The new faces

Seven veteran free agents. Six rookie draft picks. These are the significant personnel additions to the 49ers' roster this year, and they'll be expected to make a difference in getting the team past the .500 barrier and back in the playoffs. Here's a look at the early impressions these newcomers are making during the team's minicamp, and an early projection of what their role will be this season.

DE Justin Smith: He appears to be everything the 49ers are paying for with that fat $45 million deal the team gave him in free agency. He's a bull on the right side of San Francisco's 3-4 front and moves very well. Is a fighter in the trenches and it will be interesting to see how often he wins battles when the pads go on. Is being moved around a lot in the scheme and will occasionally play on the 3-4 edge in some packages. Will be an every-down player and has considerable potential to excel in this defensive system.
Projected 2008 role: Starter at right defensive end

WR Bryant Johnson: Is working very hard at the split end position and is fitting well into the Mike Martz offense, contrary to the belief of some observers that his skill set isn't well suited for that system. Goes after passes hard and fights for the football. Still seems to be getting used to his new surroundings, but exudes veteran leadership and confidence. Still waiting to see if he can be a vertical threat, something the team needs from his position.
Projected 2008 role: Starter at split end

WR Isaac Bruce: Has been one of the most impressive players so far in minicamp. Maybe it's his knowledge of the Martz system, but he is getting open consistently and always seems to be in the right place. Has made some very nice catches during team drills. Doesn't appear to be a guy who's slowing down much, if at all. Might already be San Francisco's most polished player on offense.
Projected 2008 role: Starter at flanker

LB Dontarrious Thomas: Has been slow to get his feet wet with his new team. Is running with the second team at strong-side linebacker behind Jeff Ulbrich, who so far has looked much better at the position. Has good size and that's a plus. Maybe just needs some time to get used to a new system and new surroundings. Hasn't been making a strong impression.
Projected 2008 role:Backup at linebacker/could face challenge for roster berth

RB DeShaun Foster: Hits the hole very quickly and moves with power. Knows what he's doing and doesn't miss assignments. Shows a good straight-line burst. Follows blockers well and gets to the second level with a sense of urgency. Can catch the ball but still is getting used to receiving demands of the position in Martz's offense.
Projected 2008 role: Backup running back/Third down back

KR Allen Rossum: The 49ers aren't spending a whole lot of time on special teams during minicamp, but Rossum has displayed the skills that have made him one of the most prolific return specialists in NFL history. Circles under kicks well and displays sure hands when the ball comes down. Has shown good acceleration after catching ball and gets to the corner quickly.
Projected 2008 role: Punt returner. May also return kickoffs.

QB J.T. O'Sullivan: Is getting some repetitions and has good knowledge of the offense. Doesn't get rid of the ball quickly. Some of his passes have been batted down at the line of scrimmage. Hasn't displayed great arm strength. When given an opportunity, clearly is performing at a level below the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart.
Projected 2008 role: Third quarterback/could face challenge for roster berth

DE Kentwan Balmer:First-round draft pick is strong at the point of attack and moves well for his size. Is being tried strictly at left end during minicamp and has been getting considerable time with the first unit. Appears to be a fast learner. Could be ready for considerable playing time after he gets comfortable in the system and has a training camp under his belt.
Projected 2008 role: Key cog in defensive line rotation/Could challenge for starting position at left end

G Chilo Rachal: Good speed and quickness for an interior lineman. Gets to the second level quickly and pulls well. Needs to work on leverage and bending his body better. Has been stood up and pushed back a few times at the point of attack. May take some time to develop as a pass blocker once the pads go on.
Projected 2008 role: Offensive line reserve/Could challenge for starting berth at guard

CB Reggie Smith: Has been getting some time with second unit at right cornerback. Has good size and shows some fluidity. Appears a bit slow in recognizing plays as they develop. Can turn and run with receivers but hasn't been put in a lot of situations so far where he has been challenged.
Projected 2008 role: Reserve in secondary

C Cody Wallace: Has had a few exchange problems with quarterbacks during team drills. Timing seems to be off a bit. Moves well but has been pushed back when he doesn't strike first at the point of attack. Running with the second team at center. Looks like he'll need some time to develop.
Projected 2008 role: Reserve offensive lineman

WR Josh Morgan: Big, thick-legged receiver. Has loping, long-striding style off the line of scrimmage. Takes some time to gain acceleration. Has displayed good hands when the ball comes his way. Has been getting some time among top seven receivers and doesn't seem to be overwhelmed.
2008 Projected 2008 role: Faces a numbers problem at receiver/Could be headed for practice squad

LB Larry Grant: Is active and aggressive. Has seen his share of repetitions at inside linebacker and is showing good reactions. Lower body looks a little slender. Seems to know what he's doing. Shows good pursuit and keeps level.
Projection 2008 role: Will challenge for roster at backup linebacker/Practice squad candidate

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