Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider was watching from the Levi’s Stadium press box when the 49ers played the Denver Broncos on Aug. 17. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was there, binoculars in hand, for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers.
For 20 or so 49ers playing in today’s preseason finale in Houston, those erstwhile enemies could turn into saviors in the coming days.
That’s because NFL teams must reduce rosters to 53 players by 1 p.m. Saturday. The 49ers would like to relocate many of those they cut to their practice squad, which has grown from eight to 10 players this season, but players must pass through waivers.
And if last year is any example, other teams will be circling like vultures to see which players the talent-laden 49ers leave exposed.
The Chiefs picked up two 49ers castoffs last year in rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper and wide receiver Chad Hall. Cooper, the 49ers’ seventh-round draft pick, had been earmarked for their practice squad. Instead, he started 17 games for Kansas City, with three interceptions and a touchdown on special teams, and the Chiefs voted him their rookie of the year.
The Green Bay Packers signed quarterback Scott Tolzien to their practice squad and the Cleveland Browns snapped up tight end MarQueis Gray.
This year, there are several young 49ers players who could draw interest.
Even without holdout Alex Boone, San Francisco’s offensive line is deeper than most teams. Backups like Carter Bykowski, a tackle, and Ryan Seymour, who can play guard and tackle, might be intriguing to a team desperate to add depth to its offensive line.
Safety James McCray, who signed with the 49ers after going undrafted in May, has a good mix of size and speed. He didn’t play any defensive snaps against the Chargers on Sunday, perhaps a sign the 49ers are trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.
Then there’s former Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, who in 2011 was considered one of the top inside linebackers in college but fell out of the draft after running a slow 40-yard dash time of 5.1 seconds. He had suffered a hamstring strain the previous month and still hadn’t fully returned to form from the knee injury that ended his 2012 season at Stanford.
Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland are the 49ers’ top three inside linebackers heading into the regular season. Nick Moody is faster and more athletic than Skov, and because of that he may be a better fit for a role on special teams.
Skov admitted to feeling nervous when the 49ers reduced their roster to 75 players earlier this week.
“A little bit, obviously,” he said. “I think there’s always a little bit of anxiety. Unless you’re a starter, you’re always a little bit on the bubble.”
But Skov has played well the last two games and has looked close to his pre-injury form. He says he wouldn’t run a 5.1-second 40-yard dash if he were given the chance today.
“Watch me run down on kickoffs,” Skov said. “I’m not 5 yards behind everybody. I’m right there with everybody else. … I feel great and I feel like I’m moving well. I think the film’s indicative of that.”