49ers turn the other Cheek

Stephen Cheek's second chance with the 49ers didn't last long. San Francisco waived the first-year punter on Thursday, just six weeks after he had been re-signed to the roster.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound product of Humboldt State was expected to provide competition this spring and summer for incumbent punter Jason Baker, just as Cheek had provided competition for incumbent Chad Stanley last year. But the Niners apparently soured on that plan in recent weeks after allocating Cheek to NFL Europe along with five other players on Feb. 5.

Cheek was impressive in the early stages of training camp last year in Stockton, and statistically outperformed Stanley in three exhibition games. But Cheek struggled in the tricky winds at San Francisco's 3Com Park in an Aug. 25 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and was cut the following week after averaging 38.4 yards on his seven preseason punts. The Niners then signed Baker, a rookie from Iowa, who was handed the job the next week when he boomed punts in San Francisco's exhibition finale at Denver and Stanley - the team's punter the previous two seasons - was abruptly cut.

The Niners will bring in another punter to challenge Baker, but don't expect it to be a huge priority. The team is not willing to spend money on a veteran punter, so the Niners will either sign another free agent with little experience or wait until after the college draft to acquire a rookie to take a look at.

The Niners also have waived first-year tight end Neil Johnson, who failed a physical at NFL Europe workouts. Like Cheek, Johnson was signed by the team on Jan. 30 and allocated to NFL Europe on Feb. 5.

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