If any would-be 49ers starters play in Thursday’s preseason finale against San Diego, it won’t be for long, coach Jim Tomsula said. The fourth preseason game is designed to finalize the last few spots on the 53-man roster and to give the players who may not make the squad an opportunity to show off for the 31 other NFL general managers ... and a few in Canada and the Arena League. With that in mind, here are 10 who appear hovering around the roster bubble.
TE Busta Anderson, No. 48: The seventh-round draft pick has two catches for 32 yards, but more significant is his key blocks on the team’s longest runs of the preseason. Despite two recent trades, there are still four tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell. A spot on the practice squad makes sense.
LB Nick Bellore, No. 50: The 49ers signed him in free agency because he was familiar to special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey Jr. from their time with the Jets. Bellore, however, missed the first part of training camp with an illness. And other special teams aces have emerged. McGaughey Jr. will get to pick a few special teams stalwarts to make the roster. Will Bellore be one?
PR-RB Jarryd Hayne, No. 38: There’s a report out of Australia saying Hayne has been told he will make the 53-man roster. Of course, there also was a report out of Australia in February that Hayne would join the NFL’s Detroit Lions, not the 49ers. But Hayne does appear to be a good bet for the final roster, which would give the team an awful lot of running backs. Kendall Hunter, meanwhile, seemed tentative on his carries on Saturday and does not appear fully recovered from last year’s ACL tear.
G/C Joe Looney, No. 78: Looney may have been in an all-or-nothing situation – he either had to be the starter at center or wouldn’t make the roster. Marcus Martin will start the season at center, which puts Looney’s future with the team in doubt. Still, he’s capable of playing any of the interior line spots and might be a valuable guy to have in uniform on game day. He’s seemingly competing with sixth-round pick Ian Silberman for a spot.
S L.J. McCray, No. 31: The 24-year-old safety landed on the 53-man roster last year as a special teams ace. However, for the third straight year, the 49ers used a high draft pick on a safety, this time second-round pick Jaquiski Tartt. That creates a logjam at the position and may put McCray in contention with Craig Dahl for a roster spot. The veteran has been a trusted backup at safety and a solid performer on special teams for the 49ers since 2013. But McCray has a bigger upside as a coverage specialist and has been making strides on defense.
NT Mike Purcell, No. 64: Aside from Hayne, no one has made the most of his preseason snaps as Purcell, who has played extensively in the first three games. He’s earned a spot on a 53-man roster, the question is whether the 49ers can squeeze him onto their roster. The team has a deep group of defensive linemen and the nose tackle comes off the field in nickel situations.
OLB Marcus Rush, No. 45: Early in training camp, Rush seemed destined for the practice squad. But Aldon Smith’s exit and Ahmad Brooks’ exile (and Chase Thomas’ ACL tear) have created a need for outside linebackers. Rush, an undrafted rookie from Michigan State, is undersized but has been Mr. Hustle all summer. He could be the biggest surprise to make the roster.
LB Shayne Skov, No. 48: Irony: Skov and NaVorro Bowman, the two inside linebackers coming back from multi-ligament knee tears, have been the most reliable and healthy players at their position all summer. Injuries and ailments to other outside linebackers have given Skov, a former Stanford standout, plenty of snaps and opportunities, and he’s shown that he’s as close to pre-injury form as he’s ever been.
G Andrew Tiller, No. 61: He was the starting left guard all offseason until Alex Boone joined practices. Tiller now is a longshot to make the team, but it may be more because of politics – he was a late-round pick by the Saints in 2012 and has bounced around the league since. Tiller is stout, especially in run blocking, and he could find a spot on a team with a power-blocking mentality.
WR DeAndrew White, No. 18: He’s been the most consistently good young receiver on the team since he was acquired in May. He’s likely No. 6 in the pecking order at wide receiver. But because No. 5, Jerome Simpson, will be suspended to start the season, there could be a spot for White.