San Francisco 49ers

Little-known players make 49ers roster decisions more difficult by acing final exam

The 49ers' Victor Bolden Jr., right, has been suspended without pay for the first four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy.
The 49ers' Victor Bolden Jr., right, has been suspended without pay for the first four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy. AP file

Cornerback Asa Jackson and receiver Victor Bolden made the 49ers' decisions a little more difficult as the team starts to trim its roster to 53 players.

Bolden, who had a 104-yard kick-return touchdown in the 49ers' second preseason game against the Denver Broncos, had another long score on Thursday, this one 92-yard punt return. Bolden fielded the second-quarter punt, took a quick step to his right and then went untouched into the end zone.

Jackson, a six-year veteran, played well Sunday in Minnesota when he took over for K'Waun Williams at nickel cornerback. On Thursday he played on the outside, coming up with an interception on a tipped pass on the Chargers opening drive as well as another at the end of the third quarter when he jumped a route and cut in front of the intended Los Angeles receiver.

The first four cornerback spots likely will go to Rashard Robinson, Dontae Johnson, Williams and third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon. Jackson (Christian Brothers High School) probably would have to overtake Keith Reaser to land a spot. Jackson was injured late in the game. He walked off the field -- slowly -- on his own and seemed to be ok after the game.

"He had the two picks, but I saw him making a lot of tackles, too.” Kyle Shanahan said. “Asa is a guy that we brought here in the middle of (camp) and he’s brought some energy. He plays hard. Came in the middle of camp. Does a good job on special teams. I was excited about how he came here and helped us.”

As for Bolden, he did not do much at receiver in the preseason. He had one catch for nine yards Thursday, his only reception of the summer session.

But he jumped out on returns and was easily the brightest spot on special teams. Jeremy Kerley and Trent Taylor also can return punts, though the 49ers do not have an established kickoff returner.

“Returning two (kicks) isn’t enough,” Shanahan said when asked about Bolden’s roster chances. “It’s got to be everything else that you do. I know those were two real good plays. It has to do with everything else, also -- how much can he help us at receiver? Is he the punt returner? Is he the kick returner?”

The 49ers currently have 88 players on the roster. They must be down to 53 players by Saturday at 1 p.m., although most of the cuts will be made Friday.

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Thirty three players did not suit up for the game. Most either were starters or injured players like cornerback Will Redmond (ankle), receiver Aaron Burbridge (hamstring) and defensive end Ronald Blair (thumb). Others were veterans like Aldrick Robinson and Louis Murphy that the 49ers did not want to expose to an injury. The only Week 1 would-be starter who played was Eli Harold.

Some of the dress/not dress decisions were interesting. George Kittle was not in uniform. That's not a surprise since he might be the team's top tight end is certainly the biggest lock to make the team at the position. Garrett Celek, however, also watched from the sideline while Logan Paulsen, Blake Bell and Cole Hikutini played. Does that mean Kittle and Celek have made the 53-man squad?

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It's hard to say who exactly will make the team at running back. After getting no carries Sunday against Minnesota, Kapri Bibbs didn't enter Thursday's game untl a little more than five minutes were left in the game. Tim Hightower started and Joe Williams got the lion's share of the carries, rushing 10 times for 53 yards. Williams was particularly effective on outside runs, which is not Carlos Hyde's strength. In that way, they might complement each other. Williams, however, also had a fumble. "If you can't hold onto the ball, it's very tough to play in this league," Shanahan said.. "He's had a few of them. So that definitely is alarming, something we have to get fixed."

Quinton Dial is a two-year starter for the 49ers. Not only did he play extensively in Thursday's game, he didn't even get the courtesy of starting. Rookie D.J. Jones started at nose tackle while Chris Jones started at defensive tackle.

Matt Barrows breaks down three players to watch in the San Francisco 49ers preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday, August 31, 2017.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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