San Francisco 49ers: Nick Moody

One of the most closely-watched training camp battle will be one that encompasses both sides of the field for the San Francisco 49ers -- special teams.

Because the 49ers are so deep, it may be difficult to keep some players who specialize on special teams. They kept a core of special teams player last year, though, and saw a dramatic spike in production from the unit. So, the team knows the importance of keeping quality special teamers.

Here is a look at some players how hope to make the team based on special teams:

Blake Costanzo: The 49ers brought back this special teams ace this season. But he may have difficulty making the roster. If young linebackers Nick Moody and Shayne Skov show both potential on defense and proficiency on special teams, Constanzo will have an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster.

Darryl Morris: Morris has been working at slot cornerback and can take himself off this list of valuable special teamers by gaining the trust of the defensive coaches. Even if he does, he will remain a core special teamer, albeit a more valuable one. Count on it happening.

Lawrence Okoye: This is a special case. Okoye is a major project, but he is so intriguing. He is a fast, huge and athletic. Yet, he is a total green banana when it comes to football. He will need time to develop at defensive tackle. Yet, he stood out in workouts on special teams. He may work his way on the team as a special teamer, while getting seasoning on defense.

Kassim Osgood: He is one of the best special teamers in the NFL. He was a big reason why the 49ers were so good on special teams last year. But there is major logjam at receiver if Brandon Lloyd continues a big training camp and the 49ers don't have key injuries. Osgood could be a victim of the numbers game.

C.J. Spillman: He isn't going anywhere. He is a core special teamer, and can help some at safety.

Bubba Ventrone: Ventrone is like Osgood. He helped the 49ers become good on special teams last year, but he is basically just a special teamer. That could make him vulnerable. But I still think he has a great chance of making it, especially if the 49ers can't find a way to keep Osgood. The 49ers could take a hit without Osgood and Ventrone.
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.
The San Francisco 49ers added 12 players in the draft (and veteran receiver Stevie Johnson through a trade) during the weekend. The 49ers entered the draft with a stacked roster. Whittling down to the 53-man roster will not be an easy task this summer.

Let’s take a look at positions where veterans who could be in jeopardy of making the roster due to the additions.

Quarterback

Who could be on the bubble? McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Why: Bethel-Thompson finished last year on the practice squad. The 49ers are signing Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner as an undrafted free agent. The two will likely be battling for a practice squad gig.

Running back

Who could be on the bubble? Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James.

Why: The 49ers drafted Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde in the second round. The 49ers will definitely roll with Frank Gore, Hyde and Marcus Lattimore (if healthy) at tailback. Bruce Miller will be the fullback. That leaves one or two spots. I bet the 49ers find a way to keep the valuable Hunter. But James, who would be open to a trade, could be expendable.

Receiver

Who could be on the bubble? Jon Baldwin, Brandon Lloyd and Kassim Osgood.

Why: Johnson will be the No. 3 receiver and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington will certainly make the team. The team also likes second-year player Quinton Patton. If the 49ers keep six receivers, Osgood has a good chance to make the team because he is simply awesome on special teams. Baldwin has virtually no chance to make the team and Lloyd, who was signed earlier this offseason, would have to have a tremendous camp to make it.

Offensive line

Who could be on the bubble? Joe Looney and Adam Snyder

Why: The 49ers drafted center Marcus Martin (fellow third-round pick Brandon Thomas will likely be on the PUP all season). That could mean Looney, who played well at guard in a limited role last year, could be in trouble, but I think the 49ers will give him every chance to make the team. Synder could be on the odd man out although the team likes this experience. This could be a position where the 49ers go heavy.

Linebacker

Who could be on the bubble? Nick Moody

Why: The 49ers drafted inside linebacker Chris Borland in the third round and they are expected to add former Stanford standout Shayne Skov on undrafted free agency. Borland will surely make the team. If Skov makes the 53-man roster Moody, a sixth-round pick last year, would have difficulty sticking.

Secondary

Who could be on the bubble? Chris Cook, Eric Wright, Craig Dahl, Bubba Ventrone

Why: This position will likely take some time to develop. The 49ers added three cornerbacks in the draft and first-round safety Jimmie Ward will play nickel. Ward and fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson will definitely make the team. So, a veteran or two may be expendable. Again, this will be a heated camp battle.
Last month, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said the team could look at some veteran inside linebackers as star NaVorro Bowman recovers from a torn ACL in his knee. Bowman could be out for half the season.

Connor
The 49ers have yet to add any veteran help, but they have been looking. The team showed interest in free agent Brandon Spikes before he signed with Buffalo. Spikes’ price tag was too big for the 49ers, who are simply looking for some depth and a veteran option in case they must turn to one. The 49ers like Michael Wilhoite, who spelled inside linebacker Patrick Willis successfully for a short period last season, and second-year player Nick Moody. CSN Bay Area reported this week that the 49ers are still exploring the veteran market.

