NFC West: Jewel Hampton

49ers confident in Justin Smith's arm

January, 20, 2013
1/20/13
2:06
PM ET
ATLANTA -- The San Francisco 49ers are going heavier at wide receiver and lighter on the defensive line in the NFC Championship Game.

Translation: Justin Smith is healthy.

The 49ers are keeping active five wide receivers, a relatively high number. They are keeping active four defensive linemen, a relatively low number.

Smith, who played 91 percent of the defensive snaps against Green Bay in the divisional round, had not previously played since suffering an elbow/triceps injury against New England on Dec. 16. He is expected to undergo surgery following the season. For now, however, Smith appears healthy enough for another full workday on the defensive line, this time with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

With the 49ers' confidence in Smith high, the team listed nose tackle Ian Williams and defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie on its inactive list. Smith, Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois are the other active defensive linemen. Fullback Will Tukuafu can also play along the defensive line if necessary.

Quarterback Scott Tolzien, safety Trenton Robinson, running back Jewel Hampton, linebacker Cam Johnson and guard Joe Looney are also inactive for the 49ers in compliance with 46-man roster limits for games.

The Falcons' inactive list features quarterback Dominique Davis, receiver Tim Toone, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn, tackle Lamar Holmes, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

Justin Smith's ironman streak ends at 185

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
7:16
PM ET
SEATTLE -- The San Francisco 49ers will be without defensive lineman Justin Smith for the first time since Smith signed with the team in free agency in 2008.

Smith, named inactive for the 49ers' game at Seattle on Sunday night, has started 185 consecutive regular-season games dating to his 2001 rookie season with Cincinnati.

Smith
The news comes as little surprise even though the 49ers listed Smith as questionable for the game, an indication he had a 50 percent chance of playing. Smith did not practice all week. He was not seen warming up Sunday.

There is no precedent for Smith's absence, so it's tough to say how much this hurts the 49ers' chances. I will be watching to see how well the Seahawks run the ball to the right side of the 49ers' defensive line; whether the 49ers' rotation on the line wears down as the game progresses; whether Aldon Smith has a tougher time pressuring the quarterback without Justin Smith occupying blockers to facilitate twists; and whether Aldon Smith spends more time lining up opposite Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini.

Also inactive for the 49ers: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver A.J. Jenkins, safety Trenton Robinson, running back Jewel Hampton, linebacker Clark Haggans and guard Joe Looney.

Receiver Mario Manningham is active, bolstering the position. That could be good for the 49ers as they face a Seahawks secondary without cornerbacks Brandon Browner, Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond.
Our two-day look at NFC West rosters continues with projections for the San Francisco 49ers' offense.

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.1

Safest bets: Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson

Leading contenders: none

Longer odds: Scott Tolzien

Comment: Johnson has more experience than Kaepernick and could project as the No. 2 quarterback if an injury forced Smith from the lineup on short notice. Johnson's history with coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego probably helps his chances in that regard. Kaepernick gets a chance this summer to prove he's ready to take the next step following a more regular offseason. Tolzien could project for the practice squad.

Running backs (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 4.9

Safest bets: Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, Bruce Miller

Leading contenders: Rock Cartwright, Anthony Dixon

Longer odds: Jewel Hampton, Cameron Bell

Comment: Moran Norris is out after spending five of the past six seasons as a 49ers fullback. That was one of many changes in the backfield this offseason. Jacobs' arrival suggests Dixon must step up his game significantly to stick on the roster -- and will probably have to demonstrate special-teams value as well. He won't be able to compete with Miller or Cartwright in that regard. If the 49ers find a way to keep six running backs, Cartwright would likely be in the picture almost exclusively for his special-teams value. Hampton could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Wide receivers (11)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.7

Safest bets: Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins

Leading contenders: Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr.

Longer odds: Brett Swain, Joe Hastings, Nathan Palmer, Chris Owusu, Brian Tyms

Comment: The first four appear set as long as Moss continues on his current trajectory. The 49ers kept five at the position in Week 1 last season. Despite talk of opening up the offense, the team could have a hard time justifying six roster spots for wideouts for a coaching staff that seems to relish using multiple tight ends. Williams and Ginn carry obvious special-teams value in the return game, a huge consideration. I have a hard time envisioning the 49ers, stung by Williams' miscues in the NFC Championship Game, taking undue chances in the return game at Green Bay in the opener. Ginn is the most proven return specialist on the team and a game-breaker when healthy. Owusu could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Tight ends (5)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Safest bets: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker

Leading contenders: Nate Byham, Konrad Reuland

Longer odds: Garrett Celek

Comment: Byham was emerging as a top-flight blocking tight end before a knee injury ended his 2011 season during training camp. Reuland, then an undrafted rookie, had a chance to gain ground while spending last season on the practice squad. Reuland played for Harbaugh and staff at Stanford.

Offensive linemen (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.0

Safest bets: Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney

Leading contenders: Mike Person, Jason Slowey

Longer odds: Derek Hall, David Gonzales, Garrett Chisolm, Chase Beeler, Kenny Wiggins, Al Netter

Comment: Boone has become the prohibitive favorite to start at right guard even though he remains in the early stages of a conversion from tackle. Boone could move back to tackle if the 49ers were to lose Staley or Davis to injury. Boone remains the third-best tackle on the team. Kilgore once stood as a candidate at right guard, but he now projects as Goodwin's eventual successor at center. Looney, a rookie fourth-round choice, could be the long-term right guard, but he's recovering from foot surgery.
NFC West fans had running backs in mind during our chat Thursday.

We had Joe C. from Fort Worth asking for projected carry breakdowns in Arizona if the Cardinals' Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both healthy. k1joyce from Massachusetts, fearful over what would happen if Seattle lost Marshawn Lynch to injury, pointed to the "seldom-talked-about lack of depth" at the position for the Seahawks. Jim from California wondered which running backs the San Francisco 49ers would keep.

I didn't get to all those questions, but in an attempt to size up the position for each NFC West team, I've put together potential depth charts for running backs in the division. Every team has six halfbacks, so the chart balances. The order will shake out during training camp, of course. I've got an eraser handy.

Every team in the division but Seattle has used a second-round choice for a running back in the past two drafts. Arizona did so with Williams in 2011. San Francisco (LaMichael James) and St. Louis (Isaiah Pead) used second-rounders for runners this year.

Seattle used a 2012 fourth-round choice for Robert Turbin. The team also added Kregg Lumpkin in free agency. Both are bigger than former backup Justin Forsett. That was by design. The Seahawks now have multiple backs with the size to carry the ball on early downs, but it's too early to know whether the team could maintain its physical approach on offense without Lynch. It wasn't possible last season. Now, it's possible, but no sure thing.

Wells will probably get more carries than Williams this season even though Williams, when healthy, excites the Cardinals at least as much. Both backs are coming off knee surgeries. Wells figures to be healthier first. He will presumably get most of the carries early in the season. We still don't know when Williams will resume full participation or how well he'll perform upon returning. The injury he suffered (torn patella) was serious. The Cardinals are optimistic, but there's still uncertainty.

The situation behind Frank Gore in San Francisco is more confusing. The 49ers wanted to upgrade their backups while preparing for life after Gore. Anthony Dixon faces an uphill fight for a roster spot, it appears. He played five percent of the snaps last season. Kendall Hunter played 28 percent, a figure that also appears likely to fall.

The Rams finally have some youth behind Steven Jackson. I could see them using another relatively early pick on a back in 2013. Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in each of the next two seasons. He turns 29 next month and will be looking to reach 1,000 yards for an eighth consecutive season.

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