Niners sign Blades, send nine to NFL Europe

The 49ers continued to shape their 2002 roster by announcing Wednesday the signing of four free agents and the allocation of nine players to NFL Europe, where San Francisco can take a look this spring at some of its young prospects.

The top signing was safety Al Blades, who with the Niners all season last year. After making an impression with 10 preseason tackles, the rookie from Miami was inactive for four weeks early in the season and then spent the rest of the season on the practice squad. Blades has gained 10 pounds of muscle since joining the team in extensive training with the Niners' strength and conditioning staff. That makes him the team's biggest safety at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, and he may figure more prominently now in the Niners' future at the position with the team exposing John Keith to the expansion draft.

Starter Lance Schulters also is an unrestricted free agent who might receive better offers on the open market than he'll get from San Francisco. The Niners also signed punter Stephen Cheek, running back Saladin McCullough and linebacker Cornelius Anthony. Cheek and McCullough each got long looks in training camp and the preseason last year. Anthony was released by the Washington Redskins in training camp last year.

The Niners then allocated Anthony and Cheek to NFL Europe along with seven other players that the team signed last week. That list includes four players who were with the Niners in training camp last year - defensive ends Jerome Davis and Shawn Hay, tight end Ben Steele and wide receiver James Jordan - along with tight end Neil Johnson, defensive back Ontei Jones and running back Jamal Robertson.

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