The 53-man roster is starting to come into focus. But there still are a handful of fights for the last few spots on the roster. One of the interesting aspects of today's game in Houston is that several of the players contending for those precious few spots promise to see a lot of action, often against the Texans' starters.
OLB Eric Baktiari. - Injuries to Aldon Smith (hip) and Ahmad Brooks (knee?) mean that Baktiari (No. 44) will start the game, probably at left outside linebacker where he will face Derek Newton and Rashad Butler, both of whom likely will be worked in with the Texans starting line. Bakhtiari's story is one of perseverance as he's been cut eight times over his career. He had an excellent game against the Vikings last week and another solid outing would put him a step closer to wrapping up the No. 4 outside linebacker spot. That he also plays special teams is a help. So does the fact that rookies Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson aren't healthy. Fleming is likely headed for injured reserve; Johnson could land on the practice squad or PUP.
TE Konrad Reuland - An injury to Delanie Walker (knee) and Nate Byhams's release mean that the Garbage Man likely will play from the first to the fourth quarter today. Nobody has been more sure-handed in practice than Reuland (No. 88) over the last two years, yet his spot on the 53-man roster is still very shaky. That's because of the difficult numbers game the 49ers face this year. They promise to keep six receivers and six running backs, which means other positions will drop from last year. (see below) With Demarcus Dobbs playing defensive end and tight end this year, that hints that the 49ers only will keep two true tight ends on the 53-man roster. Reuland could be relegated to the practice squad and would be battling newcomers Garrett Celek No. 48), Kyle Nelson (No. 47) and Joe Sawyer (No. 83) for that spot. Nelson is a backup longsnapper whom the 49ers may want to develop.
S Michael Thomas - Perrish Cox will be held out of today's game with a hamstring injury. That means that Thomas (No. 36) will be the No. 2 nickel back as well as the third-string safety. The 49ers love players that can perform multiple functions, and Thomas certainly seems like someone they might want to keep on the practice squad this season.
DE Will Tukuafu - The 49ers kept seven defensive linemen on the 53-man roster at the beginning of last season. They may not have room for the same number this year. Tukuafu (No. 92) was held out of the preseason opener but likely will play today. If the 49ers keep only six defensive linemen, Tukuafu appears to be battling Ian Williams (No. 93) for that last spot.
OL: 9 or 10
TE: 2 or 3
DL: 6 or 7
OLB: 3 or 4
S: 4 or 5
Note: Wanna have the sense of watching today's game in a sports bar without, you know, having to be around other human beings? Then hop on my first-half chat today beginning a little before 5 p.m. I did not make the trip to Houston, which gives me more leeway to make keen observations and pithy comments throughout. www.sacbee.com/live.
-- Matt Barrows