The 49ers find themselves halfway through the 2010 NFL preseason, which means we're that much closer to final roster cuts. Next Tuesday NFL teams have to cut down to 75 players, and then a week from today they cut down to their final 53-man rosters. I had intended to provide 53-man roster projections a bit more frequently this month, but obviously that hasn't happened.
Nonetheless, with tonight's game against the Raiders, now seems like as good a time as any to come out with my second projection. Much has changed since my first projection shortly before training camp. We've had some big injuries and some roster moves that have mixed up the various roster battles. For now, here's my 53-man projection (with changes underlined). After the jump we have some discussion of the bubble battles that will continue playing out tonight.
QB (3): Alex Smith, David Carr, Nate Davis
RB (4): , Brian Westbrook, , Anthony Dixon
WR (5): Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler
TE (3): , , Nate Byham
LT (2): , Barry Sims
LG (2): Mike Iupati, Tony Wragge
C (2): David Baas,
RT (2): Anthony Davis, Alex Boone
DE (4): , ,
DT (2): , Ricky Jean-Francois
OLB (5): , , Ahmad Brooks, Travis LaBoy, Diyral Briggs
ILB (4): , , Navorro Bowman, Matt Wilhelm
CB (5): , , Tarell Brown, Karl Paymah, Phillip Adams
FS (2): , Reggie Smith
SS (2): Michael Lewis, Taylor Mays
Last 5 on: Tony Wragge/Alex Boone, Khalif Mitchell, Nate Byham, Travis LaBoy, Phillip Adams
First 5 off: Jason Hill, Curtis Taylor, Brit Miller, Will Tukuafu, Demetric Evans
I'll be honest, this is a tough 53-man to put together. You get through about 45 or so guys and you've got a lot of decent options you can mix in. Of the last five on, Wragge was a tough one. Right now I have ten offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, which would seem a touch much. However, given the situation with Eric Heitmann's broken leg, I think the team will need a second center option. David Baas seems to have secured the starting center position, but you don't go into the season with one guy at that position. Wragge has experience playing center, which is why I've included him.
The other position I am not so sure about is outside linebacker, particularly in light of Singletary's comments about Ahmad Brooks likely being healthy by the start of the regular season. If that's the case, can you really afford to keep both Travis LaBoy and Diyral Briggs on the roster? I've got both there, but I'd lean more towards keeping Curtis Taylor or an extra defensive lineman. LaBoy can be a beast when healthy, but he's oft-injured. Briggs has shown potential, but who knows if it will turn into production.
As far as bubble battles, we've got people battling others for time at their position, as well as people battling anybody and everybody for a simple roster spot. Considering the significance of today's "third" preseason game, the bubble is getting fairly precarious. Some of the bubble guys out there:
Curtis Taylor: He's shown ability, but he would seem to be precisely positioned on the bubble at this point. Considering the 49ers added Taylor Mays in the offseason, and are seeing better production out of Reggie Smith, a fifth safety might be a luxury the team does not feel is necessary. He needs to step up tonight in the secondary and on special teams.
Brit Miller/Jehuu Caulcrick: I'm fairly convinced at this point that Nate Byham will be snagging the roster spot for which one of these two would have been slotted. While both have their positives, I just think the team is looking at Byham as being a more versatile option, like a poor man's Chris Cooley. OK, maybe more like a homeless man's Chris Cooley. But basically a guy who can move around to different positions on the field.
Will Tukuafu/Demetric Evans: A lot of folks are really high on Tukuafu, and I certainly do think he's talented. At this point he's a victim of the numbers game on my 53-man roster. If the team went with one less offensive lineman or outside linebacker, Tukuafu would likely be the guy who ends up on the roster. I think I'm hemming-and-hawing a bit because I'll likely make a more firm decision after tonight's game. As for Evans, he's a veteran presence, but if the team feels Khalif Mitchell can do the better job, I'd imagine they'll go with the younger, cheaper option.
Jason Hill: I think he's a very talented receiver who seems to be wasting his chance. Of course, there is some question as to whether he's in somebody's dog house or not. I would argue he's generally a more talented receiver than Dominique Zeigler, but Zeigler seems to do the extra things necessary to stick on the team. And considering the fact that we're talking about the 4th or 5th receiver on this team, it's not a lot of touches at issue. If he doesn't show something tonight, I don't know what chance he has left.
Backup Offensive Linemen: We had some discussion about this topic earlier in the week. Rather than list individual players, I've decided to just go with the generic title because at this point anything could happen and I wouldn't be surprised. The four players that could be at issue are Tony Wragge, Alex Boone, Barry Sims, and Adam Snyder. Some are safer than others, but it all depends on how comfortable the 49ers are along the line. Although Baas has apparently secured the starting center position, the team will need a backup center until Heitmann is healthy. Wragge has played center before, but now it sounds like Snyder is getting some snaps at center in practice. I think the team realizes it can't keep a 10-man contingent of linemen, but rather needs to shave one person off. Given Snyder's versatility between guard and tackle (and maybe now center), I think Wragge could be the guy on the outs. But who knows at this point. Tonight might tell us more.