Work not done yet as 49ers reach exhibition finish

As quarterback Tim Rattay says, "Most of the hay's in the barn already." But the 49ers still have one more exhibition game to play this summer – Thursday night at San Diego – and the barn door still is wide open for several players to make the team's 2005 roster. The Niners will make their final 53-man decisions after taking one more look at all their young prospects and holdover veterans, not to mention a first look at projected starting offensive linemen Jeremy Newberry and David Baas.

Baas, the second-round draft pick, won't start the preseason finale against the Chargers, but Newberry will. After participating in one full practice all summer, the two-time Pro Bowler will go with the starting offense, and "I hope to get about a dozen plays with Jeremy," coach Mike Nolan said. Baas, who – like Newberry – returned to practice Monday after missing all of training camp, will also get a dozen plays, "but not with the starting group," Nolan said.

The 49ers must determine if Newberry can hold up well enough to make it to the regular-season opener in his attempt to play through pain this year before getting his right knee fixed. They must determine if Baas can be any help earlier rather than later during the first stage of the season. And then, they have at least 15 roster decisions to make before the NFL-mandated Sept. 4 final cutdown, which Nolan already has said will happen Saturday before the team practices briefly in the morning before taking two days off.

While it's true, as Rattay says, that the 49ers have gotten most of their summer work in already and have been preparing this week for the St. Louis Rams as much as the Chargers, he's talking more about the starters and roster locks than the 25 or so players fighting for the final 15 or so roster spots. The 49ers have 68 players on their roster, and their three NFL Europe exemptions expire after Thursday's game.

"I'd like to get about a dozen plays with our starters," Nolan said. "I'd just like to get about a dozen plays to get work. In the special teams area, there will be players who will make our squad based on that performance because they'll be tied in as a backup player with how valuable they are to the team."

So there you go. If someone is a final backup at a particular position, they better be making a big impact in the kicking game. Sometimes, that's what helps them stick as a third-stringer and, occasionally, as a fourth-stringer.

The starters also have to start honing in on the season opener. The Niners have uncertainty in the offensive line – and also tight end – because of injuries, but the rest of their starting lineup is set for St. Louis on Sept. 11. So the first unit wants to get in, get out after a dozen plays and, as Nolay says, "everyone makes their first comment (about the final preseason game) that they'd like to be injury-free. That's my second."

Said Rattay: "We've had our work, we've been here in camp for a while. Now it's just a matter of going out there, getting some work and trying to get everybody out of there healthy. We've been looking at some Rams stuff already this week to get ready for the Rams. So our focus is getting to the Rams already."

Another tuneup before then certainly won't hurt. The 49ers have looked both shoddy and inexperienced this preseason, but they enter tonight's game 2-1 with a chance to match their best preseason record in the last 12 years, so that means somebody must be doing something right.

Those are the somebodies the 49ers want to keep around.

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