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By Jeremy Harness
The 49ers will play one more preseason game before it’s time to go for real, but don’t expect the starters to be anywhere but the sidelines on Thursday.
The preseason finale, which will pit the 49ers against the Los Angeles Chargers, is really all about the guys who will make one last push to make the team’s 53-man roster, as the final cutdown will take place this Saturday.
There are reportedly a few notable names that are on the bubble to make the 49ers’ final roster, including receivers Jordan Matthews, Richie James and Kendrick Bourne as well as linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Matthews struggled in his last few years with the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, and was signed by the 49ers as a free agent this offseason. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has been open in expressing how impressed he has been with the veteran pass-catcher’s showing in training camp.
He would otherwise be a lock for the 53-man roster, other than the fact that he does not stand out on special teams, as a backup receiver should. However, if he has a great outing on Thursday, there is no reason to believe that he will not be suiting up come Week 1.
Bourne came on during the second half of the season, but he has had a continued issue with the drops, which will be crucial in deciding exactly how many wideouts the 49ers want to keep. Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, physical running back-turned receiver Jalen Hurd, highly-touted rookie Deebo Samuel and Trent Taylor all seem to be locked on to the final 53, so that apparently leaves either one, or maybe two, spots.
Smith has been nonexistent for much of his two years with the 49ers, and a lot of that has to do with assorted injuries, a bug that started in his first training camp with the team, which resulted in a torn pectoral muscle that saw him miss the entire season.
It hasn’t gotten much better for him since, and he was nowhere to be found during his preseason debut last week at Kansas City. The 49ers may keep him around as a locker room influence – he has been to two Super Bowls, including a win over the Denver Broncos that saw him return an interception for a touchdown – but his lack of production may force the team to pull the plug on him.
But this much is certain: There will be a lot of tough decisions to be made in the two days following Thursday’s game.