Perhaps one reason why the 49ers haven’t signed anyone is that there are not a lot of great options.

Here are some names that could potentially interest the 49ers: Desmond Bishop, Dan Connor, Jonathan Vilma, Paris Lenon, Larry Grant, Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl and Larry Foote. Bishop and Kehl are coming off torn ACLs themselves, and players like Vilma, Barnett and Foote are at the end of their careers.

The bright side for the 49ers is they don’t need much from any addition. They are just looking for depth options.
With the San Francisco 49ers facing the possibility of playing half the season without star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman as he recovers from a torn ACL, the team could look for a veteran addition to compete for playing time.

General manager Trent Baalke said last week that the team could bring in competition for Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody. I don't see the 49ers using a high draft choice on an inside linebacker because Bowman is expected to recover fully. But adding an inexpensive veteran could be an appealing avenue.

I asked ESPN scout Matt Williamson to indentify some inside linebacker who will be affordable free agents who can play in a 3-4 defense.

Williamson identified Akeem Jordan of Kansas City and Dan Connor of the Carolina as solid run stuffers who could compete with Wilhoite and help on special teams. Neither of these players will be priority additions, but they could possibly attract interest as short-term help.
Echoing what coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Thursday and keeping to the mantra of the organization, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke predictably had this message when speaking to the media Friday: the team’s free-agent plan will be to keep its own.

“Our No. 1 objective is to keep our own guys,” Baalke said.

Whitner
The 49ers' top priorities in the coming weeks (free agency starts March 11) are to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson, and perhaps cornerback Tarell Brown. Whitner might be the most difficult to sign. If I had to guess, I’d say Boldin has the best chance of being signed before free agency.

In other topics Baalke addressed:
  • Baalke praised running back Frank Gore for another productive season in 2013 and told reporters the 49ers don’t necessarily have to approach Gore to take a pay cut. He is to make $6.4 million this season.
  • Baalke said he expects Michael Wilhoite and second-year player Nick Moody to fill in for linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the first half of the season as Bowman recovers from torn ACL. Baalke also indicated the team could bring in some competition. He said Bowman will not be rushed.
  • As he did in October, Baalke said the team has no intentions of trading running back/kick returner LaMicheal James. Baalke said he believes James, a second-round pick in 2012, will get more opportunities to run the ball moving forward.
  • Baalke said pass-rushing star Aldon Smith is going well and said the team has “a great support system for him." Smith missed five games in 2013 when he voluntarily entered a substance abuse center. He finished the season strong.
  • Baalke spoke glowingly of 2013 fourth-round pick Quinton Patton. The receiver finished the season strong after missing 10 games with a broken foot. Patton impressed the team with his zeal for the game.

49ers rankings: 46-50

February, 5, 2014
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We are taking a look at the top 60 players in the San Francisco 49ers' program and will rank them from 1-60. We are going to take a look in a 12-part series, moving upward. The ranking considerations are based on 2013 production, future projections, age, and contract status:

46. Linebacker Nick Moody: The rookie was hurt and inactive most of the season but the 49ers have high hopes for him. He will get a chance to play on special teams in 2014.

47. Safety Craig Dahl: He’s one of those players good teams have on their roster. Reliable insurance on defense and a solid special teamer. I could see the team keeping him in 2014.

48. Defensive line Demarcus Dobbs: He is a restricted free agent, who likely will not be tendered. The 49erds are young and deep at the defensive line, so it’s no sure thing Dobbs will be brought back.

49. Guard Joe Looney: He was forced to play against St. Louis on Dec. 1 because of injuries. His coaches and teammates raved about him. He has a chance to be really good as he further develops.

50. Fullback Will Tukuafu: The 294-pound converted defensive lineman impressed the team when he played fullback late in the season because of Bruce Miller's injury. I could see Tukuafu getting a chance to stick around. He gives the offense options.
With the San Francisco 49ers' season over, let’s take a look at the impact made by the rookie class:

First round: The 49ers traded up to take safety Eric Reid at No. 18 and they have not been disappointed. He made the Pro Bowl after a strong season in which he showed the game is not too big for him. Reid was very polished and he seems like he will be a big part of the team's future for many years.

Second round: The 49ers feel very good about tight end Vance McDonald's future. He improved as the season went on, especially as a blocker, but he must improve as a receiver, too.

Third round: Auburn linebacker Corey Lemonier played more earlier in the season when Aldon Smith was away from the team, but he did play on special teams for much of the season. He has potential and provides the 49ers with good depth.

Fourth round: Receiver Quinton Patton returned from a Week 4 broken foot in December and showed a real burst. He has explosion and plays with a lot of confidence. He looks like he may be a find.

Fifth round: Defensive tackles Quinton Dial didn’t play much, but the team likes him and he has a chance to be a rotational player soon.

