San Francisco 49ers: Navorro Bowman

Week 13 and 15 games against Seattle jump off the schedule. These are the two best teams in the NFL, and the late-season battles loom huge. But the truth is the San Francisco 49ers cannot afford any stumbles. They started 1-2 last season and could never catch up as the Seahawks finished 13-3 and the 49ers 12-4. It cost the 49ers home field in the playoffs. They have road games at Dallas and Arizona and home games against Chicago and Philadelphia in the first quarter of the season. If they are anything less than 3-1, they could be in a hole. On the flip side, if the 49ers -- who will not be at full strength on defense to start -- can navigate a perfect first quarter, it could set up a special season.

Complete 49ers season preview.
Most significant move: It was already known that All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman would miss half of the season after his gruesome left knee injury in the NFC title game last January, but it was made official with Bowman being placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list on Monday. As such, he has to sit out at least the first six weeks of the season. At the end of that sixth week, Bowman then has three weeks to begin practicing and once he does get on the practice field, he has three weeks to join the active 53-man roster. In short, Bowman could be in a game as soon as Week 7 at the Denver Broncos and as late as Week 15, at the Seattle Seahawks, to be eligible to play in the postseason.

Wild card: Marcus Lattimore entered training camp fully expecting to be practicing after missing all of last season recovering from the injury to his right knee suffered in 2012. Alas, he never made it. Now, being placed on the reserve/non-football injury list, Lattimore must sit out at least the first six weeks of the season. Still, coach Jim Harbaugh insisted earlier this summer that Lattimore would be a part of this team this season. And with Jewel Hampton waived, you wonder if the 49ers are holding an active spot for him down the road.

49ers’ cuts: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, S D.J. Campbell, TE Kevin Greene, RB Jewel Hampton, P Colton Schmidt, LB Kion Wilson, WR Devon Wylie all waived while WR David Reed was released. RB Marcus Lattimore, FB Trey Millard, CB Keith Reaser and G Brandon Thomas placed on reserve/non-football injury list and LB NaVorro Bowman, TE Garrett Celek and DT Kaleb Ramsey were put on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. Also, LB Blake Costanzo was released from injured reserve.
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
Now that the offseason portion of the year is over, let's take a look where each of the San Francisco 49ers' 12 draft picks stand heading into training camp, which starts July 24.

First round

Jimmie Ward: The nickel cornerback has been recovering from a foot injury. But he is expected to be fine once camp starts. He has been doing classroom work and the team is excited about him helping right away.

Second round

Carlos Hyde: The running back has shined out of the backfield as a runner and as receiver. The Ohio State product is likely to get a chance at playing time right away. He was considered a steal at No. 57 on draft night and is still looking like one.

Third round

Marcus Martin: The center from USC has been getting praise. Daniel Kilgore still has the edge to win the starting job, but I wouldn't be shocked if Martin takes it.

Chris Borland: The inside linebacker from Wisconsin was a tackling machine in college. The early 49ers' reviews are strong. He could get some playing time early with NaVorro Bowman recovering from a torn ACL.

Brandon Thomas: The guard from Clemson is expected to be out for the year as he recovers from an offseason knee injury.

Fourth round

Bruce Ellington: The speedy receiver from South Carolina was a star of the offseason. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick called his minicamp play “amazing.” The 49ers will likely find a role for him as a receiver and as a punt returner early.

Dontae Johnson: The cornerback from NC State will likely make the roster as depth. He is still a project.

Fifth round

Aaron Lynch: He earned the praise last week of coach Jim Harbaugh. He's a project, but the 49ers like him. He should make a stacked linebacking unit.

Keith Reaser: The cornerback is likely out for the year as he recovers from a 2013 torn ACL.

Sixth round

Ken Acker: The cornerback will have to have a strong camp to make the team.

Seventh round

Kaleb Ramsey: The defensive lineman from Boston College had a terrific minicamp. The defensive line is stacked, but if he plays well, he could sneak on the 53-man roster.

Trey Millard: The fullback is likely out for the year as he recovers from a torn ACL.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It's only the second day of tight end Vernon Davis' and tackle Alex Boone's holdout, yet San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh appeared to be tiring of talking about the subject.

