The San Francisco 49ers play their third preseason game this week, which means the cuts down to the 53-man roster will happen soon. The roster turnover thus far this offseason has been grand in its own right, with less than half of the players remaining from last season. Unfortunately, that means a lot of the rookies and younger players will not make it on to the team. Thankfully, the Niners have a relatively easy option to hold onto players of interest.
Any player thats able to clear waivers is eligible to remain within the team as a member of the practice squad. The practice squad has a couple of nice functions, acting as a pseudo “scout team” of players that the team can use to mimic opposing teams to game plan against. It also acts as a type of feeder system for the team. If a player is injured or waived, the team can “call up” a player on to the 53-man roster. Today we’re looking at some of the eligible players who can and will likely make it onto the practice squad.
*FB Tyler McCloskey*
FB Tyler McCloskey came in to the team as an undrafted free agent, and while most players brought in as UDFAs have a decent chance of making the team, McCloskey came into a pretty bad situation. The team signed OW Kyle Juszcyzk at the start of free agency. The fullback position is a dying position in the NFL and SF is rather gluttonous there. I don’t foresee teams necessarily putting in a waiver claim on McCloskey, and having the insurance of a player to call up should Juszczyk get injured is a pretty good idea.
*DB Adrian Colbert*
DB Adrian Colbert was drafted by SF with their last pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and offers a little more versatility than your average defensive back. Colbert played both CB and Safety in college, something that could be appealing for other teams as well as SF. The problem is he is still a very raw player. Colbert is incredibly athletic but doesn’t have the technique just yet to take his game to the next level. With any luck teams will not claim him off waivers and he can revert back to the SF practice squad. Being able to learn under DB Coach Jeff Hafley and watch and learn from first-round picks Jimmie Ward and Eric Reid will help Colbert improve by leaps and bounds.
*TE Cole Hikutini*
TE Cole Hikutini signed with SF as an UDFA, being called by the team just 10 minutes after the draft ended. He has all the measurable you could want in a move TE in the NFL and the PCL strain he suffered that caused his stock to drop doesn’t seem to be hindering him too much if at all. The problem is that he hasn’t really flashed much in training camp and in the preseason games thus far. Considering the state of the TE position when he came in, there is still great chance he makes the roster, but in the event he doesn’t and ends up on the practice squad it gives them a bit of insurance if one of the TEs on the roster suffers an injury.
*OL Andrew Lauderdale*
OL Andrew Lauderdale joined San Francisco after being waived from the New Orleans Saints. Originally started playing as a TE before converting to the offensive line, Lauderdale has a remarkable athletic ability for his size. His speed and quickness gives him the raw tools needed to potentially succeed in Shanahan's zone-based running attack. While the offensive line depth isn’t great, it would be better for him to stay on the practice squad at first to continue to learn and utilize good technique with his raw talent.
*QB Nick Mullens*
QB Nick Mullens also joined the team as a UDFA after the team drafted QB C.J. Beathard in the third round. Mullens doesn’t have the size a QB normally has in the NFL, but makes up for it with good accuracy and pocket poise. Mullens also does a good job processing his reads. These are all traits Shanahan prefers in his QBs. Mullens will likely never be a starter in the NFL, but if he can come in and join the practice squad, he can work on his mobility and strength and make a case to be the backup QB next year. Whoever starts next year, though, is anyone's guess.
*LB Pita Taumoepenu*
LB Pita Taumoepenu -- Pita T -- was drafted by SF in the 6th round of the 2017 NFL draft. A pass rush specialist, Taumoepenu had nine sacks is senior year of college and had similar 40-yard dash and 10-yard split to DE Solomon Thomas. With how much the team has been remade, there’s a pretty good chance Taumoepenu makes the team, especially if LB Eli Harold makes LB Ahmad Brooks expendable (big if true). If he isn’t able to secure a roster spot and reverts to the practice squad, he will get to learn with one of the most stout defensive lines in the NFL and that will allow him to improve his technique. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him called up sometime during the season.
Who do you see as a practice squad candidate? Let us know and stay tuned in for more great content at @49ersHUB!