The 49ers’ roster is set (we think) heading into Week 1 against Carolina. Here are some projections, analysis and thoughts on various positions as the team prepares for the Panthers on Sunday. Rookies are italicized.
Defensive linemen: Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Tank Carradine, Xavier Cooper, Elvis Dumervil, D.J. Jones, Aaron Lynch, Earl Mitchell, Pita Taumoepenu, Solomon Thomas.
The 49ers obviously were not happy with their depth at defensive tackle midway through camp. DeForest Buckner’s ankle injury allowed them to take a look at others on the roster beginning with Chris Jones. His hustle had stood out in spring drills when the hitting was at a minimum and coaches liked that he made plays all over the field. But Jones wasn’t holding up as well when the pads were on while others weren’t ideal fits, either. Quinton Dial was better suited as a 3-4 defensive end and didn’t have the penetrating first step called for at the position. Latecomer Sen’Derrick Marks wasn’t in great shape. So the 49ers claimed Xavier Cooper, whose best asset may be the quickness with which he gets off the line of scrimmage. He ran a 4.86-second 40-yard dash in 2015, the fastest of any interior defensive lineman at the combine that year. Some teams have used that speed by playing him as a defensive end. Look for the 49ers to use him as their defensive tackle, which is asked to penetrate one gap in their scheme.
Offensive linemen: Zane Beadles, Trent Brown, Brandon Fusco, Garry Gilliam, Daniel Kilgore, Erik Magnuson, Joe Staley, John Theus, Laken Tomlinson.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect a two-year veteran, Laken Tomlinson, to learn the 49ers system in 10 days and start against the Panthers on Sunday. The starting five likely will be the same as it’s been all summer: Staley, Beadles, Kilgore, Fusco and Brown. The only rookie on the line, Magnuson, likely will be in uniform because he plays center. The other spot will go to Gilliam or Theus. If Tomlinson takes over Beadles’ starting spot, then Beadles makes sense as the sixth lineman as he has experience at guard and center.
Quarterbacks: C.J. Beathard, Brian Hoyer.
The 49ers have a third quarterback, Nick Mullens, on their active roster. If there were injuries, however, team officials likely would try to re-sign Matt Barkley. But will he be available all year? The Bears obviously like him and could pounce if that team has injury issues of its own at the position.
Safeties: Adrian Colbert, Lorenzo Jerome, Eric Reid, Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward.
The 49ers undoubtedly will have one of the youngest rosters in the league when the 32 squads are settled. They have seven players in their 30s: Beadles, Elvis Dumervil, Pierre Garcon, Robbie Gould, Hoyer, Kyle Nelson and Staley. The youngest position? It’s safety where there are two rookies and where Jimmie Ward is the gray hair of the group. He’s 26, five months older than 25-year-old Eric Reid. The youngest is 22-year-old Lorenzo Jerome, who could start Sunday if Ward’s hamstring is not fully healed.
Specialists: Robbie Gould, Bradley Pinion, Kyle Nelson.
The kicking battery is obvious. Less obvious: Who handles kick and punt returns and who are the gunners on punts? Trent Taylor and Victor Bolden both handled punt returns in the preseason with Bolden bringing one back 92 yards for a touchdown. Bolden and Raheem Mostert both handled kick returns, too (with Bolden bringing one back 104 yards for a touchdown). Mostert and the team’s fourth cornerback (Keith Reaser) or backup safety (Jaquiski Tartt or Adrian Colbert) could be the team’s gunners.
The 49ers only can dress 46 players for the Panthers game. So who sits? Obviously anyone with a significant injury and probably the newcomers. Here’s a guess: Ward, Tomlinson, Cooper, Taumoepenu, Bourne, Gilliam/Theus and Akhello Witherspoon.
Players with new numbers
WR Bolden: 17
WR Bourne: 10
RB Matt Breida: 22
DL Cooper: 96
S Jerome: 26
NT Jones: 93
DE Taumoepenu: 55
G Tomlinson: 75