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Harbaugh: 49ers Earned Roster Spots

Posted Aug 31, 2013

The meritocracy of the San Francisco 49ers was the final deciding factor in Saturday’s 53-man roster cut.



The meritocracy of the San Francisco 49ers was the final deciding factor in Saturday’s 53-man roster cut.

SEE: 21 PLAYERS RELEASED

You either earned your way on to the team or you didn’t.

“There was a lot of worthy players,” Jim Harbaugh said on a conference call with the media. “The thing that was profound to me, so many guys improved, so many guys were ascending players, right up to the point of making the final roster.

“It made the day very exciting, very good day by the efforts of the players.”

San Francisco’s coach welcomed seven rookies on to the initial 53-man roster, a group that included undrafted rookie long snapper Kevin McDermott unseating 14-year veteran Brian Jennings.

McDermott’s ascent up the depth chart was one of many cases of young football players improving over the course of the offseason.

“To see young football players ascend and get better as football players, that’s very exciting to me,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve yet to have a day where it’s not a good experience to watch the players ascend.”

Parting with Jennings was the toughest of the 21 roster cuts announced by the team on Saturday. The tenured specialist and two-time Pro Bowler was a popular teammate in the locker room and member of the club’s 10-Year Wall Club which memorializes players who lasted 10 or more years with the 49ers.

The choice of McDermott over Jennings wasn’t an easy call for Harbaugh.

“That was a big decision,” the head coach explained. “Personal, because Brian Jennings to me, we breathe the same air. There’s nobody I can say I enjoyed more than Brian Jennings. I loved watching him play, I loved watching him compete, I loved being around him every single day.”

READ: NO LONGER ON THE 'BUBBLE'

Harbaugh went on to say that Jennings still can play at a high level in the NFL. The 49ers gave McDermott the long snapping duties in Thursday night’s preseason finale win over the San Diego Chargers, and the rookie handled the challenge quite well.

“He’s got more football in him,” Harbaugh said of Jennings. “He’s definitely an NFL, top-level talent.”

McDermott thanked Jennings for being a professional throughout the process. He especially pointed to how the veteran gave him tips on how to snap at the windy confines of Candlestick Park.

“He really did help me out quite a bit from the day I got here,” said the rookie snapper, who was worked out prior to the draft by special teams coordinator Brad Seely. “We left it all out on the field and we really had no inkling of the coach’s decision. I only found out a few hours ago.”

The 49ers had several other challenging decisions while trimming the roster.

Cutting down a talented team that went 3-1 in the preseason was certainly difficult. Harbaugh pointed out that the ascending players who made the team did it based on their complete body of work.

Nate Stupar is one of those players.

“The way he’s worked, the way he’s ascended as a football player, improved, it’s been very good for our football team,” Harbaugh said of the hard-working inside linebacker who adds depth to San Francisco’s kick coverage units. “You talk about the meritocracy; it was evident with Nate Stupar.”

The 49ers coach went on to discuss the team’s tough choices at wide receiver. Harbaugh praised the efforts of the competing players who made it hard on the 49ers coaching staff to choose the final 53 players. Chad Hall was one of the players singled out by Harbaugh for consistent improvement.

Instead of carrying six wide receivers, the 49ers added depth to other positions on offense. The team will carry three quarterbacks into the regular season, rookie seventh-round pick B.J. Daniels being the No. 3 signal-caller on the roster.

“Definitely thought a lot of him when we scouted him and drafted him,” Harbaugh said of the do-it-all quarterback who worked at running back and wide receiver at times in camp. “(We) coached him hard and he had to compete with multiple players at the (quarterback) position, some that were on this team, some that were veterans of the league. Nothing was ever handed to him and he competed.

“He earned that spot. Another example of the merit system.”

Perhaps the most notable example of earning a roster spot was displayed by second-year linebacker Cam Johnson, a former seventh-round pick, who obliterated San Diego’s offensive line in the preseason finale. Johnson recorded 2.0 sacks and blocked a punt which he recovered for a touchdown in the 49ers 41-6 win.

READ: CAM JOHNSON PUTS ON A SHOW

“There’s no question, especially in that game, he earned it with merit,” Harbaugh said. “He showed that he’s an ascending and improving player… That was earned, again, through the body of work. That game was a shining moment, a shining game for him.”

Johnson said his commitment to improvement throughout the offseason allowed his big-time performance against the Chargers.

His goal now is to help the team in any way possible.

The focus for the entire 53-man roster is much of the same.

It’s time to get ready for the regular season. The Green Bay Packers are coming into down in eight days.

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