Training camp means time to shape an NFL team’s roster. It’s the time to determine who comes on and who has to leave. It’s the bitter truth about pro football; there’s always someone pushing you for a job.
If you’re seen to be a step slow or perhaps making more money than what a younger player can provide at a lesser cost, then there’s the chance that player finds himself on the outside.
Going through his first training camp as the head man, 49er coach Jim Harbaugh faces some tough decisions, no doubt. But so far through the free agent signing period it appears that Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke have already made some decisions about the roster.
Consider that linebackers Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and center David Baas all walked out the door with new free agent contracts that, from all appearances, the 49ers did little to counter. All have five years experience or more. All were hardly pressed to stay.
It could portend a trend of Youth First, or at least a team of Harbaugh’s Guys. In that perspective here’s a rundown of seven San Francisco 49ers veterans who won't last through training camp.
The 12-year veteran is that rather rare hybrid of being a very good blocking fullback who also is a good check-down receiver. Except that when he is indeed thrown to, he rarely makes the first defender miss. He’s had 11 receptions the last two years at just about 4.6 yards per.
He’s a great blocker, but that worked when Frank Gore ran out of the I formation; Morris led him through the line. Harbaugh’s offense will feature more spread formations, fewer two-back alignments and more multiple tight-end sets. In this scheme, a fullback has to be multi-dimensional, and that’s where rookie Bruce Miller of Central Florida fits in.
Miller will be used in motion to achieve strong-side formation capability for advantageous blocking schemes, as well as a short-yardage receiver. That doesn’t look good for Norris.
The fifth-year vet does bring one thing to the table: speed. But at 5’ 11” and 180 pounds, Ginn has a hard time breaking free of on-line jams by the bigger cornerbacks. Also, his straight-ahead speed doesn’t work all that well in the West Coast offense.
The deep pattern won’t be the emphasis of the 49er offense. Alex Smith is a great spot thrower and his timing throws are pretty good as well. Deep balls, however, are not his strength.
Ginn’s best pattern for him is the “slant,” but the Cover 2 schemes so prominent in the NFL tend to limit the lanes for the slant. The pattern also brings the receiver into greater contact from linebackers.
That ain’t good for an undersized receiver. Couple that with less-than-Pro Bowl hands and Ginn seems vulnerable to fifth-round rookie like Ronald Johnson of USC, who also is a favorite of receivers coach Johnny Morton.
Ginn could hold onto a slot as the team’s punt returner, but again his hands aren’t the best for that job, either.
The second-year cornerback out of Bellhaven had very little impact last year when the 49er secondary was the football equivalent of Swiss cheese. Toss in Carlos Rogers as the new free agent, and third-round pick Chris Culliver it doesn’t seem like Brock can crash through. But there’s always special teams and nickelback coverage.
There’s also Harbaugh’s perception that new players make for a new era.
The second-year receiver out of San Jose State is a nice local story. But he’s also a slot receiver of no great size (6’ 1” and 190) who should have a hard time breaking into the front-line receivers group.
Michael Crabtree, bad foot and all, will be expected to make the regular season roster. That could change if his foot doesn’t heal; and then the 49ers will go hunting for a starter, not a fourth- or fifth-receiver in spread sets.
That doesn’t mean Jurovich can’t find another spot on the practice squad; it’s very doubtful for him to make the final roster.
The third-year safety reflects with the past Niner front office infatuation with anything SEC. There were eight players from that conference at the start of training camp, including All-Pro Patrick Willis of Mississippi.
But Taylor, who only stepped on the field for 12 games the last two years, has to fight his way through new addition Madieu Williams from Minnesota as well as Taylor Mays, now in his second year. Add in rookie safety Colin Jones of TCU and there’s a good chance Taylor won’t get enough reps to make his presence felt.
The third-year free safety out of Marshall has very limited experience in the NFL. He has split time between San Diego and San Francisco with hardly ever touching the ball.
Again, this will be a difficult camp for Spillman to make the roster. At the same time, it may sound harsh but few 49er fans will even notice.
The second-year receiver out of Arizona State isn’t what the 49ers need right now. With Michael Crabtree iffy for the season and unclear perception whether Josh Morgan can elevate his game to a higher level, it seems there might be a shot for Williams.
But at 5’ 10” and less than 190 pounds, it seems that Williams doesn’t have the size or speed to break into the top tier of the team’s receivers.