Pre-Camp Position Analysis: The NFC West

Position battles - they're what training camp is about to a large extent. While some NFC West players have their starting spots sewn up, other spots are very much up for grabs. takes a look at where the depth charts stand with training camps less than two weeks away.

(Editor's note: Click here to read the Seahawks' Pre-Camp Position Analysis.)


QUARTERBACK: Starter - Kurt Warner. Backups - Josh McCown, John Navarre, Tim Chang.

McCown did not live up to Green's expectations, although he was 6-7 as the starter on a 6-10 team, lost the job late in the season, and will be replaced by free-agent veteran Kurt Warner, who is anxious to prove he still has what it take. Warner is a high-percentage passer, but he also takes tons of sacks and there have been questions regarding how well he still grips the ball. McCown, still young and athletic, gets more grooming time. Green likes Navarre, as well, and don't rule him out if Warner goes belly-up or is injured.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB J.J. Arrington, FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo. Backups - RB Marcel Shipp, RB Josh Scobey, RB Troy Hambrick, RB Larry Croom, RB Damien Anderson, FB James Hodgins, FB Casey Moore, RB Roger Robinson, FB Harold Morrow.

Emmitt Smith, despite being 35, nearly gained 1,000 yards on a bad team that often had to throw. He retired. Shipp, the team rushing leader in 2003 and 2002, tries to come back from a nasty lower leg fracture and dislocated ankle that sidelined him all of 2004. Second-round pick Arrington gained 2,000 yards as a senior at California and will be hard to keep out of the lineup.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Bobby Blizzard. Backups - Eric Edwards, Aaron Golliday, John Bronson, Adam Bergen.

Freddie Jones had excellent skills as a receiver but was lost as a blocker. And for all his potential, there lingered questions regarding how badly he wanted to excel at football. He was not re-signed. The cast of no-names is led by Blizzard, who made All-NFL Europe.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson. Backups - Reggie Newhouse, LeRon McCoy, Carlyle Holiday, Dan Sheldon, Fabian Davis, Charles Lee, Lawrence Hamilton, Luke Powell.

This appears to be the team's strongest unit. The starting three are as good as any. The talent drops off sharply behind, though. Any competent backup receiver who has excellent punt-return skill has a shot at making the roster for 2005.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Leonard Davis, LG Reggie Wells, C Alex Stepanovich, RG Elton Brown, RT Oliver Ross. Backups - G Jeremy Bridges, G-T Fred Wakefield, C Nick Leckey, T Jim Newton, T Adam Haayer, T Alan Reuber, G Rolando Cantu, T Ian Allen.

The Big Red Line got the Big Red Flag. All but one of the starters on the underachieving unit of a few years back are gone now (Davis is the only survivor, and he's now in a different spot, LT, where he moved last year). There is inexperience in the middle but the added toughness of free-agent Ross should open more holes for runners and protect QB Kurt Warner adequately.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Chike Okeafor, LT Russell Davis RT Darnell Dockett, RE Bertrand Berry. Backups - T Kenny King, E Peppi Zellner, E Antonio Smith, T Ross Kolodziej, T Wendell Bryant, E Calvin Pace, T Tim Bulman, E Tyler King.

There are big-time players in Berry, who made the Pro Bowl, and Dockett, an effective rookie starter. Adding free-agent Okeafor to play outside opposite Berry gives the team another threat to sack the QB. Run-stopping still is questionable. It is a deep, experienced group with most of the second-teamers having been starters in the past year or two.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Karlos Dansby, MLB Gerald Hayes, OLB Orlando Huff. Backups - James Darling, OLB Darryl Blackstone, MLB Lance Mitchell, Leon Joe, MLB Isaac Key, OLB Greg Carothers, OLB Isaiah Ekejiuba.

Dansby showed as a rookie that he is a keeper with his play-wrecking athleticism. Huff played inside in Seattle but coaches here like his early work outside. Hayes is likely successor in the middle to long-time starter Ron McKinnon, who was not re-signed. Darling is an experienced versatile veteran who can play inside or out, and could break back into the lineup. There is edge pass-rushing ability and improved toughness in the group, which could mitigate the weak run-stoppers up front.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Antrel Rolle, CB David Macklin, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Quentin Harris. Backups - CB Eric Green, S Ifeanyi Ohalete, S Robert Griffith, CB Robert Tate, S Adrian Mayes, S Ernest Shazor, CB Clarence Curry, CB Rhett Nelson, CB Jermaine Hardy, CB Lamont Reid, CB Aaron Francisco, CB Raymond Walls.