"To answer the three, four, five follow-up questions, it gets to be badgering," Harbaugh said. "It gets old. I covered it thoroughly yesterday. I don't feel like there is anything more to say about it at this time."

Here are some other observations from Day 2 of minicamp:
  • Rookies, running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Bruce Ellington, continued to shine in practice Wednesday. The two youngsters look good. If they have a good training camp, both should be in line for solid roles in the season.
  • Harbaugh said veteran defensive end Justin Smith is dealing with an unspecified injury. He should be ready for the start of training camp.
  • The coach also noted the 49ers are working on dealing with eight-man defensive fronts. The 49ers often faced stacked fronts last year because they ran so much. "Yeah, that's a reality and we have to have ways to make defenses pay for that," Harbaugh said. "Excited where our offense is evolving to and continuing to improve so that we can do that, have shown the ability to do that and continue to strive to get better at that."
  • Undrafted rookie safety James McCray from Catawba has been impressive. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio noted he has a long way to go, but he likes McCray's potential. I'd say he is a candidate for the practice squad as of now.
  • As he did earlier in the offseason, star inside linebacker Patrick Willis is playing the Mike position. It was manned by NaVorro Bowman -- but Bowman will be out for about half the season as he recovers from a torn ACL. Willis has played the Mike before but he has been manning the Jack inside linebackers spot.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- This one was easy.

Prior to the start of this week’s mandatory minicamp for the San Francisco 49ers, we asked readers to vote on what they thought would be the story of the camp.

The potential -- and now official -- holdouts of tight end Vernon Davis and guard Alex Boone won with 56 percent of the vote. The competition at cornerback got 30 percent, the health of running back Marcus Lattimore received 13 percent and the competition at NaVorro Bowman's inside linebacker spot garnered just one percent of the vote.

The voters nailed it. The absences of Davis and Boone is the talk of camp and the most dominant story.

On Tuesday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had some strong words when he said the holdouts were "not the 49ers' way." Harbaugh has never called players out like that before.

This story has legs.
The San Francisco 49ers will have their mandatory minicamp from Tuesday-Thursday. Here’s some things to watch for:

Davis
Boone
Will Davis and Boone show? Both tight end Vernon Davis and guard Alex Boone have stayed away from the voluntary portion of the offseason. That’s over. Starting Tuesday, everything the 49ers do as a team is mandatory and each player can be fined if they aren’t present. Davis said he expects to be at the minicamp. Boone has not said a word publicly about his plans. However, I’ve gotten the sense Boone is prepared not to show up until he gets a new deal. If neither player is at practice Tuesday, they will be holdouts and the stakes will change with their absences.

The cornerbacks: This is the biggest position of change. Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are gone. Chris Culliver will start, but he is still working back from a torn ACL that kept him out all of last season. He should be fine for camp, but don’t expect him to go full-go in this camp. First-round pick Jimmie Ward is set to be the nickelback, but he is coming off a foot injury. He should be ready for training camp. A player of note in the minicamp is free-agent pickup Chris Cook. He will be in the rotation. Cook, who signed from Minnesota, has ideal size. He has looked good in the OTA sessions.

Offensive line: This unit, the pride and joy of the 49ers, should be fine in the long run, but it’s a little rough right now. Boone has been absent. Right tackle Anthony Davis is recovering from a shoulder injury and won’t be there until camp. Daniel Kilgore is taking over from Jonathan Goodwin and trying to hold off rookie Marcus Martin at center. Again, things will settle down, but don’t expect a well-oiled unit this week.

Passing game: Most of the receivers have been out during the voluntary sessions, mostly as precautions or for minor injuries. The passing game was rough in the OTA session that was open to the media last Tuesday. I’d expect to see more receivers during this camp, which is vital to help rhythm with quarterback Colin Kaepernick heading into training camp.

Inside linebackers: NaVorro Bowman is expected to be out until midseason as he recovers from a torn ACL. Michael Wilhoite has the inside shot to start for Bowman, but he will have to hold off Nick Moody and third-round pick Chris Borland.

