Matt Maiocco

How 49ers' starting lineups look after first wave of free-agent signings

How 49ers' starting lineups look after first wave of free-agent signings

Through the first wave of the free-agent signing period, the 49ers have added some starters and others who will unquestionably compete for starting jobs.

Short of a blockbuster trade, it is doubtful the 49ers will add anyone to be inserted into the mix for a starting job between now and April 25 – the first day of the NFL draft.

Here is a look at the most likely 49ers starting lineups for the 2019 season:

Offensive starters

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Jerick McKinnon/Tevin Coleman
FB: Kyle Juszczyk
WR (X): Dante Pettis/Marquise Goodwin
WR (Z): Kendrick Bourne/Jordan Matthews
Slot: Trent Taylor/Richie James
TE: George Kittle
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Laken Tomlinson
C: Weston Richburg
RG: Mike Person
RT: Mike McGlinchey

Garoppolo and McKinnon are on schedule to be cleared for full work at the beginning of training camp – if not long before then. The 49ers are likely to dial back the workloads of both players during organized team activities as a precaution with both men returning from ACL injuries.

The backup QB job -- C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens? -- will be worth watching.

Coach Kyle Shanahan loves the idea of having four explosive running backs on his roster. History has shown that depth will at some point come into play at running back. McKinnon and Coleman are the front-runners to share the load. Raheem Mostert will be active as the No. 3 running back for his superlative special-teams contributions. Matt Breida has a chance to crack the top-two, but he can also be a valuable reserve because of the difficulty of keeping running backs healthy.

The 49ers could use the No. 36 overall draft pick on a wide receiver to compete – along with Goodwin, Bourne and Matthews – for one of the main roles. Shanahan figures to mix and match receivers week to week, as well as through the course of games to take advantage of matchups.

The 49ers re-signed Person, giving him a guaranteed $3 million, which sends the signal they expect him to be a starter. Joshua Garnett, entering the final year of his contract, has an outside chance of playing himself into a prominent role. Shon Coleman, whom the 49ers acquired last year in a trade with Cleveland, is slotted to be the swing tackle to serve as the backup to both Staley and McGlinchey.

Defensive starters (base)

DE: Arik Armstead/Solomon Thomas
NT: D.J. Jones
DT: DeForest Buckner
DE: Dee Ford
SLB: Malcolm Smith/Mark Nzeocha
MLB: Fred Warner
WLB: Kwon Alexander
LCB: Richard Sherman
RCB: Jason Verrett/Ahkello Witherspoon/Tarvarius Moore
FS: Jimmie Ward
SS: Jaquiski Tartt/Marcell Harris

Thomas was the 49ers’ starter at the pass-rush defensive end spot. That job now belongs to Ford, whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with Kansas City. The 49ers still consider Thomas best-suited to play defensive end on base downs. Armstead seemed to find his niche in a similar role. He also has the ability to play some nose tackle.

Strong-side linebacker is unsettled. The 49ers may have the option of investing the No. 2 overall pick in Kentucky outside linebacker/edge rusher Josh Allen, who proved his versatility in college. He is equally adept at dropping into coverage as he is rushing the passer. The inside positions are interchangeable. The 49ers have not determined the specific positions for Warner and Alexander.

Right cornerback is wide open. Verrett has to remain healthy in order to put himself into a position to win the job. The 49ers invested third-round picks the past two years in Witherspoon and Moore, so the door is open for either of them to seize the job.

If Ward can remain healthy, he’s starter at free safety. Adrian Colbert gives the club a good option as a backup. Harris came on strong last year and will be given an opportunity to compete with Tartt.

Defensive starters (nickel)

DE: Ronald Blair
DT: Arik Armstead/Solomon Thomas
DT: DeForest Buckner
DE: Dee Ford
MLB: Fred Warner
WLB: Kwon Alexander
Nickel: K’Waun Williams

The 49ers released edge rusher Cassius Marsh last week. Blair saw more action rushing the passer from the outside than anyone other than Marsh. They tied for second on the team, behind Buckner's 12 sacks, with 5.5 sacks apiece.

The 49ers could select Nick Bosa or Allen with the No. 2 overall pick. If that occurs, whichever player they choose would line up on the edge to rush the passer in nickel situations. Armstead and Thomas will be part of a rotation on the inside, as well affording Buckner the opportunity to catch his breath from time to time.

Williams appears set as the nickel back, but at some point D.J. Reed may be ready to take over.

Special teams

K: Robbie Gould
P: ___________
LS: Colin Holba/Kyle Nelson
KR: Richie James/D.J. Reed
PR: Dante Pettis/Trent Taylor

The 49ers do not have a punter on the roster after Bradley Pinion signed a four-year, $11 million free-agent contract last week with Tampa Bay.

Gould was tagged as the 49ers’ franchise player. He has not signed his tender, and there’s no indication whether he plans to show up for the team’s offseason program. There’s little concern, however, that he will be ready to go once the season begins.

[RELATED: 49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped]

Holba begins the season as the long-snapper. Nelson is slated to regain his spot upon his return after Week 6 from a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped

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MATT MAIOCCO

49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped

The 49ers entered the free-agent signing period looking to add starters at cornerback and safety.

They did just that last week on the first couple of days of the NFL free-agent signing period ... with a couple of big ifs.

If Jason Verrett remains healthy, he is the favorite to become the team’s starting right cornerback.