Rolle, a high first-round pick, steps into the spot where Duane Starks was a huge disappointment, but will have to learn how to play off NFL receivers. Rolle is a physical bump-and-run player. Fellow rookie Green could send Macklin to the bench, as well. Wilson is as good as any at what he does, but at FS, there will be a three-way battle among Harris, Ohalete and Griffith for the job. Overall, an adequate starting unit but with shaky depth.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Neil Rackers, P Scott Player, LS Nathan Hodell, KR Josh Scobey, PR LeRon McCoy.

Rackers was among the best in the league in field-goal accuracy, especially beyond 40 yards. His greatest improvement, though, was in touchbacks on kickoffs. He's solid and safe. Player continues to be among the league's steadiest and most competent. His hang time is excellent, and he is adept at pinning foes inside the 20. A real weapon. Scobey makes the most of what is there. He's been among the conference average-per-yard leaders. The team is looking for a punt returner to replace veteran Karl Williams. McCoy isn't necessarily the answer and there will be auditions throughout training camp and preseason there. Coverage killed the team and must be shored up, the only glaring weakness on units that have been team strengths for several seasons.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Marc Bulger. Backups - Jamie Martin, Jeff Smoker, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Bulger is unquestionably the leader of this offense, and he should be poised to have a potentially monster season. Despite missing two full games and most of another, he nearly reached 4,000 yards passing for the season. The targets are there, as is the confidence. The only question entering camp is who will be the No. 2 man when the season opens. Smoker's number was changed from 9 to 15 by coach Mike Martz, but that will have little to do with whether the second-year player has what it takes to be the top backup. Smoker has the ability, but managing the game is what he must show he can do. Martin doesn't have Smoker's physical skills, but he can run the team if he has to. Fitzpatrick could have a bright future, but to win a job means either Martin or Smoker depart.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - HB Steven Jackson, FB Joey Goodspeed. Backups - HB Marshall Faulk, HB Arlen Harris, HB Aveion Cason, FB Madison Hedgecock, FB Chris Massey, FB Nick Burley.

It's now down to business for Jackson, who takes over as the starter ahead of Faulk. Faulk's role will develop as the summer passes, but since he is as healthy as he's been in several years, don't be surprised to still see him be a key component in Martz's varied offense. Harris and Cason could be battling for one job, and special teams might be the deciding factor. Harris lost weight in the offseason, and was quicker than he has been in the past. Goodspeed will receive a strong challenge from Hedgecock, who will turn some heads if he exhibits the ability to grasp the offense. Massey has the toughness to be a regular fullback, but he won't be risked there except in an emergency because of his long snapping prowess. Burley is a converted defensive end, who will need a miracle to make the roster.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Brandon Manumaleuna. Backups - Roland Williams, Erik Jensen, Jerome Collins.

The coaches keep waiting for Manumaleuna to maximize his physical attributes and consistently show some passion for the game. Williams has that, and perhaps it will wear off on Manumaleuna. If it doesn't, Williams could see a lot of playing time. His experience and speed can add a dimension that has been missing from the offense at tight end. Jensen missed his entire rookie season because of a knee injury and will have to beat out Collins for the No. 3 job. That will be tough, if Collins can play special teams the way he did at Notre Dame.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups - Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker, Dante Ridgeway, Michael Coleman, Brandon Middleton, Dominique Thompson, Dominic Robinson, Jeremy Carter.

It's difficult to imagine any NFL team with as deep as a receiving corps as this one. Holt should be a perennial Pro Bowl player for the rest of his career, and Bruce shows no signs of slowing down. Curtis and McDonald emerged as big-play threats last season, and both should continue to ascend. Curtis can do it all as a receiver, while McDonald must be handled with care because of his lack of size. Looker was almost forgotten last season, but he remains a possible go-to guy on third down. The battle for the sixth receiver spot should be between the rookie Ridgeway and Coleman. Ridgeway's potential gives him the edge, since Coleman never seems able to get past a certain level in his training camp experiences. Middleton has shown some ability, but cracking this group is almost impossible. He is realistically competing for a practice-squad spot with Thompson, Robinson and Carter.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Orlando Pace, LG Rex Tucker, C Andy McCollum, RG Adam Timmerman, RT Alex Barron. Backups - T Grant Williams, T/G Blaine Saipaia, T/G Scott Tercero, C/G Larry Turner, G Darnell Alford, T Matt Morgan, G Claude Terrell, G Zach Bray, C Toby Cecil, G Richie Incognito.

