Where he fits in: Joe Staley

The 49ers went out of their way to make sure Joe Staley didn't get away on draft day, maneuvering like riverboat gamblers to get the man they wanted late in the first round. Some say Staley has more upside than any OT in the draft, and the 49ers don't use picks in Round 1 just to have them ride the bench. So where does that have Staley fitting in with a team that already has three established OTs?

To be sure, he fits in.

But as a rookie starter? That remains to be seen.

Staley just won't be handed a starting position from the get-go - as were each of the first-round selections in the first two years of the Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan regime - mainly because the Niners don't need to rush him into the lineup.

They have veterans Jonas Jennings and Kwame Harris pegged in as the their projected starting tackles entering this week's three-day minicamp at team headquarters. Adam Snyder - the third-round pick from 2005 that already has started at four different positions on the line - is listed as the third swing tackle, though many expect him to move ahead of Harris in the pecking order for good this season.

The pecking order, however, has been altered by Staley's arrival.

And a lot of other things can happen between now and the beginning of training camp in July to alter it even more.

The popular possibility making the rounds is that the 49ers make a trade in the next few months involving Harris, who - in the final analysis - has been a disappointment as the team's 2003 first-rounder.

That's not to say Harris has been a total disappointment, and it's not to say he doesn't have value around the NFL. Instead of playing like a first-rounder, Harris has played more like a third-rounder or fourth-rounder, the latter of which is what the 49ers could hope to get for Harris in a trade with a team seeking veteran help at tackle.

With Staley on board, the team would probably take less - a fifth-rounder or a sixth-rounder - and that would pave the way to Staley's move to immediate prominence in the line picture as a rookie.

"We've fielded some (calls)," McCloughan said this week about trade possibilities. "I think once we get through this minicamp and the teams see the rosters and personnel for the first time as a full roster, we'll probably field some more (calls). But we are not approaching anybody on that or trying to push anyone out. We feel very comfortable with having good football players on the O-line."

Read between the lines on that one. The 49ers appear poised to move out Harris to the highest bidder, particularly since he's in the final year of his contract with the Niners and won't be offered a new one by the team next year.

The 49ers have invested too much in the OT position to even consider offering Harris a contract next year - and, yes, Kwame will get some takers on the open market in 2008 because of his prowess as a run blocker, even if his pass blocking has proved to be - ahem - less than adequate with the 49ers.

Jonas Jennings signed a seven-year, $36 million deal as a free agent in 2005, Snyder just received a lengthy contract extension, and Staley will soon be getting a big-bucks deal in line with his first-round status.

So look for the Niners to move out Harris. And even if they can't or don't, Staley might be moving him out anyway.

"He will be an impact player on our football team," Nolan said of Staley. "If not right away, certainly in time. He can play both sides. We found that out when we were at the Senior Bowl. We talk offensively on where, exactly, we're going to start at minicamp because one of our issues right now in minicamp is that Jonas won't participate because of his shoulder. So, that leaves that spot. (Do) you put someone in there right now, or do you want him to compete at the other spot? Right now, it's still up in the air, and I don't think it's urgent today to make that decision."

But it will be interesting to see where, in fact, the 49ers do place Staley this weekend. If they place Snyder at left tackle and have Staley working on the right side, it's a telltale sign they are grooming Staley to take over for Harris sooner rather than later.

With Snyder's ability to play guard - and perhaps be a fixture there in the future - Staley could making his presence at tackle felt as soon as this weekend. And, certainly, by the time the season begins in September.

And it may not be just Harris that needs to be looking over his shoulders.

"I played right tackle my sophomore year and left tackle my junior and senior year, so I feel like I'm capable of playing both positions," Staley said. "I will fulfill (the 49ers trading a first-rounder to get him), don't worry about that."

McCloughan said the acquisition of Staley gives the 49ers a lot of flexibility, and allows the 49ers to consider turning Snyder into a guard to make their offensive front wall even better.

"It gives us the luxury to possibly do that," McCloughan said. "Our whole team wants to get the best five (offensive linemen) on the field. Having guys that can be tackle/guard types as Adam is, or (David) Baas a guard/center type of guy and Staley being able to play left or right tackle, we'll get the best five on the field. There will be competition that proves that."

That competition begins this weekend, and the newest member of the line will be fitting right into the thick of it.


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