Sixth round: The 49ers like linebacker Nick Moody's his special-teams potential.

Undrafted free agents

Long snapper: Kevin McDermott's battle with longtime snapper Brian Jennings was a story during the preseason. McDermott won the job partly on price tag, and the move paid off. McDermott did a great job all season and had chemistry with kicker Phil Dawson and punter Andy Lee. He looks like he will be a 49er for many years.

Cornerback: Darryl Morris has developed into a key piece for a vastly improved coverage unit. The team likes his potential on defense, as well.

Note: This class can get a lot better. Second-round pick Tank Carradine, a defensive lineman , and fourth-round pick, running back Marcus Lattimore, missed last year with torn ACLs. Both were considered first-round picks had they been healthy. Both are expected to be healthy in 2014, and have a lot of potential.

Conclusion: This looks to be a strong class after a mostly wasted 2012 draft. This class is deep with long-term potential, especially if McDonald takes the next step and Carradine and Lattimore can stay healthy.

No surprises on 49ers' inactive list

December, 29, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There isn’t much intrigue on the San Francisco 49ers’ list of inactives Sunday at Arizona.

And that’s a good thing for the team. This team is very healthy. All six of the team’s inactive players are young, depth players. The 49ers have only 52 players on the roster after putting receiver Mario Manningham on the injured reserve Friday. The 49ers are expected to fill the roster in the next couple of days.

Here are Sunday’s inactive players: tight end Derek Carrier, linebacker Nick Moody, guard Ryan Seymour, defensive tackle Quinton Dial, guard Joe Looney and receiver Jon Baldwin.

49ers could add a tight end

November, 11, 2013
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t offer much in the form of updates Monday on the concussions suffered by star tight end Vernon Davis and standout rookie safety Eric Reid in a 10-9 home loss to Carolina on Sunday.

Harbaugh did say the thought of adding a tight end to the roster for Sunday’s game at New Orleans is an “option.” In addition to Davis, backup tight end Garrett Celek left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. It is likely he will be out longer than Davis, even if Davis can’t play at New Orleans.

The first option the 49ers look at could be Derek Carrier, who is on the team’s practice squad. The highly athletic Carrier is on his third NFL practice squad since entering the league in 2012. He has no NFL game experience.

Both Davis and Reid will go through the NFL’s concussion protocol before being able to play. Reid’s situation is complicated because this is his second concussion of the season. He suffered one in Week 2 against Seattle, so his return could be delayed some. Craig Dahl finished the game for Reid.

Meanwhile, asked Monday if receiver Michael Crabtree could be activated this week, Harbaugh said, “We’ll see.” Crabtree began to practice last week. He must be activated by Nov. 26. Playing Sunday at New Orleans would be considered a long shot.

However, Harbaugh said he anticipates rookie linebacker Nick Moody will be activated this week. So, if the 49ers activate Moody and add a tight end, two players will have to be removed from the roster. It will be interesting to see what the 49ers do with special- teamer Kassim Osgood, who is on his second stint with the 49ers this season. He was inactive Sunday, and the special-teams coverage units appeared to miss him.

More roster moves loom

November, 4, 2013
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' whirlwind of roster moves are still not over.

Last week, the 49ers activated rookie defensive lineman Tank Carradine and pass-rusher Aldon Smith. Monday, they added receiver Mario Manningham and cornerback Eric Wright.

Rookie linebacker Nick Moody will likely be activated the week and receiver Michael Crabtree will likely be activated in the coming weeks.

Here is a look at the expending moves we took last week. It is all unfolding as expected.

In other 49ers’ notes:

Here is what ESPN’s Matt Williamson expects from Manningham.

Linebacker Nate Stupar was claimed by Jacksonville after he was cut Saturday. The 49ers wanted to put him on the practice squad. He was contributing on special teams.

Receiver Marlon Moore signed with Miami. The 49ers cut him last week. He had one catch this season for the receiver-hungry 49ers. He spent the past three seasons with the Dolphins before signing with the 49ers in the offseason.

The Sacramento Bee looks at how defensive lineman Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are getting more rest this season. That could continue down the stretch with Carradine now on the active roster.

Midway point rookie review

November, 1, 2013
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With the San Francisco 49ers' regular season half over, let’s take a look at the impact made by the rookie class:

First round: Safety Eric Reid. The 49ers traded up to take Reid at No. 18 and they have not been disappointed. Reid has stepped right in and looks like he’s been playing for five years. He rarely makes mistakes and he has shown he is a playmaker. The team does not miss Dashon Goldson, who went to Tampa Bay in free agency. Reid is a big reason why this defense is still top notch. Kudos to him for being up to task and to the 49ers for making this choice.

Second round: Tight end Vance McDonald. McDonald has just six catches, but he is playing extensively and blocking very well. I expect him to get better pretty rapidly. He's a potential impact player.

