The first cutdown: Linebacker

The 49ers must cut down their roster from 81 players to 65 by Tuesday, and <EM>SF</EM> <EM>Illustrated </EM>is analyzing the six major positional categories and forecasting who is staying and who is on the way out. Today: Linebackers, where 11 players currently reside on the roster.

Starters: Julian Peterson, Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich. Young unit developed and played together well last year. Niners looking for Peterson to fulfill star potential, while Smith and Ulbrich are more the strong and steady type.

Roster locks: Jamie Winborn, Saleem Rasheed. You could see these two names in the starting lineup before too long - and then staying there for a decade. Both youngsters are putting serious heat on the starting trio for playing time.

Definitely staying past this cut: Frank Strong, Brandon Moore. The Niners like both of these undrafted rookies, and Strong is playing so well at LB and on special teams that he might already be figuring into the team's 2002 plans.

Sliding veterans: Quincy Stewart, Shane Elam. Both players made the team last year as rookies, but they are clearly being outplayed by Strong and Moore this time around, and could be deemed expendable at the first cut.

Looking for work on Aug. 28: Cornelius Anthony, Masafumi Kawaguchi. The cuts at linebacker will start here.

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