Numbers game: The 49ers most impacted

Numbers game: The 49ers most impacted
August 29, 2012, 5:15 pm
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With the 49ers' final exhibition game coming up Thursday and final cuts looming by Friday evening (6 p.m., to be exact), the numbers cruncher in me is thinking about three sets of numbers.Fifty-three is the number everyone will fixate on this week. But even more important is 46. And, then, there's No. 8, too.You all know that every team must get down to a 53-man regular-season roster.But teams can only suit up 46 players on their "active list" for games. Why? Because the league strives for competitive balance. If everyone on the 53-man roster were allowed to play in the games, one team might be able to dress all 53 players while another team, due to injuries, might put only 49 players in uniform, for instance.RELATED: 49ers make cuts to 75-player limit
After the 53-man roster, teams will form practice squads of eight players, comprised of players who have suited up for fewer than nine games in any regular season. A player is limited to three seasons of practice-squad duty.So here are the situations, as those numbers pertain to some current 49ers:53-man roster
--RBFBST Anthony Dixon: On paper, he stood little chance to make the roster after the offseason acquisitions of Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James. He did not show the 49ers any physicality or willingness to put in the work in his first two seasons. But it was his idea on the first day of camp to transition to fullback. That was good sign because it showed he was willing to do the dirty work. And coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday that Dixon is one of the team's core special-teams players. He has done everything possible to earn a spot on a 53-man roster this season. It's not out of the question to think if a team comes to the 49ers with a trade offer, they'll be all ears.
--RBST Rock Cartwright: If Dixon plays halfback, fullback and is a core special teams player, where does that leave Cartwright? The 49ers signed him in the offseason for his play on special teams. But do the 49ers have enough just-as-good and younger players to fill that role? That is the question.
--SST Colin Jones: He landed a role on the team last season solely for his work on special teams. As the season progressed, Jones got better and better. He's seeing more action this summer as a safety, but he is still far down the depth chart at that position.
--NT Ian Williams: The 49ers want only one player on the roster to exclusively play nose tackle. Williams has yet to branch out. The 49ers have a glut of defensive linemen. All seven who opened the season last year on the 53-man roster are back. Williams showed dramatic improvement this summer. If he makes the 53-man roster, it'll probably be another red-shirt season. He has practice-squad eligibility, but would another team claim him?

