The 49ers’ 53-man roster appears set.
Ninety minutes before the 49ers’ season opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, the coaches must settle on the 46 players who will be allowed to suit up for the season opener.
A large portion of the 49ers’ fan base – and all of Australia – will be fixated on whether Jarryd Hayne will be in uniform for his first game on an NFL regular-season roster.
Hayne is likely the No. 4 running back on the 49ers’ depth chart behind Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and fourth-round pick Mike Davis. But Hayne could surpass Davis to be third in line to suit up for games if special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey determines he brings more value to the team in that phase of the game.
While Hayne’s return skills are obvious, Davis actually saw more action than Hayne on special teams during the exhibition season. Davis played 31 snaps of special teams in the preseason, while Hayne was on the field for 22 plays.
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Hayne, of course, made a strong case to be the 49ers’ top man on punt and kickoff returns. If Hayne is clearly better than Bruce Ellington in the minds of McGaughey and coach Jim Tomsula, he gets the nod and that’s the end of the discussion.
But if they believe it’s close, then Ellington could get the call as the primary return man based on the likelihood he would also figure more prominently into the offensive game plan than Hayne. Ellington appears to be in strong position to open the season as the 49ers’ No. 3 wide receiver.
The 49ers’ approach on defense could also impact the decision of whether Hayne suits up. The 49ers must decide whether to go with five or six of their seven defensive linemen. After all, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson could tax their defense and the 49ers could want more fresh bodies to rotate into the game.
How many of the team’s 10 defensive backs will suit up? Some of their backups in the secondary, such as L.J. McCray and Jaquiski Tartt, are core special-teams players. Jimmie Ward, the team’s first-round pick in 2014, is not certain to be in uniform. And one of the team’s corners is likely to be inactive, as well.
The 49ers can be expected to deactivate one of their five wide receivers. They will typically suit up seven of their nine offensive linemen. And there is no reason for all four outside linebackers to suit up, especially with defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie showing he can play that position in an emergency.
As the 49ers begin to install their game plan for Monday’s opener, it looks as if Hayne has put himself into good position to make his NFL regular-season debut in Week 1.
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Why teams can’t suit up all 53 players on their roster? That’s a question that is asked a lot at this time of the year. The reason is for competitive balance. The NFL does not want one team holding an unfair advantage of being able to suit up more players than its opponent. Because of injuries, there are many weeks in which teams do not have all 53 players available. So to avoid a situation in which one team might have 49 healthy players and the other team has 52, the league arrived at the number of 46 players who are allowed to be active for games.