… is really, really hard! All those people out there building stuff and cleaning buckets full of dead rats out of homeless encampments (San Francisco!) have it easy. How is somebody supposed to figure out the practice squad at a time like this? Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh are swapping Stanford guys in and out so fast it’ll make your head spin, guys are on crutches, they’re playing seven different positions, there’s a lot going on in Santa Clara.

Still, soldier on we must. Why put our reputation (stop laughing!) on the line? Because once everyone’s 53-man roster projections are compared to the actual 53-man roster, we can start to make conclusions about how the team’s going to change … before the 49ers come out and play with the exact same formula they used last year: ball-control offense, a defense that is nearly impenetrable once backed into the red zone, and a special teams unit that acts as a boa constrictor — slowly squeezing any expectations of respectable field position out of opponents as games wear on.

Players Nos. 47-53 won’t have a lot to do with how the 49ers perform this season, but that’s what is on the line this week. So in advance of the Friday cuts, here is my projected 53-man roster, along with an eight-man practice squad. Comments under each group.

Alex Smith
Colin Kaepernick
Scott Tolzein

Josh Johnson will always have those college days with Harbaugh to fall back on, but Smith and Kaepernick aren’t budging. So, the smart move here is to go with upside. Even though Johnson has NFL game experience, the 49ers have to be disappointed that he doesn’t seem to have improved much since coming into the league. Tolzein has, and seems to have grown more this offseason than Johnson, who barely got any run against Denver. Harbaugh mentioned on Tuesday how offensive rhythm is the most important thing to display and build right now. Tolzein has received more chances to build that kind of rhythm during preseason games, and for the most part he has taken advantage of those opportunities.

Running Backs
Frank Gore
Kendall Hunter
Brandon Jacobs
LaMichael James
Anthony Dixon
Rock Cartwright

If Dixon doesn’t make the team, it’s going to be hard to believe anything Greg Roman says on KNBR for the rest of the season. Cartwright has pretty much had the same preseason as Dixon, only without the extra FB duties. The veteran has impressed the staff and his teammates at camp, and he was brought in to replace Blake Costanzo on special teams anyway, not to carry the … rock.

Bruce Miller

He’ll be spelled more by Dixon this season than last, when Delanie Walker played a lot of H-back. The 49ers may want to protect Walker’s brain a little more this time around.

Wide Receivers
Michael Crabtree
Randy Moss
Mario Manningham
Kyle Williams
Ted Ginn, Jr.
A.J. Jenkins

No surprises here. Ginn’s a little on the fragile side, but he’s an incredible weapon when healthy who — let’s say it together — holds onto the ball. 

Tight Ends
Vernon Davis
Delanie Walker

I thought Konrad Reuland looked outstanding during the entirety of camp, but the 49ers seem so intent on finding other options for this position from other areas of the roster. Since Reuland isn’t a plus blocker or a core special teams player, it’s tough to keep him around with Davis and Walker ahead of him.

Offensive Linemen
Joe Staley
Mike Iupati
Jonathan Goodwin
Alex Boone
Anthony Davis
Daniel Kilgore
Leonard Davis
Mike Person
Joe Looney

The 49ers like Looney, but they’ll keep Person around for depth since the 4th round pick out of Wake Forest may not be ready to play just yet.  

Defensive Linemen
Ray McDonald
Isaac Sopoaga
Justin Smith
Ricky Jean Francois
DeMarcus Dobbs
Will Tukuafu

Leaving Ian Williams off this list was probably the toughest (make believe) cut I had to make for the purposes of this post. But even though Sopoaga and Jean Francois are both headed toward free agency after the season, the 49ers have to feel good about their ability to unearth another nose tackle if Williams gets snatched away by another team. Jim Tomsula isn’t just a good quote, he molds unheralded strong guys into valued d-line contributors.

Inside Linebackers
Patrick Willis
NaVorro Bowman
Larry Grant
Tavares Gooden

I haven’t seen any reason to remove Gooden from this list, although Michael Wilhoite making it over Gooden wouldn’t be a huge upset.

Outside Linebackers
Aldon Smith
Ahmad Brooks
Parys Haralson

This means next to nothing, but Haralson hasn’t looked great during the portions of practice I’ve seen. The 49ers may have a quick hook with him this season, and there should be at least one replacement candidate toiling away on the practice squad.

Carlos Rogers
Tarell Brown
Chris Culliver
Perrish Cox
Tramaine Brock

Brock looked terrible in Denver, but was he bad enough to be replaced by Anthony Mosley? Doubtful. Cox buys the 49ers a little time to see if they can mold Brock into a contributor, but the clock is running.

Dashon Goldson
Donte Whitner
C.J. Spillman
Trenton Robinson
Colin Jones

Robinson’s making the team, and may have improved as much as any player from minicamp to now. Jones is a special teams leader, so I see him making the team over Darcel McBath … but like Gooden/Wilhoite, that’s a battle that could flip during tomorrow’s cuts.

Andy Lee
David Akers
Brian Jennings

Stop the presses!

Eight-man Practice Squad
WR Chris Owusu
WR Nathan Palmer
TE Konrad Reuland
OL Derek Hall
DL Ian Williams
OLB Cam Johnson
ILB Michael Wilhoite
S Michael Thomas

The 49ers dropped Chase Beeler and brought in Matt Masifilo yesterday, presumably for d-line depth during the team’s last exhibition game. However, if another team grabs Williams there’s a chance Masifilo gets a spot on the squad. It’s exceedingly difficult to predict the practice squad since the 49ers will have an eye out for guys cut by other teams, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try!