More roster changes in store as 49ers cut 22

The 49ers have 20 new players on their first final roster of 2006, and that meant parting ways with some veterans who played key roles last season and also giving up on three 2005 draft picks that just didn't work out. But after getting below the NFL-mandated 53-player roster limit on Saturday afternoon, coach Mike Nolan made it clear that roster is headed for at least a few more changes.

That's most evident in the fact the 49ers actually cut their roster down to 52 players, leaving a spot open for a player they will pick up off the waiver wire, a process that had already begun as Nolan was discussing the team's cuts Saturday afternoon.

"We are going to look very heavily into what players other people are letting go," Nolan said.

Nolan released 22 players and put another on injured reserve, opting to temporarily leave a roster berth open instead of giving the final player on the roster a false sense of security when he was just going to get released Sunday after the 49ers found an upgrade on the waiver wire.

The biggest names to go Saturday were versatile eighth-year veteran running back Terry Jackson, San Francisco's special teams captain for several years running, and linebacker Corey Smith, who was in the mix for a starting berth on the outside earlier this year after being signed to a contract extension late last season.

But Jackson no longer figured in the team's backfield plans, and Nolan said his contributions on special teams can be filled and replaced by other players. Smith's release was perhaps even more surprising as it leaves the 49ers with no healthy reserve outside linebackers behind Manny Lawson, except for Brandon Moore, who the team is hoping to move inside as it apparently reverts back to a regular 4-3 defensive scheme for the time being.

The Niners also released three of their draft picks from last year – fifth-round wide receiver/kick returner Rasheed Marshall, sixth-round cornerback Derrick Johnson and seventh-round receiver Marcus Maxwell.

"It's always difficult to waive those guys, but at the same time, we know we're getting better in the process," Nolan said. "Those players were on our squad last year and this year they've been beaten out. I would like to think that means we're getting better, not just swapping out the old for the new.

"Some of these guys just got caught into a numbers game, and Rasheed was one of those guys. We knew we'd have to develop him when he was drafted. The last couple of weeks, he's really made a jump. But somebody had to go at this time, and I didn't think it was in our best interest to continue to work with that situation."

Each member of San Francisco's nine-player 2006 draft class made the team, with seventh-round pick Vickiel Vaughn being placed on the injured reserve list with a tendon injury in his right hand. Vaughn was likely headed to the practice squad, but now he'll get another year to develop with the team before trying to earn a roster spot in 2007.

The other veterans released were wide receivers Otis Amey and Jason McAddley, tight end Terry Jones, defensive end Lance Legree, linebacker Jim Maxwell, cornerback Kris Richard, guard Ben Sobieski, quarterback Gibran Hamdan and punter Tom Rouen, a 14th-year veteran who as expected lost out to the much younger Andy Lee despite performing very well this summer.

"That one was an important one for us," Nolan said. "Andy's our punter. I thought Tom Rouen did an outstanding job competing. I don't believe he came in here to make Andy a better punter, but he certainly did."

The rest of the cuts were expected, including four first-year players and four undrafted rookie free agents. That list included linebackers Sarth Benoit and Bobby Iwuchukwu, fullback Zack Keasey, defensive end Scott Scharff, offensive tackles Sam Wilder, Bobby Harris and Tavares Washington and defensive tackle Bobby Payne.

The 49ers will move forward with 20 players that weren't on their 53-man roster at the end of the 2005 season – the eight draft picks and 12 established veterans who either were brought in via trade or as free agents during the past nine months. Each of those veterans besides fifth-year quarterback Shaun Hill has NFL starting experience.

"I would say we're better at most of the positions," Nolan said. "When I look across the board offensively, we're better at every position."

Nolan said "anywhere from four to six" of the players released could be brought back to the team's practice squad on Sunday once they clear waivers.

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