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49ers aren’t defensive about their cuts

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Seeking to fill the huge void created by the loss of seven key players, the San Francisco 49ers surprised some by making only three significant signings on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.

On cut day, we found out why.

Clearly happy with the way former backups have stepped up, the 49ers cut two of the three newcomers in their roster downsizing to 53.

Gone are defensive end Darnell Dockett, who was considered such an important addition at the time that he was given a $2 million guarantee, and inside linebacker Philip Wheeler, who had been seeking a second chance after flopping in Miami after signing a five-year, $26 million deal.

Meanwhile, the third import, cornerback Shareece Wright, barely made the 53, having fallen behind second-year players Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker in his quest to start alongside Tramaine Brock.

It was an indication general manager Trent Baalke’s ego isn’t going to stand in the way of a major rebuilding job.

And new head coach Jim Tomsula wasn’t going to play favorites in his final evaluations.

“The play of that whole group impacted that decision,” Tomsula said of Dockett, then basically repeated the line when addressing the linebackers.

The remade defense that will challenge Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in the Sept. 14 opener appears quite strong against the run.

Gone are 2014’s three top pass rushers: defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

In are run-stopping defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial, joining comebacking inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to form a formidable front seven.

It’s a new look. Only without new players.

–The feel-good story of the 49ers’ preseason will carry over into the regular season with the announcement that running back Jarryd Hayne, the former Australian rugby star, made the 53-man roster. Despite his huge profile and large following from Down Under, Hayne had been considered a bit of a long shot to make the roster in crowded competitions at running back and kick returner. The task became even tougher when the 49ers signed Reggie Bush, accomplished at both of Hayne’s specialties, during the offseason.

But showing great elusiveness in the open field and trustworthy hands, Hayne quickly made his mark as a crowd-pleasing punt returner. It’s where he has the best chance of playing in the Sept. 14 opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

–The 49ers cut two offseason acquisitions, defensive end Darnell Dockett and inside linebacker Philip Wheeler, in getting to the 53-man limit Saturday. But the ax wasn’t reserved for newcomers. Also not invited back for 2015 were several returnees, including center Dillon Farrell, center/guard Joe Looney, guard Andrew Tiller, inside linebacker Nick Moody, cornerback Marcus Cromartie and safety Craig Dahl.

The 49ers also announced that wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who begins a six-game suspension on opening day, will start the season on the NFL’s reserve/suspended list, while running back Kendall Hunter (knee) and tight end Busta Anderson (ankle) were placed on injured reserve.

Center Daniel Kilgore (leg) and inside linebacker Desmond Bishop (thumb) were placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list last week. Bishop has since accepted an injury settlement and become a free agent.

Notes: Quarterback Dylan Thompson was cut when the 49ers trimmed the squad to 53 players, leaving two quarterbacks on the roster. The undrafted rookie from South Carolina played the entire game in the preseason finale against San Diego. He was subsequently signed to the practice squad. … Center Nick Easton was acquired in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2016 draft. The rookie will serve as center Marcus Martin’s chief backup. … Defensive end Arik Armstead could start the season as the 49ers’ primary designated pass-rushing defensive end with the release of defensive end Darnell Dockett. Both 49ers starting defensive ends — Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial — are considered stronger against the run than against the pass, which could open the door for the club’s first-round draft choice to get significant playing time as a rookie. … Linebacker Ahmad Brooks will remain eligible to play while the legal process runs its course, the NFL has informed the 49ers. Brooks was dismissed from team activities for more than a week while the NFL did a preliminary investigation into the veteran’s legal issues. Brooks is on the 49ers’ 53-man roster and might start the opener Sept. 14 against Minnesota.


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