San Francisco 49ers News: Assessing the Niners After Minicamp

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their last three-day minicamp over the weekend, the team's final OTAs before training camp starts late in the summer. In general, nothing earth-shattering comes out of minicamp practices, which are entirely non-contact (rightfully so) and are more about dusting off some rust than actual position battles.

On the injury front, there was only one major loss, but it's a doozy in wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who tore his achilles in May and will be lucky to return by mid-season. That cripples an already-shallow wide receiver corps that has a lot of question marks fighting for some pretty prominent positions.

[caption id="attachment_621" align="alignright" width="282" caption="Potential No. 2 receiver Kyle Williams"][/caption]

Crabtree was the clear-cut top receiver, but with his injury Anquan Boldin becomes the de facto No. 1. Mario Manningham would be a good bet to emerge as the No. 2 guy, but he has several ailments that could keep him out for a significant portion of training camp. That moves Kyle Williams into the second starting role. He's more of a slot receiver in style, but he knows the system better than any receiver and is progressing well from a torn ACL towards the end of last season.

Look for A.J. Jenkins - the 49ers first round pick in 2012 - to step into the third receiver role should Manningham stay sidelined, or if Williams hits a snag in his recovery. Otherwise, slide him down to fourth. Luckily for the Niners, they run out three tight ends as often (if not more) than three wide-outs, and rarely do you see four or five-wide sets.

[caption id="attachment_622" align="alignleft" width="157" caption="Last years' backup C.J. Spillman"][/caption]

On the defensive side, no one knows who will emerge to replace Dashon Goldson at the free safety position. There's last year's backup C.J. Spillman, this year's first-round pick Eric Reid, and the newest free agent signing Craig Dahl. All seem like good options, but Goldson was a Pro Bowler the last two years, and isn't that easily replaceable and there will likely be some drop-off in the position.

The front-seven (especially Aldon Smith) will benefit from the renewed health of DT Justin Smith, but the unit is aging. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman remain as good as they come at middle linebacker, but they can't be expected to carry the defense on their own.

The one thing 49ers fans have to feel better about is special teams, which made inexcusable errors in the NFC Championship Game in 2012 (Kyle Williams' dropped punt) and the Super Bowl in 2013 (Kickoff return TD). General Manager Trent Baalke signed a few veteran special teams "aces" before minicamps, which should shore up much of the issues. But Williams returns as the leading kick return candidate, and that has to make Niner fans queasy.

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