49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 30, 2007
Better line means a better Smith

Question: Matt, do the 49ers have enough quality offensive line depth to protect Alex Smith on passing downs so he can continue to learn how to read defenses, get rid of the ball quickly, and improve his passer rating to minimum of 65 percent completions? Is it possible to expect Alex to throw 25 TDs and say only eight to 10 interceptions this season with good protection and a strong running game? How much more does Alex need to improve for the Niners to become a playoff team?

Ron, Lincoln

Answer: I think the depth at o-line is as good as it ever has been in San Francisco. Now, a lot of those guys are young - David Baas, Adam Snyder and Joe Staley - and there likely will be some youthful mistakes here and there. But I expect the line to be jelling at the end of the season, just about the time they hit the "easy" part of the schedule. As for Smith, 25 touchdown passes might be a bit ambitious, especially considering the 49ers run the ball so much. But he'll definitely improve enough to give the 49ers a shot at the playoffs. How about 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions?

- Matt Barrows

May 30, 2007
Don't worry, they have Alex's back

Question: Last season Alex Smith took every snap of every game. What if he isn't that lucky this season? What are your thoughts on the Niners' backups at quarterback?

Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: Well, there are few backups with as much experience as Trent Dilfer. And Shaun Hill and Luke Getsy have extremely high football IQs. As long as Frank Gore is running strong, the 49ers won't ask Smith's backup - whoever he is - to do too much.

- Matt Barrows

May 30, 2007
Defense should be much improved

Question: Last year we saw the offense make huge strides from 2005. It went from a punchless weakling to a unit that would hit you in the mouth on its way down the field for a score. Can we expect similar strides this year with the defense? Counting Brandon Moore, this team is poised to have six new starters from last year's unit, plus a new coordinator and the new 3-4 scheme. Remember, Nolan is a defensive-minded coach and I think he's ready to put his stamp on this unit. What do you think?

Jason, Sacramento

Answer: Defenses usually don't take as long as offenses to jell. So to answer your question, yes, I think the 49ers' defense will be far better than last year's version, especially in the secondary. A competent secondary also will mean more blitzing.

- Matt Barrows

May 30, 2007
Passing concerns

Question: After the big-time offseason and draft, do you still see some holes in the defense and offense? A lot of the d-linemen don't fit the 3-4 - they're just not big enough to keep the opposing offensive linemen off the linebackers. The right side of the line could turn out to be a big mess. What do you think we still need, Matt?

Matt, Auburn

Answer: I wouldn't call this a hole as much as question mark, but you're right, the defensive line might be an issue. There's only one proven starter, Bryant Young, and he is reaching the end of his career. The 49ers are putting an awful lot of faith in Aubrayo Franklin, who hardly has played at all in four seasons. Another area of concern is the passing game, which wasn't all that spectacular last season. Not only did Alex Smith lose his offensive coordinator, he lost his top receiver, Antonio Bryant, and his best pass-catching tight end, Eric Johnson. They have some good replacements, but passing games don't blossom overnight.

- Matt Barrows

May 23, 2007
It was a very good draft - maybe even Super

Question: Hi, Matt: According to Mel Kiper Jr. the Niners and the Browns got the best of the draft. What are your thoughts and where do you see the Niners in say two to three years? It appears Nolan has a definite plan and is putting the pieces together - unlike Erickson and Donahue, who merely tried to patch holes with no direction.

Gary, Sacramento

Answer: Predicting drafts is risky business, but I'd tend to agree with Mel. I also liked the Cardinals' draft and the Steelers' draft. I think LaMarr Woodley is a great fit in steel town. As far as the 49ers, barring catastrophic injuries, I see them as a division-title contender for the next three years. If Alex Smith and the passing game take off, you might want to start saving for Super Bowl tickets.

- Matt Barrows

May 23, 2007
Gore still will carry the load

Question: As of now, the 49ers have five running backs on their roster: Frank Gore, Maurice Hicks, Michael Robinson, Zak Keasey, and Thomas Clayton. Hicks is a solid backup and good kick returner. I don't know much about former practice-squadder Keasey. Clayton seems like he will be a solid Reggie Bush-type tailback-receiver. After a mediocre last year, I'm not so sure about Robinson. Gore is obviously going to have a spot, but other than that, how do you see roster spots panning out? And what are your judgments on the others? How do you see backfield touches being distributed next season?

Austin, Yreka

Answer: Frank Gore wants to set the rushing record, but I think the coaching staff wants him to have fewer snaps than he had last year. Of course, that is more easily said than done. In a tight game, who do you want touching the ball? If Gore does get more rest, my guess is Robinson and Clayton would get more work. Everyone is down on Robinson because of his short-yardage struggles last season. But the coaching staff loves him and will give him plenty of opportunities. He's such a smart guy that it's hard to see him not succeeding. As far as Clayton, he's very good at catching the ball out of the backfield. If he can master the blocking schemes this summer, he'll get some reps on third down.

