Elam, Ward gone; four NFLE players survive cutdown

The 49ers roster stands at 67 players after some Tuesday tinkering to comply with the NFL's first mandatory cutdown to 65. The surplus consists of two special NFL Europe roster exemptions, but the Niners have decided to take four players from that league into the final week of the preseason while cutting instead two players who made the team last year as rookies.

Linebacker Shane Elam and guard Chad Ward both were waived before Tuesday's 1 p.m. deadline. The Niners also officially placed rookie safety Kevin Curtis on injured reserve and put rookie defensive tackle Josh Shaw on the reserve/non-football injury list, which means Shaw will miss the first six weeks of the season, at which point the Niners must decide whether or not to activate him to the 53-man roster.

Ward had been battling for a backup berth at guard and at one point appeared to have an inside track to one of the reserve positions along the offensive line. But rookie Eric Heitmann passed him in the eyes of coaches during the past few weeks, and when Ward sprained a medial collateral knee ligament on Saturday against the Raiders - an injury that would keep him out several weeks - that proved to be the killing blow for his chances of sticking on the roster.

Elam got caught in a numbers game and a talent game this summer. Linebacker might be the deepest position on the team after the Niners added talented Saleem Rasheed to a young core of veterans that includes Jamie Winborn, Jeff Ulbrich, Derek Smith and Julian Peterson. Elam, who made the team out of training camp last year before being waived at the end of October, wasn't going to break into that group, and he had no chance at the sixth linebacker spot, either, after veteran Quincy Stewart and youngsters Frank Strong, Brandon Moore and Cornelius Anthony moved past him on the depth chart.

The Niners decided they'd rather take a longer look at Anthony and three other players - running back Jamal Robertson, defensive end Jerome Davis and receiver Scott Cloman - that starred this past spring in Europe. All four players were impressive in training camp and have had their moments in preseason games, but each still faces an uphill climb to remain with the team after the Sept. 1 final cutdown to a 53-man roster.

Robertson might have the best chance. If the Niners decide to keep six running backs, as they did last year, he would appear to have an edge over Jasen Isom for that sixth spot. Davis' hopes hinge greatly on whether the Niners decide to keep nine defensive linemen. Anthony is fighting the three linebackers listed above for one spot, and Cloman only sticks if the team opts to keep five receivers. He's currently competing with T.T. Toliver and James Jordan for that fifth spot.

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