SANTA CLARA — One preseason game left. Sixty minutes of football. Twenty-two players to be cut within five days. It may take a calculus professor to solve all the possibilities, but even a sportswriter can see that the 49ers’ final exhibition game — against the Chargers on Thursday — is a big deal to players on the periphery of the 53-man roster.
Asked whether he and his staff have settled on final cuts, 49ers coach Mike Singletary said: “I have a decent idea, but there are some things that the game could influence. They’re always a few things that the game could influence and it’s just a matter of in that fourth game, it just depends on what jumps out at you.”
The 49ers must slim down from 75 players to 53 by Saturday.
The team will practice today and Wednesday, but the big test for young players will come Thursday. Singletary confirmed that his starters will play a series or two, “if that,” against San Diego. Most of the snaps will be devoted to the players who need them most — the young, the unproven, the flawed, the potentially expendable.
With an eye to cut day, here are six roster battles to watch:
Brit Miller vs. Jehuu Caulcrick
Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon figure to be safe among the halfbacks. Michael Robinson is needed for special teams, and Moran Norris is the guy at fullback. The 49ers could stop the backfield there, or they could go with a second fullback. Either Miller or Caulcrick could play regularly on special teams.
Jason Hill vs. Kyle Williams
Count Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn and camp sensation Dominique Zeigler as safe. The next slot could match Hill, a fourth-year veteran who has operated on the periphery of the offense, and Williams, a rookie who can also return kicks. Williams looked to have the edge before he sprained his right big toe, an injury that will keep him out of the Chargers game.