Breaking Down the 53

There weren't many surprises when it came to bringing the 49ers' roster down from 75 to 53, but there were some interesting decisions made in the wake of Thursday night's preseason finale in San Diego. Inside, we break down the team's final roster as they prepare to open the season against the Green Bay Packers Sept. 8 at Candlestick.

Quarterback

Colin Kaepernick

Colt McCoy

B.J. Daniels

Cut: Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien

Heading into the summer, it looked like Daniels would be fighting for a spot on the practice squad while trying to play a multitude of positions including running back, receiver and kick returner during the offseason program. But that changed with his play in three preseason games. The seventh-round pick had highest passer rating of any signal caller (128.6) and threw for three touchdowns while completing 61.9 percent of his passes. He also averaged 7.3 yards on 12 runs.

San Francisco liked Daniels' ability to make plays with his legs while being able to execute a multitude of throws. He proved he could stick balls into tight places with high-velocity passes while also showing touch on deep balls. Even if he doesn't suit up on game days, Daniels will be a valuable player to have during practice as he can mimic mobile quarterbacks for the defense (the 49ers have Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III on the schedule).

It was a rough start in a new organization for McCoy, who enters 2013 in his fourth system in as many seasons since getting drafted out of Texas. And after the team brought in Seneca Wallace to potentially compete for the No. 2 job just days before the third preseason game against Minnesota, McCoy stepped up and played reasonably well. Cutting his $1.5 million salary to $630,000 also helped cement the backup job to Kaepernick. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards against the Vikings and Harbaugh tabbed him the No. 2 QB afterwards.

McCoy threw three interceptions (two of which came on targets to A.J. Jenkins) in the preseason to just one touchdown – a five-hard pass to Anthony Dixon in the flat in Thursday's win.

Tolzien and Wallace were cut from this group, which didn't come as a big surprise. Tolzien struggled to show much of anything and was released August 26, a day after not appearing in the game against the Vikings. He was dealing with back spasms in practice the week prior. Wallace did not travel with the team to San Diego after informing Jim Harbaugh he would no longer be with the organization.

For Kaepernick, he enters his first full season as the undisputed starter and has shown improvement during his first offseason as the team's leader. The biggest questions heading into the season: how will teams adjust to San Francisco's offense after its Super Bowl run in 2012? And how will Kaepernick improve from the pocket while teams focus on taking away the read-option? Luckily for him, his offensive line returns healthy with another year of experience under its belt. He also has one of the league's better running back corps…

Running Back

Frank Gore

Kendall Hunter

LaMichael James

Anthony Dixon

Bruce Miller

Cut: D.J. Harper, Jewel Hampton, Jason Schepler

The 49ers had the third-ranked running game in the league last year and returns all its pieces. James is one of the few 49ers that didn't come out of the preseason healthy and will likely be shelved for the season's first few weeks with a sprained MCL. James was slated to be the primary kick and punt returner. Those responsibilities will likely go to Kyle Williams or Perrish Cox.

Gore, 30, is coming off his sixth 1,000-yard season of his career and doesn't appear to slowing despite his advanced age. He will benefit from having Hunter back healthy and James once he returns from his injury.

Dixon remains with the 49ers after spending his first three seasons becoming a core special teamer. Physically, he's gotten in better shape since coming into the league and improved his running style. He has also worked as a fullback, improving his blocking and adding to his overall versatility, becoming a valuable player.

Miller remains the team's only true fullback, but that could change if the reports are true of the 49ers signing former Cleveland Brown Owen Marecic. Marecic was a favorite of Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and played both fullback and linebacker. The team had wanted to draft him in 2011 but the Cleveland took him in the fourth round. He was released earlier this week.

Wide Receiver

Anquan Boldin

Kyle Williams

Marlon Moore

Quinton Patton

Jon Baldwin

Cut: Kassim Osgood, Chad Hall, Austin Collie, Lavelle Hawkins, Ricardo Lockette, Chuck Jacobs

Traded: A.J. Jenkins

Once the toughest position on the team to handicap, the wide receiving corps cleared up midway through the preseason slate as Moore emerged as a roster favorite, Jenkins was swapped to Kansas City for Baldwin and Patton broke out after being unable to catch passes for the majority of training camp.

The makeup of this group will remain fluid through the regular season, however, as Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will be eligible to come back to the team Week 7 after being placed on the PUP list. Baldwin and Moore could be on the wrong side of their returns.

