The San Francisco 49ers figure to have a standout defense again this season, but with the first cut-down deadline less than a week away, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and other coaches will have some tough personnel decisions to make in the near future.
Depth at safety is one of the major concerns for Fangio, and he said on Tuesday, he will try to get a look at a lot of safeties in the team's final two preseason games to figure out which players to keep.
Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson seem entrenched as starters, but a number of players are competing for the backup spots.
"We'd like to see somebody step forward and make the decisions easy for us, particularly at the safety positions," Fangio said. "We know we have Whitner and Goldson. But we're looking to see who are our third, fourth and, possibly, fifth safety. We need for that to clear itself up. Hopefully, guys will step forward and make it easy. Right now, it hasn't been an easy decision for us there."
Fangio rattled off a list of players battling for the backup safety spots.
"You've got [C.J.] Spillman, [Darcel] McBath, Trenton Robinson. You've got Mike Thomas, you've got Colin Jones. Those are the guys back there that are fighting for that," Fangio said.
Spillman appears to be the team's third safety, but he played little last season.
"He's definitely improved from where he was as a safety," Fangio said of Spillman. "He still has to get better, but he has definitely improved."
McBath is starting his fourth season in the NFL. He played in 20 games for Denver in 2009 and 2010, and one game for the Jacksonville last year.
"With the guys that he's battling with, he does have more experience than all of them," Fangio said of McBath. "He played in Denver for a couple of years, got to play in NFL games. The one thing he has is more experience than the other potential backups."
Robinson was a sixth-round draft pick, and Thomas was an undrafted player who played for head coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Jones was primarily a special-teams player last season.
Teams must get down to 75 players by Monday and then get down to 53 by Aug. 31.
So Fangio wants to see them in game situations, other than just practice.
"They're getting a lot of reps," he said. "We get a ton of reps here. We do some split work. It's not an issue of them getting reps, they get a lot of reps. They've played in the games. The one thing that's happened in these first two preseason games, which is a little unusual, is we've been in the low 50s in both games with plays. Usually you're in the mid 60s. We've lost at least 20 to 30 plays that you normally would get, that we haven't gotten, just because the way the games have turned out. We've kind of lost some reps for our younger guys that way."