5 takeaways: 49ers preseason opener vs. Dallas Cowboys
The 49ers decided to sit 28 players in their preseason opener Saturday, which was perhaps more telling than the 17-9 victory itself. Sure, there were some positive developments, like holding the Cowboys out of the end zone and Jalen Hurd scoring a pair of touchdowns in his NFL debut.
But there were also some negatives, like 216 penalty yards on 18 accepted flags, and a season-ending leg injury to backup swing tackle Shon Coleman.
Here, we considered everything we’ve seen on the practice field during 11 training camp sessions along with the exhibition opener Saturday to piece together our first 53-man roster projection of the summer, which includes a 10-man practice squad projection to make things easier on coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
Shanahan hasn’t kept three quarterbacks since coming to San Francisco. But neither Mullens nor Beathard has distinguished themselves and it might be wise to keep both as an insurance policy for Jimmy Garoppolo, given the drop to Wilton Speight. His practice reps have been awfully scant, though he has an intriguing skill set.
Practice squad: Wilton Speight
Running back (4)
Tevin Coleman, Kyle Juszczyk, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert
The 49ers were planning to keep five, but it seems like a wise decision to start Jerick McKinnon on injured reserve to allow his knee more time to heal. He could return midway through the season, which would be like getting an injection of talent at the trade deadline. Getting Coleman in free agency is looking like a bigger boon by the day. The depth, meanwhile, is on the practice squad with Austin Walter and Jeff Wilson Jr.
Injured reserve: Jerick McKinnon
Practice squad: Austin Walter, Jeff Wilson Jr.
Cut: Brandon Wilds
Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Hurd, Richie James Jr.
It seemed likely the 49ers would keep six. But Taylor’s injury complicates things and creates a need for another slot option. That allowed James to sneak on the roster. He could help in the return game so Pettis doesn’t have to risk injury.
Practice squad: Shawn Poindexter
Cut: Jordan Matthews, Malik Henry
Tight end (3)
George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Kaden Smith
We had to take Tyree Mayfield off the 53-man projection because the 49ers don’t need another pass-catching option with seven receivers. Smith is a better blocker, though he isn’t quite as versatile. Mayfield lands on the practice squad while doubling as insurance for Juszczyk at fullback.
Practice squad: Tyree Mayfield
Active physically unable to perform list: Garrett Celek
Cut: Levin Toilolo, Daniel Helm
Offensive line (8)
Joe Staley, Mike McGlinichey, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person, Ben Garland, Justin Skule, Najee Toran
This group could change dramatically as the regular season approaches. It’s thin behind the expected starters, which could mean some wheeling and dealing when final cuts are made. Joshua Garnett is gone after being unable to stay healthy while being an awkward fit. Perhaps the 2016 first-round draft pick could fetch a backup tackle in a trade following the injury Saturday to Shon Coleman.
Injured reserve: Shon Coleman
Practice squad: Ross Reynolds
Cut: Joshua Garnett, Christian DeLauro, Willie Beavers, Daniel Brunskiill, Dillon Day, Wesley Johnson
Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, David Mayo, Elijah Lee
Mayo and Lee provide versatility and special teams value while Greenlaw beats out Malcolm Smith for the starting “Sam” linebacker role. Azeez Al-Shaair is a player worth keeping on the practice squad who could contribute down the road. Malcolm Smith hasn’t been able to stay healthy and commands too hefty a salary to be relied upon.
Practice squad: Azeez Al-Shaair
Cut: Malcolm Smith, Mark Nzeocha, LaRoy Reynolds
Defensive line (10)
DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair III, D.J. Jones, Sheldon Day, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street
The defensive line is a clear strength of the roster so it’s important to reinforce it with numbers in case of injury. There’s a good case that 10 is too many, but would San Francisco really cut Street, their fourth-round pick from last season? It seems doubtful.
Cut: Damontre Moore, Jordan Thompson, Jeremiah Valoaga, Jay Bromley
Practice squad: Jamell Garcia-Williams
Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, D.J. Reed Jr., Emmanuel Moseley
Moseley sneaks on to the team because he’s one of the few players on the roster that could play both outside and inside, which could be important while Williams works back from a training camp knee injury and Verrett deals with an ankle sprain. Reed could also be an option at safety. Sixth-round pick Tim Harris would make the team if one of the injuries lasted longer than expected.
Practice squad: Tim Harris
Cut: Dontae Johnson, Greg Mabin
Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Tarvarius Moore, Marcell Harris
Four seems thin, but Reed’s versatility could help. Colbert was a tough player to cut but he’s done nothing but slide down the depth chart recently, and getting ejected Saturday for a blatant illegal hit took away valuable game reps.
Cut: Adrian Colbert, Antone Exum Jr.
Practice squad: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky, Colin Holba
Kyle Nelson is suspended the first six games for a PED violation. The 49ers seem intent on keeping him around anyway, so perhaps there could be some long-snapper drama down the road.
Suspended: Kyle Nelson