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49ers Value Scout Team Contributions

Posted Jan 31, 2013



NEW ORLEANS – Most NFL teams have a 53-man roster, but the way the 49ers see it, they have a 60-man roster.

During his two-year tenure as San Francisco’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh has made an extra effort to include the practice squad into every team activity. As he likes to put it, the 49ers are trying to groom “future starters on future championship teams.”

The seven men on the current practice squad have been instrumental to the team’s improvement. For the past two weeks, they’ve been doing their best to mimic the Baltimore Ravens.

Perhaps no one is better fitted to portray Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata than 49ers scout teamer Lamar Divens, who was with Baltimore from 2008-10.

“I learned from him for three years and he really helped me get better at the NFL level,” Divens said. “It’s funny, though, I haven’t heard from him in a couple weeks.”

Ngata and Divens usually shoot each other texts from time to time, but there’s been radio silence between the players as the 49ers and Ravens prepare for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII. Divens doesn’t even have to change his number this week, as both he and his former mentor wear No. 92.

Ricardo Lockette, on the other hand, has traded in his No. 18 jersey for No. 82, as he’s been tasked with trying to simulate the talented talented Baltimore wideout Torrey Smith. At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds with blazing speed, Lockette is a great option to compare with Smith, who is listed at 6-foot, 205.

When discussing his scout team players in Thursday’s press conference, Harbaugh first singled out Lockette as one of Wednesday’s big contributors in a crisp practice that had the head coach beaming. In fact, Harbaugh’s longest answer of the media session turned out to be unprompted praise of the energy brought to the practice by the scout team players.

“It’s pretty cool,” Lockette said. “I appreciate it. There’s a couple other places where you could possibly be and you’re treated like an outcast or like someone that doesn’t matter. I appreciate being a part of this team. That’s part of the reason that I’m still here. Because it’s a family environment and everybody treats everybody the same.”

Harbaugh also revealed that players like Lockette, Al Netter, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Cam Johnson had offers to join other 53-man rosters during the season, but elected to stay in San Francisco. Now they’re just one win away from earning a Super Bowl ring.

When you’re playing the Ravens, someone has to mimic Ray Lewis. For the 49ers, that responsibility belongs to rookie Nathan Stupar.

The linebacker played on the practice squads for the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles before the 49ers signed him on Jan. 8. Less than a month later and now Stupar is in the thick of the Super Bowl preparations.

“It’s been a complete blessing,” Stupar said. “I can’t believe I’m here. It’s just been a heck of a journey God has brought me on. I’ve just been working my hardest in practice to give the offense and defense a good look, because I play fullback, too.”

Between the two of them, Lewis and Ravens fullback Vonta Leach have 26 years of NFL experience. Stupar is only 24 years old, but he’s doing his best to get the 49ers quality reps in practice.

“I don’t know any other team that actually travels their practice squad to away games,” Stupar said. “I was at the Atlanta Falcons game. It just really helps you connect with the team and doesn’t put you off to the side. It really makes you feel like family.”

Stupar isn’t the only one to play on both sides of the ball as part of the scout team. Safeties Trenton Robinson and Michael Thomas also earned praise for their efforts as defensive backs, running backs and wide receivers, from teammates and coaches alike.

“Trenton and Mike Thomas, over the season they’ve got gradually better,” safety Darcel McBath said. “They could actually pass as receivers. They’re pretty good.”

But linebacker Michael Wilhoite turned in scout team highlight of Wednesday’s practice session, as he caught a deep corner route while pretending to be a tight end. Even though he’s on the 53-man roster, and was even the special teams captain in the NFC Championship, Wilhoite relishes the chance to show off his hands in practice.

“I get to go out there and have fun and get to live my dream and play offense,” Wilhoite said. “You get to catch touchdowns and you get to catch the ball against good players. It’s not like I’m out there catching against bums. I’m catching against guys like NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, guys that are future Hall of Famers.”

But quarterback Scott Tolzien, who splits scout team duties with Alex Smith, said Wilhoite shouldn’t toot his horn so quickly.

“I’m not going to give him any of the credit for that catch,” Tolzien said in a deadpan delivery. “He’s always complaining that I don’t throw him the rock. It wasn’t that great of a catch. It was a tremendous throw by Alex and a very average catch by Mike.”

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