A need for Rasheed

Saleem Rasheed, come on down and step right up. The 49ers want to see what you've got. This might be your last chance to show them.

With a roster reshaping sure to come in the offseason, the undeniably talented Rasheed can't be exactly quite sure where he fits into San Francisco's future plans, primarily because he's a backup in waiting at the team's strongest position.

There are other factors involved in that uncertainty, of course. Rasheed, the 69th player selected overall in the 2002 draft, hasn't quite lived up to that high draft status during his three seasons with the 49ers. He only played in six games as a rookie due to a variety of injuries. His contributions on both defense and special teams has been mostly negligible through his first two seasons and much of this year.

But that could all change now that Rasheed will start San Francisco's final two games at right-side linebacker in place of Jamie Winborn, who suffered a broken right shoulder blade in last week's loss to Washington. Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills will be just the second start of Rasheed's career.

"I'm just going to look at it as an opportunity to show them, obviously, what I can bring to this team as a player," Rasheed said. "It's a challenge for me, and that's the way I'm going to look at it."

The challenge for Rasheed is to show the Niners enough to keep him around in 2005, when he becomes a restricted free agent. He plays a position that features several of the best players on the entire San Francisco roster – Winborn, All-Pro Julian Peterson, tackle machines Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich and promising youngsters Brandon Moore and Richard Seigler, San Francisco's fourth-round draft pick this year.

Moore, an undrafted free agent in 2002, has out-played the heralded Rasheed during their three years on the team.

Rasheed realizes he's a man on the spot the rest of this season.

"Any time that you're out there, you want to do the best you can," he said. "Because, it's like your resume. You're building your resume every time you're on the field. Other people have different jobs and everything that they put on their resume. Ours is our film. And any time you're out there, a lot of people are watching.

"If, God forbid, you're not with this team, you'll have another team that can look at you and see what you have."

Don't get Rasheed wrong. He still wants to remain a 49er. He has displayed brilliant flashes of his ability when given the opportunity. In his only previous NFL start, he had 12 tackles against Baltimore last year – almost half of his current career total of 30 tackles. After replacing Winborn last week, he had six tackles and also forced a fumble that he recovered.

"I haven't really had an opportunity to play (linebacker) in too many games throughout my career," Rasheed said. "I'm always looking for an opportunity to get out there and play. Obviously, you don't want anybody to get injured for that opportunity to come. You want to get it by earning it."

And, as the 2004 season closes, Saleem Rasheed will be out to earn a future with the 49ers.


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