Three games into the preseason, now is the time to step up. With the final preseason game looming Thursday, and behind that the final roster cuts on Saturday from 80 to 53 for the regular season, players know that their play—as well as other factors—come into play when the coaching staff and front office confer on who stays and who goes.
What’s surprising so far is the inconsistency of the offensive line. Well, some would say after the loss to the Texans last weekend that line was worse than inconsistent; it was almost non-existent.
The less-than-stellar play from Joe Staley, Johnathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati, Adam Snyder and Michael Davis would seem to force some serious analysis on part of the staff. But those names and backups like Tony Wragge and Chilo Rachal (who usually starts) are just about immune from the threat of cuts. Just about.
Staley is considered the best lineman on the team. Davis and Iupati are first-round selections, and letting them go would bring a big hit on the team’s salary cap. Snyder can play either guard slot or center, and Goodwin was brought in as a free agent.
No, despite the poor play in two of the three games, no big names from this unit appear to be on the chopping block. And it’s important to remember that they are running a new offense with new terminology, which might explain the communication breakdowns that no doubt led to some of the sacks and hard hits on quarterback Alex Smith.
But that has to improve, and in that vein other players have to step up soon to make an impression. Here are six 49ers who have to show improvement or face losing out on a roster spot on Sept. 3.
The former USC standout came in the draft on the recommendation of receivers coach Johnny Morton. He’s battling third-year vet Kyle Williams for the fifth receiver spot, but some spotty play last week against the Texans (a dropped pass and two bobbled punts) didn’t help his cause.
With Braylon Edwards, Joshua Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr. and the recently activated Michael Crabtree secure in the first four spots, it comes down to Williams vs. Johnson for the final roster spot. Of course, that may change if Edwards receives a suspension from the NFL for his DUI, which could last four games.
Either way, Johnson seems a good bet for the practice squad. Vets who have been on the team more than one season are not eligible for the practice squad.
The three-year vet out of Baylor has had good moments in the past, but he’s also been on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which means missed reps in camp. It’s hard to imagine the 49er front office putting Zeigler on injured reserve, which means he’d be inactive for the regular season. That probability along with the deep receiving corps (see previous slide) suggest that an “injury settlement” might be in Zeigler’s future.
Backup tackle Alex Boone has been impressive in camp, and with Goodwin, Snyder and Rachal all with experience as starters, it’s up to Wragge to step up. The line play of the first unit has been porous, and it has to be a major concern. Wragge may have a chance to show what he can do this week against the Chargers.
His competition includes rookies Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person. But with this position being the one where the transition from college to pros takes the longest, it seems that Kilgore and Person might be strong candidates for the practice squad.
The issue is how many offensive linemen get on the roster. Staley, Davis, Snyder, Goodwin, Rachal and Iupati, along with Boone, make seven. Wragge, Kilgore and Person figure to be three men playing at the most for two spots, or perhaps one.
Respectively, they are a two-year vet out of Oregon State and a one-year vet out of Rutgers who find themselves competing for a spot on one of the deepest units in the NFL. Kristick (pictured) played in six games last year, Joseph one.
With the resurgence of Ahmad Brooks along with the addition of top draft choice Aldon Brooks, there’s not much room. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Parys Haralson along with Brooks and Smith make five. Antwarn Applewhite has been solid as a backup, making six. The addition of Bruce Miller, who also can play fullback, makes seven. Stellar play from Kristick or Joseph is needed to break through.
The eight-year vet out of Pittsburgh has been a solid performer, but a hamstring injury has kept him off the field in camp. Tramaine Brock, Tarelle Brown and free-agent Carlos Rogers have been playing corner, as has rookie third-rounder Chris Culliver.
Spencer tied for the lead in interceptions last year with three, but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a spot. He recorded only nine pass deflections last year, and perhaps that stemmed from so many teams picking on the other corner, Nate Clements.
Pass defense was the team’s Achilles’ heel in 2010. It’s up to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to determine whether Spencer can play at a higher level than last year.