Pass-rushers: Aldon Smith may face an NFL suspension. The 49ers need some extra pass-rush help. Keys to watch in camp is defensive lineman Tank Carradine, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and second-year player Corey Lemonier, who looks like he’s added several pounds of muscle. The 49ers would love to see these two young players show a burst in this camp.

Marcus Lattimore: The 49ers are slowly bringing along the 2013 fourth-round draft pick. He has done some things in the OTA session, including showing nice hands out of the backfield. I wouldn’t expect Lattimore to go full-go in this camp, but the 49ers want to see continued comfort, speed and confidence from Lattimore, whom they hope can help this season.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Patrick Willis may have a slightly different look in the first half of the upcoming season.

Willis
During Tuesday's organized team activity, Willis was playing the "Mike" inside linebacker spot usually occupied by NaVorro Bowman in the 49ers' 3-4 defense. Bowman is likely out until midway through the season as he recovers from a torn ACL. Michael Wilhoite, the leading candidate to take Bowman's spot in the staring lineup, took most of the first-team repetitions Tuesday in the "Jack" inside linebacker spot Willis played last year.

Willis said the change may stick for the season. It is just a subtle change and he is comfortable there because he has played in the spot before. Willis said it is still strange being on the field without his fellow inside-linebacker star Bowman.

In other 49ers' notes:
  • Star tight end Vernon Davis and standout guard Alex Boone continued to stay away from the voluntary session as they have all offseason. They are both unhappy with their contract. Neither player will be considered a holdout until they miss the June 17-19 mandatory minicamp. Second-year tight end Vance McDonald is starting at tight end with Davis gone. McDonald appreciates the extra reps, but admitted this about Davis: "I miss the dude." Joe Looney is working in Boone's right guard spot.
  • The 49ers cut guard Al Netter to make room for special teamer Blake Costanzo on the 90-man roster.
  • Veteran defensive end Justin Smith and running back Frank Gore were onlookers during the meat of the workout. Like Gore, cornerback Chris Culliver participated in early warm-ups and the did not participate in team drills.
  • The 49ers named Dr. Fergus Connolly director of elite performance. Connolly will work intimately with football operations to develop innovative sports and performance science practices geared towards player welfare and performance optimization. He spent the last three years as a performance consultant to teams in the NFL, NBA, English Premier League and professional rugby.
  • Because several receivers were out for various reasons, reserve quarterback Josh Johnson played receiver in some drills. And he didn't look too bad. But don't expect him to change positions. It's just an emergency deal.
  • Among the banged up receivers are Steve Johnson (hamstring) and Quinton Patton (foot). Both injures are considered minor at this point. Like he did last week, Brandon Lloyd had a strong day. Chuck Jacobs, who spent last season in the practice squad, was very active Tuesday.
  • The quarterback whisperer, 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh, spent some one-on-one time with undrafted rookie quarterback Kory Faulkner early in Tuesday's practice.
We are looking at the best-case scenario for some mid-round draft picks of the San Francisco 49ers.

Player: Chris Borland

Position: ILB

Round: 3

Earliest he could have big role: Week 1

Why is there an opportunity? Star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is recovering from a torn ACL. He is expected to miss about half the season.

Who is in his way: Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody

Current thoughts: If Borland starts in Week 1, it would be a bit of a surprise. Wilhoite is a good player. He has played well as an injury replacement for the 49ers and they trust him. But Borland is a player who just belongs on the field, if he shows the game is not too fast for him and has a good preseason, I could see him being on the field with Patrick Willis a lot early. But he has to prove it. He will likely be eased into action.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The pick: Chris Borland, inside linebacker, Wisconsin.

My take: The San Francisco 49ers are having quite the day. Borland, like Carlos Hyde and Marcus Martin, can help right away. He was a star at Wisconsin. He is a durable tackle machine and was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He may be able to help with star NaVorro Bowman out for the first half of the season with a torn ACL. Borland should be a fine backup to Bowman and Patrick Willis in the next few seasons and then perhaps play more. Willis turns 30 next year.

Not a typical Baalke pick: 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is famous for gravitating to players with long arms. The knock on Borland is his short arms.

What's next: Two more picks tonight -- No. 94 and No. 100. Cornerbacks and receivers anyone? Hello?

