The roster rundown

The 49ers play their final exhibition game tonight in San Diego, and the team has a lot of decisions to make about the bottom of its roster, which is as strong as it has been in several years. Here's a look at the team by position, projecting roster locks, players who should make the final 53-man squad, who's on the bubble, who's headed for the waiver wire, and who are practice squad candidates.

QUARTERBACK
Roster locks: Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer
Should make the team: Shaun Hill
Headed for the waiver wire: Luke Getsy
Practice squad candidate: Getsy:
Position analysis: Smith has continued to make progress this summer and is solid as the starter, with Dilfer a quality backup who provides great leadership and still can win on the field if called upon. … Hill is a solid veteran in the No. 3 role, but the team has depth issues at several positions and might consider keeping only two quarterbacks. … Getsy has some skills that fit the offense but needs a lot of development; he's a prime practice squad candidate. But if the Niners keep three QBs, they probably won't keep Getsy on their developmental roster.

RUNNING BACK
Roster locks:Frank Gore, Moran Norris, Michael Robinson, Maurice Hicks
On the bubble: Zak Keasey, Michael Clayton
Practice squad candidates: Keasey, Clayton
Position analysis: Gore and Norris provide one of the finest - if not the very finest - starting backfield tandems in the NFC. … The 49ers need a quality backup for Gore this season and are likely to split that role between Robinson and Hicks, who complement each other and both have something to offer the offense. … Clayton has some skills but doesn't look ready to contribute at this point. He almost surely will be asked back to the practice squad if he doesn't make the team. … The Niners might keep Keasey over Clayton to have a backup fullback who also can contribute on special teams. Keasey also is a strong candidate to return to the practice squad if he's waived. … The 49ers will consider keeping only four running backs because of roster issues at other positions.

TIGHT END
Roster locks: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker
Should make the team: Billy Bajema
On the bubble: Zach Hilton
Headed for the waiver wire: Zac Herold
Practice squad candidates: Herold
Position analysis: Davis could be headed for a breakout season and Walker should fill the complementary receiver role filled last year by Eric Johnson, but with much more explosiveness and less veteran polish. … Bajema complements Davis and Walker with his strong blocking and also can catch the ball when thrown to. … Hilton is a big target at 6-foot-8, has veteran skills and is making a strong roster push, making the 49ers seriously consider keeping four tight ends. But that will be tough with their logjam at receiver.

WIDE RECEIVER
Roster locks: Arnaz Battle, Darrell Jackson, Jason Hill
Should make the team: Taylor Jacobs, Brandon Williams
On the bubble: Ashley Lelie, Bryan Gilmore
Position analysis: And this is where it gets interesting. Hill, though he is nothing more than a fifth or sixth receiver on the team at this point, will make the squad because of the third-round investment the 49ers made in him this spring. … Williams also seems likely to stick because the team has not been seriously grooming another punt returner. … If Jacobs could perform that role - he was tried at it this summer and looked good - he would be a roster lock, because he has clearly been one of the team's top wideouts this summer. But there's still a chance the 49ers would select Lelie over him as the third receiver, which could leave Jacobs - despite his great summer - on the outside looking in if the team decides to keep just five wide receivers. But it's more likely the 49ers will keep six, leaving out the veteran Gilmore, who has been solid this summer but doesn't seem to offer the receiving threat of the others.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Roster locks: Jonas Jennings, Larry Allen, Eric Heitmann, Justin Smiley, Joe Staley, Kwame Harris, David Baas, Adam Snyder
Should make the team: Tony Wragge
On the bubble: Patrick Estes, Harvey Dahl
Headed for the waiver wire: Sean Estrada, Tavares Washington, Damane Duckett
Practice squad candidates: Estrada, Washington
Position analysis: The are set here with the eight roster locks, assuming the team doesn't swing a summer trade involving Harris now that Staley has beat him out as the starter at right tackle. … Wragge, another solid player, is almost certain to stick because of his versatility. … But the team must decide between Estes and Dahl if it decides to keep five tackles, or perhaps between Wragge/Dahl/Estes if it opts to keep only nine offensive linemen, which is possible. The most likely scenario is the keeps 10 offensive linemen and both Wragge and Estes stick.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Roster locks: Bryant Young, Aubrayo Franklin, Marques Douglas, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald
Should make the team: Ronnie Fields
On the bubble: Joe Cohen
Headed for the waiver wire: Darius Sanders, Sam Rayburn, Zach Anderson.
Practice squad candidates: Cohen, Sanders, Anderson
Position analysis:Sopoaga has solidified his roster spot with an exceptional summer. … Fields has not had a great summer, but his roster spot doesn't appear in jeopardy. … The 49ers could go light here with six defensive linemen since Fields can play both tackle and end, but if they do keep seven, rookie Cohen should get the nod over veteran Rayburn. … Cohen also could be asked back to the practice squad, but the fourth-rounder has looked god enough this summer that he might get picked up by another team if exposed to the waiver wire.

LINEBACKER
Roster locks: Manny Lawson, Patrick Willis, Derek Smith, Tully Banta-Cain, Brandon Moore, Parys Haralson
Should make the team: Jeff Ulbrich, Jay Moore
On the bubble: Colby Bockwoldt, Hannibal Navies
Headed for the waiver wire: Mark Washington
Practice squad candidate: Washington
Position analysis: Ulbrich was seemingly on the bubble entering training camp, but he has been solid this summer and the team likes his veteran leadership, attitude and commitment to being a team player. … Navies and Bockwoldt both look good enough to make the squad, but the team is unlikely to part with fourth-rounder Jay Moore, who has shown a lot of potential despite looking raw as a rookie in his attempt to transition from defensive end to linebacker. … If the 49ers keep nine linebackers - and that's going to be tough the way their roster will be configured - Navies should be the other player to stick.

SECONDARY
Roster locks: Nate Clements, Walt Harris, Michael Lewis, Mark Roman, Shawntae Spencer, Keith Lewis, Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson
On the bubble: Marcus Hudson, Donald Strickland, Vickiel Vaughn
Headed for the waiver wire: Markus Curry, Darnell Bing, Jake Patten.
Practice squad candidates: Vaugh, Curry, Patten
Position analysis: Fourth-rounder Goldson and fifth-rounder Brown have looked like such promising young players this summer that they have made themselves roster locks. … That leaves the only real question to be decided here is if the 49ers will keep nine defensive backs. Hudson will almost surely be the player that sticks if that happens, but Brown has moved ahead of him in the pecking order at cornerback. … The 49ers also like the progress Vaughn has made at safety, but there is no room for him on the roster. He's a prime candidate to get another year to develop on the practice squad.

SPECIALISTS
Roster locks: Joe Nedney, Andy Lee, Brian Jennings
Position analysis: What's there to be said here? Nedney is a quality veteran kicker, Lee is developing into one of the NFC's elite punters, and Jennings is one of the best long-snappers in the business. None of these guys are going anywhere, and that was decided a long time ago.


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