- Matt Barrows

May 23, 2007
The line on the o-line

Question: I had a couple of questions about the offensive line. I was wondering about the situation of Kwame Harris and Justin Smiley. Will they be starting next year or will they even be on the team? Also, will Eric Heitmann stay at center or will he move to one of the guard spots? I think we give Adam Snyder, David Baas and Joe Staley starting spots and let them learn as the season progresses. They would form a young and talented o-line.

Cesar, Arbuckle

Answer: I think the left side of the line is pretty much cast in stone - Jonas Jennings at tackle, Larry Allen at guard and Heitmann at center. Barring injury, that won't change. The question is whether Baas, who hasn't exactly had the coaches' confidence, can uproot Smiley and if Staley can beat out Harris. As far as Snyder, it's hard to say. It seems like he's better than Harris but that the coaching staff wants him available if Jennings goes down.

- Matt Barrows

May 23, 2007
Two tight ends better than one?

Question: Hey, Matt, I like your assessments on every question that I have read in your blog. I have one that I would like for you to give your opinion on. My question has to do with the tight end position since the 49ers often use two-tight-end sets. What do you think about the possible tandem of Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis? I like Walker and think he has the capability of being a surprise asset this year? What do you think?

Anthony, Elk Grove

Answer: During last year's training camp, there was no one better at catching the ball - receiver or tight end - than Delanie Walker. He has what pro scouts call lizard hands. They're so fast, they resemble a lizard snagging a fly out of the air with its tongue. Unfortunately, Delanie never recovered last year from the separated shoulder he suffered in preseason. As far as a Walker-Davis tandem, that indeed would be hard for teams to defend. However, I'm sure coaches want to be assured Walker can block - something he was working on before the injury - before they give him a lot of playing time.

- Matt Barrows

May 23, 2007
Instant karma did get them

Question: Hey, Matt, my plates, "9ERS SF," were purchased in 1980, not AFTER 1981. I see similarities to 1980: coaching. Strong authority figures, big on character, weeded out disruptive players, highly organized and with an ability to choose outstanding assistants. So, how do you think the two teams compare? Did you feel shame or relief when the Redskins stole the 1983 playoff game with the 49ers?

William, Sacramento

Answer: I was only 9, but I definitely remember that game left me with a distinct sense that the refs had bailed out the Redskins at the end. It proved to be bad karma - they were embarrassed by another Bay Area team in the Super Bowl. That's probably little comfort to you, however.

- Matt Barrows

May 23, 2007
Look for Robinson as primary Gore backup

Question: Matt, when you look at the 49ers' backup RBs - Robinson, Hicks and Clayton - do you think there is another Frank Gore-like stud in that group? Also, who do you think will be the Niners' sack leader this year and will the number push 10?

Steve, Penryn

Answer: Of Gore's backups, I see Robinson being a nice complement to the starter. He's a big guy who loves to hit. All he needs is a little more seasoning at the position. A one-two combination of Gore and Robinson will not be a pretty sight for the defense. As far as sacks, it'll be a race between Manny Lawson and Tully Banta-Cain with one dark horse, safety Michael Lewis, thrown in. My (shot-in-the-dark) prediction is that Lawson will lead the team with 10 sacks even.

- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2007
Lobbying for the old guard

Question: Hey, do you think the 49ers will re-sign Larry Allen? I'm not exactly sure but I think his contract is up after this year. I believe he still has a good three more years in him.

Tabrez, Elk Grove

Answer: That depends on Allen, who is indeed in the last year of his contract. Perhaps his absence from the team's only minicamp (it was an excused absence) is an indication he's reaching the end of the line. But if the 49ers do, in fact, make the playoffs, he might want to play another season or two. What is certain is that he will be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee.

- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2007
Lack of fullback depth

Question: I have been following the free agent signings and draft with great anticipation of making the playoffs this year. We seemed to have added depth at every position except one: fullback. Who is on the depth chart behind Moran Norris?

Mike, Citrus Heights

Answer: The only other fullback on the roster is Zak Keasey, who is certainly not a banger like Norris. Look for the team to add someone to push Norris after June 1. If they don't, and if Norris gets hurt, the 49ers certainly would use more two-tight-end formations and could even use Vernon Davis as an H-back.

- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2007
Looking for less conservatism

Question: It's been great to finally be genuinely excited for this Niner team for the first time in years. I think Nolan is doing fantastic building a young, hungry winner. I think the defense has been addressed but I'm concerned as to what the offensive identity is going to be. Are we still a smash-mouth running squad? And if so, is Nolan going to finally start taking a few risks in his play calling? In my opinion it's his greatest weakness.

Mark, Sacramento

Answer: Well, the strength of the defense ought to factor into the offensive play calls. That is, Nolan probably went conservative the last two years because he knew his defense couldn't handle too much pressure. The more confidence he has in the defense, the more audacious he and his coordinator will be on offense.

- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2007
Shades of Nolan in Kiffin

Question: As a member of the Faithful, a mention of the Raiders initiates a retching sensation. That said, their new coach gives me similar vibes as Nolan in his early days: strong vision, disciplined, seemingly in control. Have you and (Raiders beat writer) Jason Jones discussed similarities? (I understand if this is not appropriate for the 49er blog.) Enjoy your work/want your job!

Jeff, Roseville

Answer: Sure, everybody wants my job now that the 49ers are on the verge of winning. Where were you in 2003?

To answer your question, Jeff, Jason and I haven't discussed similarities yet, mainly because Lane Kiffin is still getting his feet wet and it's hard to assess who he really is at this point. But you're right, both men come from NFL families, both are young(ish) and both stress discipline. One big difference, however, is that Nolan was an NFL assistant for 17 seasons before being hired by the 49ers. That, it seems to me, gives him a huge advantage as far as finding the right people to round out his coaching staff and developing a philosophy for dealing with players. Nolan has worked under a lot of coaches. He has seen what has worked (Dan Reeves) and what hasn't (Norv Turner). That's something Kiffin will have to develop on the fly.

- Matt Barrows

May 17, 2007
Lining them up - at a cost

Question: What's your feeling on the Justin Smiley situation? It seems he is looking for a huge payday with this next contract. And with the number of offensive linemen getting contracts upward of $40 million to $50 million the last couple of years, I can't say I blame him. What are some numbers talked about contract-wise you might be familiar with? Is this a case of the Niners wanting to see one more injury-free year at a bargain salary then sign him? Or if they don't plan on keeping him, is it cause of David Baas or are they just being cheap?

- Jason, Sacramento

Answer: I don't know the exact numbers that were discussed, but I'm sure Smiley wants a deal that is at least as good as the one Eric Steinbach et al got ($18 million guaranteed) this offseason, and I'm sure the 49ers' offer was a fraction of that. Barring a rash of training-camp injuries, I doubt any team will pony up a second-round pick for Smiley simply because he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. And I also doubt the 49ers will try very hard to retain him. I don't think you can call the 49ers cheap anymore, especially after their free-agent spending spree this past March. However, I don't think they want to break the bank on a guard. As you mentioned, Jason, the team has David Baas waiting in the wings, and Scot McCloughan believes that there are plenty of quality guards available in the later rounds of every draft. I personally like Smiley a lot. He's a great guy to interview because he loves to talk. He's athletic, enthusiastic and last year's shoulder injury proved he can play though pain - something that not every member of the team's offensive line can do.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Virtually everyone sounded deflated when Norv Turner was lured away by Dallas. How does the fact that Alex has three different offensive coordinators in as many years affect his progress in 2007? I read that the quarterback coach who is now the offensive coordinator will carry on and not change any of Norv's playbook, which means that Alex will not have to learn again a new terminology and that this will be a plus. But also, he does not have an offensive coordinator's experience in the NFL. What is your evaluation of this situation?

- Vince, Rocklin

Answer: There's no question that the 49ers would have much rather kept Turner, who, after all, has built a fantastic reputation in the league not as a head coach but as a groomer of young quarterbacks. How much his departure will affect Alex Smith is hard to say because Turner's replacement, Jim Hostler, has never been an o-coordinator. What I can say, however, is that Mike Nolan appears to be a very good judge of coaching talent and that he picked Hostler for the job. In other words, one has to defer to Nolan's judgment on this one.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I think Coach Nolan has done an excellent job of turning the team around and was a great hire by Dr. York/the owners. Will the Yorks give Nolan a contract extension or work on a new contract after this season?

- Paul, Roseville

Answer: That's a great question, Paul. Nolan is signed through the 2009 season, but if he makes the playoffs this season, as promised, you certainly could argue that he is outperforming the terms of said contract. My guess is that the Yorks will wait to see if Nolan makes good on his playoff plans this season before talking about a new deal.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, I have a question that may not be appropriate for the 49ers blog, and it would be fine if you just e-mail me instead. Your bio indicates you grew up in Virginia and so you are probably a long time Redskins fan. My best friend is Charles Mann. I have met Art Monk through Charles several times, and we have played golf together. I watched Art and Charles play their entire careers. I think Art should definitely be in the Hall of Fame, but I don't know about Charles. What do you think about Charles and Art?

- Kevin, Sacramento

Answer: I met Charles Mann once - probably in 1984 when I was 10 years old. I grew up across the street from Darrell Green, who was tight with Charles. All the neighborhood kids loved Darrell because a) he was the NFL's fastest man, and to a kid, being the fastest was the most important thing in the world, and b) he would always play pick-up football with us. He also would play pick-up basketball in our driveway, and Charles was once of the guys he brought over for a quick game. But to address your question, I think it's a travesty that Art Monk isn't in the Hall of Fame yet. It's almost as if voters are penalizing him for being a soft-spoken, team-first player - that is, the polar opposite of most receivers nowadays. As far as Charles Mann, my heart says vote him in, but my head says he hasn't done quite enough. Hall-of-Fame voting revolves around stats, which for a defensive end mean sacks. Charles' sack total is fantastic, but probably not Hall-of-Fame caliber. I think Dexter Manley has better numbers.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Since Mike Nolan and his staff have taken over the once-sinking 49ers, the team is beginning to rise. Most of the deadwood is gone, the cap problems have gone away, we now have some decent free-agent help, and the drafts are providing much-needed help. Matt, what are your observations about what Mike Nolan and his staff have done? What areas does Mike Nolan need to improve himself as a coach, if any?

- Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: At the risk of sounding like a fawning Nolanite, I think Mike Nolan has done a fantastic job at rebuilding this team. I don't think I'm exaggerating (much) when I say that the roster he inherited in 2005 was collegiate in terms of talent. In fact, it was a running debate among the reporters in 2005 as to whether USC was better than San Francisco. His judgment when it comes to picking players, coaches and front-office guys (Scot McCloughan especially) has been excellent, and he seems to have just the right mix of discipline and likeability. The players love him. If he had to improve something, it would be his game-day coaching. Nolan may have tried to take on too much his first two years (he was the de facto D-coordinator, after all). He seems to have realized he should take a step back and concentrate on the team as a whole.

- Matt Barrows

May 14, 2007
Defensive mix

Question: The 49ers have put a lot of work into their defense this offseason and have a good accumulation of younger players and veterans. It reminds me of the sort of hodgepodge/young-old defense they took the title with in '94. Do you think that this team has that kind of potential? Or will it take a couple of years for them to have any serious playoff hopes?
-- K.C., Sacramento

Answer: I like your description of a “hodgepodge-young-old defense.” It seems like each of the units has a nice mix of veteran leaders and neophytes. The defensive line has Bryant Young, the linebacking corps has Derek Smith and the secondary has Nate Clements. Coordinator Greg Manusky seems like a very hands-on coach, and if he is as effective as Mike Nolan thinks he will be, it shouldn’t take the defense very long to jell.

The bigger concern to me is the offense. Sure, the 49ers’ roster is loaded with receivers, but it takes a while for the quarterback to build a rapport with them. Everybody has made a big deal about Alex Smith having three o-coordinators in three years. What has been mostly overlooked, however, is that he is on his third No. 1 receiver as well.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Did you ever think you would write the line "... they will have to beat Arizona first..."?
-- Jeff, Roseville

Answer: Never. I grew up a Redskins fan back when the Cardinals were the St. Louis Cardinals and were part of the NFC East. You know, Neil Lomax, Stump Mitchell, etc. They were just as bad then as they have been in recent years. But I gotta tell you, it’s quite possible that Arizona will be the surprise team from NFC this year.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Which rookies stand the best chance to start? Where will the other rookies contribute?
-- Scott, Elk Grove

Answer: I’d say Willis because of his sheer talent, and Staley because of the 49ers’ injury history at left tackle. If Jonas Jennings gets injured, Adam Snyder would play left tackle and Staley likely would be a prime candidate for the right side. A wild card could be Ray McDonald - although he might be a better third-down option. Jason Hill has a shot if Ashley Lelie gets bit by the injury bug. Jay Moore is intriguing because he has just the right size-speed ratio for outside linebacker. However, he is currently behind two capable players in Tully Banta-Cain and Parys Haralson. The others look to be strictly back-ups or special teams performers this season.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, just a thought, what do you think of this possible Niners trade: Justin Smiley for Alan Faneca of the Steelers?
-- Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: Hmmm. Faneca is 30 and Smiley is 25. And I believe both are in the final year of their contracts. Not sure that would entice McNolan.
-- Matt Barrows

May 9, 2007
Take a deep breath, Jason

Question: Fan overconfidence? There are a lot of great teams in the AFC, no doubt. But the NFC is a different story. Seattle, Carolina, and Philly are getting old and on the decline. A lot of teams have great potential but unproven consistency, Dallas, N.Y, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. The only teams that you could probably pencil into the playoffs would be New Orleans and Chicago. With all the young talent on this team, is it farfetched to say that we are realistically competing for the NFC crown this year?

- Jason, Sacramento

Answer: Jason, it appears that you not only have drunk the Kool-Aid, you're bathing in it. The two teams you penciled into the playoffs, Chicago and New Orleans, beat the 49ers last year by a combined score of 75-20. They gave up more points than any team last year. They were crushed - I mean absolutely demolished - by Philadelphia, Kansas City and San Diego. I love the 49ers' potential this season, but a division title seems more realistic. Of course, they'd probably have to beat Arizona first.

- Matt Barrows

May 9, 2007
What if Gore goes down?

Question: God forbid that Frank Gore has an injury this season that puts him out. But if it does happen, I don't feel that we have a good back up. Mo Hicks is OK and Michael Robinson is no good if you ask me. Do you see the 49ers adding a quality back up?

- Tabrez, Elk Grove.

Answer: No. The team feels that Hicks is capable in small doses and that Robinson and Thomas Clayton are oozing with potential. Don't forget, last year was Robinson's first at running back. He's a bright guy who's not afraid to hit and be hit. Give him another year before you toss him in the scrap heap.

