The 49ers had high hopes for tight end Cole Hikutini in 2017, and he showed promise in his rookie season.
The undrafted free agent from Louisville played well enough through training camp and the exhibition season last summer to stick around, bouncing from the practice squad to the active list, while appearing in four regular-season games. Hikutini caught two passes for 15 yards.
One report last season noted that the 49ers liked Hikutini so much, they gave him a $10,000 signing bonus and a $100,000 guaranteed base salary for 2017. At Lousiville, Hikutini had shown fine hands and good speed, and in 2016 he caught 50 passes for the Cardinals for 668 yards and eight touchdowns.
But in this year’s training camp, Hikutini wound up on the losing end of a competition with Cole Wick for the third tight end spot behind Garrett Celek and George Kittle. Hikutini was released and Wick is on the 53-man roster that is now preparing for the 49ers’ season opener Sunday at Minnesota against the Vikings.
While Hikutini may be the better pure receiver, Wick – who is 6-foot-6 and 257 pounds -- had more of what the 49ers need. The former Detroit Lion (six games in 2016, with two catches) is a more physical player and Hikutini. Wick had two catches this preseason for 21 yards; Hikutini had three catches for 34 yards.
“He (Wick) beat him out over the last couple of weeks,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “Both of them got hurt early during training camp. Hikutini started off in the lead, and Wick was a bit behind because of a knee injury. Once he came back, he took advantage of his opportunity. He blocked really well in practice and he blocked really well in the games. It was a tough decision, but he won the competition.”
The 49ers-Vikiings game Sunday is set for a 10 a.m. kickoff.