The final cuts: Why they're no longer Niners

With Sunday's release of linebacker Dontarrious Thomas to make way on the roster for Ahmad Brooks, the 49ers have likely completed their final cutdown to a 53-man roster for next week's opener against Arizona. The 49ers had some difficult decisions to make considering the upgrades on their roster this year, and here's a look at the players let go this weekend and why they're no longer Niners.

LB Dontarrious Thomas: The fifth-year veteran was on shaky ground after an up-and-down summer, but he made the initial cutdown to a 53-man roster on Saturday despite missing several tackles and being called for pass interference during a starting opportunity in Friday's exhibition finale against San Diego. Truth be told, Thomas turned out to be a considerable disappointment for the 49ers after they signed him on March 3 to a two-year, $1.75 million contract that included a $400,000 signing bonus. A second-round selection by Minnesota in 2004 who was overshadowed in recent seasons by the Vikings' strong linebacker corps, Thomas came to the 49ers with the team expecting him to challenge for a starting role at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis. He clearly wasn't up to that task and spent some time behind Willis this summer as the 49ers looked for a place for him to fit in. Thomas was among the team leaders with 13 tackles during the preseason, but he did not show enough on defense or special teams to earn a final spot on the roster. When Brooks popped up on the waiver wire, the 49ers quickly pounced on him in favor of Thomas.

WR Ashley Lelie: Talk about big disappointments. The 49ers had high hopes for Lelie to provide a legitimate vertical threat to their offense when they signed him last year to two-year, $4.3 million contract in free agency. It seemed as though Lelie was misused - or underused - last year when he caught just 10 passes for 115 yards, belying the fact that he leads the NFL in average yards per catch since he entered the league as a first-round draft pick in 2002. But, just as last year, he got off to a slow start this summer as he was hampered by a leg injury throughout training camp. The 49ers kept Lelie around to the final cut to get one last look at him this week - when he came back healthy and practiced - but he showed nothing in the preseason finale for the team to keep him around, and the 49ers will go with just five wide receivers on their roster to start the regular season. There is still a possibility the 49ers might re-sign him at some point in the early going, but he has been a disappointment during his time on the team.

RB Thomas Clayton: This was a very difficult cut for the 49ers to make since the team's sixth-round draft pick from 2007 displayed nice development this summer for the second year in a row and has come along strong since leading the NFL in rushing during the exhibition season last year as a rookie. Clayton simply lost out again in a numbers game as he was not going to be able to crack into the team's top three running backs with Frank Gore, DeShaun Foster and Michael Robinson in front of him. He displayed significant progress as a runner but still needs work on his all-around game to contribute as a blocker and on special teams. He had another strong showing in the exhibition season this year, leading the team with 186 yards rushing and a touchdown on 42 carries for a 4.4-yard average. There was a possibility Clayton might get picked up off waivers by another team when he was released Saturday, but after clearing waivers, the 49ers quickly snatched him up and signed him to their practice squad, where he spent the entire 2007 season. There is more of a chance this year that he could be elevated to the 53-man roster at some point during the season.

FB Moran Norris: Norris had a big season in 2006 while paving the way for Frank Gore's team-record 1,695 rushing yards and gaining recognition as one of the league's top blocking fullbacks. But his play fell off conspicuously last year, and he could not withstand the challenge presented to his starting job by up-and-comer Zak Keasey during training camp. Norris had a decent summer and didn't do a whole lot to lose his roster berth; he was simply beaten out by a player who performed better as the 49ers opted to go with just one fullback on their final roster.

WR Dominique Zeigler : When the 49ers waived Lelie, that might have indicated their was a final spot on the roster for Zeigler, a practice-squad star last year who had an excellent summer while displaying NFL-caliber hands. But the 49ers opted to go with just five receivers on their final roster for now - something of a surprise, considering how much the Mike Martz offense utilizes extra receivers - Zeigler also was left out despite leading the 49ers during the exhibition season with 15 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. Zeigler added some weight and strength to his lankly 6-foot-3 frame this year and looks to be a NFL-caliber receiver at this point. When he cleared waivers, the 49ers quickly signed him back to their practice squad Sunday, and there is a good chance he'll be spending time on the team's regular roster at some point this season - if some other NFL team doesn't grab him first.

OG Brian de la Puente: The undrafted rookie free agent had a real shot to make the final roster, but he lost out in a numbers game when the 49ers had to keep their two offensive line draft picks on the final roster to go along with their established veterans along the unit. de la Puente opened some eyes this summer and performed well when given a starting opportunity at left guard in place of the injured Adam Snyder in Week 3 of the preseason against Chicago, where he held his own against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris. He had an arm injury the next week in practice that set him back a bit, and David Baas started at left guard in Friday's preseason finale. Still, de la Puente performed about as well as he could have this summer and made a strong roster bid. The 49ers almost certainly would have asked him back to their practice squad Sunday, but he was claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs and will begin his NFL career on their roster.

LB Larry Gant: The team's seventh-round draft pick was inconsistent this summer, but he made an overall good impression with his athleticism and play-making ability. He made a late roster bid in Friday's preseason finale when he made a couple of goal-line tackles and broke up two passes against the Chargers. He finished with 10 defensive tackles during the preseason but did not make the kind of impression the team was expecting on special teams, which was supposed to be his strength and the area where he could contribute immediately this year. So the 49ers opted to go with proven veteran performers at linebacker, though they immediately signed Grant back to the practice squad Sunday when he was not claimed off waivers.

