The practice squad: What they bring to 49ers

The 49ers' eight-player practice squad announced Sunday will have its best stock of NFL-caliber talent in several years. Here's a look at each of the young players asked back to San Francisco's developmental squad – all of whom were with the team in training camp this summer – and analysis of what they bring to the team and what their potential is for the future.

S Darnell Bing: Bing made a strong roster push over the final weeks of the summer and fits in well with what the 49ers want their strong safety to do in their 3-4 defensive scheme. A fourth-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2006, Bing was claimed off waivers on July 26 and had to play catch-up in learning San Francisco's system. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound enforcer finished the preseason strong with a four-tackle effort against San Diego on Thursday, and he also displayed an ability to contribute on special teams during the preseason. He couldn't beat out fourth-round draft pick Dashon Goldson for the No. 4 role at safety, but that was primarily due to the things Goldson showed the team over the past four months. Bing still is a top-level prospect to be developed for the future.

RB Thomas Clayton: The 49ers force-fed the sixth-round draft pick from the beginning of May minicamp to see what he's got, and the rookie didn't always respond to all his opportunities. But Clayton came on strong and displayed considerable development over the past two weeks and, as he said himself, laid it on the line during Thursday's preseason finale, when he rushed for 84 yards on 14 carries. That strong finish made Clayton the NFL's leading rusher in exhibition games this year with 200 yards on 45 carries, which wasn't enough to get him picked up on another 53-man roster after final cuts, but certainly was enough for the 49ers to ask him back for further development with the team this season.

OT Harvey Dahl: There's a lot the 49ers like about Dahl as a backup tackle, as evidenced by the fact he spent the 2006 season on San Francisco's 53-man roster, appearing in four games after coming into the league the previous year as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. Dahl's roster spot this year was essentially taken by first-round draft pick Joe Staley, but he still has practice squad eligibility because he played in only the four games last year, and the 49ers eagerly signed him back when he cleared waivers.

OT Damane Duckett: Duckett attempted to revive his career this year by switching to offensive tackle after playing his first three NFL seasons as a defensive lineman, a position at which he has 10 career tackles and one sack. He needs considerable development in pass protection to make it at his new position in the NFL trenches, but he has great size and athleticism for the role at 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds. The 49ers like Duckett's work ethic and desire to make the mid-career position switch, and they're eager to see what he can do now that he'll have an entire year to develop with the team.

FB Zak Keasey: Another player the 49ers like for his work ethic and lunch-pail style, Keasey clearly was one of the final players released on a team that decided not to keep a backup fullback and only kept a total of four running backs on his its final roster. Keasey knows the San Francisco offense and the true fullback's role in it, and he has shown the team he can handle every facet of the position. A converted college linebacker, he also can contribute on special teams. Keasey spent 16 weeks on San Francisco's practice squad last year and is game-ready to be called up to the big squad on a moment's notice.

LB Mark Washington: Washington was another prime candidate for the practice squad after faring well with the team this summer despite having limited experience in college during a sketchy underclassman career at Arizona State and Texas State. Washington went undrafted in the July supplemental draft and was quickly signed by the 49ers. A chiseled physical specimen at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Washington showed some true edge skills to play outside in San Francisco's 3-4 system, making him a prime developmental prospect for the future and just the kind of young player the Niners want on their additional roster.

WR Dominique Zeigler: The slender 6-foot-2, 181-pound product of Baylor University was the 10th of the 10 receivers the 49ers brought to training camp this summer, but the undrafted rookie looked good whenever given the opportunity during team drills in camp, showing an ability to get open and some soft hands in snagging passes. He had 54 receptions for 741 yards and three touchdowns as a senior last year, and now will be given an opportunity to see if he can take it to the next level while working every day in practice.

TE Zac Herold: The undrafted rookie from Nebraska-Omaha was overshadowed this summer by the three tight ends who made San Francisco's final roster and the one who didn't, but he showed the Niners enough all-around skills to be asked back for further development. Herold appeared to be just one of those young players who was filling out San Francisco's training camp roster, but he showed some development over the summer and made some things happen in San Francisco's preseason finale, when he had a nine-yard reception, his only catch of the preseason.


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