Stability here is paramount for a team that relies so much on its offense. The questions, of course, are at right tackle and left guard. Barron is listed here as the starter, but that may as well be written in pencil. Coach Mike Martz still claims to be confident that Barron will be the opening-day starter, but for that to happen, he will need to know the offense and play with confidence. If Barron isn't ready, Saipaia will likely get the nod, although Williams and Tercero remain possibilities. Tucker had health issues for three seasons with the Bears, and was released in the offseason, only to be quickly signed by the Rams. He's making close to the minimum salary, which will be one of the bargains of the year if he stays healthy and plays to his capabilities.

Pace will be attending his first training camp since 2002, and participated in the offseason program after signing a long-term contract in March. He was still good enough to be picked for the Pro Bowl, but coaches expect him to play better than he has the last two seasons. That's a scary thought for opposing defensive ends. McCollum is the most underrated center in the league, while Timmerman remains tough, but will be limited early in camp because of several offseason surgeries. Depth should be better than it's been for a while. Saipaia and Tercero can also play guard, while Turner is also versatile. Alford will battle for a job, along with Morgan. The rookie Terrell also has potential. Incognito is expected to miss the season because of knee surgery he had after the draft.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Leonard Little, NT Ryan Pickett, DT Jimmy Kennedy, DRE Anthony Hargrove. Backups - T/E Tyoka Jackson, DLE Vontrell Jamison, DLE Brandon Green, DRE Clifford Dukes, NT Damione Lewis, DT Brian Howard, DT Jeremy Calahan, DT Matt McChesney.

The starting group is strong, but depth, especially at end, is suspect. Of course, that strength is based on the belief that Hargrove and Kennedy will emerge this season as difference-makers. Both were starting at the end of the 2004 season, and defensive line coach Bill Kollar expects both to ascend rapidly this season. Little is expected to play with a vengeance after performing last season while a trial for drunk driving was hanging over his head. Pickett rarely receives accolades, but his dirty work on the nose should be rewarded this season if the team's linebackers play better. This is a key year for Lewis, who is no longer a starter and is entering the final year of his contract. He has the inside quickness to get to the quarterback. Howard will also be a key contributor in the tackle rotation. Calahan and McChesney are longshots. Aside from the versatility of Jackson, who can play end and tackle, the jury remains out on whether the depth is good enough at end. Jamison, Dukes and Green looked good in minicamp, but it's a different world when the pads go on. Jamison and Dukes are rookie free agents, and Dukes is a converted linebacker. Green had some injury issues that ended his stint with the Jaguars.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, MLB Chris Claiborne, WLB Dexter Coakley. Backups - OLB Brandon Chillar, MLB Trev Faulk, MLB Robert Thomas, OLB Jeremy Loyd, OLB Drew Wahlroos, OLB Louis Ayeni.

There are two new starters in a group that tackled miserably last season. New additions Claiborne and Coakley should contribute toughness, leadership and the ability to make plays. Tinoisamoa is expected to be the other starter, and his game should rise now that he has had repaired a dislocated shoulder that bothered him for the entire 2004 season. The arrival of Claiborne and Coakley has also improved the depth. Thomas, a former starter, will be a backup, along with Chillar, who had some starts as a rookie last season. Faulk is also in the mix for a backup job, and special teams will be a major consideration. That's where the speedy Loyd comes in. He missed 2004 with a torn pectoral muscle, but it's not out of the question that he could steal a job because of his special teams ability. Wahlroos and Ayeni are distinct longshots.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Jerametrius Butler, RCB Travis Fisher, SS Adam Archuleta, FS Michael Stone. Backups - CB DeJuan Groce, CB Kevin Garrett, CB Dwight Anderson, CB Ronald Bartell, CB Terry Fair, CB Corey Ivy, CB Duvol Thompson, S Michael Hawthorne, S Mike Furrey, S Jerome Carter, S Oshiomogho Atogwe.

