Running back Anthony Dixon, right, rushed for a game-high 58 yards in Sunday's exhibition win at Denver. That total included a 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Dixon's solid play the past two games, and injuries at running back, have allowed him to rise on the 49ers' depth chart. Jack Dempsey Associated Press

49ers notes: Dixon looks like a keeper at running back

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C

SANTA CLARA – Anthony Dixon has found a sliver of an opening and is trying his best to squeeze through it.

Dixon, who seemed hopelessly buried on the 49ers' depth chart at running back when training camp began, has taken advantage of recent injuries at the position and has strung together two solid games.

On the radio Tuesday, both general manager Trent Baalke and offensive coordinator Greg Roman sounded optimistic about Dixon's chances of making the final roster.

"I think we can look to (Dixon) to have his most productive season as a Niner," Roman said Tuesday on KNBR (680 AM).

Whether that's the case or whether they are merely encouraging Dixon, who promises to get the most carries in Thursday's exhibition finale against San Diego, remains to be seen. After releasing 12 players Monday, the 49ers must say goodbye to 22 more Friday to reach the 53-man limit.

Dixon led all rushers Sunday in Denver with 58 yards on 13 carries, including a 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter in which he followed key blocks by fullback Will Tukuafu and pulling guard Derek Hall.

Earlier in the game, Dixon had followed a Tukuafu block to the outside for a minimal gain. When he returned to the sideline, position coach Tom Rathman told him to break inside the next time, and that's what Dixon did.

"It was wide open," he said.

The 233-pound Dixon also helped his chances by volunteering to play fullback when he became frustrated by the number of carries he was getting in practice earlier this summer. He noted he had two "pancake" blocks from the position against the Broncos.

"We always talk about in the (meeting) room, what you put on film is your signature," Dixon said. "I sign my name by whatever I put on film, and that's what I think about when I go out there."

Running back is one of the 49ers' deepest positions.

Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James missed Sunday's game with injuries, but both will make the final roster. Jacobs is moving slowly but no longer needs crutches after taking a helmet to his left knee Aug. 18 in a preseason game against Houston. James is returning from an ankle sprain.

Meanwhile, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are the 49ers' top two running backs, and they signed Rock Cartwright to be a coverage specialist on special teams.

But coach Jim Harbaugh noted Dixon was no special-teams slouch, ether.

"Core guy – he's on all the units, all the important units," Harbaugh said. "… And he's evolved. It's been a very good process for him in terms of his special-teams play."

Losing linebackers – Outside linebacker Parys Haralson, who has started the past two preseason games, was absent for the start of Tuesday's practice while Eric Bakhtiari, who took a knee to the side of the helmet Sunday and left the game, worked out on a side field. It's not known what prevented Haralson from attending.

The good news at the position is that Aldon Smith (hip) is moving a lot better than he was last week and rookie Cam Johnson (knee) was back at practice for the first time since Aug. 8.

Johnson said he planned to play Thursday; Harbaugh said Smith would play.

The other players at the position are starter Ahmad Brooks, Kenny Rowe and Ikaika Alama-Francis. Rookie Kourtnei Brown was cut Monday.

Ted Ginn (ankle), Jacobs (knee), Demarcus Dobbs (leg) and Mario Manningham also missed practice.

Missing Manningham – Funeral services for Manningham's grandfather are Thursday, which means Manningham won't play in the exhibition finale. He will go into the regular season having played only one preseason game for the 49ers.

"Is that enough? Is it not enough?" Harbaugh said when asked about Manningham's scant snaps. "I always like more. More is more. But condolences to Mario and his family, and that's something that is ongoing."

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