Breaking down the first roster cutdowns
LB Andrew Williams: One of the problems for Williams is the position listed to the left of his name. He's not a linebacker, and he was in no-man's land trying to play one in the 3-4 defense, which requires him to drop in coverage and play sideline to sideline in addition rushing the passer. Williams was a successful speed-rushing end in college at the University of Miami, but his skills didn't transfer well to the pro game, and he basically was a wasted third-round draft pick by San Francisco's previous management regime. Third-rounders usually get a longer leash than two years – the Niners' three third-rounders picked before Williams all still are with the team, two as key starters, and three others are starters elsewhere around the league – but Williams wasn't good enough to fit with this team, and the new regime wasted no time in dumping him. CB Joselio Hanson: The writing was on the wall for Hanson when the 49ers selected two young cornerbacks in the draft and brought in veteran Willie Middlebrooks via trade in July. Hanson was something of a success story last year, when he worked his way onto the roster as an undrafted free agent and then into the lineup for three games as a starter at cornerback after players ahead of him were felled by injury. Hanson had 20 tackles, six passes defensed and added a sack last year, but he began training camp third on the depth chart at right corner before being passed by flashy rookie Derrick Johnson, sealing his fate. Like it was last year, Hanson's lack of size was exposed this summer, when he was beaten by bigger receivers for catches despite being in relatively good coverage position. G Paul Zukauskas: The fifth-year NFL veteran played in 43 games with the Cleveland Browns the past four seasons – including 10 starts in 2003 and five starts last year. The Niners signed him at the beginning of training camp with the expectation he could contribute in a reserve role in an area where the team's depth needs the most help. But he failed to distinguish himself in the competition at a weak area – he also missed some practices with a minor injury – so the team decided to take a longer look at its younger players at the position instead. WR Javin Hunter: Hunter caught five passes and returned four kickoffs for 105 yards while playing in 12 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2002, but he hasn't played in a NFL game since. He wasn't going to change that with the 49ers, since he began training camp fifth on the depth chart at split end and did very little to move up that chart during camp. Hunter is a player who really needed to impress and play virtually error-free to stay on the roster of a team that drafted two receivers and also brought in two other free-agent veterans to compete for roster spots. Hunter also was out-played by undrafted rookie free agent Fred Amey, hastening his early exit. DE Josh Cooper: Cooper has always been a player that has flashed some promise since joining the Niners, and that's why the 49ers kept him around on their practice squad for 14 games last year as a rookie – when he also made it up to the 53-man roster and played in two games – and again once the new regime took over. But at 261 pounds, he was too light to play end in the team's new 3-4 defense, and he didn't get many opportunities to show his stuff. With the Niners planning to keep only about half of the 10 defensive linemen on their training camp roster, Cooper didn't have much of a chance. S Arnold Parker: Parker, a first-year player who spent the 2004 season on the Seattle Seahawks' injured reserve list after going undrafted out of the University of Utah, had nice physical tools (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) and displayed some rangy skills at safety. But shoulder problems that caused him to miss weeks of training camp practice sessions probably doomed his chances, particularly with the other backup safeties he was competing against performing well this summer. TE Doug Zeigler: Zeigler was little more than training camp fodder, particularly with seventh-round draft pick Billy Bajema showing early that he'll be able to contribute at the position as a rookie. With the 49ers bringing just four tight ends to training camp (fullback Steve Bush probably will play there in a swing role) and perhaps just keeping two on their final roster, Zeigler's only hope of making it to the final cut was for Bajema to bomb once the pads went on this summer. He didn't. K Kirk Yliniemi: Yliniemi looked good in training camp last year as an undrafted rookie free agent, but the Niners weren't going to keep him over incumbent veteran Todd Peterson after their fiasco at the position in 2003. But, after Peterson left for Atlanta via free agency, the new regime brought Yliniemi back for another look and to provide a training-camp challenge for veteran Joe Nedney, signed as a free agent in March. Yliniemi didn't look as good this summer as he did last year, and he most likely sealed his fate early when he was wide right on a routine 24-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter of the preseason opener against Oakland with the Niners clinging to an eight-point lead. Fringe kickers just can't make those kind of gaffes if they expect to stick around long on NFL summer rosters. P Cole Farden: Farden exhibited a big leg at Oklahoma State, which persuaded the 49ers to bring him in to provide some training-camp competition for young incumbent punter Andy Lee. But Farden was erratic and inconsistent and showed no ability to handle the demands of the position at the NFL level, so there was no reason to keep him around another week. FB Brian Johnson: Johnson, who showed some flashes in training camp last year, trimmed down a bit to 260 pounds this year, but he battled ankle problems and never was able to make an impression this summer. He has been out of action with the bad ankle, and the team reached an injury settlement to lop Johnson from the roster.
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