The team's cornerbacks aren't spectacular, but Fisher and Butler are consistent and have the propensity to make plays. The biggest question concerns the nickel back. Will it come from a cornerback group that includes Groce, Garrett, Anderson and Bartell? Or will one of the safeties be the first defensive back off the bench? How the coaches mix and match the secondary will be the story of the summer. Groce must stay healthy, Garrett has to be tougher and Anderson must channel his passion into being disciplined in the defense. Bartell is a rookie with potential, and he can also play safety. Fair is attempting a comeback after a succession of injuries, while Ivy is a standout on special teams. If Archuleta is recovered from a back problem, he will be one starter. But who will be the other? Stone or Hawthorne, who were veteran free-agent additions? How about Furrey, the converted receiver, who is adapting well to the switch? Then, there are rookies Atogwe and Carter, who arrive with tremendous confidence. There are 15 defensive backs going to camp, and not much to separate between many of them.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jeff Wilkins, P Reggie Hodges, LS Chris Massey, KR Arlen Harris, KR Aveion Cason, PR Shaun McDonald, PR DeJuan Groce.

Wilkins slightly slumped last season, especially on his shorter kicks. But he remains a money kicker and is in no danger of losing his job. The Rams don't even have another kicker on the roster. Surprisingly, the only punter is the rookie Hodges, which could spell trouble unless he lives up to the billing of new special teams coach Bob Ligashesky. But you can bet the Rams will have their eyes on other punters as the summer progresses. Massey is one of the better snappers in the league. A looming question is the return game, which has provided few sparks since Tony Horne and Az-Zahir Hakim. Harris and Cason will compete on kickoff returns, and Harris believes his added speed and quickness will make him more of a threat. Groce was a top punt returner in college, but hasn't gotten a legitimate shot since coming to the Rams. Martz says he will be given that opportunity this summer.


QUARTERBACK: Starter - Alex Smith. Backups - Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett.

Although Smith is the least-experienced player at this position, the 49ers did not invest a No. 1 overall pick in him to watch him carry a clipboard. The club expects him to win the starting job, but coach Mike Nolan will try not to rush Smith onto the field before he is ready. Nolan actually feels less pressure to make Smith the starter now that he has seen his other quarterbacks up close. Both Rattay and Dorsey looked much-improved during the team's offseason program. Dorsey, in particular, threw the ball much better than he did in his first two seasons in the league. Nolan said he expects to keep all four quarterbacks with the team, as Pickett is likely to be added to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Kevan Barlow, FB Fred Beasley. Backups -- RB Frank Gore, RB Maurice Hicks, RB Terry Jackson, FB Steve Bush, FB Tony Ficklin, RB Bobby Purify, FB Brian Johnson.

The 49ers did not get much production from the run game last season, as the offensive line was horrible and Barlow did not run with much passion. Even Beasley experienced a down season. One of Nolan's first moves as head coach was to insist that Barlow move his locker back to the other side of the room. He had moved his locker to get away from Beasley, with whom he has feuded for several years. Barlow should be hungry to rebound from a bad season. He also has some motivation, as Gore was drafted in the second round to see some significant playing time.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Eric Johnson. Backups -- Aaron Walker, Billy Bajema, Doug Zeigler.

Johnson broke the team record with 82 receptions for 825 yards from a tight end. He will likely be an integral part of the offense again this season in the passing game. The club, however, needs him to be more proficient with his blocking in the run game. The backup jobs are up for grabs, as two-year veteran Walker has no reason to think he has solidified his job on the roster. Bajema (6-4, 261) should earn his spot on the roster and has a chance to contribute in two-TE formations.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Arnaz Battle, SE Brandon Lloyd. Backups - Johnnie Morton, Rashaun Woods, P.J. Fleck, Rasheed Marshall, Jason McAddley, Derrick Hamilton, Marcus Maxwell, Fred Amey.

This might be the least-impressive receiving corps in the NFL. The acquisition of Morton, who garnered a $150,000 signing bonus, brought some experience to the group. Battle has a lot of talent and big-play ability but has not been given a chance to perform at this level. He is one of the few players on the team who has the ability to catch passes over the middle. If Morton does not nudge out Lloyd for a starting job, he should post decent numbers as the No. 3 man. Woods, Fleck, Marshall and McAddley are vying for the fourth job. Marshall, a successful college quarterback at West Virginia, might be asked to do a little bit of everything. Hamilton is out for the season with a torn ACL sustained during minicamp.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jonas Jennings, LG Eric Heitmann, C Jeremy Newberry, RG David Baas, RT Kwame Harris. Backups - G/T Adam Snyder, G Justin Smiley, G/C Scott Peters, G Tony Wragge, T Khiawatha Downey, C Norm Katnik, T Tim Provost, T Patrick Estes, T Brendan Darby, G Thomas Herrion.

