Sizing up the practice squad 7

With the 49ers subscribing to a new philosophy of developing from within, the team's practice squad takes on a little more significance than in previous seasons. Here's a detailed rundown on the seven players the team signed on Monday to its practice squad.

WR Marcus Maxwell: As the Niners had hoped, Maxwell didn't get enough exposure on preseason game film to entice another team to add him to their 53-man roster, so San Francisco was able to bring back this big and athletic prospect for some more seasoning. They had hoped to do the same with defensive back Daven Holly, but he was snatched off waivers by the Chicago Bears, who put him on their 53-man opening-day roster. Holly and Maxwell both were seventh-round draft picks. Maxwell may have more long-term potential than other receivers the 49ers kept at their final cut Saturday, but he needs more polish before he can help the team in the short term. This is the place to get it, and Maxwell's presence here alone should push the young receivers ahead of him on the big squad, because he might not be far from taking one of their jobs.

C Norm Katnik: The 49ers have been pleased with Katnik's development, but there was no room for him on the 53-man squad after Jeremy Newberry was able to return for the start of the season. With Eric Heitmann getting an entire summer of practice at center, the Niners have two quality veterans to man the position, making Katnik expendable at the final cut. But Katnik should keep himself ready on the practice squad, because it still is uncertain how long Newberry's troublesome right knee will be able to hold up. If Newberry goes down, Katnik becomes the top candidate to replace him on the big roster, so he has plenty of reasons to keep sharp.

OT Harvey Dahl: Dahl was released last Tuesday as the 49ers completed their first roster cutdowns, but he was the team's choice to bring back to the practice squad over tackles Tim Provost and Brendan Darby, who both made it to Saturday's final cut with the team. Dahl, who was claimed off waivers in June after being released by the Dallas Cowboys, has the size (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) and understanding of the game that the Niners like, and now they'll get more time to see how Dahl can develop in other areas where he needs work.

DT Scott Scharff: The 49ers released Scharff on Friday to clear a roster space for the signing of veteran defensive lineman Travis Hall, but the team liked Scharff's ability as an end in their 3-4 defense and brought him back to give him time to develop and perhaps add a little more size for interior banging. Because he was buried on the depth chart, Scharff didn't see a whole lot of action during the preseason, but he did find time to make a few plays and finish with three tackles. He'll get the developmental time here that last year went to end Josh Cooper, who spent 14 games on the practice squad in 2004 and made it up to the big roster for two games.

CB Michael Harden: The Niners were hoping, maybe expecting, that Holly would clear waivers, but they might have brought in a second cornerback on their practice squad anyway since they are so light at the position on the big roster. When Holly was grabbed by the Bears, the 49ers turned to Harden (5-11, 190 pounds), an intriguing prospect who is thought well of by 49ers personnel types. Harden stuck on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad last year after being signed as a rookie free agent out of Missouri, where he was a three-year starter. He made it to the final cut with the Seahawks this year before being released, and he won't be far from San Francisco's 53-man roster if he shows the team right away that he can fit into its scheme.

TE Erik Jensen: The Niners are big on developing some young tight ends that can fit into their system, which demands athleticism and blocking skill to augment the intention of a power-running scheme. Jensen is a candidate cast in the Steve Bush mold – he's athletic enough to play fullback and H-back and has 4.7 speed to throw at opposing defenses. Jensen was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams last year out of Iowa, but spent his rookie year on the Rams' injured reserve list. He made it to St. Louis' final cut on Saturday before being released, and he was the second tight end picked up by the Niners off the waiver wire after other teams made their final cuts. Trent Smith was immediately elevated to the 53-man squad while Jensen begins his 49ers career on the practice team.

OT Sam Wilder: Wilder (6-5, 303 pounds) was signed by Dallas earlier this year as a rookie free agent out of Colorado but was traded during the summer to Tampa Bay, where he was waived by the Buccaneers on the final cut. Wilder is a comer who has displayed tremendous development at offensive tackle since the start of his senior season at Colorado. He spent his first two years in college as a productive player on the Buffaloes' defensive front before making the move to offense. He came close to making it with the Bucs, and when he didn't, the Niners quickly snatched him up to develop as one of theirs.


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