LB Dennis Haley: Haley performed well throughout spring drills and summer camp, but the 49ers have a lot of good inside linebackers and it was difficult for him to ultimately break into their final group. He played well throughout the exhibition season and made a strong final roster push against the Chargers with five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He finished the preseason with 11 tackles, but it wasn't quite enough.

NT Atiyyah Ellison: The 320-pounder has showed the 49ers a few things since he was signed off the Ravens' practice squad leading up to the first game of the regular season last year, even though he was inactive for all 16 games in 2007. He has displayed NFL-caliber talent and had seven tackles during the preseason, including three Friday against the Chargers. The 49ers opted to go with proven veteran performers at nose tackle in Aubrayo Franklin and Ronnie Fields, though Ellison was close and made a good impression this summer. The 49ers would like to take a longer look at the third-year veteran, and they'll get a chance to do so after signing him to their practice squad when he cleared waivers Sunday.

DE La Juan Ramsey: The 49ers picked him up as a waiver claim before the opening of training camp from the Eagles. He showed some good things during training camp and the preseason, but the third-year veteran could not crack into the line rotation, but could not crack into the rotation on the line. He had two tackles during the preseason.

DE Louis Holmes: The athletic prospect displayed plenty of promise since joining the 49ers as an undrafted rookie free agent this summer, but he faced long odds to make the roster with established performers and draft picks ahead of him in the pecking order. He'll get a longer look from the team after he was signed back to the practice squad Sunday after clearing waivers.

DE Walter Curry: Another young player who made a good impression this summer, the 49ers simply couldn't find a spot for Curry on their final roster even though he showed promise in the middle trenches with four tackles, one sack and a pass defensed during the preseason. The 49ers liked Curry, but decided they could keep only six defensive linemen on their final roster, which left him on the outside looking in. He got pushed around a few times in the preseason finale, which certainly didn't help his chances.

TE J.J. Finley: The 49ers already were set at tight end with Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Billy Bajema, but he showed the team a few things despite getting few opportunities during the preseason, which finished without him making a catch. Still, the 49ers want to keep the 6-foot-6 practice around for a longer look, and they signed Finley to the practice squad Sunday after he cleared waivers.

WR Jerard Rabb: Rabb was pretty much a forgotten man this summer after the Boise State product spent the final two weeks of last season on the 49ers' practice squad as a rookie. He did not see much action during the preseason and did not catch a pass.

WR Cam Colvin: Once considered one of the top prep prospects in the nation coming out of high school, the San Francisco Bay Area product showed some promise during the summer, but it was not enough to make a serious roster bid. He opened some eyes with fine play during San Francisco's joint practice with the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 4, but did not get much of a chance to build on that performance during the exhibition season and finished the preseason with no receptions, though one was nullified by a penalty.

WR Robert Ortiz: Didn't have much of a chance to make the team after coming to the 49ers a week into training camp after Cal's Robert Jordan left the team for personal reasons. Ortiz caught one pass for 8 yards during the exhibition season. His muffed punt late in Friday's game gave the Chargers the opportunity for victory in the final minute, and no doubt sealed his fate with the team.

OT Alan Reuber: The second-year veteran saw action at right tackle during the exhibition season, but he did not come close to showing enough to convince the 49ers to keep a 10th offensive lineman on the final roster. Reuber allowed San Diego's Brandon Siler to slip by him to tackle Michael Robinson for a 2-yard loss and followed with a false-start penalty on the next play in Friday's preseason finale, which certainly wasn't a good final impression before cutdown day.

OT Joe Toledo: Of the fringe veterans who had a chance to grab a final roster berth along the offensive line, Toledo probably had the best summer. He played left tackle with the second team through the exhibition season and, after getting off to a slow start, ended up playing pretty well. But with the youth and versatility the 49ers already have along their line, there wasn't a spot to keep him around.

OT Chris Patrick: He was picked up after the first exhibition game when Damane Duckett went down with a season-ending knee injury. Patrick showed some promise during his time with the team, but he was beaten for a sack in Friday's preseason finale. He was listed as third string on the team's depth chart at left tackle behind Joe Staley and Toledo entering Friday's game.

CB Markus Curry: He made a good impression with his coverage skills during the exhibition season, but faced long odds to make the final roster with all the depth San Francisco has in the defensive backfield. Finished the preseason with four tackles, one sack and one pass defensed.

S D.J. Parker: Saw a lot of action in the exhibition season and finished Friday's game with three tackles and a pass defensed and also had a tackle on special teams. He did not appear on the statistics sheet in San Francisco's first three preseason games.

K/P Ricky Schmitt: The first-year kicker/punter actually made a strong impression this summer, and his versatility saved the 49ers a roster spot during training camp when teams generally keep a backup punter AND a backup kicker. Schmitt filled both backup roles capably. He averaged 43.7 yards on three punts, while making 3 of 4 field-goal attempts and all five of his PAT attempts. But with Joe Nedney at kicker and All-Pro Andy Lee at punter, San Francisco already was set with its kicking specialists.



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