Tyrone Braxton, a 12-year veteran and former Pro Bowl safety, has been relegated to a backup role with the Denver Broncos, thanks to the strong showing of rookie Eric Brown.

Brown, a second-round pick out of Mississippi State, started the Broncos' first exhibition game at St. Louis because of Braxton's bruised shoulder and had 10 tackles in the second game against New Orleans.On Wednesday, he practiced with the Broncos' first team and Braxton, whose shoulder has healed, worked with the second team.

Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Brown "is a very talented guy and it definitely has shown all through preseason. He really adds a dimension. With that in mind, we figure we've got to try to utilize him to the best of his abilities."

Robinson said Braxton didn't lose the job.

"He's played fine in preseason. He's not doing anything wrong," he said. "It isn't that as much as it is the fact that Eric keeps showing up as a guy that is talented. He's got some above-average skills."

Braxton, 33, earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1996 and ranks fourth on the Broncos' career list with 33 interceptions, including a key first-quarter interception in the Super Bowl victory over Green Bay last January.

Brown said he still sees "myself as the student and Tyrone as the teacher. I have a lot of respect for him. He has helped me so much."

49ERS: San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci on Thursday was mulling over whether quarterback Steve Young would play in the 49ers' game at Seattle on Friday night.

Young bruised his passing hand on a helmet on his follow-through on the last of his three touchdown passes to Terrell Owens in a 21-20 loss to Miami last Sunday.

"If we play Steve at all, it'll be for one series," Mariucci said. "It'll be short and sweet."

Ty Detmer and Jim Druc-ken-mil-ler will split the rest of the game at quarterback for the 49ers. They are still fighting to become Young's backup.

"We're going to let 'em play. We're going to cut them loose," Mariucci said.

Mariucci said the 49ers' main objective in the exhibition finale "is to come back to San Francisco healthy."

BENGALS: The Cincinnati Bengals will go into the season with the same kicking specialists for the fifth consecutive season. Punter Lee Johnson will hold on extra-point and field goal attempts, Doug Pelfrey will kick and Greg Truitt will be the long snapper.

Johnson will likely handle kickoffs, but Pelfrey can also kick off.

"There's wonderful chemistry among the three of us," Pelfrey said. "We believe we can win some games."

Kickoff specialist Jay Kirchoff was waived Wednesday, and the Bengals released punter Brad Costello on Monday.

During training camp, tight end-fullback Steve Bush, linebacker Steve Foley and tight end Damian Vaughn were each tried at long snapper.

When Truitt was out of the Bengals' first three exhibition games, the field goal-extra point unit struggled. In Saturday's victory over Detroit, the Bengals had an extra point tipped and a field goal blocked.

After that game, coach Bruce Coslet said the field goal-extra point unit was going to get a closer look.

DOLPHINS: Craig Erickson is in a slump and the season hasn't even started.

The Miami Dolphins' backup quarterback has not performed well during the preseason, a worrisome development given 36-year-old Dan Marino's susceptibility to injury in recent years.

Erickson gets one more chance to find the groove before heading for the bench. The Dolphins play the Green Bay Packers in the final exhibition game for both teams Friday night.

"Everybody wants to finish up on a good note, especially me," Erickson said. "I've just got to go out and play better."

In three exhibition games, the seventh-year pro has completed 12 of 29 passes for 93 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. That gives him a quarterback rating of 21.2, which would have ranked 91st in the NFL last season, ahead of just four players.