Image Credit: Scott Young
Are We Talking about Practice (Squad)?
As Allen Iverson so eloquently put it, who cares about practice? Well obviously if you are one of 320 players who find themselves on a practice squad today, you care about it quite a bit. This is their chance to show their team leaders that they deserve a chance on the 53-man roster while prepare to seize any opportunity given to them.
As of the November 6, 2018 roster published by the team, the San Francisco 49ers have two wide receivers, one defensive back, two running backs, one linebacker, two offensive lineman, one tight end, and one defensive lineman. The ten practice squad players are:
Steve Dunbar Jr. (WR)
Victor Boldin Jr. (WR)
Greg Mabin (DB)
Jeff Wilson Jr. (RB)
Matthew Dayes (RB)
Pita Taumoepenu (LB)
Christian DiLauro (OL)
Najee Toran (OL)
Cole Wick (TE)
Ryan Delaire (DL)
Kyle Shanahan has not been shy about bringing up practice squad players when an active roster player has either played poorly or he’s been forced out to due to injury. Nick Mullens, the starting quarterback – possibly for the rest of the season, started the season on the practice squad and spent all of last year on it after signing as an undrafted free agent. Before being placed on the injured reserve, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley had been brought up from the practice squad. Victor Boldin Jr. himself was active earlier this season before being cut and signed to the practice squad. So the idea that one of those ten players could see active roster duty this season is not a surprise. Let’s look at the probability of these players moving up.
The crowd, television and live, all heard Raheem Mostert scream in pain as his forearm snapped against the Oakland Raiders last Thursday night. This injury left two gaping holes in the 49ers roster. As any die hard 49er fan and probably most passive ones know, Mostert is a special-teams stud and probably would have made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer. He doesn’t return kicks, but his is among the best gunners in the NFL, stopping punt returners in their tracks, before they can even make any. This season Mostert had also become the second fiddle to Matt Breida’s orchestra. This means that it is highly likely that either Jeff Wilson Jr., or Matthew Dayes is brought up to the active roster before Monday night’s game against the New York Giants. My money would be on Dayes, who was signed to the practice squad after the Raiders game. Dayes was a seventh-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns last year, appearing in all 16 games, primarily as a special teamer. With the Browns he recorded eight special teams tackles, and he is a good bet to line up in Mostert’s gunner position. With Dayes being brought up, expect Wilson Jr. to stay on the practice squad with Shanahan rolling the dice with Breida, Alfred Morris, and Kyle “Juice” Juszczyk at the running back position.
Mabin has already seen action in four games this season in Robert Salah’s defense. If Richard Sherman’s injury gets worse, or any of the other CBs goes down, he will be brought up for sure. Although he didn’t flash like a superstar while on the field (he was cut and then re-signed to the practice squad), he does have some great potential and understands the defensive scheme. In his four games he produced 10 total tackles and one pass defended. He was also burned numerous times, showing that maybe a little more practice was indeed needed before he could perform to everyone’s expectations on gamedays.
Most practice squad players are brought up due to injury, and these players all would need an injury or two to be activated, but could see that happen. Bolden handled return duties last year, and could see himself activated for that purpose again if Richie James, Trent Taylor, and Dante Pettis found themselves unable to play. That’s a pretty long list, but Shanahan obviously sees something he likes in Bolden considering he stuck with the team after a four-game suspension to start the season. He was even targeted four times, catching one for ten yards, against the Arizona Cardinals – the first time around. He was on the active roster for four weeks, like Mabin, before being cut and resigned to the practice squad.
Guard Najee Toran also saw time on the active roster (Weeks 2 through 4) before being relegated to the practice squad. Toran would need to see Mike Person, Joshua Garnett, or Laken Tomlinson go down with an injury in order to be activated. Toran is also a UDFA, a trend you will see on most teams’ practice squads.
Cole Wick started his rookie season (2016) as an UDFA with the Detroit Lions, before ending the season on Injured Reserve. He then spent all of 2017 on the Lions practice squad before moving over to San Francisco this season. He was on the 53-man roster for the first six games of the season, even making the active game day roster against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5, but was also relegated back to the practice squad. Wick has shown potential, but needs to keep polishing his game. With Garrett Celek not playing all that well the last few weeks, it’s possible that Wick could find the field one of these Sundays without an injury occurring, as the 49ers front office continues to play the on and off game with Tom Savage every week.
Wilson, also a UDFA, is a fast, pass-catching, running back. If Dayes is not activated for special team duties on Monday, it is possible that Wilson will be activated instead.
Probably Not Getting Activated
At six foot-three inches, Dunbar is a big-bodied WR. As an UDFA he is also quite unpolished and at the bottom of the 49ers depth chart at WR. He has sign-and-stash written all over him, much like Kendrick Bourne last season.
Taumoepenu is a fan favorite who many lobbied to be on the initial 53 man roster. He has shown flashes of great play in the preseason. Originally a rugby player, he is more of an edge rusher than a linebacker, rushing the edge with his hand in the dirt or in a stand up stance. Taumoepenu has a lot of players in front of him, and if Dekota Watson and Cassius Marsh can continue to put pressure on the opponents’ quarterbacks then he will spend the remainder of the season on the practice squad.
DiLauro was recently signed by the 49ers to their practice squad. He had spent the first part of the season on the Cleveland Browns practice squad after coming into the league as an UDFA. At six-foot-six and 300 pounds, he is a big OL who has spent time at both tackle and guard in his college career. His versatility and size is probably why John Lynch brought him to the Bay Area, but his lack of knowledge in Shanahan’s system along with the amount of players, including Toran, in front of him makes one assume he will spend the remainder of the season on the practice squad, unless he’s cut for another position of need due to injuries.
Delaire, a defensive end specifically, spent the beginning of his career on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ and Washington Redskins’ practice squads, before being signed in 2015 to the Carolina Panthers’ active roster with whom he played in 15 games and registered 14 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and one pass defended through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He was then signed to the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad in 2017 and later cut in 2018. He was active for one game this season for the 49ers, registering no statistics against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5. Barring a barrage of injuries, Delaire will most likely spend the rest of the season rushing C.J. Beathard in practice.
You can follow Travis on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great game day analysis!