That's where promising second-year player Dashon Goldson enters the equation.
Goldson has been one of the team's defensive standouts so far in training camp with his ball-hawking mentality, and he has been making a strong bid for a starting role at free safety for a team that produced just 12 interceptions last season.
Only two of those picks came from the safety position. Neither belonged to veteran Mark Roman, San Francisco's incumbent free safety who started all 16 games last season.
With Roman missing offseason and training camp workouts due to injuries, Goldson has been getting an opportunity to shine with the first unit. He is taking advantage of the situation.
Goldson had two interceptions during team drills on the first day of camp last week and he has been around the ball consistently in practice ever since. Goldson interceptions -- sometimes multiple interceptions -- have been practically a daily camp ritual.
"I've got a nose for the ball and I've always had range," Goldson said. "And in this defense, I get to go sideline to sideline. I've always had a good eye for the ball and I'm comfortable reading the quarterback. Whenever I see those shoulders open up in that quarterback, I'm gone already."
Goldson played both safety and cornerback in college at the University of Washington, allowing him to better hone his coverage skills. He worked his way into defensive coverage packages last year as a rookie and finished with 15 tackles and two passes defensed.
His role figures to increase this year. The 49ers have been impressed with Goldson's play-making ability.
Coach Mike Nolan wasn't ready to say Goldson's strong play this summer has allowed him to pass Roman, a ninth-year veteran, into the starting lineup.
Roman had a solid season last year in a unit that evolved into a defensive strength by the end of the season. He's a smart player, did not make many mistakes and finished sixth on the team with 82 tackles.
But he broke up only six passes the entire season, the lowest figure for any of San Francisco's starting defensive backs. The 49ers would like their free safety to get his hands on the football much more frequently than that. Roman has recorded just one interception in his 32 games with the 49ers.
"I like Goldson a lot," Nolan said. "But I also know about Mark. Mark is a tough guy that's smart. In a base (defensive package), they're still competing for (the starting role). But Mark has got to get healthy before I say anything more."
READY FOR THE RAIDERS: After conducting one afternoon practice Sunday, the 49ers packed up and traveled to Napa, where they will practice twice on Monday against the Raiders at Oakland's training camp facility.
It's the first time in Nolan's four years with San Francisco that the 49ers have conducted a joint practice with another team. "The objective of both teams is to work against some other people," Nolan said. "We've got to keep it on that level. It's not a scrimmage, and there will be no live-to-the-ground type of drills. But at the same time, they'll be competing. So it's important to them. All the guys will take pride in what they're doing."
Nolan said he plans to work all three of his top quarterbacks in with the first unit Monday during team drills.
That will be San Francisco's plan with Alex Smith, Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan for the remainder of training camp, Nolan said. The 49ers have 15 days of camp practice remaining, and Nolan says he plans to split the work evenly between those three until camp ends.
OSullivan, who joined the 49ers as a free agent during the offseason, did not take a snap in team drills through the first five days of camp.
BAAS ON WAY BACK: Offensive guard David Baas is lifting weights again and has returned to the field for conditioning drills in his comeback from a torn pectoral muscle.
Baas, the teams starting right guard, says he expects to return for San Francisco's Sept. 7 season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, though he might not return to practice until the week leading up to that game.
"It's gotten better and better every single day," Baas said Sunday. "I'm doing great. I'm really happy with the progress we've made so far."
Baas suffered the injury lifting weights in April and had surgery to re-attach the muscle. Veteran Tony Wragge and rookie second-round draft pick Chilo Rachal have been competing at the right guard position in Baas' place throughout the spring and training camp.
------ EXTRA POINTS: WR Ashley Lelie (calf) and DE Kentwan Balmer (ankle) each returned to practice after missing most of the week with injuries. TE Delanie Walker was held out of drills due to a headache. Roman (hamstring) and S Lewis Baker (thigh) remained out of action. While the rest of the team will be in Napa on Monday, Roman, Baker, Baas, RB Michael Robinson (knee), WR Jerard Rabb (groin) and LB Parys Haralson will remain at the team facility in Santa Clara to treat their injuries. ... The 49ers and Raiders will practice from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday morning, then return to the field for a 90-minute evening practice at 7 p.m. after conducting team meetings during the afternoon.