Possible debut for popular 49ers player

The much-anticipated NFL regular-season debut of running back Thomas Clayton might happen tomorrow.

Judging by the emails and comments section of this blog, Clayton might be the most popular player on the team after leading the 49ers in rushing yards each of the past two exhibition seasons. He was among the 49ers’ final cuts both years, but was immediately brought back to the practice squad.

 

Clayton has been promoted to the 53-man roster. He will be in uniform for tomorrow’s game with running back Frank Gore all but ruled out with an ankle sprain. It is uncertain how much – or even if – Clayton will play tomorrow. DeShaun Foster and Michael Robinson are ahead of Clayton on the 49ers’ depth chart.

 

To make room on the 53-man roster, the 49ers placed Arnaz Battle on injured reserve. Battle missed four games with a mid-foot sprain. He aggravated the injury last week against the Jets.

 

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This is it for the 49ers. This is really the final chance for the 49ers to leave a real impression.

 

Although the club has three games remaining, this is probably the only one in which the opposition will be motivated to bring its “A” game. The 49ers face the Dolphins, who are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East.

 

Next week, the 49ers face the Rams, who are again looking at a top-five draft pick. The 49ers wrap up the season Dec. 28 against the Redskins, who appear to be coming apart at the seams and will likely not have anything riding on the final game of the season.

 

By the way, that’s my fancy way of saying, “Don’t necessarily expect these matchups the final two Saturdays of the season when I could devote my time to other areas of my life.” (I can hear the cries now, “What? You have a life?”)

 

49ers running back DeShaun Foster vs. Dolphins strong safety Yeremiah Bell: Foster is likely to get the starting assignment with Frank Gore hobbled by an ankle sprain. Foster is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry on his 37 rushing attempts this season. That won’t be good enough against the Dolphins. Bell leads the Dolphins with 97 tackles on the season. He will sneak into the box to help out in the run game. Foster, who is fresh after spending most of the first 13 games as a spectator, will need to make Bell miss some tackles. Also, Bell is very good at causing fumbles. He leads the Dolphins with four forced fumbles on the season. Foster has a tendency to carry the ball loosely, thus he has been plagued by fumbles throughout his career.

 

Tight end Vernon Davis vs. outside linebacker Joey Porter. By the design of the Dolphins’ defense, Porter will begin every play away from Davis. Porter leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks. However, the 49ers’ best bet for containing Porter might be to have Davis matched up on him regularly. In order for that to happen, Davis will have to go in motion to end up on Porter’s side. Ideally, the Dolphins would love for Porter to be matched up against right tackle Adam Snyder or a back. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has to avoid that matchup. Davis said this week that he figures to block Porter a little bit, but he also said he caught a lot of passes in practice. This could be a game in which the 49ers try to get the ball in his hands more than usual.

 

Center Eric Heitmann vs. nose tackle Jason Ferguson: Heitmann has gotten a lot of attention recently for his strong performances against the Cowboys’ Jay Ratliff and the Jets’ Kris Jenkins. Heitmann might actually be having the best season of any of the 49ers’ offensive players. Ferguson is a solid, 12th-year player who does not make a lot of tackles. Heitmann will try to use his strength to create holes up the middle for the run game.

 

Free safety Mark Roman vs. wide receiver Ted Ginn: The Dolphins’ passing game just hasn’t been the same since Greg Camarillo was lost for the season due to an ACL tear. It’s amazing that the Dolphins have been able to function at all. (OK, in full disclosure, I had to write those two sentences. I was on the same flight today with Camarillo‘s mother and sister, and they were very nice. Camarillo, by the way, still leads the Dolphins with 55 receptions for 613 yards.) Now, back to the game . . . the 49ers’ secondary has done a good job of keeping the play in front of them after Terrell Owens and the Cowboys torched them three weeks ago. Ginn is a genuine deep threat who averages about 14 yards per reception. Roman can’t Ginn get behind him on any big plays.

 

Right end Justin Smith vs. left tackle Jake Long: Smith has been as good as advertised this season, in his first season after coming to the club as a high-priced free agent. Long, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, is having a solid rookie season. He figures to be in the league for a long, long time. Smith is a relentless, snap-to-whistle player who will undoubtedly give Long all he can handle.

 

Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin vs. center Samson Satele: Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky seems to have Franklin on the move, rather than lining up and playing a straight two-gap technique. Franklin has come on in recent weeks, a trend he credits to his offseason conditioning. Franklin dropped 15 pounds in the offseason to help with his lateral quickness. But when the Dolphins go to their “Wildcat” formation, watch Franklin. In those situations, he said, he will be two-gapping. It’s not his strength, so how he fares against Satele might determine whether the Dolphins have success when those plays are called.

 

Outside linebacker Parys Haralson vs. right tackle Vernon Carey: Haralson has come on with 3.5 sacks in his past four games. He leads the 49ers with seven sacks, and has a chance to become the first 49ers’ pass rusher to record double-digit sacks since Andre Carter had 10 sacks in 2002. Haralson will be giving up 100 pounds to the 350-pound Carey, so watch for him to use his speed move to the outside.

 

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