San Francisco 49ers

On the 49ers: Roster goes from gray to green

At age 31, Antoine Bethea is the senior member of the 49ers’ secondary.
At age 31, Antoine Bethea is the senior member of the 49ers’ secondary. The Associated Press

In one offseason, the 49ers went from being one of the 10 oldest teams in the league to being the eighth youngest. That’s what happens when 30-something stalwarts like Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore either retire or move on in free agency and when someone like 34-year-old defensive lineman Darnell Dockett is let go on cut-down day.

The average age of the 49ers’ roster is 25.8 years. And one of the biggest themes of the season is how well young players fill the roles of their older, proven former teammates.

▪ Antoine Bethea must feel like Father Time. Nowhere else is the 49ers’ youth movement as acute than in the secondary. Seven of the 10 players at cornerback and safety were born after June 1991, and six either were drafted – or in safety L.J. McCray’s case, signed as an undrafted free agent – in the last two years.

Of that group, Bethea, 31, is the only one in his 30s. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini’s heavy blitzing style will put pressure on him and his youthful companions to remain sound when they are inevitably put in one-on-one situations.

25.8Average age of 49ers’ roster

▪ The 49ers have a tight-end heavy roster. Four are on the active roster this year, including draft pick Blake Bell. Bell, Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald all had significant roles on special teams during the preseason, signaling that all three could be active on game days. Vernon Davis will start.

That’s more evidence that the 49ers will return to a tight end-heavy offense after veering away from that approach last season. Meanwhile, fullback Bruce Miller’s vandalism case still is being reviewed by the NFL. He could be suspended for a game or more this season.

Since Miller is the only fullback on the roster, the 49ers likely will go with more tight ends than normal in their offense if he is absent. Bell, a former quarterback at Oklahoma, often lined up in the backfield as a lead blocker after switching to tight end.

▪ The two biggest surprise cuts were Dockett and inside linebacker Nick Moody. The 49ers felt they would be served by getting younger players – Tony Jerod-Eddie and Arik Armstead – more involved, which wouldn’t have happened had Dockett been active on game days.

As for Moody’s departure, follow the green dot. The defensive player with the green dot sticker on his helmet receives the play call from the sideline and relays it in the huddle. Patrick Willis had that responsibility in previous years; NaVorro Bowman will have it this year.

The two biggest surprise cuts were defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and inside linebacker Nick Moody.

Bowman didn’t play in the preseason opener. At the time, Moody had a good shot at starting during the regular season and had been practicing exclusively with the first-string defense. But it was Shayne Skov, not Moody, who wore the green dot in that preseason game. That is, Moody’s understanding of the position and the defense never caught up to his athletic ability, at least to the degree his coaches wanted.

▪ Only 46 players are in uniform for a given game. Will Aussie newcomer Jarryd Hayne be one of the seven who sits out Monday’s opener against the Vikings? It might come down to a decision between Hayne and fellow rookie running back Mike Davis.

The 49ers likely will activate three runners. Two will be Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush. Davis, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina, is the more polished tailback at this point, but Hayne offers more on special teams.

Bush and wide receiver Bruce Ellington, like Hayne, can return punts. So can rookie DeAndrew White. Who handles that job also will play a large role in whether Hayne suits up in Week 1.

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

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