Ranking draft needs

May, 2, 2014
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With the NFL draft looming in less than a week, let's break down the San Francisco 49ers' draft needs in order of importance.

Cornerback

Why: It's the only position on the field where the 49ers currently have a hole. Tarell Brown departed in free agency and Carlos Rogers was cut. They both ended up in Oakland. The 49ers could easily take multiple players at this spot. If the right players are added, the 49ers could bring in a starter and a nickel cornerback. At the very least, one player who will see significant immediate playing time should be added.

When area will likely be addressed: The 49ers easily could use a first-round pick here.

Receiver

Why: The 49ers need more speed at the position. They also have to develop a young player. One starter, Anquan Boldin, is 33, and the other, Michael Crabtree, is entering the final year of his contract.

When area will likely be addressed: The 49ers will likely add a receiver in the first or second round.

Pass-rusher

Why: Aldon Smith's off-field issues have made this a potential need position in recent weeks.

When area will likely be addressed: The impact pass-rushers will likely be gone before the 49ers want to address this area, but if they identify a player who they think fits their system, I could see the 49ers using a third-round pick at this spot.

Interior offensive line:

Why: Daniel Kilgore is going to get the chance to be the starting center, but he is unproven. The 49ers might want some immediate competition. Also, Mike Iupati is entering the final year of his contract. More youth could be needed at guard.

When area will likely be addressed: ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have linked USC's Marcus Martin center to the 49ers in the second round in mock draft. I'm not sure the 49ers will address this area so early, but I can see the 49ers using picks on a center and a guard, perhaps both on Day 3.

Inside linebacker

Why: NaVorro Bowman is expected to be out for about half the season while recovering from a torn ACL and Patrick Willis is 29. It wouldn't hurt to bring in a youngster.

When area will likely be addressed: I could see the 49ers looking here in the fourth or fifth round.

Quarterback

Why: The 49ers are interested in a long-term backup for Colin Kaepernick.

When area will likely be addressed: I think the 49ers could use the final pick in the third round on a quarterback or perhaps use their fourth-round pick at the position.

Safety

Why: The 49ers need some youth and depth here.

When area will likely be addressed: I think if the right player is available and the 49ers feel comfortable about other positions they addressed, a safety could be nabbed in the third round.

Defensive line

Why: It's not a huge need area, but teams can never have enough defensive lineman.

When area will likely be addressed: There are some scenarios where the 49ers could use a premium pick here if the draft falls that way. But there are other scenarios where a mid-round pick is the highest priority they give the spot.

Will other positions be addressed? The 49ers don't have huge needs elsewhere, but they have studied and visited players at virtually every position, so it wouldn't be a shock if the 49ers added a running back or perhaps a tight end in the late rounds.
One of the reasons why the San Francisco 49ers have become consistent contenders over the course of the past three seasons is the way the team has been built.

General manager Trent Baalke is a staunch believer in building through the draft and it shows. ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote Monday about how NFL teams are built. The 49ers are in a four-way tie for the second most homegrown players. The 49ers have 30 players on their roster who they drafted. The Green Bay Packers lead the NFL with 33 players.

On offense, only receiver Anquan Boldin and guard Alex Boone are projected starters for the upcoming season who the 49ers did not draft. Boone was signed as an undrafted free agent and has spent his entire NFL career with the 49ers. On defense, including injured linebacker NaVarro Bowman and troubled linebacker Aldon Smith, six projected starters were drafted plus cornerback Tramaine Brock, who was signed as an undrafted free agent.

Don't expect the 49ers' reliance on home-grown talent to change. The team's free-agency M.O. is always to keep their own players. That likely won't change soon with the Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Smith and Mike Iupati all currently scheduled to be free agents next year.

"We are always going to try to keep our own guys rather than go out in free agency and pay guys that haven't invested themselves in this place like these guys have," Baalke said Friday.