- Matt Barrows

May 9, 2007
Capping the salary cap

Question: Not that I'm complaining or anything, but why did the 49ers have so much cap space this offseason? Since we exhausted it all, does that mean we will have less next season? Or that when everyone we signed this offseason's contracts run out, we won't have the money to resign them?

- Austin, Yreka

Answer: The 49ers certainly don't have as much cap space than they had at the start of free agency and might never have that luxury again. But they're not in danger of bursting the cap either. Remember, the cap goes up every season and that there are some high-priced vets - Bryant Young and Larry Allen - who may not be back in 2008. In other words, the team is still sitting pretty.

- Matt Barrows

May 9, 2007
The 411 on 49ers receivers situation

Question: I am wondering about the receiver situation for us. I am glad we have Jackson, as I believe he is better than Lelie. My question is which two receivers will start? I like Battle, and want him to start as the No. 2 receiver. Do you think that there is any way Lelie will be the third receiver, with Jackson and Battle starting?

- Ross, Sacramento

Answer: No, because Battle and Jackson play the same position. The 49ers want their "X" receiver, or split end, to be able to stretch the field. That should be Lelie's forte. If he loses the starting job to anyone, it would be to rookie Jason Hill, who is behind him on the depth chart.

- Matt Barrows

May 6, 2007
Nolan cautions against overconfidence

Final impressions

The 49ers wrapped up their three-day mini-camp Sunday and the session was just as spirited as the first two. There was plenty of good-natured smack talk, such as when Vernon Davis - emerging as the king of smack talk - scored during a red-zone drill and then got in the face of linebacker Brandon Moore. Following a running play, the defensive line vociferously accused right tackle Kwame Harris of holding. Harris responded by ripping off his jersey and tossing it to the defense, an appropriate comeback to Manny Lawson's shirt-throwing antics a day earlier. Overall, the group looks loose and confident. Coach Mike Nolan, however, gathered the team after practice and warned them about being overconfident. "Obviously there's a lot of optimism out there, but we've got a lot of work to do he said." The team will next meet as a group on June 4 for the beginning of off-season team activities or OTAs.

Other observations:

*Fourth-round draft choice Jay Moore weighs 273 pounds, but is so quick and lean you'd swear he was closer to 240 pounds. Nolan said that by the time the season rolls around Moore probably will be in the upper 260s.

*Speaking of weight, new outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain admitted he currently weighed 280 pounds. He said that the rigors of OTAs and training camp will get him down to his natural playing weight - about 265 pounds.

*Brandon Williams said he switched numbers because he wanted to be known as a receiver, not just a return man. He went from No. 17 last year to a more receiver-like No. 81 this year.

*Ronald Fields played left defensive end during the mini-camp. When Bryant Young returns, however, Fields may be moved to the right side.

*Receiver Ashley Lelie said he did not tear his quadriceps while running a pass route Friday and that he expects to be back in action by June 4. Fellow receiver Darrell Jackson (toe) and all the other players who had off-season surgery won't be back until training camp, which begins July 29.

May 5, 2007
Niners mini-camp observations

With Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie both nursing injuries, second-year wideout Brandon Williams is getting plenty of practice time. Williams is working as the team’s third wideout and has been a favorite target early in camp.
If the 49ers keep five receivers like they did a year ago, you have to figure that Williams is in a dogfight for a roster spot. Jackson, Lelie, Arnaz Battle and rookie Jason Hill are all but guaranteed spots. That would pit Williams against Bryan Gilmore (the No. 2 receiver this weekend) and Taylor Jacobs. Williams, of course, also returns punts. But that job also could go to Battle, who probably won’t see as much time at receiver as he did a year ago.
Then there’s Williams’ number switch. He decided to go with No. 81 this season, a questionable move considering that Terrell Owens put a curse on it when he left in 2004. What curse? Just ask Rashaun Woods and Antonio Bryant. They’ll tell you all about it.

Other observations:
**Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is not a guy who will sit in one spot and eat up space. The 320-pounder has been very active in practice and can move his weight. For more on Franklin, read Sunday’s Bee.

**The rookies who are standing out early are linebacker Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson and Thomas Clayton. Willis is every bit as fast as advertised, Goldson has made some good plays in the defensive secondary while Clayton also has shown good speed.

**Manny Lawson seems far more aggressive than he was last year. During practice Saturday, he thought he was being held by Vernon Davis. So he removed his red jersey and demonstratively tossed it to the offense, as if to say, “If you want my jersey so badly, you can have it.”

May 4, 2007
So you want a starting lineup?

Question: Alright Matt, nice work on the draft but how about really testing your Niner skills? Give us a depth chart, tell us who's starting where. Pinpoint heated competition for starting jobs, who you think will win, final roster etc., Also how about an overall prediction? 10-6 division champ, second round playoff exit etc. For that matter I wouldn't mind seeing the whole NFC prediction/breakdown. Thanks, Matt.

