Throughout the offseason, the brass of the San Francisco 49ers have preached their approach of using the offseason to improve the roster. Everyone would earn his position and nothing would be taken for granted. The ultimate result is 53 men who not only want to win, but have the best set of talents and attitude to give the 49ers the best chance to win, week in and week out.
In previous years, the 49ers have been guilty of letting reputation and perception—rather than facts and statistics—dictate the makeup and pecking order of the 53-man roster (see J.T. O’Sullivan, Shawn Hill, Tim Rattay). Many were likely holding out to see whether this trend continued, or if the 49ers would actually carry through with what they had professed all offseason.
Friday brought about the long-awaited answer.
By and large, head coach Mike Singletary and his staff once again proved that they are men of their words. The list of roster cuts contained some notable surprises, not in the sense that a deserving player had been left out in favor of someone less worthy, but more in the sense that several players who many expected to make the roster “by default” were finally made accountable for their lack of production and are now looking for other work.
Michael Robinson is the most obvious example. After four years with the team, having amassed essentially no appreciable offensive statistics, and serving almost exclusively as a special teams player, the former Penn State quarterback is no longer with the team.
Robinson had served as special teams captain for the last two years under Coach Singletary, and proved his worth in that role in the preseason finale, when he scooped up a Phillip Adams fumble on a punt return against the San Diego Chargers. However, that was not enough to save his spot. With three strong options at running back, his contributions were just too limited to make him worthy of one of the precious 53 spots headed into the regular season.
Wide receiver Jason Hill is another example of a player the 49ers had previously shown a strange patience and loyalty to over the past several seasons. The 49ers took the Washington State WR in the third round of the 2007 draft, but he amassed just 418 yards and four touchdowns in three years.
Josh Morgan has six touchdowns and more than double Hill's yardage in just his first two seasons.
Maybe it was Hill's high draft status, or the feel-good story of him being a local kid and alumnus of Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, but the 49ers continued to keep him on the team through three seasons despite paltry production. Coach Singletary finally put a stop to that trend, clearing the way for the much more dynamic and deserving Kyle Williams and Dominique Zeigler and giving the 49ers a deep and formidable crop of WRs (all of whom should heavily contribute).
There were similar if less pronounced examples on defense.
The 49ers brought in veteran cornerback Karl Paymah to add experience and depth to a potentially susceptible secondary. Despite the intent behind this free agent signing, rookies Phillip Adams and Tramaine Brock clearly outplayed Paymah throughout camp and the preseason and when the dust has settled, Paymah is looking for work and Brock and Adams (both of whom also have kick return potential) are full-fledged 49ers.
Many thought veteran linebacker Matt Wilhelm had the inside track over the younger Diyral Briggs when it came to earning a roster spot. The preseason stats were similar, but Briggs consistently showed more effort than Wilhelm, pressuring opposing passers and proving his worth as a valuable backup in a very talented and deep linebacking corps.
Actions speak louder than words. From bidding farewell to Michael Robinson, to keeping all eight deserving 2010 draft picks on the final roster, Coach Singletary's staff proved that they are serious about returning the 49ers to where they belong. This is a promising start to what should be a great season, as the 49ers have left perceptions and seniority behind and let on-the-field credentials determine the best 53 men for 2010.
The coaches have spoken. Now the players must act to prove that the trust the organization has placed in them was indeed the right investment.
Keep the Faith!