Collie was working his way back from his patella injury and didn't look explosive enough to warrant reps with the first team in the preseason. With more time to get healthy, he could latch on to a team looking for help a receiver midway through the season. Hawkins made explosive plays in the exhibition season - including a kickoff return for a score and long run after he deflected his own ball in San Diego – but didn't show enough to win the numbers game.

Tight End

Vernon Davis

Vance McDonald

Garrett Celek

Cut: MarQueis Gray

Gray, a former quarterback and receiver in college, had a solid training camp and showed upside. But he was raw, which allowed for Celek to return for his second season despite struggling in the exhibition season. Gray is a strong candidate for the practice squad, should he clear waivers.

The 49ers are expecting a big year from Davis, who seems far more comfortable with Kaepernick than he was last season. Kaepernick's strong arm makes Davis a dangerous threat down the field, while Alex Smith struggled throwing the deep ball. Davis and Kaepernick have shown great chemistry this time around.

McDonald will be an important player for the offense and San Francisco expects him to contribute early and often in his rookie season. The departed Delanie Walker was a valuable piece because of his versatility and McDonald will be asked to mirror some of that in the early going. The advantage McDonald has is his size (6'4", 267) and natural receiving skills. He played mostly slot receiver while at Rice.

Tackle

Joe Staley

Anthony Davis

Cut: Carter Bykowski, Kenny Wiggins, Patrick Omameh

The 49ers have one of the better tackle combinations in the league, bookended by a pair of first-round picks in Staley and Davis. As good as they were in 2012, they expect to better in 2013 with another year of experience. Staley has become perhaps the best run-blocking tackle in football.

Bykowski, a seventh-round pick in the spring, has a good chance at landing on the practice squad. Still raw and learning the position, the former tight end has the intangibles the team likes in its linemen, but he must get stronger to hold up in the NFL. The 49ers like him as a potential swing tackle down the line as he continues to develop.

Guard

Mike Iupati

Alex Boone

Adam Snyder

Joe Looney

Cut: Al Netter, Wayne Tribue

Iupati and Boone have become very formidable, as has the entire unit. Snyder rejoins the team after spending 2012 with the Arizona Cardinals and will be the first lineman off the bench should there be an injury to a starter that isn't center Jonathan Goodwin. Snyder is familiar with the system and can play all four guard and tackle spots reasonably well for a sixth lineman.

The 49ers would have liked to see more improvement from Looney, a fourth-round pick in 2012. His most memorable moment of the summer was his controversial block of Minnesota's Kevin Williams in the third preseason game where he cut him low away from the ball. Williams hyper extended his knee on the play and could miss the season opener, although it looked far worse than that. Looney has still has upside and the ability to play both guard and center, but will have to show improvement in order to stick around beyond 2013.

Center

Jonathan Goodwin

Daniel Kilgore

Cut: Sherman Carter

Of any spot on the offensive line, there might be the least amount of drop off from starter to backup at center. Goodwin has been a reliable veteran presence on the line, but has struggled with snaps at times this summer leading to speculation the team might consider going with the younger and cheaper Kilgore. But Kilgore struggled this preseason, as did the entire second-unit offensive line.

Kilgore has interior-line versatility and will likely be the last lineman on the active 46-man roster on game days, leaving Looney to remain inactive. Carter was cut early in August when the team acquired Collie and Hawkins.

Safety

Eric Reid

Donte Whitner

Craig Dahl

C.J. Spillman

Raymond "Bubba" Ventrone

Cut: Trenton Robinson, Michael Thomas

The 49ers felt good enough about starting Reid in Week 1 that he didn't get on the field in the preseason finale against the Chargers. Reid won the job officially following the third preseason game, the first he started with the first unit. He's worked hard at learning the defensive checks with Whitner playing mentor.

Dahl was brought in as a potential stop-gap for Reid in case he didn't earn the starting job out of the gate. Now, Dahl becomes a core special teamer and versatile backup. Same with Spillman, who is one of the game's better gunners on punt coverage.

Ventrone was brought in this offseason for his work on kick coverage and return units. He'll serve as Andy Lee's personal protector in the punting game. Dashon Goldson held that role in 2012.