Jason, Sacramento

A: Gee, why don't you have me recite all the U.S. Presidents and state capitals while you're at it? How 'bout if I tell you who the starters were on the opening day of minicamp instead?

Offense:

LT Patrick Estes (Jonas Jennings recovering from injury)

LG Adam Snyder (Larry Allen excused from practice)

C Tony Wragge (Heitmann recovering from broken leg)

RG David Baas (Smiley recovering from surgery)

RT Kwame Harris

RB Frank Gore

FB Moran Norris

TE Vernon Davis

WR Arnaz Battle

WR Bryan Gilmore (both Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie injured)

QB Alex Smith

LDE Ronald Fields (BY excused)

NT Aubrayo Franklin

RDE Marques Douglas

OLB Manny Lawson

OLB Tully Banta-Cain

ILB Derek Smith

ILB Brandon Moore

SS Michael Lewis

FS Mark Roman

RCB Walt Harris

LCB Nate Clements

-- Matt Barrows

Question: Before the draft I emailed you and predicted that Patrick Willis would be the 49ers #1 pick. I also predicted that Patrick would be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Now that Patrick is a 49er, how long do you think it will take him to become a starter? Matt, thanks for the great job you did in covering the NFL Draft for all the Faithful!

Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: What do you want - a gold star? Kidding. Good job with the pick, although I recall someone as far back as November alerting me to Patrick Willis. When I find the correct "Q" I'll give him or her the glory he or she deserves. I have no idea how long it will take him to become the starter. Derek Smith is a savvy veteran and a coaches' favorite. He won't step aside without a fight.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: With the loss of Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator and the gain of Ashley Lelie and Draft of Jason Hill can we expect the offensive to have great improvements. Also with Alex Smith having a couple years behind him and a solid running back do you expect the offense to be more aggressive or stick to being conservative.

Mandip, Sacramento.

Answer: Don't forget, this is a running team at heart. If Mike Nolan could get away with a 40-to-1 run-to-pass ratio, he would. That being said, Alex Smith ought to be more competent and capable in Year 3, which should lead to more aggressive choices in the passing game. But overall, don't expect much flash this season.

--Matt Barrows

Question: This may sound harsh: Alex Smith has the supporting cast that he lacked the past couple of seasons. Do you think this is a make or break season for Smith? Or will the departure of Norv Turner buy him more time to improve?

Scott, Elk Grove

A: No, it's not a make-or-break season for Smith. And there probably won't be such as season as long as Mike Nolan is the coach. He has the full confidence of the coaching staff.

--Matt Barrows

Question: I was telling a few friends I thought Smiley was going to get traded draft day, and then he didn't. I thought he was worth a 2nd pick, but that would need to drop to a 3rd since he is a free agent after the upcoming year. I assumed there was interest and the 49ers asked too much. Your blog confirmed what I was thinking. My question is, what is your sense of if a trade might happen before summer camp for somebody's pick in next years draft? After all, Wragge and Baas can play that position fairly well.

Berger, Reno

A: Slim to none if the 49ers insist on a second rounder. I don't think a team would be willing to give up that pick and then run the risk of losing Smiley seven months later in free agency. They might as well wait the seven months and keep the pick.

-- Matt Barrows

May 4, 2007
Stakes increase for Smiley

It turns out the Broncos, Bears, Seahawks and Ravens all called about guard Justin Smiley on draft day, but were scared off by the 49ers' trade demand - a second-round pick.

Smiley said the 49ers had given his agent, Pat Dye, permission to shop Smiley around in the weeks leading up to the draft. Teams showed interest in the 25-year-old guard but didn't want to give up a second-round pick and face the possibility of not being able to re-sign Smiley, who is in the final year of his contract, next March.

That's the situation the 49ers find themselves in.

They made what turned out to be a modest contract proposal in Week 8 last season. Smiley's counter offer showed the two sides were far apart. Dye advised Smiley to hold off signing anything until the offseason, and it turned out to be a smart move.

Guards were in high demand during free agency with even middling players like Derrick Dockery -- $18 million guaranteed -- being rewarded with lucrative contracts. Suddenly Smiley's counter offer didn't look so absurd to the 49ers, but Smiley and Dye weren't interested in signing anymore.

"Things had changed and the stakes had gotten a little higher," Smiley said.

Smiley, who stands to be one of the top free agents at his position in March, said the two sides might continue to trade numbers this spring, but that he doesn't want any distractions when the summer rolls around.

"Once training camp starts, all bets are off," he said. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

May 4, 2007
Mini-camp starts with free agent list

The 49ers finally announced their undrafted free agents and .... drum roll, please ... there's really not anyone of note.

The only name I recognized was that of Akron quarterback Luke Getsy. Reporters were allowed to watch combine practices for the first time this past February, and I was assigned to follow Getsy. The impression I got was that he had a so-so arm and so-so accuracy. However, he is supposed to be very bright and could challenge Shaun Hill for the role of third quarterback.

