SANTA CLARA, Calif. – This is the week in the NFL when jobs are won and lost. Starters may have the luxury of preparing for the opening week of the regular season, but for everyone else, the last preseason game is a final chance to win a spot on a team's 53-man roster.
"It's a tough business," said San Francisco 49ers reserve tackle Alex Boone. "Every day, you're competing for a spot. What will happen? Nobody really knows. It's kind of exciting, but it's also really nerve wracking."
The 49ers play their last preseason game Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers, and although coach Mike Singletary said Monday he has a good idea what his final roster will look like, he also indicated that players can affect decisions with an exceptional performance.
"There are always a few things that the game could influence," he said, "and it's just a matter of what jumps out at you. It's one of those things where you're thinking, this guy may be a candidate for the practice squad, or this guy may be a candidate for the 53 and this guy may be a candidate for the 45. And they do something in the game that tilts it one way or the other."
It's likely Singletary will take a long look at special teams play in Thursdays game. He said that first-year special teams coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer will have a significant say in deciding which players are retained when final cuts are made Saturday, and those jobs may be decided on who can contribute most in the punting and kicking games.
"He's going to have a lot of influence," Singletary said of Schottenheimer. "I think for us to get where we need to go, we need to have great special teams. I can't challenge him and say, ‘Hey, I want us to have the best special teams in the league,' and not give him a say in what he needs."
Rookie cornerback Phillip Adams had an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, but Singletary was noncommittal about whether he had won the job. Last season, the 49ers ranked last in the league in punt returns.
Asked if Adams has a strong chance to be the team's main punt returner, Singletary said, "I wouldn't say main punt returner. He's definitely one of them."
The Niners are still waiting on the return of Kyle Williams, who was given a shot to win the job before he was sidelined by a sprained big toe. But there's no indication when he'll return.
Meanwhile, Singletary his starters will probably play no more than one or two series against the Chargers, and he's considering not playing nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who signed his one-year tender Saturday and said he wants to play in the game.
"I'm not excited about him playing, but there's a chance he could play a series or so just to get a feel for it," he said. "We're going to talk about it a little more."