2007 49ers training camp: Key new faces

They'll be the new-look Niners when training camp practices begin at 49ers headquarters on July 29, with fresh faces sprinkled throughout the roster and coaching staff. Those newcomers will play pivotal roles in the team's success this season, some more than others, and here's a rundown on the 10 that promise to have the biggest impact on 2007 as the team enters its summer camp.

NATE CLEMENTS: So that's what an $80 million cornerback looks like. The team's top prize in free agency is a special breed at one of the game's most volatile positions, and he more than any other newcomer can impact the team's fortunes by locking down opposing receivers and shoring up a secondary that has welcomed his kind of talent with open arms. Clements appears to be the complete package with size, speed and shutdown coverage capability, and for all that money, the team both needs and expects him to produce from the get-go.

GREG MANUSKY: Ultimately, Billy Davis failed the 49ers in his first stab as a NFL defensive coordinator. As Davis' replacement, Manusky must make sure the same sort of scenario doesn't materialize again. He looks to be a much better fit to oversee the team's detailed 3-4 defensive scheme, and comes with an assured style and pedigree after coaching the ultra-successful linebackers unit in Wade Phillips' defense with the San Diego Chargers. He'll need to take immediate control of a defense that still very much is a work in progress with five potential new starters, and also show he can handle the play-calling without needing Mike Nolan to look over his shoulder.

DARRELL JACKSON: There still seems something not quite right about divisional rival Seattle sending the 49ers its best receiver over the past decade for a paltry fourth-round draft pick, but one thing is certain: This guy can play, and he can make a huge difference in San Francisco's passing game and give the Niners the legitimate No. 1 receiving threat the team has been jonesing for since Terrell Owens left town. After sitting out the spring with a toe injury that lingered from the end of last season, Jackson must prove that he isn't fragile or on the decline, but he promises to be an upgrade over anything San Francisco had at the position before he arrived.

PATRICK WILLIS: The team's speedy, athletic first-round draft pick has "impact" written all over him. This youngster possesses Defensive Rookie of the Year-type talent – and that kind of future with the team. He will push veteran Derek Smith for a starting job at inside linebacker from the day camp begins, and is an exciting talent that will have some kind of key role once the season starts, whether he has forged his way into the opening-day lineup or not. If he catches on quickly this summer, he could become a defensive terror by midseason.

TULLY BANTA-CAIN: A 3-4 defense needs edge players like Banta-Cain to be successful, and that's why he's now wearing a San Francisco uniform. Banta-Cain's ability to rush the passer from the outside linebacker position has been a missing ingredient in the team's unsuccessful attempts to convert to the 3-4 scheme the past two years, but now that he's here, his size and skill set promise to make the system click and help all the parts around him work better.

AUBRAYO FRANKLIN: See above. Franklin might be something of an anonymous name to some NFL observers, but he's the kind of big body in the middle that can make a conspicuous difference in a 3-4 defensive scheme that needs his kind of bulk and aggression at nose tackle to be successful. Like Banta-Cain, Franklin has years of tried-and-true experience in a legitimate 3-4 scheme, and the 49ers need more of those kind of players to make their system work to go along with the homegrown talent they're already developing.

JIM TOMSULA: San Francisco's defensive linemen needed somebody new to light a fire underneath them, and that's what the bellowing Tomsula has done since taking over as the team's defensive line coach. If you listen closely, you might be able to hear some of his forceful persuasion from spring drills still ringing in his unit's ears. To be sure, it will be echoing across the practice field at the team facility from here to January. The real test will be to see if his methods start showing results on Sundays.

MICHAEL LEWIS: A Pro Bowl starter in 2005, his physical presence will have a whole bunch of offensive players shaking in the cleats on Sundays. This athletic big hitter will bring a winning mentality and aggressive, in-your-face, in-the-box style to the San Francisco secondary, but he must live up to the big-money contract he signed as a free agent in March. The 49ers showed their belief in Lewis by giving him a huge payday, but there are some in the league who feel he has lost some of his game. Lewis must prove otherwise.

JOE STALEY: If he isn't the present, the first-round draft pick certainly will be the future at one of the team's offensive tackle positions. And the future figures to get here sooner rather than later. Given his relative inexperience at the position, Staley faces a learning curve at the pro level. But it already began this spring, and it appears he has the talent and natural ability to justify the team's draft-day maneuvering to get him.

ASHLEY LELIE: OK, so the guy comes to San Francisco with some baggage. But he also comes with a lot of stretch-the-field playmaking ability. As long as he doesn't turn out to be Antonio Bryant reincarnated, this newcomer should add to the total package. That is, if he shows a little more urgency to get on the field than he did this spring when, of course, it didn't really matter if he did. It starts mattering now.


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