The offensive line received the most attention at the end of the season, and it is still a work in progress. Because Newberry has only a 50-50 shot of playing this season due to a knee problem, the 49ers are still juggling the pieces to see what works. If Newberry is unable to play, Heitmann will likely make the switch. It is conceivable that the 49ers could start two rookies, Baas and Snyder, at the guard positions. Smiley, a second-round pick from 2004, has to prove his worth with the new coaching staff. The big move of the offseason was the signing of Jennings, who takes over at left tackle. That acquisition also opened the door for Harris to switch to the right side, where he appears to be a much better fit.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Bright Young, NT Anthony Adams, RE Marques Douglas. Backups - NT Isaac Sopoaga, NT Ronnie Fields, DE Chris Cooper, DE Tony Brown, DE Corey Smith, DE Scott Scharff, DE Josh Cooper.

The switch to a 3-4 defense means the 49ers had no place for DE John Engelberger, who established himself as a regular starter during his five seasons in the league. It also means that Young will undergo his first position change after 11 seasons in the league. Douglas gives the 49ers a player who is familiar with the new scheme, having spent most of his career with the Ravens, where Nolan was the defensive coordinator. The big competition will take place at the nose, where Adams, Sopoaga and Fields will be in competition for the starting job.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SAM Julian Peterson, MIKE Jeff Ulbrich, TED Derek Smith, WILL Jamie Winborn. Backups - OLB Andre Carter, ILB Saleem Rasheed, ILB Richard Seigler, OLB Andrew Williams, OLB Brandon Moore, ILB Ray Wells, OLB Max Yates.

Peterson, coming off a torn Achilles' tendon, is the centerpiece of Billy Davis' new defense. He will be able to rush the passer without weakening the rest of the defense in the new 3-4 scheme. The 49ers are taking advantage of its depth at this position to make the change. Winborn is currently listed as a starter at the other outside linebacker spot, but watch for Carter to carve out a role for himself. Carter is one of the team's few bona fide pass rushers, and he is being converted from defensive end. If he remains healthy, he has to provide some big sack numbers for the defense to be successful. Inside linebackers Smith and Ulbrich are solid. Rasheed has been plagued by injuries early in his career, and this might be his chance to show he belongs.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Ahmed Plummer, RCB Shawntae Spencer, SS Tony Parrish, FS Mike Rumph. Backups - CB Willie Middlebrooks, S Dwaine Carpenter, CB Rayshun Reed, CB Derrick Johnson, CB Daven Holly, S Keith Lewis, S Arnold Parker, CB Joselio Hanson, S Mike Adams, CB Allan Amundson, CB Randee Drew.

Nolan suggested to Rumph that he switch to free safety, but Rumph at first explained to the coach that he thought he could win a starting job at cornerback. Finally, in the final minicamp Rumph agreed to the move. He is expected to start alongside Parrish in the secondary. Rumph's experience as a corner gives the defense a player who can man cover a slot receiver. Plummer and Spencer have the inside tracks to the starting corner jobs, though Plummer missed most of last season with a bulging disc in his neck. The previous regime feared that he was one hit from walking away from his football career. The acquisition of Middlebrooks, who was an underachiever in his four seasons with the Broncos, gives the 49ers some flexibility. He will compete for a starting job, but should be able to at least nail down a role as the nickel back.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Joe Nedney, P Andy Lee, KR/PR Arnaz Battle, LS Brian Jennings, H Andy Lee, KR Maurice Hicks, PR P.J. Fleck, PR Fred Amey, KR Rasheed Marshall, K Kirk Yliniemi, P Cole Farden.

Nedney has kicked in just one game since the 2002 season because of two serious knee injuries. In 2002 with the Titans, he made 25 of 31 field-goal attempts. He also has a strong leg, which makes him an immediate upgrade on kickoffs over Todd Peterson, now with the Falcons. Lee had a promising rookie season, averaging 41.6 yards on 96 punts, with a long of 81 yards. The return game is up in the air because of Battle's likely full-time role as a starting receiver. The 49ers feel secure with long snapper Jennings, who earned a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team as a "need" player. Top Stories