Programming note: For complete coverage of the 49ers roster cuts, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 5:30 p.m., 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
Established special-teams players took the biggest hit Saturday when the 49ers made their initial cut to the 53-player limit for the regular season.
Rookie L.J. McCray, an undrafted free agent from Catawba College (Salisbury, North Carolina), will be one of the young players relied upon. The 49ers released veteran special-teams contributors C.J. Spillman, Kassim Osgood and Bubba Ventrone. They also parted ways with Darryl Morris, who saw considerable action on special teams as a rookie.
“There’s young players that are going to have to rise to the challenge,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And it’s a big challenge for our whole football team, the veteran players, young players, to get our special teams where we’re used to them being.”
McCray said he knows he will be counted on to play the all-important position of gunner on punt coverage. He said rookie Jimmie Ward, a first-round draft pick, will likely be on the other side when the 49ers open the regular season on Sept. 7 at the Dallas Cowboys.
McCray might have solidified his spot on the roster with a strong showing in the 49ers’ exhibition finale against the Houston Texans when he recorded two special-teams tackles.
[RELATED: 49ers' initial 53-man roster]
“I was just flying around on special teams and trying to get involved in every tackle I could,” McCray said.
McCray said he was inspired by listening to team captain Patrick Willis deliver an impassioned speech on the field before the game. Willis, like most of the starters, did not play in the game, but he made an impact with his words.
“The speech Patrick Willis gave before the game kind of registered with me,” McCray said.
Willis told his teammates that some players would be playing their final game with the 49ers and others might be playing their final game, period.
“So I took that as opportunity to go out and give everything I had,” McCray said.