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Meet the 49ers 'Opportunity' Squad

Posted Sep 3, 2013

San Francisco finalized its initial eight-man practice squad, a group that will be given the opportunity to impress coaches.

Jim Harbaugh likes to call his eight-man practice squad the 'opportunity squad.' Young players are given the access to coaching and the practice field as well as the license to earn promotions to the 53-man roster. Reserve linebacker Michael Wilhoite, now a backup to to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, is a prime example.

Entering a new season, here are the 49ers eight prospects for bigger and better things.

OT – CARTER BYKOWSKI

The team drafted Bykowski in the seventh round of last April’s draft. The 6-foot-7, 306-pound tackle played both tackle positions at Iowa State. ”He’s got a big frame, he’s smart, eager to learn, works hard,” said 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, who like Bykowski started his collegiate career at tight end. “He’s kind of a quiet kid, just comes to work every day and does his job. I like the mentality and the demeanor he brings to practice.” San Francisco elected to keep versatile veteran Adam Snyder as the back up to Staley and starting right tackle Anthony Davis entering the regular season.

TE – DEREK CARRIER

The last of the eight signed, Carrier was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 25 and is now with his third NFL team. The Division-III collegian spent 2012 with the Oakland Raiders. He has sort of come out of nowhere: He was a two-time All-Midwest Conference at Beloit College. His recorded 75 catches and 1,250 yards during his senior season in 2011.

RB – JEWEL HAMPTON

Signed as an undrafted free agent entering training camp in 2012, Hampton worked his way onto the team’s 53-man roster by Week 14 last season. Coming back from injury at Southern Illinois, he had been stashed on the Reserve/Non-football Injury List up to that point. In this year’s preseason, Hampton came back healthy to beat out undrafted rookie D.J. Harper for the fifth spot on the team’s depth chart, behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon. He compiled 37 carries and 113 yards – both team highs – and a touchdown across three exhibition games last month.

WR – CHUCK JACOBS

As an undrafted acquisition thrown into large position group, Jacobs stood out for his highlight-making ability. The Utah State product caught the eventual game-winning touchdown pass from B.J. Daniels in the 49ers first preseason win, on Aug. 16 in Kansas City. Daniels also hooked up with Jacobs for six points on Aug. 29 in San Diego. All told, the 6-foot wideout snagged six receptions for 74 yards and the two scores.

CB – DARRYL MORRIS

Morris was battling with fellow cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draftee, for a spot on the roster or this practice squad. Waived on Saturday, Cooper ended up being claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Morris overcame his small stature (listed at 5-foot-10) with his rare speed (4.33-second 40-yard dash at his pro day) during training camp. The Texas State alum made three tackles during the preseason. “He’s done a good job of covering,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Morris’ practice performances. “You may have seen the couple of plays he’s made against our offense on some deep balls. That’s always encouraging to see. And the guy can really run. He’s fast. Really fast … He’s got something to work with and he’s progressing. He’s getting better.”

G – PATRICK OMAMEH

An undrafted free agent out of the University of Michigan, Jim Harbaugh’s alma mater, Omameh is an imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. He started all 13 games during his senior season for the Wolverines. Harbaugh chose more experience among its reserves: left guard Joe Looney and right guard Adam Snyder as the backups to starters Mike Iupati and Alex Boone, respectively. Omameh also appeared at tackle this preseason.

NT – MIKE PURCELL

Another four-year amateur, this Wyoming product is actually taller and heavier than both Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey, the only nose tackles on the 49ers current 53-man roster. He outlasted Lamar Divens in training camp competition; Divens was waived/injured by the team. Purcell seemed to take to the coaching of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

S – MICHAEL THOMAS

Thomas returns in 2013 to where he spent the entirety of ’12: what Jim Harbaugh, also his coach at Stanford, called the “opportunity squad.” The smallish safety can also chip in at nickel cornerback. He led his position group in tackles (13) this preseason. With five safeties -- Donte Whitner, Eric Reid, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman and Bubba Ventrone -- already on the 53-man roster, Thomas' smarts and versatility will only help him so much when it comes to a potential promotion.

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