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August 29, 2013
Bubble boys: Which 49ers are on the edge of a roster spot

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If the NFL preseason is largely a farce, the fourth preseason game is the absurd crescendo. A case in point: the Tolzien-Johnson Affair of 2012.

If you'll go back one year, you'll recall that Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson were duking it out for the role of No. 3 quarterback. It was the only roster battle that remained and, judging from the rhetoric from the coaching staff, it was tight. Jim Harbaugh called it a "dead heat."

Luckily, there was the fourth preseason game to decide it. And the game certainly was decisive. Johnson looked like the second coming of Fran Tarkenton in finishing 9-14 for 125 yards and a 132.4 passer rating.

Tolzien, meanwhile, was a dud. On one series he severely under-threw receiver Chris Owusu, who had two steps on his defender. Two plays later he was intercepted by a Chargers defensive lineman. He finished 3-8 for 42 yards and a 15.6 rating.

And yet the next day it was Tolzien who was declared the winner and Johnson who was cut. What happened? The fourth preseason game, that's what. Yes, there are roster battles in the preseason, but 97.9 percent were decided prior to Tuesday's first round of cuts. The main thing that can determine a roster spot at this point is an injury, which is terrible but true and which is why the entire 49ers starting defense, Frank Gore and starting receivers Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Kyle Williams sat out last year's finale.

Having said all that, we still don't know exactly what those roster decisions are. And while many of the guys who play the bulk of today's game are destined to be cut, many will wind up on practice squads and some will be snapped up by other teams. With that in mind, here's the list of players who at least appear to be on the roster bubble.

QB Seneca Wallace. He was signed one week ago when Colt McCoy's roster spot seemed fuzzy. Now McCoy, after restructuring his contract, seems safe and Wallace's spot seems tenuous. Don't wring your hands too hard. There still are several quarterback openings out there -- hello, Buffalo -- and Wallace can use today's game as an audition. Look for Wallace and B.J. Daniels to get the bulk of the work. Practice-squad eligible: no.

WR Austin Collie. The former Colt has done everything right and is proving he is healthy again after last year's knee injury. But he continues to practice with the scout team and get into preseason games late, both signals he is not in the 49ers' plans. Perhaps Collie shouldn't board the charter back to San Francisco tonight. San Diego is short on wide receivers. Psquad eligible: no.

ILB Nate Stupar. The backup linebacker is one of the players who consistently stood out during offseason practices. He's presumably behind Michael Wilhoite (a shoe-in for the 53-man roster in my opinion) and draft pick Nick Moody. There may not be room for Stupar. Then again, he's a hyper-diaper personality on the field, and the 49ers may conclude that's the sort of crazy they want on special teams (see: Costanzo, Blake). Psquad eligible: Yes

OLB Cam Johnson. When at his best at the University of Virginia, Johnson was a very good edge rusher. The problem was that he never was consistently at his best. Still, Johnson is on top of the injuries that slowed him last season and the 49ers no longer have Parys Haralson eating a roster spot. Besides, someone has to salvage the clunker that the 2012 draft class has become. Psquad eligible: Yes

DE Tony Jerod-Eddie. His only publicity this offseason came when he was flagged for a hit on beloved/detested former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Jerod-Eddie, however, continues to build on the promise he showed as an undrafted rookie last year. The 49ers will be without Demarcus Dobbs (marijuana-related suspension) for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio implied this week that Dobbs, Jerod-Eddie and Will Tukuafu are fighting for two roster spots. Psquad eligible: Yes.

S Trenton Robinson. The 2012 draft pick ostensibly was competing for the starting free-safety spot a week ago. Eric Reid won that competition, and Robinson finds himself crowded by others -- C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl -- who stand out on special teams. Another safety, Michael Thomas, can boast the ability to play nickel cornerback, a rare but increasingly important position on a defense. In Robinson's favor: Starter Donte Whitner is heading into his contract year and the 49ers may need to replace him in 2014. Psquad eligible: Yes

LS Kevin McDermott. This may be the only undecided spot. I personally don't believe the 49ers would head into a season in which they hope and expect to go to the Super Bowl with an undrafted rookie instead of a foolproof veteran at longsnapper. Then again, salary-cap savings are very important to the 49ers, and Brian Jennings' salary is double McDermott's. The 49ers may conclude that finding a quality longsnapper is a once-in-a-blue moon situation and they need to nab McDermott now. Psquad eligible: Yes.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW 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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