RELATED: Current 49ers roster

--QB Scott Tolzien: He was among the San Diego Chargers' final cuts last season, and the 49ers claimed him. He's in a similar bubble situation this year. He has practice-squad eligibility, but there's a chance the Chargers would return the favor and bring him back if the 49ers were to place him on waivers.
--QB Josh Johnson: Second-year player Colin Kaepernick earned the No. 2 job. Johnson and Tolzien appear to be neck-to-neck for the No. 3 job. Either way, it's a step back for Johnson, who was Josh Freeman's backup in Tampa Bay. If there's a trade partner out there for either Tolzien or Johnson, that would be the best-case scenario for the 49ers.
--OLB Eric Bakhtiari: He does not have practice-squad eligibility. He had a good camp, and he excelled in the second half of the first two exhibition games. But something troubling occurred on Sunday. He sustained a concussion. He also had documented concussions in the exhibition opener last year with the Kansas City Chiefs, as well as a concussion on special teams with the Tennessee Titans in November 2009.
--OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis: He played well in his first game. But with Parys Haralson locked in as the No. 3 outside linebacker behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, do the 49ers feel obligated to keep a fourth outside linebacker? They kept only three last year. If he's not also a core special teams player, the fourth outside linebacker would be inactive on game days, anyway.
--ILB Michael Wilhoite: His a physical special-teams player, and he's a stout inside linebacker. He enters the final game of the exhibition season on the bubble for a roster spot.
--ILB Tavares Gooden: It's an eitheror situation. He enters the final game with the edge over Wilhoite, but it's not a slam dunk.
--TE Konrad Reuland: He was on the practice squad all of last season. And, in all likelihood, he is headed back there this year, too. But he has played his way into contention for a roster spot. It helps is cause that Demarcus Dobbs is hobbling right now.
--CB Tramaine Brock: A year ago, he began the 49ers' season as the No. 3 cornerback and had interceptions in the first two games. But Brock appears to be suffering from a lack of confidence. When asked for an evaluation of Brock's play Sunday against Denver, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio stated, "He's played better." He has value as a gunner on punt coverage.
--S Trenton Robinson: Nobody has stepped up for the job as the No. 3 safety, Fangio said. But Robinson, a sixth-round draft pick, is showing steady improvement, and that bodes well for his ability to earn a spot on the roster.
--S Darcel McBath: He did not stick in Denver. And he did not stick in Jacksonville. But McBath enters the final exhibition game with a shot at making the 49ers' roster because Fangio is clearly unimpressed with the 49ers' options behind starters Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner.46-man active list
--WR A.J. Jenkins: He was the 49ers' first-round draft pick, and he has gotten better and better since coming to the team. But it's still difficult to try to figure out a way for him to contribute as a rookie. Jenkins is behind Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams on the depth chart. And the 49ers are not going to suit up six receivers for regular-season games.
--RB LaMichael James: It's also difficult to see how James fits in. Kendall Hunter is clearly better at this stage. And Anthony Dixon, as a core special teams player, should be active on game days (if, as expected, he makes the team). James has quickness and speed. But his speed and elusiveness do not look the same. At Oregon, he thrived in the spread offense with all that room to run. James has not made the adjustment to running in tight quarters.
--WR Kyle Williams: He is probably a better receiver than Ted Ginn. But a healthy Ginn is still the top option in the return game. As the No. 2 punt returner, Williams has to be active. Depending on Ginn's ankle condition, Williams might be back deep returning punts Sept. 9 when the 49ers open against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
--OG Joe Looney: As a fourth-round draft pick, Looney showed enough to make the team. But it looks as if Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore are the sixth and seventh offensive linemen. Teams typically dress only seven offensive linemen on game days, so Looney would probably only get an opportunity to suit up for games if there's an injury or two.
--DLTE Demarcus Dobbs: It's uncertain how long Dobbs will be out of action with a left lower leg injury. He is on crutches. That is a major blow to the 49ers' plan for the regular season. After all, Dobbs was splitting time as a backup defensive lineman and as the No. 3 tight end. In essence, if he's healthy, Dobbs allows the 49ers to activate another player because of his ability to serve roles on defense and offense.
--SST C.J. Spillman: He worked as a starting safety for the entire offseason while Goldson remained unsigned as the 49ers' franchise player. Fangio's recent comments about his depth concerns can be interpreted as a lack of confidence in Spillman. That noted, Spillman is still one of the league's top special-teams players. He must have a role on the 46 because of his ability to cover kicks. Punter Andy Lee will demand it.Eight-man practice squad
--WR Chris Owusu: He missed most of the offseason program due to Stanford's late graduation date. And he was never given much of a chance on the practice field or in the first three exhibition games. This coaching staff knows him well, so perhaps they did not have to see much of him. Were the 49ers hiding him? Do they intend to bring him back to the practice squad? He did not get drafted because of his concussion history, so many teams will not be interested. Owusu can't be thrilled with his lack of opportunity to prove himself. So, ultimately, if he can pick between several teams for the practice squad, he might be tempted to go with a team that has a weaker collection of wide receivers on its 53-man roster.
--WR Nathan Palmer: He received the biggest signing bonus of any of the 49ers' undrafted free agents. There appears to be one spot on the practice squad available for a wide receiver. That spot will not go to Brian Tyms, whom the club released this week. It's between Palmer and Owusu. Both players might have some options.
--CB Anthony Mosley: If Brock's troubles continue, Mosley could be in a position to stick around.
--S Michael Thomas: His versatility as a safety and nickel back is an asset. He could serve a useful role on the scout team.
--CG Chase Beeler: He beat out draft pick Jason Slowey, and appears to be a strong candidate to return for his second year on the practice squad.
--DE Tony Jerod-Eddie: Because the 49ers retained seven defensive linemen last season, there was no need for another player at that spot on the practice squad. The 49ers' decision with Ian Williams might impact Jerod-Eddie's role. If Williams is kept on the 53-man roster or he clears waivers and the 49ers bring Williams back to the practice squad, then Jerod-Eddie's situation becomes tenuous.
--OLB Cam Johnson: The 49ers will have at least one outside linebacker on the practice squad. The 49ers waived Kourtnei Brown this week. Johnson's balky knee has not allowed him to show much. Johnson returned to practice Tuesday. If he's healthy, the 49ers should be able to keep him around on the practice squad.