Garcia's preseason debut will be cameo appearance
Saturday's exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints represents the final chance for several prospects to make an impression on the 49ers before Tuesday's deadline to cut NFL rosters to 65 active players. The Niners will be taking a hard look at those roster hopefuls while also trying to get some of their established players some action to stay sharp and, in some cases, shake of the rust.
Quarterback Jeff Garcia, who hasn't played yet in the preseason due to a sore back, falls into the latter category. The Niners are playing it cautious with Garcia, who was held out 11 consecutive days during the middle of training camp, but the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback practiced all this week and he will start against the Saints and play "possibly two or three series," according to coach Dennis Erickson.
"I would like to get him 14 or 15 plays, something like that," said Erickson, who said backup Tim Rattay would then finish the first half after Garcia leaves the game. Rattay may play into the second half, and then Brandon Doman and Ken Dorsey will alternate the rest of the game.
Doman and Dorsey are locked in a fierce battle for the No. 3 job at quarterback on a team that appears to be leaning more and more toward keeping just three quarterbacks. But neither of them has to worry about being cut Tuesday. Both still will be around at least until the Aug. 31 final cutdown to 53 players.
That's not the case for more than a dozen other players.
Saturday will be particularly important for prospects who have performed well in camp and the preseason but face strong competition for roster berths at their position. The Niners have been impressed by players such as linebackers Ray Wells and Marcus Reese, defensive linemen Byron Frisch and Ross Kolodziej and defensive backs Scott Frost and Joselio Hanson.
Defensive coordinator Jim Mora described those players as "those guys that you're not exactly quite sure what they are or where they are yet." The Niners would like to keep those guys around for another week and another exhibition game. But not all of them can stay. Some of them could earn - or lose - at least another week with the Niners by what they do against the Saints.
It's the same at virtually every other position besides quarterback, kicker and punter.
There are several players who will be looking at the action instead of having the Niners looking at them. Defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, the 11th-year veteran signed by team Thursday, will not play, Erickson confirmed after a brief walk-through practice Friday morning before the Niners broke camp at their Santa Clara complex.
"He just got off the bus - or off the plane," Erickson said. "We think he'll play next week against San Diego."
Several players nursing injuries will be held out, including cornerback Mike Rumph, receiver Arnaz Battle and tackle Scott Gragg. Several others either nursing injuries or coming back from them - players such as running back Kevan Barlow, returner Jimmy Williams and defensive tackle Jim Flanigan - will be game-time decisions.