For years, the "F" word has been labeled as vulgar and offensive. To NFL hopefuls, the word is no different.
To any NFL journeyman, practice squad holdover, and rookie selected beyond the fifth round of the NFL draft, being labeled a “Fringe” NFL player is like telling a grade school boy they’re pretty strong...for a girl.
To those unfamiliar with the term "fringe player," fringe players are players on a team's expanded 73-man roster who are about as likely to be cut as they are to be employed on the day of the 53-man roster cutdown.
Unless these players live in Michael Crabtree’s mock reality (see previous article), most realize that they are fringe players. Some will take the added pressure as a motivator and rise to the occassion; others will fold like a miserly French poker player.
Broken down by position, Scott McCloughan’s “fringe players” are likely to include the following 49er hopefuls.
Moran Norris (is on the wrong side of 30, at a short-lifespan position)
Joe John Finley
Ricky Jean Francois
With these “fringe” players battling it out for the last few roster spots, here is how I envision the 49er roster unfolding. Bolded and italicized are the fringe players who will be lucky enough to call themselves NFL athletes by the end of the day.
Quarterbacks (3 players)
Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, Nate Davis
Running Backs (5 players)
Frank Gore, Moran Norris, Glen Coffee, Michael Robinson, Kory Sheets
Wide Receivers (6 players)
Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan, Arnaz Battle, Brandon Jones, Jason Hill, Michael Spurlock, (Michael Crabtree will replace one upon signing)
Tight Ends (3 players)
Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Bear Pascoe
Offensive Line (9 players)
Joe Staley, David Baas, Eric Heitman, Chilo Rachal, Adam Snyder, Tony Wragge, Cody Wallace, Jacob Bender, OT Waiver Wire Pick Up
Defensive Line (6 players)
Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Kentwan Balmer, Ray MacDonald, Demetric Evans
Linebackers (8 players)
Manny Lawson, Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Parys Haralson, Jeff Ulbrich, Scott McKillop, Marques Harris, Ahmad Brooks
Defensive Backs (10 players)
Nate Clements, Dre Bly, Tarell Brown, Shawntae Spencer, Marcus Hudson, Dashon Goldson, Michael Lewis, Reggie Smith, Mark Roman
Special Teams (3 players)
Joe Nedney, Andy Lee, Brian Jennings, Michael Spurlock/Kory Sheets (double duty)
TOTAL: 53 Players
Practice Squad (8 players)
Dominique Zeigler, Ricky-Jean Francois, Brit Miller, Alex Boone, Diyral Briggs, Curtis Taylor, Khaliff Mitchell, Joe Jon Finley
The only major surprise move here is the cutting of Allen Rossum.
While certainly an average to above-average return man, he really hasn’t done much lately to warrant an entire roster spot. Both Michael Spurlock and Kory Sheets had significantly higher average return yards than Rossum.
In addition, cutting Rossum allows the team to keep both Jason Hill and Michael Spurlock, which is a necessity given that Brandon Jones won’t be available until October, Michael Crabtree has yet to sign, and Arnaz Battle is perhaps the most injury-prone wide receiver in the NFL. Sheets and Spurlock get the nod as they can do more in a "what have/can you do for me lately" type of business.
Other noteworthy moves include keeping Jacob Bender, the 49ers' backup left tackle who has looked impressive all preseason. Bender was poached from the Patriots' practice squad at the end of last season. Alex Boone gets stashed on the practice squad. After Boone's inability to pass block throughout preseason, he will almost certainly clear waivers. He still has much promise, thus landing him on the practice squad.
Moran Norris gets the nod over the young and promising Britt Miller, who just recently made the position change from linebacker to fullback straight out of college. While many would argue that Norris shouldn't be a fringe player, he is an average at best fullback who is 31 years old and has done nothing in training camp.
Don't forget, he was released by the Lions. He just isn't the same fullback as three years ago. Norris gets Frank Gore's vote and Miller should be in the clear when it comes to clearing waivers.
Another possible, though improbable, outcome is Norris being cut and Michael Robinson handling fullback duties to save a roster spot (unlikely due to Raye's boring and dogmatic reliance on the run).
In addition, Marquees Harris and Ahmad Brooks get the nod over promising UDFA Diyral Briggs, who will likely clear waivers and be stashed on the 49er practice squad. Both Harris and Brooks have more experience at the position, and you know how Camp Singletary favors experience.
At cornerback, Marcus Hudson gets the nod over Eric Green. Though Green hasn't been terrible, he faced an uphill battle upon being brought in. Marcus Hudson is familiar with the 49ers scheme and the 49ers are familiar with Marcus Hudson.
Lastly, Demetric Evans gets the nod over the young and raw Ricky Jean-Francois. While Jean-Francois has looked like a decent and promising player, he hasn't done enough to make McGloughan send an apology note to the York family for wasting the $3 million in guaranteed money the 49er front office promised Evans in free agency. Jean-Francois will likely clear waivers and make the practice squad.