Can Hicks make it six?

Now that the Niners have made their first cuts, coach Dennis Erickson already has said he plans to keep six receivers on his final 53-man squad. That means the 49ers can only realistically keep five running backs, which makes you wonder who's going to go at that position since the team is taking a long look at Maurice Hicks. The 49ers would like to find a way to keep the versatile talent around, and that will leave Hicks under the microscope during Thursday's preseason finale against San Diego.

The Niners like Hicks and are serious about his chances to make the roster. That was evident Friday when Hicks got the call with the second-team offense over Jamal Robertson, who has done nothing this summer to deserve any demotion. Hicks was a busy boy, rushing five times for 12 yards and also catching two passes out of the backfield and turning them into 30 yards worth of gain.

Perhaps his most notable effort came on special teams, where Hicks averaged 29 yards on his three kickoff returns. That's another place where his bid to make the team might be enhanced.

"Obviously, Maurice returned it good the other night and we are going to take a good look at him on Thursday," Erickson said.

With starter Kevan Barlow nursing a minor hip injury this week, the Niners might keep him out against the Chargers. If that happens, Erickson did not rule out starting Hicks and giving him an opportunity playing with and against first-teamers.

Hicks would come at a cheaper salary than veterans such as third-year player Robertson and, particularly, sixth-year player Terry Jackson, the Niners' special teams captain who has experience at both fullback and running back.

Erickson seemed to indicate that Jackson already has a roster berth secured, as do starters Barlow and fullback Fred Beasley.

"(Jackson) has really improved as a runner just because he's healthy this year," Erickson said. "In the games that he has run the football, he has ran really well. He's a very good third-down back, a very good pass protector, a really good route runner. That is the other area he could really help. He hasn't had to do that (in the past) because Garrison (Hearst) was here and did that. But he can do that. He's the best of all those backs at that. Special teams, obviously, will have an effect on all those guys. But, Terry is also going to be involved on the field besides special teams."

So, chalk up a roster berth for Jackson. If you consider that the Niners need to keep Jasen Isom as a second-string alternative to Beasley, who will enter the season with a bad ankle, then it leaves Robertson and Hicks basically fighting for the same roster berth. Both have the ability to be Barlow's primary backup and also return kicks.

After rushing five times for 53 yards against Minnesota, Robertson is in a position to lead the 49ers in preseason rushing for the third consecutive summer. But Hicks could catch and pass him for that honor with a big game Thursday.

"You've got to go out there and make more plays and do whatever it takes to make the team," Hicks said. "I feel like I need to do a little bit more to help the team out in as many ways as possible. Any opportunity that comes, I'm all for it. If they ask me to punt return or whatever, I am up for it. I have to go out there and provide for the team in any way possible. I'm going to do what I do and take it one day at a time."

The feeling here is that Robertson has not only locked a roster berth already, but also has proven to the team that he can be a legitimate weapon when he spells Barlow. That leaves Hicks, in reality, attempting on Thursday to change the 49ers' minds about keeping just five running backs after next week's final cuts. It could happen, but it will take a mighty push.

"Right now, five is our plan," Erickson said. "That is what we kept last year. Two fullbacks and three running backs. As we get into next week and look at our squad, it could change to six, and we're going to have to take it from some place else."

So, maybe Hicks has an opening. He certainly has known what to do with them so far this summer.


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