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At the midway point of the 49ers’ exhibition season, there continues to be a lot of competition and more than a handful of veterans who have yet to lock down roster spots.
“I can tell you, it’s going to be real tough to cut it down to 53,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said last week. “We’re going to need all this game and practices to evaluate that.”
Here are the 49ers’ returning veteran players whose roster spots appear to be the most vulnerable with two weeks of practices and two exhibition games remaining to prove themselves:
OLB Ahmad Brooks
Brooks’ $4.45 million base salary is not much of a concern, considering the team is still $65.2 million under the salary cap. The number that factors into this decision the most is 33. That’s Brooks’ age.
If he is not clearly better than 23-year-old Eli Harold at the SAM linebacker position, the 49ers might want to keep the younger player to develop. Brooks is not talked about for his locker-room presence, so this decision will be made solely for what he does on the field and what he is expected to give the team in the future.
“You want to know who’s got the most upside and things like that,” Shanahan said. “Who’s going to be better throughout the year, if given the opportunity. But you also want to know who when it’s all said and done who’s going to affect your win-loss record the most. Those are the things that I look at personally. You don’t always want to think who’s the best guy for Week 1. Who’s the best guy for the 2017 49ers?”
OG Zane Beadles
Beadles is currently working with the first-team offense, but his spot on the roster remains vulnerable. The 49ers’ decision-makers do not seem impressed with their offensive guards. The 49ers could look to pick up a guard from another team before the start of the season.
The jury is still out on Joshua Garnett, who had a good start to camp. But his play dropped off in Week 2 – perhaps because of the knee injury that required a procedure to clean up cartilage. Garnett may not be available for the start of the regular season.
Also, the 49ers may want to hold onto undrafted rookie lineman Erik Magnuson, who has a bigger upside than Beadles with youth, size and ability to play guard and center.
NT Quinton Dial
Earl Mitchell appears locked-in as the 49ers’ starting nose tackle. The 49ers also seem to have high hopes for rookie D.J. Jones. It’s unclear where that leaves Dial, who does not appear to be a great fit for the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme.
Dial should be a starter in the NFL. But he is better-suited to be positioned in a 3-4 scheme, using his strength and power as a two-gap player rather than adapt to a one-gap scheme in which quickness and agility are the main requirements.
DE Aaron Lynch
Before sustaining an ankle injury, Lynch had done everything the 49ers wanted of him – including reporting to camp at the weight that was ordered. Lynch also looked very good in the 49ers’ exhibition opener, recording two sacks against Kansas City.
But Lynch’s spot is not guaranteed, by any means. Arik Armstead, Elvis Dumervil, Ronald Blair and rookie Pita Taumoepenu all can play similar roles. If Lynch does not eat well or maintain his conditioning while rehabbing from his ankle injury, he could erase all of the positive steps he took at the beginning of camp.
TE Vance McDonald
The onus was on McDonald at the beginning of camp to win his way onto the team. His solid play has increased his odds of a roster spot, but it is not a sure thing. This is a position where all the incumbents – McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell -- face stiff challenges.
George Kittle will definitely be on the team. Blocking specialist Logan Paulsen and rookie Cole Hikutini are also in the mix. Hikutini does not appear ready to be a contributor this season. If they waive him with hopes of placing him on the practice squad, it seems unlikely another team would claim him for their 53-man roster. But is that a chance the 49ers are willing to take?
DE Tank Carradine
Carradine appears to be on solid footing at the 49ers’ big-end position, considering he remains on the first-team defense despite the addition of Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall selection. But it seems to be only a matter of time before Thomas takes on a greater role. Carradine could still be kept around as a backup.
Ronald Blair, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016, was buried on the depth chart at the beginning of camp. And a pulled groin muscle that has kept him out of action for more than a week does not help is cause, either.
Anquan Boldin’s retirement from the NFL puts him on the front line of a new wave, athletes dedicated to justice and equality, a group destined to grow from dozens to hundreds and maybe even thousands.
Others are with him. Including a Cleveland Browns tight end named Seth DeValve.
In the days before Boldin announced his retirement Sunday, two significant multiethnic demonstrations took place prior to NFL preseason games. A national anthem protest by Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, a black man who remained seated, was visibly supported by center Justin Britt, a white man. The same with two Eagles, with defensive lineman Chris Long placing one hand on the back of teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his right fist.
On Monday night, one day after Boldin announced his retirement, 12 Cleveland Browns gathered behind the sideline and formed a prayer circle during the anthem. Five more stepped back and stood with them.
One of those who stood alongside, punter Britton Colquitt, is white.
Among the kneeling was DeValve, believed to be the first white player to take a knee during the anthem.
The illuminative events of Charlottesville have influenced many folks in sports and beyond to convert thoughts to action. The sight of folks with swastikas and torches brazenly marching through an American city chanting hatred and engaged in terrorism -- and subsequently receiving support from the current President -- is mobilizing athletes previously mute or nestled blissfully in ignorance.
It had been 54 years since America was subjected to such a massive, blatant and violent display of bigotry. When a white supremacist police chief in Alabama attacked peaceful protesters with snarling dogs and full-blast fire hoses in 1963, the imagery led to such national outrage that the Civil Rights Act was conceived. It was a step toward equality, if not justice.
It has been 10 days since America saw the horrors of Charlottesville, violence that came with images and resulted in at least one death and numerous injuries.
Many of those who failed to understand the depth of our injustice -- or were utterly blind to it -- are coming to grips with a historical truth among people of color that racism exists. Always has. If you have a conscience, it strikes straight to the heart.
Days after Bennett stated that the fight for racial justice among NFL players would be more effective if white players joined in, there was Britt, with a hand on Bennett’s shoulder during the anthem but also tweeting a Benjamin Franklin quote: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
And there was DeValve, suitably outraged, joining the fight.
“I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee,” said DeValve, whose wife is black. “We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are things in this country that still need to change. I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me. And I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”
Prior to Charlottesville, we’d heard from three NBA coaches expressing their concerns about the direction of the country. Since Charlottesville, there has been a fourth, David Fizdale of Memphis, urging the fall of Confederate monuments. Prior to Charlottesville, we’d heard from Stephen Curry and David West, among others. Since Charlottesville, we’ve heard from Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Steve Nash.
Before Charlottesville, college football coaches were generally silent. Since Charlottesville, even southern coaches, like Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M and Jim McElwain of Florida, are finding their voices for the sake of humanity.
The Boston Red Sox are again considering changing the name of Yawkey Way, a blip of a street named after the man who owned the team for 44 years and ensured it was the last to integrate. One proposal for the renaming is David Ortiz Way, named after the Afro-Dominican slugger who achieved immense popularity in Boston.
The tragedy of Charlottesville is moving more folks in more ways than any of the law-enforcement shootings -- Ferguson, most notably -- ever did. It so touched Boldin that the longtime benefactor couldn’t resist the higher calling.
"Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work, and at this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority," Boldin said in a statement to ESPN. "My life's purpose is bigger than football."
Never has a wealthy American professional athlete retired for a reason more noble than that which compelled Anquan Boldin to hang up his jersey -- not even Pat Tillman, who left the NFL for the noble reason of fighting for his country.
Boldin, stirred by the events of Charlottesville, is leaving to fight for humanity.
The statement -- “stick to sports” -- has never seemed so small and out of place, if not downright sophomoric. Boldin is not having it. And, thank goodness, there are legions of high-profile men and women who feel the same way.