Shuffle at safety as 49ers finally sign Roman

The competition at safety in 49ers training camp got taken to a whole new level Sunday on a day the team didn't even practice when seventh-year veteran Mark Roman finally signed a one-year deal to join the red and gold.

The Niners had been negotiating with Roman since training camp began on Friday, one day after he was given his release by the Green Bay Packers, where Roman had become unhappy with his role after the Packers signed free-agent safety Marquand Manuel during the spring.

To make room on their 86-man summer roster, the 49ers released second-year safety Ben Emanuel, an indication of how much the team has upgraded its depth and roster competition this summer. Emanuel had displayed some promise while starting San Francisco's final seven games last season at strong safety, and he was one of several young prospects in the secondary who entered 2006 with an opportunity to either challenge again for a starting role or be left off the roster altogether.

As it turns out, Emanuel didn't even make it to the padded stage of training camp, which begins Monday when the team begins practicing in full gear. The 49ers were off Sunday after beginning camp with four practices in shorts and helmets on Friday and Saturday.

Picked up in early October last season after being released by the Carolina Panthers, who drafted him in the fifth round last year, Emanuel finished ninth on the team with 43 tackles and had an interception. He can play both safety positions, but had slipped on the depth chart behind current starters Tony Parrish and Mike Adams along with backups Keith Lewis and Chad Williams as the 49ers moved forward.

With rookie draft picks Marcus Hudson and Vickiel Vaughn also in the mix at safety, somebody had to go when the 49ers finally worked out a deal with Roman, who had discussions with several teams during his three days on the open market.

Roman fits the mold of what 49ers coach Mike Nolan is looking for as he reshapes the San Francisco roster, and the former second-round draft pick – Roman was selected with the No. 34 overall pick in the 2000 draft by Cincinnati – will be given an immediate opportunity to unseat Adams at free safety, and also provides an insurance policy at strong safety if Parrish has any problems rebounding from the multiple leg fractures that ended his 2005 season in November.

Roman (5-foot-11, 201 pounds) was drafted as a cornerback and has two seasons of NFL experience at that position, but Nolan said he will strictly be a safety with the 49ers.

"He'll have every opportunity to compete for that (starting) job," Nolan said. "He (will) compete at both safety positions – he could be either one. Until I know (Parrish) is fully healthy, I'm leaving it all open. It's not set for us. I like some of the guys we have, but we have not arrived. We've got guys that need to get pushed and need to get better."

Roman should provide that push. At 29, Nolan said the veteran is in his prime, and one of the reasons Roman selected San Francisco over other teams is because he feels he has an opportunity to become a starting fixture in the secondary. Roman started 31 of 32 games the past two seasons in Green Bay after joining the Packers as a free agent in 2004.

"He's athletic and has experience," Nolan said. "He's a guy that I believe expects to start, and that's the key, because that attitude will make us better. Whether he takes the job from somebody or pushes someone to get better, that's the attitude we're looking for. So we'll see."

Roman, who will make his practice debut with the team Monday, has 332 career tackles with six sacks and four interceptions. He had a career-high 90 tackles and two interceptions with the Packers last season.

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