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Post-camp roster analysis: 49ers

9/1/2010

The San Francisco 49ers, though benefiting from more continuity than any team in the NFC West, face a few tough decisions on the fringes of their roster as teams approach the 53-man cutdown Saturday.

A look at some of the possibilities and issues (current roster counts listed in parentheses):

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.1

Keepers: Alex Smith, David Carr

On the bubble: Nate Davis

Also: Jarrett Brown

Comment: The pecking order is set. The key question is whether the 49ers will stick with Davis after coach Mike Singletary publicly criticized the quarterback's offseason work habits. Singletary's comments were strong. Davis should be nervous. There's no excuse for a third-string player with a learning disability to fall short on effort/preparation. Seems to me the 49ers could use his roster spot for a player better prepared to help the team. They could probably always sign Davis to their practice squad. I wouldn't expect another team to add him to its 53-man roster.

Running backs (7)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.0

Keepers: Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook, Michael Robinson, Moran Norris

Looking safe: Anthony Dixon

On the bubble: Brit Miller

Also: Jehuu Caulcrick

Comment: Glen Coffee's retirement opened the door wider for Dixon, who appears likely to stick as the fifth running back. Miller has value on special teams. Does that value justify keeping him around as a sixth running back? That could depend on how the 49ers view other positions.

Wide receivers (8)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.9

Keepers: Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr.

Looking safe: Dominique Zeigler

On the bubble: Kyle Williams, Jason Hill

Also: Bobby Guillory, Kevin Jurovich

Comment: Zeigler finally appears closer to earning a spot on the 45-man roster for game days, but playing time could remain elusive. Williams was the favorite as a punt returner even after suffering a toe injury. How much has his status changed after rookie corner Phillip Adams returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown? I doubt another team would sign Williams to its 53-man roster, so the 49ers have some flexibility.

Tight ends (5)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker

Looking safe: Nate Byham

Also: J.J. Finley, Tony Curtis

Comment: The Billy Bajema Scholarship went unfilled last season, but Byham appears ready to stick around as a third tight end.

Offensive linemen (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, David Baas, Eric Heitmann, Chilo Rachal, Anthony Davis, Adam Snyder, Barry Sims

Looking safe: Tony Wragge

On the bubble: Alex Boone

Also: Cody Wallace, Brian De La Puente, Matt Kopa

Comment: I pushed Sims into the "keeper" category because it's clear he would be the first tackle off the bench. The way Sims performed in relief last season showed he can still help the 49ers. Snyder's versatility helps his cause. Baas beat out Wragge right away in the race to replace the injured Heitmann at center. Boone's physical transformation has been striking. Perhaps the 49ers find a way to keep him. It's too bad for them, and possibly him, that Boone is strictly a tackle. Wragge can back up all three inside positions, but so can Snyder (and Baas, if Heitmann regains the job at center upon his recovery from a broken leg).

Defensive line (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.1

Keepers: Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois, Demetric Evans

Looking safe: Khalif Mitchell

Also: Will Tukuafu, Derek Walker

Comment: The 49ers have kept five, six or seven at this position since adopting their current defensive scheme in 2005. The numbers have fluctuated some because some defensive linemen project as outside linebackers. Versatility could work in Mitchell's favor, although Jean-Francois appears best positioned to start at nose tackle if anything happens to Franklin.

Linebackers (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.4

Keepers: Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, NaVorro Bowman, Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, Ahmad Brooks, Matt Wilhelm

Looking safe: Diyral Briggs, Travis LaBoy

Also: Mike Balogun, Bruce Davis, Keaton Kristick

Comment: Briggs and LaBoy both appear to have done enough for a roster spot. They could be needed, too, with Brooks recovering from a lacerated kidney. Durability concerns are always a factor with LaBoy, but it's tough to overlook the contributions he's made when healthy enough to contribute.

Defensive backs (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.7

Keepers: Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer, Dashon Goldson, Michael Lewis, Taylor Mays, Reggie Smith, Tarell Brown

Looking safe: William James

On the bubble: Karl Paymah, Adams, Curtis Taylor

Also: Tramaine Brock, Chris Maragos

Comment: The 49ers did not bring back Dre' Bly or Walt Harris, throwing open the nickel corner job. James and Paymah provide a veteran presence at that spot, although it's not yet clear which one has an edge. An ankle injury has sidelined James recently. Paymah served in the nickel role against Oakland in the third exhibition game. The 49ers have upgraded their speed at safety. Taylor, a seventh-round draft pick last year, could be out of the picture there.

Specialists (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Joe Nedney, Andy Lee, Brian Jennings

Also: Shane Andrus

Comment: The 49ers are set here, although Nedney has fought through an injury problem.