Cornerback

Tarell Brown

Carlos Rogers

Nnamdi Asomugha

Tramaine Brock

Perrish Cox

Cut: Marcus Cooper, Darryl Morris

Even with Chris Culliver's ACL tear, the 49ers feel good about their corners heading into the season. Asomugha has been a pleasant surprise in camp and appears to have won the No. 3 job in nickel situations, although the team could rotate in Brock, who could match up against more athletic receivers.

Cox has shown improvement in his second season with the team and will the primary backup to Rogers in the slot. He could also see an expanded role when teams use four wideouts. Cox's versatility to play inside and out make him a valuable fifth corner.

Cooper was drafted in the seventh round thanks to his good size and remains a practice squad possibility. The same can be said for Morris, who went undrafted, but was one of the fastest players in camp.

Inside Linebacker

Patrick Willis

NaVorro Bowman

Michael Wilhoite

Nick Moody

Nate Stupar

Cut: Travis Johnson, Joe Holland

There might not be a better linebacking core in the league when the 49ers have Willis and Bowman on the field together. Willis broke his hand early in camp, but should be ready to go when the season kicks off.

Surprisngly, the 49ers kept five inside linebackers after cuts were made Saturday. Stupar played his way on to the team with a solid preseason but could be the odd man out should the team add anyone on waivers. He was on three practice squads (Raiders, Eagles, 49ers) in 2012 before San Francisco inked him to a reserve/future contract after the Super Bowl. He led the team with 19 tackles this preseason.

There are only 10 regular season snaps of experience combined between Wilhoite, Moody and Stupar. Wilhoite has them all. But the 49ers like how far he's come since playing safety in college and coming into the league in 2011. All three reserves should contribute heavily on special teams.

Outside Linebacker

Aldon Smith

Ahmad Brooks

Corey Lemonier

Dan Skuta

Cam Johnson

Traded: Parys Haralson

Another outstanding duo, Smith and Brooks should another step in the right direction as they set the edges for the NFL's best front seven. And instead of just one backup this year, the 49ers will enter the season with three.

San Francisco indicated it was comfortable with its depth when Haralson was traded to New Orleans for a seventh round pick, but having five outside linebackers on the 53 still comes as a surprise. Johnson likely earned his spot with his two-sack, blocked punt and touchdown-performance in the exhibition finale against the Chargers.

But the need for depth could also be insurance for a potential suspension for Brooks. The NFL remains mum on any discipline for his run in with the law in early-June, but there's a chance he could be sidelined for more than one game. If that were the case, Lemonier might benefit the most, but the 49ers have liked what they've seen from Skuta and Johnson as well. Should they enter the season with this group, there's a chance one of the reserves is on the outside of the active 46.

Defensive Line

Justin Smith

Ray McDonald

Ian Williams

Glenn Dorsey

Demarcus Dobbs

Will Tukuafu

Tony Jerod-Eddie

Cut: Lamar Divens, Lawrence Okoye, Mike Purcell

Smith and McDonald match up with any 3/4 defensive end combo in football. In 2013, they should benefit from improved depth behind them.

Dobbs is suspended for the first game of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, leaving a spot open for Jerod-Eddie, for now. There's a new look at the nose tackle position with Williams and Dorsey, who pair up to make a far more versatile duo than the departed Isaac Sopoaga and Rickey Jean-Francois. Williams is the best pass rushing nose tackle the team has had since Vic Fangio took over as coordinator. Dorsey is a stout player against the run and has fit in well so far.

With Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial shelved on the NFI list, this group could look drastically different after Week 6. But there's no telling if the two rookies will be up to speed on the scheme enough to warrant being added to the roster in the middle of a playoff run. The 49ers might elect to keep them sidelined and let them begin anew in 2014.

Okoye suffered a knee injury and is expected to clear waivers, but has a long way to go to become a viable NFL player. His future with the 49ers is up in the air.

Specialists

Andy Lee

Phil Dawson

Kevin McDermott

Cut: Colton Schmidt, Brian Jennings

The most surprising move of cut-down day was the release of Jennings in favor of McDermott. Jennings had been with the team for 13 seasons after getting drafted in 2000 and was far and away the longest-tenured 49er on the 90-man roster. It was clear San Francisco did so to save money with a number of contract extensions coming up for Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Iupati and Crabtree over the next two seasons. The 49ers will save nearly $1.3 in cap space over that span by going with the undrafted rookie out of UCLA.


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