53-man decisions

Now that the preseason is out of the way, the 49ers must cut down their roster from 75 players to 53 by 1 p.m. Saturday. Here is SFI's view of how that roster will shape up after Friday's 23-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers, with roster locks, players in the gray area and players on the back end of the bubble, along with analysis at each position.

QUARTERBACK
Roster locks: Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer
In the gray area: Shaun Hill
On the back end of the bubble: Gibran Hamdan
Position analysis: Coach Mike Nolan has played around with the idea of keeping just two quarterbacks going into the season, but it's difficult to see that happening. That should mean a roster berth for Hill, who developed nicely in a new system this summer and has looked good in the preseason. The wild card here is Hamdan, who the 49ers like and don't necessarily want to expose to the waiver wire. That could mean keeping him on the 53-man at the expense of Hill. If Hill stays, Hamdan becomes a top candidate for the practice squad.

RUNNING BACK
Roster locks: Frank Gore, Maurice Hicks, Michael Robinson
In the gray area: Moran Norris, Terry Jackson
On the back end of the bubble: Chris Hetherington, Zak Keasey
Position analysis: The versatile Jackson appears to have made the roster again based on his special teams prowess and ability to fill in as a third-down back in a pinch. The real question here is who the 49ers keep at fullback, since the team will be using so many two-tight end sets this season where a fullback wont even be in the game. Hetherington is the more versatile player, but Norris is the better blocker, and that seems to be what the 49ers will need from the position, if indeed they even keep a fullback. With needs and players to keep in other areas, they might not. Keasey is a hungry young player who could be a top candidate for the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER
Roster locks: Antonio Bryant, Arnaz Battle, Bryan Gilmore, Brandon Williams
In the gray area: Taylor Jacobs, Jason McAddley
On the back end of the bubble: Rasheed Marshall, Otis Amey, Marcus Maxwell
Position analysis: The 49ers are significantly weak at receiver behind potential star No. 1 wideout Antonio Bryant, and that could figure into how many players they decide to keep here. With tight ends Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson also possessing the ability to be used split wide in some formations, the 49ers don't appear too likely inclined to keep six receivers as they have in the past. Jacobs has looked good in his brief time with the team and shown enough talent and experience to probably be kept around for a longer look, particularly considering his competition. Marshall hasn't shown much more than shaky hands this summer, but the team still feels he has potential and might not want to give up on him. But he didn't do much this summer to deserve a roster spot. McAddley didn't play Friday because of a hand injury and that could hurt his chances. Amey gets the most out of his talent but probably gets left off the roster. The same holds true for Maxwell, who is a talented specimen who doesn't produce results.

TIGHT END
Roster locks: Vernon Davis, Eric Johnson, Delanie Walker
In the gray area: Billy Bajema
On the back end of the bubble: Terry Jones
Position analysis: Bajema, who started seven games last year as a rookie, has played well enough to make the team and probably will, even though the 49ers have seriously upgraded their talent at this spot and are likely to keep four tight ends because the position is so prominent in their attack. Jones, the team's leader in receptions at tight end last year, hasn't gotten much of a look this summer and appears destined for the waiver wire.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Roster locks: Jonas Jennings, Larry Allen, Eric Heitmann, Justin Smiley, Kwame Harris, Adam Snyder, David Baas
In the gray area: Harvey Dahl, Tony Wragge
On the back end of the bubble: Patrick Estes, Ben Sobieski, Sam Wilder, Tavares Washington, Bobby Harris
Position analysis: Since Snyder is so versatile and can play both tackle and guard positions, and Baas is reliable at both center and guard, the 49ers certainly won't keep more than nine players here, and may only chose to stay with eight. Dahl has moved ahead of Estes as the fourth tackle, and Wragge's roster chances improve because he can play both guard and center, though he did not have a good finale Friday. Injuries this summer have hurt Sobieski, who was in the running for a roster berth a few weeks ago but might not be now. The rest of the players here are practice squad candidates at best.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Roster locks: Bryant Young, Marques Douglas, Anthony Adams, Isaac Sopoaga, Melvin Oliver
In the gray area: Ronnie Fields, Lance Legree
On the back end of the bubble: Scott Scharff, Bobby Payne
Position analysis: Oliver has been a find as a sixth-round draft pick and has moved past Fields on the depth chart, and even Fields is not safe considering his hot-and-cold performance this summer. Scharff, a pass-rushing star in NFL Europe this spring, just hasn't shown enough to help the team's weak pass rush. Legree has had his moments inside but must be better than the youngsters around him because of his veteran's salary. Any player the 49ers keep here beyond the five locks will be in danger of losing their spot after the Niners look for other defensive linemen cut by other teams on the waiver wire.

LINEBACKER
Roster locks: Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich, Manny Lawson, Brandon Moore, Corey Smith, Parys Haralson
In the gray area:T.J. Slaughter, Jim Maxwell
On the back end of the bubble: Sarth Benoit, Bobby Iwuchukwu
Position analysis: The Niners have some decisions to make, because their best two linebackers beyond the locks both play inside, where the team ultimately would like to have Moore play as a top backup. That could make it difficult for both Maxwell and Slaughter to stick on the final roster, because the team needs help on the outside with Haralson's foot injury keeping him out into the regular season. Iwuchukwu has shown some promise on the outside, but the team should lean toward reliable veterans here.

CORNERBACK
Roster locks: Shawntae Spencer, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson
In the gray area: B.J. Tucker, Derrick Johnson, Sammy Davis
On the back end of the bubble: Kris Richard
Position analysis: After a strong start in training camp, Davis has not played well since taking over the injured Spencer's spot in the lineup and could be in danger of being released after being considered a top backup here just a few weeks ago. Hudson came on at the end of the preseason and should make the roster on potential alone. Niners will have a difficult decision to make here between Tucker and Johnson if they keep just four cornerbacks. Add Davis to that mix if the team opts to keep five.

SAFETY
Roster locks: Tony Parrish, Mike Adams, Mark Roman
In the gray area: Chad Williams, Keith Lewis
On the back end of the bubble: Vickiel Vaughn
Position analysis: The safety position has not impressed this summer, but the three locks are the best the 49ers have and should stick above the others. Lewis is a special teams stud who gets the most out of his ability in coverage, so he's likely to stick as a valuable backup, and could push into the top four ahead of Williams. Vaughn his a rookie that has shown plenty of promise, but the 49ers need experience here, and he's likely headed to the practice squad.

SPECIALISTS
Roster locks: K Joe Nedney, LS Brian Jennings
In the gray area: P Andy Lee, P Tom Rouen
Position analysis: The suspense here is at punter, where Rouen has out-performed Lee most of the summer, but he also is 14 years older than the incumbent, meaning the 49ers may go with the young leg instead. That battle remains a tossup even after Friday's exhibition finale.


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