No locks to stick among UFAs

The 49ers took care of some early roster trimming this week when they waived linebacker Zach Grady and receiver Scott Lipford, two of the 15 undrafted free agents the Niners signed in the week after the April 20-21 draft. Contrary to recent seasons, there is no lock to make the team among the remaining dozen UFAs, though some have better chances than others.

Running back Ken Simonton, the Oregon State star who finished his college career as the second-leading rusher in Pac-10 history, appears to have the best chance, since he is being given an opportunity to challenge Vinny Sutherland at kick returner. Simonton's versatility will help him, though the Niners are loaded at tailback, and Simonton probably is too slow to be considered seriously as a possible No. 5 receiver.

Also looking good at April minicamps were linebacker Brandon Moore (Oklahoma), safety Frank Strong (USC) and cornerback Ryan Fernandez.

Moore is a fiery performer who will challenge for a backup role and could stick if the Niners opt to go with more than six linebackers. Strong is a versatile performer who also started at tailback and linebacker at USC, but he faces stiff competition - and lots of it - at safety. It was believed the Niners might take a look at Strong as a kick returner, but the team opted not to do that during minicamp.

Fernandez, however, got a look at kick returner and, though he's small, he was quick in defensive drills and has some polish in coverage.

Defensive end Darryl Sanders (Virginia) had an interception in team drills and figures to get a long look in the defensive interior, while receiver Nate Jackson (Menlo College) and tight end Mike Hart (Duke) are big targets who appear to have the best shot to stick of the remaining UFAs.

Eight undrafted free agents from 2001 spent time on the Niners' 53-man roster or practice squad last season: Offensive linemen Dan Goodspeed, Dave Costa and Milford Stephenson, wide receiver Jimmy Farris, linebackers Quincy Stewart and Shane Elam, defensive tackle John Schlecht and safety Al Blades.


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