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Inman: Three biggest issues with 49ers’ 53-man roster

Inman: Three biggest issues with 49ers’ 53-man roster

SANTA CLARA — How the 49ers’ roster evolves from today through Feb. 11 will be fascinating, especially if they’re indeed playing at season’s end for the Lombardi Trophy in Las Vegas.

Tuesday’s 53-man roster reveal was not fascinating, not shocking, and not troubling.

The 49ers made their biggest roster move four days earlier, when they unloaded quarterback Trey Lance on the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick. It was a combined effort to move on with other quarterbacks, grant him a trade, save a few million on next year’s salary cap, and, here it comes, take accountability and criticism for trading up in 2021 to the No. 3 pick for such a raw prospect.

“Fortunately, we still have a really good football team that I think has a legitimate shot,” general manager John Lynch said Friday night. “We’re focused on Game 1, but we have a championship-level roster. Now it’s what we make of it.”

Lynch will have more to say about that roster when he and coach Kyle Shanahan meet separately with reporters before today’s 3 p.m. practice; next door, Beyoncé’s concert hits the Levi’s Stadium stage at 8 p.m.

Roster depth and injury luck are fates the 49ers can’t answer, yet. So here are three issues with the roster at this point:

San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa (97) warms up before their NFC divisional-round playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, January 22, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

1. NICK BOSA’S ABSENCE

Nick Bosa’s name is not on the initial roster because, if you haven’t heard, he’s yet to report to the team. He skipped training camp and the preseason, as the 49ers expected, while awaiting a contract that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback.

Ideally, Bosa will sign and reunite with his teammates now that practices have transitioned into regular-season mode. Sessions are slated for Wednesday and Thursday, then comes Week 1 with practices Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before their flight to Pittsburgh.

What if Bosa’s holdout keeps him from playing in the season opener, which happened in 2017 with the Los Angeles Rams’ and Aaron Donald? The 49ers did not stock up on defensive ends this offseason, instead spending big for defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to ideally ride shotgun with Bosa.

Drake Jackson and Clelin Ferrell are the top defensive ends on the roster; Kerry Hyder Jr. and Austin Bryant got released Tuesday but are expected to re-sign today, in paperwork shuffling. Three of last year’s defensive ends left town — Samson Ebukam (Colts), Charles Omenihu (Chiefs), Jordan Willis (Raiders; released Tuesday).

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) gets a hug from Ray-Ray McCloud (3) in the final moments of a 31-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

2. INJURED RESERVE PATH

Is rookie kicker Jake Moody going on Injured Reserve and thus missing his first four NFL games because of a quadriceps injury, prompting the 49ers to sign, perhaps, Tristan Vizcaino or another free agent in the coming days? This is the most compelling drama outside of Bosa’s contract.

Of the 49ers’ nine-man draft class, only two did not make the initial cut and instead are on injury lists: tight end Cameron Latu (third round) and cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. (fifth round).

Latu’s initial camp had far too many drops and penalties, but he caught Lance’s final touchdown pass in a 49ers uniform (in Aug. 19 preseason action), and then blew out a meniscus in his knee in Friday’s preseason finale. Redshirting him on Injured Reserve as a rookie is a smart route.

Luter hyperextended his knee in June, and he’ll be eligible to debut after four games, should the 49ers elect to activate him off the Physically Unable To Perform list.

Injured Reserve is also where the 49ers placed kicker Zane Gonzalez (calf), safety Tayler Hawkins (hand) and cornerback A.J. Parker (hamstring).

3. SURPLUS AT LINEBACKER, RECEIVER

Fred Warner is the 49ers’ defensive hype man, captain and leader of a crowded linebacker room. It includes veteran incumbents Dre Greenlaw, Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. The two rookie linebackers who got drafted, Jalen Graham (seventh round) and Dee Winters (sixth round), each made the roster. Left out were Marcelino McCrary-Ball and Curtis Robinson, the latter of whom took a lot of first-team reps in practice in place of Burks at strong-side linebacker.

So why is linebacker depth so important? Greenlaw (hamstring) and Burks (knee) have been recovering from injuries since the 49ers’ first practice against the Raiders. Graham could be a surprise, strong-side starter in Week 1.

At wide receiver, veterans Willie Snead IV, Chris Conley and Anthony Miller missed the cut, as did Tay Martin and Isaiah Winstead on their likely way to the practice squad.

So the 49ers kept Danny Gray aboard despite a shoulder injury, keeping alive his shot at playing this season if they do move him to Injured Reserve. McCloud is only a few weeks removed from wrist surgery, but don’t be stunned if he rushes back and returns punts in 11 days.

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The overall goal: Place as few players as possible onto Injured Reserve between now and Feb. 11.