Jobs on the line

Friday's exhibition finale in San Diego is the last go-around for the few, the proud and the soon-to-be-released by the 49ers, who have several players fighting for the same jobs at the bottom of their final 53-man roster. "There is not any place where there is not competition for the (final) slot or two," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said Friday morning.

At quarterback the Niners have one of their most obvious battles, where rookie Ken Dorsey and second-year player Brandon Doman have waged a steady competition throughout the season. The Niners would like to keep both, and both probably rank among the top 53 players on the team. But the way the Niners' 2003 roster appears likely to be structured, it will be very difficult to keep four quarterbacks. Erickson said he will not alternate the two young QBs in San Diego, with Dorsey likely playing late in the second quarter and all of the third and Doman playing all of the fourth. "I want them both to be in the game for two or three series at a time, Erickson said. "We have accomplished what we wanted to with the alternating."

At running back, the Niners are leaning toward keeping six again. That means young fullbacks Jason Isom and Matt Stanley are out, though the team likes both of them. It's possible the team could keep one of them over versatile Terry Jackson and Paul Smith, but that's unlikely since both those players can play both backfield positions and also are standouts on special teams. Jamal Robertson's great summer appears to have secured him a berth in this crowded backfield, but he can't have a letdown in San Diego.

At receiver, the team will definitely keep five and would like to keep six. But that latter figure doesn't seem possible, which means the Niners must decide between Arnaz Battle, Arland Bruce and James Jordan for one roster berth. If the Niners keep six, that means one of these players will figure prominently as a returner.

At tight end, with the loss of Eric Johnson, the Niners now are giving serious consideration to keeping Gabriel Crecion, who has performed well in camp. He could land a job with a standout game against the Chargers, since the Niners don't want to use long-snapper Brian Jennings as a backup TE.

On the offensive line, Brock Gutierrez, Dwayne Ledford and Rob Murphy are fighting for a berth as the backup center. Those three, along with Jerome Davis, Craig Osika and Alonzo Cunningham, are battling for either one or two roster berths.

At linebacker, the Niners would like to keep six or seven - as they did at the start of last season - but that won't be possible, considering what they are likely to do at other positions. That means Brandon Moore, Cornelius Anthony and Ray Wells are fighting for one roster slot - and only if the Niners keep six. It's hard to figure there is anything Masafumi Kawaguchi can do on Friday to keep his spot on the roster.

In the secondary, things get a little hazy because the Niners must reserve a roster spot for injured cornerback Jason Webster. That means they might only keep three safeties, which will push either John Keith or Dwaine Carpenter out of a job. Antuan Simmons, Joselio Hanson and Jimmy Williams probably will be fighting for one job at cornerback, with Williams possibly making it as the fifth active corner if the Niners decide he will be their return guy.

On the defensive line, things appear relatively set. Newcomers Charles Hill and John Nix - both acquired in the past few days - will see a lot of time at tackle, but they likely will just be filling space to give others a rest for the regular season opener. Ross Kolodziej will get an extended look but figures to be the odd man out at tackle. The Niners will take a long look at end Chidi Ahanotu, and are likely to keep him as the ninth defensive lineman, unless they go light with only eight and figure Ahanotu is more valuable than veteran Sean Moran.

Both specialists - Jeff Chandler and Bill LaFleur - have had sketchy preseasons. Kicker Chandler probably has a job secure going into the opener, but LaFleur needs to have a confidence-boosting effort if he wants the Niners to avoid scanning the waiver wire for a new punter following Sunday's cuts.


Niners Digest Top Stories