Stanley's starting exposure

Matt Stanley is a big hitter who could be on the verge of breaking out of a slump. "I'm 0-for-2," said Stanley, who just completed his third training camp with the 49ers, and still was around Monday to talk about it. He may be around to talk about playing fullback even longer if he keeps this up. Given an opportunity because of injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart, Stanley will start his third straight preseason game Thursday, and a roster berth could be dangling within his grasp.

Stanley already has displayed enough during his starting stint the past two weeks for coach Dennis Erickson to say Monday, "I'd feel real comfortable with Matt Stanley playing in a regular-season game."

That is unlikely to happen if Pro Bowler Fred Beasley or his designated backup, Jasen Isom, are healthy. But neither is at the moment or has been for weeks.

Beasley, out with a high ankle sprain suffered in an Aug. 14 exhibition game against Oakland, is expected back for the Sept. 12 season opener against Atlanta, but that's no sure thing. Isom, out with knee ligament damage the past three weeks, is expected back to practice soon.

But with those two players down, Stanley has stepped up.

Erickson said, "Matt Stanley is playing very well for us right now. Matt is smart, he's a very good athlete, he knows everything."

He also knows what to do with an opportunity.

"I'm basically just taking advantage of the situation I have with Fred and Jasen being injured," Stanley said. "It's given me unbelievable opportunities to play against No. 1 defenses, showing the 49ers they can rely on me and I can get my blocks down. I feel like I've gotten a great deal of exposure these past few weeks. I've gotten better and improved each week and gotten more confidence and realized I can do well against starters in the NFL. I feel like I can definitely contribute and do well at this level."

Stanley has displayed sure hands out of the backfield (two receptions for 17 yards), but his primary role has been to slam his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame into opponents as both a run blocker and pass protector. That is where he has been making solid strides against front-line defenders, and that is where he will have to keep it up to keep alive his chances to still be on the roster when the Niners cut down to the 53-man limit by Sept. 5.

"The main thing I've been trying to work on is becoming that punishing lead blocker like Fred Beasley," Stanley said.

Stanley almost found himself working as a mortgage broker in Beverly Hills this summer instead. After being cut by the Niners in training camp the past two years – he also played in NFL Europe for the team in 2003 – the former UCLA product said, "I thought maybe I was done with football because I felt like I had gotten further than I'd ever expected, really."

"And then when I started talking to the 49ers again about re-signing (this year), I really had to contemplate whether I wanted to give it another shot because I knew no matter what, I was going to be a long-shot," Stanley said. "But I slowly came to my wits, and with a lot of influence from my family and friends, I realized I was willing to give it one more shot."

Being a long-shot is nothing new for Stanley. He was a walk-on at UCLA and had to battle for a couple of years just to earn a scholarship. Then, after earning a starting position, he had to battle for playing time his final two years after injuries forced him from the lineup and gave an opportunity to others.

The kind of opportunity he's getting now.

"I'm fortunate that I have given it another shot because I've gotten the best look that I've had in three camps, starting two NFL preseason games and playing the best that I ever have," Stanley said.

With one more on the horizon, and perhaps plenty of others after that.

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