. OG Justin Smiley: Smiley figures to be impacted as much as anybody, since he started all 16 games at left guard in 2005, and it already has been made clear that Allen is coming in to start at left guard this season. Left guard clearly is Smiley's best position, and the 2004 second-rounder was finally coming on strong at the position at the end of last season after taking some time to develop in the NFL trenches. Coach Mike Nolan has said that Smiley will move to right guard as the projected 2006 starter, but that sounds like a preliminary announcement at this point, since Smiley surely will have to battle with David Baas and, perhaps, Eric Heitmann to secure the starting role. Smiley started nine games at right guard as a rookie in 2004, so he knows the position. But he's going to have a tough time holding onto a starting position there this season. OG-C Eric Heitmann: Heitmann was San Francisco's best offensive lineman in 2005, but now he's beginning to look like a man without a starting position in 2006 if Jeremy Newberry can return to top form at center. That's a big if. Heitmann, in fact, is at a stage in his career that he could push Newberry into a backup role. If Newberry does return as the starting center, Heitmann would be the top backup there while also being the top backup at both guard positions. That is, if he doesn't start at right guard himself, where he has the knowledge and experience – if not the power and talent – to hold off both Baas and Smiley for the job. Heitmann also would be the first man in to replace Allen at left guard, since Heitmann spent his first three NFL seasons as a starter there before being moved to right guard (and, ultimately, center) last year. C Jeremy Newberry: The reports of progress have been very positive this spring in Newberry's rehabilitation from major microfracture surgery on his right knee. But we've heard that before about the ninth-year veteran, who has had that same knee worked on several times. The fact is, nobody can be sure how Newberry will hold up until the pads come on in August, and it's difficult for the team to count on him at this point. The 49ers would have pursued Allen anyway once he became available on the open market, but the uncertainty of Newberry's status made the move a slam dunk. You can't count out the possibility that Newberry, a true warrior, will return at a high level, particularly considering the way he was able to play through pain last year on his damaged knee. But now that the line depth has been greatly upgraded, he will have to earn a starting position rather than just have it handed to him. OG-C David Baas: After a slow start due to his summer hamstring tear, by the end of the 2005 season Baas was becoming the brute force the 49ers expected him to be when they drafted him at the top of the second round last year. Baas started the final five games at right guard and appeared to cement that as his position of the immediate future with some strong play. While Smiley has been named the starter at right guard by Nolan, that appears to be a move made out of respect, and in actuality Smiley will have to beat out Baas to remain in the starting lineup. That might only serve to give Baas the push he needs to retain the position. It's also very possible that Baas could begin 2006 as the team's starting center, a position at which he excelled in college. At the very worst, Baas will be a top backup at all three inside positions while getting a little more time to develop at the NFL level. But if he's one of the team's five best linemen, he'll be starting. And, as the 2005 season came to a close, it looked like he already was there. OT Jonas Jennings: After signing a mega-million contract to join the team in free agency last year, Jennings played in only three games before a torn rotator cuff ended his season. He's expected back at full strength in 2006, and he'll likely be licking his chops now that he has a player such as Allen to line up next to him. Allen will take a lot of pressure off Jennings, and the two have the potential to form a formidable left side for the 49ers, indeed. OT Kwame Harris: On the surface, it would seem Harris would be the least affected by this move of any of San Francisco's linemen, because he'll be battling to retain his starting position at right tackle – just like he would have been before Allen arrived. But now Harris might actually be finding himself in a battle for a roster berth if he is unable to hold onto his starting role. Harris started all 16 games at right tackle last year, and – while many expect Snyder to take that role from him this season – that scenario is not a given. On the other hand, if Snyder clearly wins that starting battle, the team might have to consider if Harris is worth keeping around as a reserve, since Pat Estes is waiting in the wings, and Allen also has the ability to slide over and play tackle in an emergency. OT Pat Estes: The addition of Allen means that there's another player in front of Estes now in San Francisco's line plans. Estes still is learning to play the tackle position after playing tight end in college, so he will likely be battling for a final spot on the roster in 2006 after basically getting an entire season to develop as a rookie. The 49ers likely will have another tackle prospect nipping at Estes' heels in training camp, so he just has to worry about competing for a top backup role at tackle for a team that might only keep three players at that position on its final roster in 2006.
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