Third round: Linebacker Corey Lemonier. The Auburn product had been a gift to the 49ers. He has played a lot in the past five games with linebacker Aldon Smith in alcohol treatment. Lemonier has shown a burst as a pass-rusher and in the run game. He looks to have a bright future.

Fourth round: Receiver Quinton Patton. Patton showed promise before suffering a foot injury in Week 4. He will be part of the picture later this season and in the future.

Fifth round: Defensive tackle Quinton Dial. Dial has been active the past two games after coming back from an injury. He seems to be part of the rotational plan at nose tackle.

Sixth round: Linebacker Nick Moody. He is expected to be a key member of the special-teams units when he returns from a broken hand.

Undrafted free agents:

Long-snapper: Kevin McDermott. His battle with longtime snapper Brian Jennings was a story during the preseason. McDermott won the job partly on price tag. The move paid off. His snapping has been flawless.

Cornerback: Darryl Morris. He has developed into a key piece for a vastly improved coverage unit. He has quickly secured his place on the 53-man roster moving forward.

Note: This week, the 49ers activated defensive lineman Tank Carradine off the PUP list. He is a dynamic player who is coming off a torn ACL. He could make his presence felt down the stretch. Fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore is making strides from a major knee injury he suffered in college. He may practice this season with an eye on 2014.

Conclusion: This looks to be a strong class after a mostly wasted 2012 draft. This class is deep with long-term potential. This is one of the deepest rosters in football, yet there are several rookies who are figuring in prominently on a 6-2 team.
LONDON – The San Francisco 49ers roster is about to change.

The 6-2 49ers -- who have won five straight games going into their bye week -- are poised to get much better. They have six players who are likely to come off various different injury/illness lists including linebacker Aldon Smith, receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, cornerback Eric Wright, rookie defensive lineman Tank Carradine and rookie linebacker Nick Moody.

The 49ers will have to subtract from the 53-man roster with each activation. It will be interesting because this is a deep roster and some good, young players will be out. But that’s the trouble with having a good team. There’s no doubt the 49ers will get markedly better with the return of most of these players.

Here are some candidates to be removed from the roster: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, receivers Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton (only if he is put on the injured reserve because his foot is not responding), linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, No. 3 quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson and defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs.

The most likely to go are Asomugha, Moore and Cunningham. They have not had a role in the past several weeks.

Complicating matters (again, which is a positive in the big picture) is the special teams coverage units are much improved. So players like Kassim Osgood, Bubba Ventrone, Darryl Morris, Nate Stupar and Anthony Dixon will be difficult to cut even though their role is nearly all special teams. The 49ers know improved special teams make them much more dangerous and that’s difficult to tinker with.

The roster roulette will likely start to occur next week. Manningham, Wright and Carradine all must be activated by early next week.

Long list of reinforcements awaits

October, 23, 2013
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LONDON -- The San Francisco 49ers are teeming with talent waiting to come back to the 53-man roster.

Add rookie linebacker Nick Moody to the list. Moody broke his hand in Week 1 against Green Bay. He is eligible to come back from the injured reserve with the designation to return list after next week’s bye. Moody practiced Wednesday for the first time.

Meanwhile, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said it is possible one of the three 49ers who are eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list Nov. 5 -- receiver Mario Manningham, cornerback Eric Wright and rookie defensive end Tank Carradine -- could be activated in time to play Sunday against Jacksonville on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. All three players started to practice last week. The team has to activate all three or put them on injured reserve after three weeks of practice.

The team anticipates all three will be activated. Last week, Harbaugh said Manningham was close to being ready. He looked good Wednesday. Of the three, Manningham is the most needed, so it would make sense that he is the best candidate for an early activation.

All of these players’ activation -- including Michael Crabtree when he’s ready to return from a torn Achilles in a month or so -- will require a player being released from the 53-man roster.

This is already a deep roster and it’s about to get stronger.

49ers' kick coverage gets better

September, 12, 2013
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One of the few cleanup projects the San Francisco 49ers had on their list after the 2012 season got off to a good start in Week 1 of 2013.

The 49ers covered kickoffs much better against the Green Bay Packers than they did last year, when they ranked 31st in the NFL. San Francisco allowed an ugly 26.9 yards per kickoff, and of course gave up a kickoff return for a score in the Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.

Sunday, the 49ers allowed Green Bay just 13.3 yards per return in a 34-28 victory -- excellent improvement.

The 49ers will have to adjust some this week when they visit Seattle. Rookie linebacker Nick Moody, one of San Francisco's special-teamers, is out for seven weeks with a broken hand. The 49ers did bring back Kassim Osgood, a special-teams ace they cut earlier this month. They should be in good shape with Osgood in kick coverage.

If the 49ers can continue to improve in this area, it could go a long way toward their overall success.

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