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Final Tune-Up Provides Opportunities

Posted Aug 27, 2012

To some, the fourth NFL preseason game is just another week of anticipation before the real deal starts in Week 1. But for many players on the field, their livelihoods are on the line.

Young players like Derek Hall, Konrad Reuland and Nathan Palmer survived Monday’s initial cut day, when the 49ers roster was trimmed from 89 players to 75, but they still have work cut out for them as they head in to Thursday’s home preseason finale against the Chargers.

It will mark their last chance to impress coaches before Friday’s final cut day, when the 53-man roster is finalized.

“Just going to let loose and have fun,” Hall said. “These games are amazing. Being on the practice squad last year, I didn’t get to have the joy of playing the game. So I’m just going to go out there and try to have fun and play my hardest and try not to worry about cuts or anything – that’ll only distract. Just got to worry about playing and making plays.”

Hall helped create one of the biggest plays in the 29-24 win in Denver, when he pulled across the line from his position at right guard and made a key block on Anthony Dixon’s 26-yard touchdown run. Dixon nudged Hall in the small of his back near the line of scrimmage, pushing him in the path of a safety and a linebacker, springing Dixon free.

“He gave me a little boost at the end so that I could seal off a couple guys for him,” Hall said. “He had an awesome run.”

It was just the kind of power football Hall likes to play. He also lined up with 6-foot-6 inch, 375-pound tight end Leonard Davis on select plays in the 49ers jumbo packages, putting his run-block skills to use.

Hall has come a long way since he stepped on Stanford’s campus as a defensive lineman in the fall of 2006. By his junior year, coaches converted Hall into an offensive tackle before he spent his senior season in 2010 as a starter on the offensive line under the guidance of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman.

Like Hall, Reuland left Stanford and latched on with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season. In his second time through the preseason grind, Reuland understands the magnitude of the final exhibition contest.

“The way that I look at all these preseason games, each one is the most important game of my career,” Reuland said. “I’m trying to make the team.”

The 6-foot-4, 260 pound tight end spent last season on the practice squad, but has been making a serious case for a spot on the 53-man roster this preseason. With an injury to Delanie Walker, Reuland has received the bulk of the action at tight end.

“I’m very fortunate to have the opportunities that the coaches have given me this preseason,” Reuland said. “I’ve been able to go out there and play almost the whole game in all three of them so far. It’s been really valuable for me, experience-wise.”

The athletic target teamed with Colin Kaepernick for an impressive 16-yard gain on Sunday in Denver, when Kaepernick rolled to his left and threw a laser-like pass to Reuland near the left boundary. Reuland got a quick glimpse of Kaepernick scrambling before breaking off his route and finding space.

“That was an incredible pass,” Reuland said. “Watching that on film, it was even more impressive because he was able to evade the rush, boot out to the left even though he’s right-handed and throw across his body and make a perfect pass.”

While Hall and Reuland are entering their third straight season with Harbaugh and Roman, undrafted rookie wideout Nathan Palmer is fresh to Roman’s creative system. Palmer is one of nine receivers left on the 49ers fighting for a few spots on the final roster.

The preseason playing time has been important to Palmer, but so are the relationships he’s made throughout training camp. Going to practice and position group meetings with a future Hall of Famer like Randy Moss and other respected veterans like Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams has been invaluable.

“It’s been a great experience getting to know all the different personalities in here,” Palmer said. “You get to see guys you’ve looked up to all your life and now you’re going to meetings with those guys and joking around and laughing and having good conversation off the field, as well as getting better on the field.”

Making the 53-man roster is the ultimate goal, but Hall, Reuland and Palmer are also eligible to make the eight-man practice squad, which will be announced Saturday. It’s a consolation of sorts, but can still be a valuable tool in the development of young players.

“Going against the best defense in the NFL, you can’t help but get better,” Hall said. “Going against Pro Bowlers every day, it just forces you to elevate your game.”

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