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QB competition heads list of 49ers' offensive questions entering camp

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers report for training camp on Saturday, with their first practice scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Over the next couple of days, we'll take a look at some pressing issues the team will hope to sort out throughout camp and the preseason.

We start with a look at the offense.

Who's the quarterback?: Clearly, the battle between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick for the starting quarterback job will be the training camp storyline that gets the most scrutiny and attention. Gabbert showed signs of promise over the final half of last season while Kaepernick struggled before a shoulder injury ended his season early.

With Chip Kelly taking over as head coach, the reset button has been pressed at many positions. Kelly is a big proponent of competition, and the tempo of his practices allow for a lot of players to get a lot of reps, an approach that only amplifies that competitive environment. Because Gabbert took the bulk of the reps with the first team during organized team activities as Kaepernick continued to recover from surgery, he enters camp as the presumptive favorite. But Kaepernick figures to at least get his chance to show what he can do before Kelly makes a decision.

Kaepernick's athletic gifts make him an intriguing fit in Kelly's offense, but Gabbert is also a bit underrated in this regard. Regardless, quarterback athleticism and Kelly's offense don't necessarily have to be tied at the hip. Nick Foles, who is far from a great athlete, was the most successful NFL signal-caller Kelly had in Philadelphia. Accuracy and decision making will be primary factors in determining a winner.

Is Carlos Hyde ready for a starring role?: When Kelly's offense is at its best, it's historically been a result of a running game that's rolling. When the Eagles finished second in the NFL in yards per game in 2013, they led the NFL in rushing by a whopping 16 yards per game over the next-best ground attack. Which means for all the talk about who is playing quarterback, the most important person on this offense could well be running back Carlos Hyde.

Hyde has showed flashes of the bruising, powerful back the Niners selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. But his hard-charging style has also led to injuries which have cost him 11 games over his first two seasons. Some of that can be attributed to bad luck and others might say it's a result of his physical approach. Hyde finished second in the NFL in yards per carry after contact (2.3) last season.

Hyde is unlikely to make any major changes to the style that got him where he is, but no matter how it happens, the Niners need him at full strength in order to rev Kelly's offense.

What's my line?: The offensive line has undergone a major overhaul over the past couple of seasons. After saying goodbye to guard Mike Iupati last offseason, the Niners lost guard Alex Boone to the Minnesota Vikings this year. That only adds more questions to a group that finished 31st in the NFL in pass protection rate in 2015. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Niners controlled the line of scrimmage on dropbacks just 45 percent of the time.

It didn't help matters that before last season the team lost right tackle Anthony Davis to what now looks like a one-year hiatus and center Daniel Kilgore was limited to five games at the end of the season after a leg injury.

The Niners did address the need for help on the line in the offseason, adding guard Zane Beadles in free agency and using a first-round pick on guard Joshua Garnett. There's also the potential for Davis to return to the fold after he filed the necessary reinstatement paperwork earlier this week. If Davis returns to the team and to his previous form, and the new additions prove to be good fits, there's potential for this group to improve in short order.

Can a young pass-catcher take the next step?: Whether it's a wide receiver or a tight end, it would go a long way toward helping whoever is at quarterback if someone would emerge as a reliable target in the passing game. In 2015, 49ers receivers and tight ends combined for 235 catches and 2,967 yards, which ranked 30th in the NFL. As with any corps of young wideouts, drops were also an issue as the tight ends and wideouts finished 29th in the NFL with a drop percentage of 4.9.

With Anquan Boldin gone to Detroit, the Niners will look to Torrey Smith to lead their young group. Now easily the most accomplished receiver on the roster, Smith is the logical choice to become the primary perimeter target. But Smith will undoubtedly need some help. Quinton Patton figures to get the first opportunity opposite Smith, but he will get competition from the likes of Eric Rogers and Dres Anderson. Bruce Ellington could also become a key target out of the slot.

At tight end, Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek had some moments in 2015, but more will be needed moving forward, not only as pass-catchers but also as blockers sealing the edge in Kelly's running game.