How young are the 2017 San Francisco 49ers? Twenty players weren't born when general manager John Lynch made his first start at safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September 1993.
Lynch and the 49ers trimmed their roster to 53 players on Saturday. When it came to tough decisions, they routinely chose youngsters over more experienced players. All but one of the team's 10 draft picks -- running back Joe Williams, who will go on injured reserve -- made the initial squad. So did five undrafted rookies, including one, free safety Lorenzo Jerome, who could start in the Sept. 10 opener against the Carolina Panthers.
That's because Jimmie Ward is iffy for the game as his slow return from a July hamstring injury continues.
"That's still fluid," Lynch said Saturday. "… He's pushing. He's doing everything he can and our trainers are doing a great job with him to try and get him back healthy. But we want to make sure that when he comes back he's back for good."
Jaquiski Tartt and seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert are other options to start against the Panthers if Ward is on the sideline.
Other rookies with prominent roles include first-round draft picks Reuben Foster, who will start at weak-side linebacker, and Solomon Thomas, who will be part of the rotation along the defensive line.
Fifth-round pick George Kittle will be the team's top pass-catching threat at tight ens. He made the squad along with Logan Paulsen and Garrett Celek.
Another fifth-round pick, Trent Taylor, was so consistent as a slot receiver and punt returner that the 49ers felt comfortable cutting the team's top receiver from last season, Jeremy Kerley. Undrafted Kendrick Bourne and Victor Bolden, who returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the preseason, also made the initial 53-man roster.
“Once we got Trent Taylor in that slot and once we saw that Trent could handle it and handle it right away, we said it was going be hard at that point for Jeremy to make the roster,” Lynch said.
That means none of the receivers who were on last year's squad will be part of the 2017 team. Lynch said he didn't think Kerley, who had 64 catches for 667 yards last year, would have trouble landing with another squad. The 49ers signed him to a three-year deal in March that included a $2.8 million guarantee.
"We had good, honest discussions with him in the last couple of days and then went ahead and pulled the trigger today," Lynch said.
Two other young players who will have plenty of responsibility this year are Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, who will serve as Carlos Hyde's backups at tailback and who have one NFL carry -- Mostert's, in last year's 49ers season finale -- between them.
"If you're on the roster as a running back, you're likely going to play," Lynch said while noting Kyle Shanahan's and Mike Shanahan's history of rotating runners.
"Carlos is going to be featured … but Matt Breida is very much a part of our plan," he said. "He's a guy who from Day 1 showed up here. And you didn't have to be a football savant to see that guy can move. And he can move fast."
The team's roster is likely to change a bit in coming days. NFL teams waived and released more than 1,000 players over the last two days and Lynch said there's been "a ton of preparation" as far as evaluating possible castoffs. Only the 1-15 Cleveland Browns have a higher priority when it comes to roster claims.
"First of all, let me say that I hope I'm never No. 2 on the waiver claim again," Lynch said. "But it's a nice spot to be sitting in."
Et cetera -- Joshua Garnett was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Lynch said the 49ers want to allow him to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee properly and that Garnett was comfortable with the decision.
* During Thursday's preseason finale Williams aggravated an ankle injury that he first dealt with at the University of Utah.
* Lynch said defensive lineman Ronald Blair "likely" would be placed on injured reserve in coming days with a thumb injury. Because he made the initial 53-man team, Blair is eligible to return to the active roster during the season.
* Undrafted offensive lineman Erik Magnuson likely will start the season as the team's top backup at center.