49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

August 22, 2010
Bubble Boys: 10 Niners hanging in the balance

The story about defensive end Khalif Mitchell that ran in today's Bee (found here) contains a graphic about five other 49ers who are on the proverbial bubble. Here I will expand that list to 10 and also offer a little opinion as far as the players' chances of making the Final 53.

DE Khalif Mitchell. Last year the 49ers kept seven defensive lineman on the active roster. If they go with that number this year, Mitchell seems safe. He's essentially playing the same position close friend and current Seahawk Kentwan Balmer was playing last year. However, the 49ers run a 3-4 and conceivably don't need any more than six linemen. Mitchell is practice-squad eligible. (Balmer, by the way, injured both his ankle and knee in his Seattle debut last night. He'll have an MRI today).

WR Jason Hill. With fellow wide receiver Dominique Zeigler having a strong training camp, the pressure's on Hill, a 2007 third-round draft pick, to make an impression. If the 49ers keep six wide receivers, Hill is safe. If the number is five - and my guess is that it will be five - he is in trouble.

OT Alex Boone. Boone looked good at left tackle in the exhibition opener against Indianapolis and played right tackle last week in practice. That's a positive sign for a young player hoping to make the team as an emergency backup. The question remains, however, whether the 49ers feel they could safely stash him on the practice squad for the second straight season. If he continues to play well in the preseason, that option diminishes.

S Curtis Taylor. The good news for Taylor, a second-year player, is that he has played well in practice and is strong on special teams. The bad news is that the 49ers have an abundance of young safeties. The bottom line: Safeties are excellent on special teams and the 49ers need to hold onto their young players at the position given there is a chance neither Dashon Goldson nor Michael Lewis will be around next year.

FB Brit Miller. It will be hard to replace Moran Norris, a 10-year veteran and close friend of Frank Gore's, as the starting fullback. But the 49ers like Miller's toughness and ability to make plays on special teams. One more thing going against Miller: rookie tight end Nate Byham has been spending a lot of time at fullback/H-back in recent practices.

OLB Diyral Briggs. Briggs won a roster spot last year by playing well in exhibition games. He has benefited this summer from injuries at outside linebacker, and moreover he has looked more like a linebacker than he did last season when he was just learning the position. Whether Briggs makes the 53-man roster depends on if coaches are confident Travis LaBoy can stay healthy.

OLB Travis LaBoy. Based on the first three weeks of training camp, it's hard to see LaBoy making the team. The fourth OLB must be rugged enough to contribute on special teams. LaBoy missed the most of the team's practices with a concussion. The 49ers also are wary of a foot injury that cost LaBoy the 2009 season. However, he still has three preseason games to make an impression.

CB Phillip Adams. The first four cornerbacks are Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer, Tarell Brown and Karl Paymah. Adams' chances increased when veteran Will James hurt his ankle last week in Indianapolis. Adams also has special teams potential. He must display that potential in the next three games.

CB Will James. He was playing well in Indianapolis before injuring his ankle. His fate depends on how younger players, such as Adams, play in games and how quickly he can return from his injury.

TE Tony Curtis. All of the team's tight ends have played well in camp, and the 49ers are certainly in a better situation than they were a year ago when they kept only two tight ends on the active roster. Curtis' problem is that the 49ers want their third tight end to be a blocker and Curtis is more of an athletic, pass-catching tight end. Still, he is versatile and is a good special teams player.

Like last week, I'll be hosting an in-game chat. We'll begin around 4:30 p.m. Click on www.sacbee.com/live to join.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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