The Niners released Keith, their fourth-round draft pick in 2000, on Aug. 26 after it became obvious he would not be ready to help the team at the beginning of the season due to the knee injury that ended his season last year.
But since the team has opted to go light on safeties on its final 53-man roster, the Niners want to bring back Keith and allow him more time to return to game shape in the hope he might be able to contribute down the line this season. Despite his veteran status, Keith still is eligible for the practice squad because his first two NFL seasons were abruptly halted by season-ending injuries.
"Our current plan, tonight, is to bring John Keith back to the practice squad," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said Sunday. "He's a safety that knows our system. We're hoping we have some backup there."
Keith started three games as a rookie in 2000 and was beginning to gain a label as the team's charismatic, hard-hitting strong safety of the future before he broke his right arm on the opening kickoff of overtime in an October game against Oakland and was placed on injured reserve. He tore ligaments in his left knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener against Atlanta last year, also ending that season.
Because he has played in only seven NFL games, Keith still is eligible for the practice squad. Players are eligible until they appear in nine NFL games.
Keith was only cleared to practice by team doctors in mid-August. So time might be all Keith needs to regain the form that could allow him to contribute to the team's secondary again in 2002.
Donahue also indicated that Chad Cota, released by the Niners on Saturday, is another possibility to be brought back should the Niners determine they need some insurance at safety. The team also can move cornerback Rashad Holman there in a pinch, Donahue said.
"Until Chad Cota gets another job somewhere, he's out there and knows our system as well," Donahue said. "And we think that Rashad Holman can play some safety for us. He's very bright and knows the defensive structure. We think Rashad gives us some latitude out there."