The other signees are: DE Zach Anderson (Louisville), TE Zac Herold (Nebraska-Omaha), CB Sammy Joseph (LSU), P Ken Parrish (East Stroudsburg), DE Darius Sanders (Oregon) and WR Dominique Zeigler (Baylor). The team also added first-year PK MacKenzie Hoambrecker (Northern Iowa).

Bryant Young did not take part in today's minicamp because he is attending the funeral of former teammate Kevin Mitchell. Larry Allen also is excused. The following players won't participate because of injury: Jonas Jennings (shoulder), Justin Smiley (shoulder), Eric Heitmann (leg), Delanie Walker (shoulder), Darrell Jackson (turf toe) and Shawntae Spencer, who apparently is dealing with bone spurs in his feet.

Here are the new numbers for the 2007 draft class: Patrick Willis (52), Joe Staley (74), Jason Hil (89), Ray McDonald (91), Jay Moore (58), Dashon Goldson (38), Joe Cohen (76), Tarell Brown (25) and Thomas Clayton (35).

May 3, 2007
Santa Clara stadium would be good for Sacramento fans

Did you know there are more 49ers season-ticket holders in the Sacramento area than in San Francisco? It's true. Residents who live in the city of San Francisco make up 9 percent of the season ticket base vs. 10 percent from the Sacramento area.

This according to Jed York, who Thursday gave the 49ers' beat writers an hourlong overview of where things stand with the team's new stadium, the price tag of which is up to $853,768,000. And you thought your new home was expensive.

So if the new stadium ends up in Santa Clara - and it's looking more and more as if that will be the case - is it a good deal for the 10 percent from the 916? I believe it is.

Sure, it will be farther away as the crow flies. But in all practicality, I think it will be a shorter trip - time-wise - between Sacramento and Santa Clara. First, you won't be sucked into the Bay Bridge vortex, a two-mile span that often constitutes half the trip. Sure the Benicia-Martinez Bridge on 680 could cause some issues, but you also could travel via Stockton and I-5, avoiding bridges altogether.

Also, the immediate traffic around the stadium should be significantly better.

As it stands now, cars must filter through neighborhood streets to get off Candlestick Point, which, after all, is a peninsula. And once you're off those streets, you're onto Highway 101, the only highway in the vicinity. The Santa Clara site has several arteries to get you out of the stadium area, and there are three highways - 101, 880 and 137 - within a few miles.

The best part for Sacramentans is that you don't have to pay (other than fuel, tickets, parking and personal seat licenses, that is.) The team is asking the City of Santa Clara to come up with $160 million for the stadium - and so far, at least, the city seems more than willing to explore the possibility.

- Matt Barrows

May 2, 2007
Don't expect a Keyshawn signing

Question: Great job of updating the fans during the draft. Do the Niners have any interest in signing Keyshawn Johnson? I think he still has one or two good, not great, seasons left in him. He would be a mentor to the younger receivers and be an excellent possession receiver and security blanket for Alex Smith.

- Joey, Northridge

Answer: I don't think so, Joey. They shied away from Dwayne Jarrett in the draft because they didn't think he had the wheels to get separation from defensive backs, and Keyshawn is slower than Jarrett. He's also in his mid-30s and the 49ers generally don't touch free agents who are older than 29.

- Matt Barrows

May 2, 2007
About those last two picks ...

Question: In regards to the last two selections the 49ers made, I think you have to have a little faith in Mike Nolan's background knowledge of these players. It's obvious Nolan saw a lot of talent in these guys and invited them to 49er headquarters for more face-to-face evaluation to make sure he was comfortable picking them in the draft. That being said, worst-case scenario is that they if don't stay on the straight and narrow, Nolan cuts them with no hesitation because they were fifth- and sixth-round picks. It's risk and reward; I think it's a no-brainer.

- George, Folsom

Answer: Nolan also had a face-to-face meeting with Antonio Bryant in which he was assured by Bryant that he had learned his lessons and would stay out of trouble. In fact, the saga of every NFL troublemaker begins with a coach saying he and the team feel the troublemaker has learned his lesson. What bothers me is that for weeks the entire league has been telling everyone who would listen about how it was going to start cleaning up its image. I didn't see that on draft day.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I see the final two picks from the draft getting a lot of criticism from the fans and media. It doesn't make sense to me. I think it's evidence that the Niners are confident with the roster that they can take a flier risk on these two guys with the knowledge that if it doesn't work out they'll just be cut. My question is, which of the two do you think will make a greater impact and which will be cut for behavior issues?

- Mark, Sacramento

Answer: I'm not touching the second part of that question. As for the first part, I've got to say Thomas Clayton should have the biggest impact early, simply for the fact that he won't have as much competition at RB as Tarell Brown will at CB and because the jump to the pros is far easier for a RB than a CB. The 49ers like Maurice Hicks, but not to the point where they offered him any sort of long-term contract this offseason. That means they think he's expendable. Michael Robinson, meanwhile, still is learning how to play running back. Clayton, by all accounts, is brimming with potential. If he can stay healthy - and stay out of trouble - there's no reason he can't be part of the running back rotation by the start of the season.

