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HOUSTON -- Few spots are available on the 49ers' regular-season roster as they enter the exhibition finale Thursday night against the Houston Texans.
The 49ers must trim 22 roster spots to reach the 53-player limit by Saturday afternoon. So each bubble player feels as if he is auditioning for an NFL job on Thursday -- whether it's on the 49ers' roster, the practice squad or for a spot in another organization.
Here is a look at our roster projection as the 49ers get set to play their final exhibition before the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys:
Quarterbacks (2): Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
Something to consider: The 49ers finished last season with two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. Josh Johnson could be kept around if the 49ers are not sold on Gabbert as the backup. Otherwise, the 49ers will likely add a quarterback to the practice squad.
Running backs (4): Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James
Something to consider: There is definitely room for another player at this position group. Veteran Alfonso Smith has special-teams value. Will Tukuafu is an option if they decide to keep another fullback. Undrafted rookie Glenn Winston figures to make it through waivers and return to the practice squad.
[RELATED: Winston running to daylight with 49ers]
Wide receivers (5): Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton
Something to consider: It’s difficult to figure out what the 49ers are thinking here. Johnson has not meshed well with Kaepernick, so why wasn’t he out on the field with the first unit in the third exhibition game to work on chemistry? Johnson’s $3.65 million salary works against him. But it’s difficult to believe GM Trent Baalke would cut Johnson after giving up a fourth-round pick to acquire him. Brandon Lloyd has gotten good reviews, but there does not appear to be a role for both him and Johnson. Last season, the 49ers cut Kassim Osgood but brought him back a week later to avoid guaranteeing his entire salary as a vested veteran. They could do that with Osgood and/or Lloyd this season.
[RELATED: 49ers still in search of third receiver]
Tight ends (3): Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier
Something to consider: This seems pretty clear cut, especially with Garrett Celek opening the season on reserve/physically unable to perform.
Offensive line (9): Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney, Anthony Davis, Jonathan Martin, Adam Snyder, Carter Bykowski, Marcus Martin
Something to consider: Alex Boone remains a holdout, that opens a spot for Jonathan Martin to serve as the swing tackle. Marcus Martin is a candidate for injured reserve. Bykowski showed enough promise to protect on the 53-man roster.
Defensive line (7): Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Demarcus Dobbs, Tony Jerod-Eddie
Something to consider: Glenn Dorsey begins the season on injured reserve/designated for return. That means just about everyone on the defensive line can open on the 53-man roster.
Outside linebackers (4): Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier, Aaron Lynch, Dan Skuta
Something to consider: Most around the team expect the NFL will make an announcement on Aldon Smith’s potential suspension on Friday, so we're projecting he will not count against the 53-man roster to open the season.
Inside linebackers (4): Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite, Chris Borland, Nick Moody
Something to consider: And all four should stick around even after NaVorro Bowman returns at some point in the middle of the season. Even the non-starters should be active in special-teams roles.
Cornerbacks (6): Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, Darryl Morris, Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker
Something to consider: Veteran cornerback Chris Cook played well during training camp, but the younger guys are worth keeping around. Cook is not a big contributor on special teams, so that hurts his case for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Safeties (6): Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jimmie Ward, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone
Something to consider: There are a couple veterans here who will sweat this one out. But the final few spots come down to special teams. Dahl, Spillman and Ventrone appear on multiple special-teams units.
Specialists (3): Phil Dawson, Andy Lee, Kevin McDermott
Something to consider: Just as McDermott was given an opportunity to unseat veteran Brian Jennings last summer, Kyle Nelson is getting his chance against McDermott. In the end, things should remain as they were a year ago.
Reserve/physically unable to perform
LB NaVorro Bowman
TE Garrett Celek
DL Kaleb Ramsey
RB Marcus Lattimore
FB Trey Millard
CB Keith Reaser
G Brandon Thomas
Reserve/Did not report
OL Alex Boone
[RELATED: Lattimore, Bowman among 49ers' roster moves]
*Projected injured reserve/designated for return*
NT Glenn Dorsey
*Projected suspended list*
OLB Aldon Smith
*Projected practice squad (10)*
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB Glenn Winston
WR Lance Lewis
WR L’Damian Washington
TE Asante Cleveland
OL Ryan Seymour
OL Michael Philipp
DL Lawrence Okoye
LB Shayne Skov
S James McCray