SANTA CLARA – The 49ers have reason to feel a lot better about many of their position groups after the first 10 practices of training camp.
But as the 49ers prepare for their exhibition opener Friday at Kansas City, the organization has every reason to feel concerned about their options at the two guard positions.
There promised to be a lot of competition at the 49ers’ center and guard spots when training camp began. (Joe Staley and Trent Brown are set as the starting tackles.)
But there is only one thing the 49ers seem to know for certain about their group of interior offensive linemen: Daniel Kilgore is far-and-away the team’s best player. His athleticism, strength and grasp of the new blocking scheme have enabled him to solidify a spot on the line.
Guard Joshua Garnett got off to a solid start in camp. But his play declined in the second week of camp – perhaps due to a knee issue that will have him sidelined an estimated four to six weeks. Garnett is not expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, so the 49ers find themselves in a predicament.
Jeremy Zuttah, who made the Pro Bowl last season as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, has disappointed in the early stages of camp. Unless he can get things going in a hurry, he is not likely to find a spot on the 49ers’ regular-season roster.
The 49ers did not pay a big price to get him. They gave up their sixth-round pick at No. 186 in exchange for Zuttah and the Ravens’ sixth-round pick at No. 198. Still, the 49ers were expecting more.
Zuttah has been working mostly with the second team at center. He has not been playing much at guard. Showing the willingness to play both spots is the key for him to win a roster spot. The 49ers thought they were getting that kind of versatility when they brought him aboard. But he is not moving well and has not responded to the challenge to compete wherever the team needs him.
Right guard Brandon Fusco and left guard Zane Beadles, currently working with the first-team unit, are far from nailing down starting jobs. Veteran Tim Barnes, who started 32 games the past two years for the Rams at center, is beginning to see more practice time at guard, in addition to center.
It is possible the 49ers will not settle on their starting offensive line until after final cuts. They might have no other option than to hold out hope that they can find an upgrade from outside the organization just before the start of the regular season.
Here are some notes and observations from Tuesday’s practice:
--Practice was cut short after rookie linebacker Donavin Newsom was injured. An ambulance took him to Stanford Hospital, where it was determined he sustained a concussion. He had no cervical spine fractures, the team reported.
--Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and running back Joe Williams got reprimanded by their position coaches for rookie mistakes. Thomas did not take part in some early drills as he had his ankle wrapped. D-line coach Jeff Zgonina got onto Thomas, explaining it was something that needed to be done before practice started. Williams had his third fumble of camp. Running backs coach Bobby Turner made Williams pick up the ball and run the down the field -- long after the play was over.
--Ray-Ray Armstrong lined up next to NaVorro Bowman at the weakside linebacker position. Armstrong and rookie Reuben Foster are competing to replace Malcolm Smith, who is out of the season with a torn pectoral. Both Armstrong and Foster recorded interceptions. It was Foster’s fourth pick of training camp.
--The lone big play from the offense came during a run-based drill at the beginning of practice, when Brian Hoyer used a play-action fake to deliver a deep pass to tight end Vance McDonald against the coverage of safety Eric Reid.
--Ronald Blair and Tank Carradine, who might be battling for one backup spot on the defensive line, had good days. Blair had two sacks, while Carradine had one. Carradine continues to work with the first-team defense ahead of Thomas and Blair.
--Undrafted rookie safety Lorenzo Jerome had an interception of a Hoyer pass. Jerome lined up with the first team with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt out of action.