- Matt Barrows

May 2, 2007
Green still has a place

Question: Given the recent pickups in the draft, what is Roderick Green's future with 49ers?

- Dwayne, Houston

Answer: It's a good question, Dwayne, considering Green has sort of been lost in the shuffle with all the free-agent signings and draft picks. However, I don't think the 49ers have forgotten how Green had 4 1/2 sacks last year despite minimal playing time. He's one of the few players on the team who consistently can get after the quarterback and I expect to see him competing for playing time at the "Will" linebacker spot this weekend. If it's different than what I expect, I'll report back.

- Matt Barrows

May 2, 2007
Post-draft hangover

Question: What do you think of the quality of the 49ers draft picks?
-- Jerry, Roseville

Answer: The stock answer is, “Ask me in three years.” However, I think the draft, especially the first day, was fantastic. I loved the two third-round selections, Jason Hill and Ray McDonald, and Patrick Willis is in just the right spot to win defensive rookie of the year.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I was just wondering if you can give us a possible depth chart now, both offense and defense?
-- Cesar, Arbuckle

Answer: I could give you a pretty good guess right now, but the depth chart today is different than what it will look like in late August. For example, I'm sure Kwame Harris will be the starting right tackle when the team assembles for Friday's minicamp. But by the end of training camp, I figure Joe Staley, or even Adam Snyder, will have the job.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: As great as Saturday's draft was, Sunday's was a little like Alice In Wonderland. What's up with the (2) character issue players? I'm hoping Joe Cohen is one of coach Nolan's projects, on TV it said Joe spent his first year in college as a FULLBACK and maybe he will become our 'pile driver'. Note that Michael Bush was the first choice of round #4 (Raiders) and the other true FB Le'Ron McClain was chosen immediately after Clayton. Sigh! Do you think our coach's judgments relied too heavily on their one game contact with the South team?
-- Jim, Vacaville

Answer: Day 2 picks are always tough to evaluate because 1.) We novices are not too familiar with them 2.) The team is picking players for potential, not necessarily for their college production. The character-issue players also had the guys in the media trailer scratching our heads. I’m not sure you can preach character as much as Nolan does, and then draft two guys late in the draft who have fallen precisely because of their character concerns. As for Joe Cohen, he is one of these “potential” picks. Right now, he probably fits best as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, but could become a nose tackle or even a left defensive end in the 49ers’ 3-4. the team is very happy with Moran Norris at fullback.
-- Matt Barrows

Question:You couldn't talk before re: 6'5" 370 NT Walter Thomas. Is he still on the radar? If not, care to say why? From your excellent and objective perspective, do you see any holes yet to be filled by the Niners following this superb draft? And when might we expect from you a list of the undrafted free agents (including your opinions) that the Niners bring in - especially Gore-style running backs?
-- Sammy Moore Jr., Sacramento.

Answer: We’ll get the entire list of undrafted free agents on Thursday. One guy they’re looking at is Akron QB Luke Getsy. I was assigned to observe and evaluate Getsy when he worked out at the scouting combine. My un-expert analysis was that he had an average arm and average athleticism. However, he’s supposed to be very bright and could provide a nice challenge to Shaun Hill for the job of third quarterback. Sorry, still can’t offer any deep thoughts on Thomas. My only guess is that he has some sort of injury/medical issues that scared off a lot of teams.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: First off, I really appreciate the coverage and commentary you did during the draft. But I was wondering if you knew what happened to former-WR Jason McAddley. He seemed like an exciting WR prospect but now I can't seem to find where he is. Any news?
-- Austin, Yreka

Answer: No news at all. I just scoured the archives and the last thing I found was the 49ers cutting him last September. If McAddley resurfaces, it likely will be before training camp.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Thank you for your excellent coverage of the 49ers draft. If Brown and Clayton do behave themselves, how good could they be on the field? Are they expected to be just backups or do they have the talent to eventually become starters?
-- Paul, Davis

Answer: I’d actually say that Clayton, the sixth-round pick, has more potential than Brown. He was heavily recruited out of the D.C. area (where I grew up) and initially went to Florida State. He transferred to Kansas State, ran into some problems there and never really played much his entire college career. He comes in with little wear and tear, a big frame and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Scot McCloughan sounded really excited about Clayton when we spoke to him on Wednesday.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Just a post draft quicky for you; Kansas City did not draft any OL players yet they lost two OL starters in free agency. Do you think coach Nolan will pursue some draft choices for next year and trade Smiley and/or Harris?
-- Jim, Vacaville

Answer: It sounded like the 49ers like their o-line depth right now and don’t want to trade. However, if a trade is coming, it likely will be after the upcoming minicamps when teams really get a good sense of their depth or lack thereof.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Who do you like better Adalius Thomas or Patrick Willis?
-- Harsh, Berkeley

Answer: You have to go with the younger guy, right?
-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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