The result is a roster full of players who they have handpicked and developed in what has become a winning system.
Some thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers schedule release:
  • The 49ers expect inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to return from the torn ACL he suffered in the NFC title game at Seattle about midseason. That means he should be a factor in both games against Seattle. The 49ers play Seattle in Weeks 13 and 15.
  • The league was considering having the Seahawks open the NFL slate Sept. 4 against the 49ers or the Packers. In the end, it went with Green Bay. But this Thanksgiving night tilt gives the NFL’s best rivalry its due spotlight.
  • The first game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara will be a Week 2 prime-time game against Chicago. Not a marquee matchup, but the first game in the post-Candlestick era is big enough. The 49ers will be the 14th team since 2000 to open a stadium. They will be the fifth not to get a home date in Week 1.
  • The 49ers have a rare Saturday game. It will be Week 16 at home against San Diego. It could be the team’s fifth prime time game, although no time has been set. It will either be 1:30 p.m. or 5:15 p.m. PT.
  • The 49ers will essentially have two late byes. Their bye is in Week 8 and then they will have the weekend off after the Week 12 Thanksgiving night game against the Seahawks.
  • Former 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith and the Chiefs will visit in Week 5.

49ers notes

April, 21, 2014
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Receiver Josh Morgan, who previously played for the 49ers, signed with Chicago. He was reportedly connected to the 49ers earlier in free agency, but talks never developed. The 49ers ended up signing veteran Brandon Lloyd, who also previously played for the 49ers. They will likely take a receiver early in the draft.

In a procedural move, inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite signed his exclusive right tender. He could be starter in the first half of the season with NaVorro Bowman recovering from a torn ACL.

In an Insider piece, KC Joyner looks at the top receiver prospects in the draft Insider. The 49ers are closely examining the position.

In an Insider piece, Mel Kiper breaks downs the 49ers’ top draft needs Insider.

Salary-cap look: Defense

April, 15, 2014
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Let’s take a look at how the San Francisco 49ers' 2014 salary-cap status currently breaks down, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.

The 49ers have about $4 million under the cap and will get another $6 million-plus June 1 because of the Carlos Rogers cut. Most of that money will go to signing the rookie class.

At this time of year, only the top 51 contracts count toward the salary-cap. Here's a position-by-position look at the 49ers' salary-cap situation under the top 51 rule. We looked at the offense on Monday. Now, let’s look at the defense:

Defensive line

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 15.23

Total cap charge: $19,519,371

NFL average: $21,632,204

Biggest cap hit: Justin Smith, $6,936,667

Biggest bargain: Tony Jerod-Eddie, $495,000

Outlook: The 49ers are getting pretty good value out of this position. Smith is nearing the end of his career, but he is still productive. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald’s cap number is more than $5 million, but he’s also productive. The rest of the unit are pretty reasonably priced.

Linebackers

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 22.69

Total cap charge: $29,083,725

NFL average: $15,201,455

Biggest cap hit: NaVorro Bowman, $7,050,000

Biggest bargain: Michael Wilhoite, $570,000

Outlook: The 49ers are paying their linebackers almost double the league average. But it is perhaps the best unit in the NFL. Thus, they are getting what they pay for. Even though he is taking up the most cap room, Bowman will miss about half the season because of a torn ACL. Wilhoite has the best chance to replace him. This position could be even more expensive next year. Aldon Smith has a cap number of more than $4 million this year. The 49ers may give him a 2015 option with a price tag of more than $9 million. But again, the value is there from this group. With quarterback Colin Kaepernick getting more money soon, the 49ers will have to take cap room from other positions, with running back an area that could be reduced in 2015.

Cornerback

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 3.62

Total cap charge: $4,645,719

NFL average: $12,316,626

Biggest cap hit: Tramaine Brock, $2,000,000

Biggest bargain: Darryl Morris, $495,000

Outlook: Along with quarterback (and that will change soon), this is the 49ers’ biggest bargain area. They pay their cornerbacks more than 60 percent less than the NFL average. Yes, the group is young and that is a reason for the low average. The 49ers may use a first-round pick at the position and that will change things. But this position will remain a relative bargain for the next few years, which will help expected raises at other positions.

Safety

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 7.63

Total cap charge: $9,784,111

NFL average: $8,237,006

Biggest cap hit: Antoine Bethea, $3,000,000

Biggest bargain: Eric Reid, $1,927,444

Outlook: The 49ers are just above the league average at safety, but they get production. Reid, a first-round pick last year, gives great value and they also get strong special teams production from C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone and Craig Dahl.

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