Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch explains decision to keep four tight ends, LB Azeez Al-Shaair on 49ers’ 53-player roster

Aug 31, 2019 at 3:52 PM--

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch jumped on a conference call with reporters on Saturday afternoon and discussed the team's initial 53-player roster. NFL teams were required to trim their rosters down to the limit by 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The 49ers parted ways with linebackers Elijah Lee, David Mayo, and LaRoy Reynolds as part of the cut-down, making it very likely that rookie Dre Greenlaw begins the season as the team's starting SAM linebacker. Another rookie linebacker, Azeez Al-Shaair, also made the initial squad.

The 49ers signed Al-Shaair as an undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic on April 27.

"Just a really good football player," Lynch explained. "We had a good, strong opinion of Azeez based on his college film. (Pass-rush specialist) Chris Kiffin had a lot of inside knowledge as to who the young man was from being with him at FAU.

"We had to vet it with our medical people because he was coming off an ACL. Actually, we had to slow Azeez down because his return was coming so quickly that our doctors and medical staff felt like maybe he was pushing (it). He did his pro day like three months after his ACL surgery, and so their advice was that we slow him down in his rehab. He did that. He got himself to where that wasn't an issue, and just played at a very high level. We felt like we couldn't keep him off the team.

"We're keeping five linebackers, and Azeez earned his way onto this roster and beat some really good football players when you talk about guys like Mayo and LaRoy Reynolds that had really strong camps. That tells you how well Azeez played in our mind that he earned a spot on this final 53."

RELATED 2019 49ers 53-player roster breakdown at Saturday cut-down deadline

In a bit of a surprise, the 49ers also decided to keep four tight ends — George Kittle, Kaden Smith, Ross Dwelley, and Levine Toilolo — on the initial roster. Lynch discussed what went into that decision.

"That was a tough call, Eric (Branch), but we felt like there were four worthy of being on the roster," Lynch said responding to the San Francisco Chronicle reporter. "George is pretty obvious [...] Kittle can do so much so well, whether it be in the receiving game, as a blocker, inline. A stated goal of ours this year was to have some people around him such that we could take some off him.

"George is a great player, and you can't run into let's have him out there every single play of the season. We felt like there was a little responsibility for George's well-being, for our team's well-being, that we push some things around him. Levine has been a really nice addition and will help us to do that.

"Ross Dwelley really had a tremendous offseason; probably one of the most improved players on our roster.

"I think Kaden Smith came in — we thought highly of him at Stanford — came in and I would say started a little slow, but he's a vastly improved player since he's been here, and a guy that we thought very highly of at Stanford. Just a good all-around football player.

"Ultimately, we use our tight ends a lot, and we felt that the talent at that position warranted keeping all of them."

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