Johnson finished preseason with a rush vs. S.D.
A strong performance against reserve defenders in Thursday’s preseason finale against San Diego wasn’t enough to land Josh Johnson a job with the 49ers, who included the veteran quarterback among the list of 21 players released by the team late Friday. The Niners also traded second-year safety Colin Jones to the Carolina Panthers to get the team down to the NFL-mandated 53-player limit.
Johnson completed 9 of 14 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 50 yards in a game that highlighted his all-around skills during a 35-3 rout of the Chargers. But it wasn’t enough to push him past holdover Scott Tolzien for San Francisco’s No. 3 quarterback role, even though Johnson’s numbers during the exhibition season were much better. Johnson finished with a 115.3 quarterback rating in four summer games while Tolzien finished at a lowly 41.9.
Perhaps the biggest name sent packing at the final roster cutdown was 11th-year veteran running back/special teams standout Rock Cartwright, who had performed well enough during the summer to earn a job with the team. But the 49ers instead kept holdover veteran Anthony Dixon as their sixth running back after Dixon made a strong push to keep his roster spot over the final two weeks of the preseason.
Dixon, who also is a top special teams player, was the game’s leading rusher against San Diego with 55 yards on 12 carries, including a power-driven 1-yard touchdown plunge that began the scoring. Dixon finished as San Francisco’s leading preseason rusher for the second time in three years with 171 yards on 42 carries. Cartwright, who wasn’t expected to be used much as a running back if he made the team, rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries during the preseason.
The other veterans from last year’s team to be released were second-year offensive tackle Mike Person and wide receiver Brett Swain. Offensive tackle Derek Hall and tight end Konrad Rueland, who both spent last season on San Francisco’s practice squad as undrafted rookie free agents, also were released.
The Niners also released Cameron Johnson, their seventh-round draft pick from April who didn’t perform well enough this summer for the team to consider keeping four outside linebackers. The 49ers had released offensive lineman Jason Slowey, their sixth-round pick this year, earlier this week during the first wave of roster cuts. Fifth-round pick Darius Fleming currently is on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a spring knee injury.
Others with previous NFL experience to get the ax were linebackers Ikaika Alam-Francis, Eric Bakhtiari and Kenny Rowe, tight end Kyle Nelson, offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins and inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite.
Bakhtiari had made a strong push to make the team as its fourth outside linebacker, leading the 49ers with 2.5 sacks during the preseason and finishing second with 15 tackles. But the Niners, who finished last year with just three outside linebackers, opted to begin this season with the same trio of Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Parys Haralson.
Undrafted free agent rookies who made it to the final cut but saw their summer stay with the 49ers end there are linebacker Joe Holland, defensive tackles Tony Jerod-Eddie and Matt Masifilo, cornerback Anthony Mosley, offensive lineman Al Netter, wide receivers Nathan Palmer and Chris Owusu and safety Michael Thomas.
The Niners also parted ways with Jones, their sixth-round draft pick from 2011 who made the team as a rookie almost exclusively for his contribution on special teams. Jones played in 13 games last year and finished with eight tackles on special teams before adding another three stops on those units in two playoff games.
Jones was swapped for an undisclosed draft pick, believed to be a seventh-rounder, from the Panthers, where he’s expected to step in and fill a roster void created when Carolina released former 49ers safety Reggie Smith on Friday at their final roster cutdown. Smith had signed with the Panthers during the offseason after spending his first four NFL seasons with San Francisco, where he started seven games in 2010.