If Jimmie Ward remains healthy, he is virtually assured of being the team’s starting free safety.

The 49ers signed both players to one-year, prove-it contracts. Verrett is scheduled to make $3.6 million, while Ward is on the books for $4.5 million, according to the official contract terms Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle first reported.

Both players came out in the 2014 draft. Verrett was the No. 25 overall pick of the Chargers, while the 49ers selected Ward at No. 30. Both remained with their original teams through last season on fifth-year options.

The 49ers kept Ward and managed to lure Verrett to Santa Clara, then struck a deal to prompt him to cancel scheduled trips to Houston and Kansas City. Verrett is rehabbing from Achilles surgery, which he tore during a conditioning test last summer on the first day of training camp.

“With all the things I’ve been through, all you can ask for is an opportunity,” said Verrett, who has appeared in just 25 NFL games due to injuries, including surgeries on his shoulder and knee. “The 49ers came on board. I’m happy I took the visit here and look forward to things in the future.

“The opportunity is there for me. It's wide open. It’s just for me to take it, just for me to get back healthy and get back out there on the football field and do what I know I can do.”

The 49ers invested back-to-back third-round draft picks in cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. Witherspoon did not lock down the starting job last season after finishing with a lot of momentum and optimism in 2017.

Moore made the conversion from safety in college to cornerback. One of the fastest players on the team, Moore demonstrated some encouraging signs late last season while starting the final two games. Witherspoon, Moore, and Verrett will compete.

“It’s the NFL. There’s going to be competition anywhere you go,” Verrett said. “If you don’t like to compete, you don’t need to be in this league. I’m a competitor and I’m willing to compete with anybody.”

Adrian Colbert entered last offseason as the starter at free safety. But he struggled with inconsistency and appeared in only seven games, going on injured reserve with a severe high-ankle sprain.

Ward started three games at cornerback and four games at free safety. The coaching staff considers him easily one of the team’s best four defensive backs. One of the team's most versatile player, Ward appears to be ticketed to start at free safety.

[RELATED: Sherman speaks highly of Verrett]

“Jimmie Ward has played at an extremely high level throughout his career when he's been healthy,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We all know he's struggled to stay healthy, which has been unfortunate for him.

“He plays very hard. He's very talented. And that's why it's been very hard for him to go out there and get really what he deserves as a player. But, to have Jimmie back here with the talent he has and if he can stay healthy ... we know we've got as good of a safety as we can get.”

Tevin Coleman brings more speed to 49ers' fleet running backs group

Tevin Coleman brings more speed to 49ers' fleet running backs group

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have compiled the makings of a pretty good team in their backfield.

Sure, it's a deep group of running backs, but they also can form a nice track team.

Tevin Coleman was at the 49ers' facility on Thursday to sign a two-year, $8.5 million contract, which is a little lower than the $10 million value that was reported elsewhere. He is a speedster who played two seasons in Kyle Shanahan’s offense with the Atlanta Falcons.

He joins a group of running backs that already includes Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert.

Has Coleman ever been teammates with such an explosive group of running backs?

“No, I have not. It’s going to be a 4x1 back there,” Coleman said, referring to a 4x100-meter track relay team. “So there’s a lot speed in the backfield. I’m real excited to play with those guys.”

Coleman was timed at 4.39 in the 40-yard dash before he came out in the 2015 draft. One year earlier, Jerick McKinnon clocked a 4.41 at the combine. Two years ago, Matt Breida ran a 4.39 at his pro day.

Mostert, who signed a three-year extension on Friday, won Big Ten titles at Purdue in the 60 meters and 200 meters during the indoor season, and was the conference champion in the 100 and 200 during the outdoor season. He entered the NFL in 2015.

Shanahan said he has never been with an NFL team that suited up four running backs on game days during the regular season due to the league’s 46-player limit. Because of the team’s increased depth, he could be tempted to re-think some things, he said.

“I think we're in a situation right now, just looking at our roster, that I think it could make a lot of sense this year,” Shanahan said.

It remains unlikely the 49ers will suit up four running backs. But, they can be expected to keep each player on the roster this season. The 49ers know how quickly depth can disappear at running back, so it would be foolish for them to not hold onto all four players.

Last year, McKinnon sustained a season-ending knee injury before the start of the regular season. Breida battled ankle issues; Mostert sustained a fractured forearm; and Jeff Wilson sustained a shoulder injury in the season finale.

Veteran Alfred Morris gained a season-high 111 yards in the final game of the year with Wilson sidelined. Morris, 30, an eight-year pro, remains available on the free-agent market.

If the four running backs remain healthy, the 49ers will be forced to deactivate a proven player for games. Coleman said he is looking forward to bonding with his new running partners as they fight among themselves for playing time.

“Those are my brothers now,” Coleman said. “We’ll go out there and have fun together and play ball and compete together.”

[RELATED: Grading 49ers' free-agency signing, trades to fill roster]

Coleman was a dynamic multi-dimensional player during his four years with the Falcons. He rushed for a career-best 800 yards with a 4.8 average last season. In his first season with Shanahan, he caught 31 passes for career highs with 421 yards and a 13.6 average.

That’s the kind of playmaking Shanahan likes to see from his running backs -- making defenses play a big price for breakdowns in coverage.

“It’s real big because it’s hard to do good in this league with a lot of big guys, a lot of great guys,” Coleman said of the importance of speed. “To get me in space, that’s what my strength is.”