49ers Blog and Q&A

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

August 31, 2007
Deep thoughts from San Diego

*Update* Just spoke with Mike Nolan on a conference call. He didn't have the final word on injured nose tackle Joe Cohen. But he didn't expect it would be good. There seems to be a strong chance that Cohen, a fourth-round pick this year, will land on injured reserve. It's also possible that linebacker Jay Moore could go on IR. Moore suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Chargers. The length of the recovery period will determine whether the rookie goes on injured reserve.

He's watched his team play four preseason games. He's gone through countless practices and watched reels upon reels of film. But Mike Nolan still is unsure what he has in the 2007 49ers.

"We're still going through the process," Nolan said minutes after an ugly 16-13 loss in San Diego. "I know we're getting better... But we're not like the team we just faced, (which) knows what its roster is."

What the 49ers have shown this exhibition season is that they're good enough to keep pace with second-tier teams (Denver Broncos) and they're good enough to beat struggling teams (the Raiders). But they have a long, long way to go before they can beat the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers of the world. Which is concerning because ever since the final game of the 2006 season, the 49ers, from the head coach on down, have been telling the world that they are ready to take that next step into the playoffs. They are not ready. Not yet anyway.

Sure, you can argue that Frank Gore's return will buoy the team. And that the 49ers featured their most vanilla offense these last two games in an effort to hide their cards from the Cards. But as Alex Smith noted after the game, the vanilla offense also is San Francisco's base offense. If they can't run that effectively, all the bells and whistles they throw in against Arizona won't amount to much.

What I see from this team is a lot of what we saw last season. I predict that they will win some games early in the season and struggle - badly - in some others. If their star players stay injury free, they should make their move at midseason. The last half of the schedule is favorable, and by midseason you would expect the defense to have jelled. In other words, they might evolve into a playoff team by late December. They are definitely not one now.

Other deep thoughts from San Diego ....

It was interesting to see Delanie Walker and Michael Robinson deep on kickoff returns. That job has gone to Bryan Gilmore in previous exhibition games but Gilmore seems more and more like the odd man out in the 49ers' receiver rotation. When Gore returns to the starting lineup, the kick return job could return to Maurice Hicks.

Speaking of running backs, I thought both Thomas Clayton and Arkee Whitlock did a nice job in the second half. Clayton is infinitely better than he was the opening week of training camp when he hit the hole like an old lady and seemed to get tripped up just as easily. Does he make the final roster? With Hicks and Robinson ahead of him on the depth chart, it's hard to say. But at the very least, he's a certain practice-squad candidate. Whitlock also has done remarkably well for a guy who was brought in on short notice when Gore hurt his hand. He has a very quick and fluid first move and shows great burst through the hole.

Receiver Jason Hill is a hell of a gunner on special teams. When he made a nice hit on the returner two weeks ago, I thought it was a fluke. But he did it twice more against the Chargers. It turns out that Hill was a gunner his first three seasons at Washington State and took great pride in that role. He won't see much action this year at receiver. But he's put himself in a nice position to have a juicy role on special teams. "Every time I'm out there, I want to show the special teams coordinator that I can make plays," Hill told me after the game.

I was looking for a flag following Vernon Davis' rendition of the "light's out" dance in the first quarter. Turns out Davis was, too. "I thought I got a flag and I was about to say, 'Oh, man!'" Davis said after the game. He also said that former Maryland teammate Shawne Merriman, the "light's out" originator, didn't look too happy after the homage, but that "he got over it."

I don't know the diagnosis regarding Joe Cohen's knee injury. But if it's a severe sprain, it may have saved Nolan from making a tough decision regarding the fourth-round draft choice. Even if Cohen had made the team, it's unlikely he would have suited up for many games this year. He is more of a long-term project at nose tackle, and a stint on injured reserve could allow the 49ers to keep him around without taking up a roster spot.

The other injury of concern was to linebacker Jay Moore, who sprained his left ankle. Moore is Manny Lawson's primary back-up at strong-side outside linebacker. Lawson was the only starter who got hurt. He suffered what was described as a mild concussion and came out of the game.

Tight end Zach Hilton caught his second touchdown pass in as many games. But don't expect the lanky tight end to make the final roster. The team is set with Davis, Walker and Billy Bajema.

The subheadline in today's 49ers' notebook read: "Strong practices might not be enough to help wide receiver Taylor Jacobs make the cut." Um, that's not what I meant. The implication of the story was that Jacobs' production has not been commensurate with his status as the No. 3 receiver. But I think he definitely makes the team. As some of you know, reporters don't write the headlines that appear in the paper. (But sometimes I wish we do).

-- Matt Barrows

August 30, 2007
Allen gets the night off

Don't worry about Larry Allen. The 49ers' starting left guard will not play tonight against the Chargers, but his absence is due to his veteran status, not because he is injured. Adam Snyder will start in his place.
The other 49er starters who will not play are RB Frank Gore (hand), TE Billy Bajema (ankle), WR Darrell Jackson (hamstring) and NT Aubrayo Franklin (knee). All are expected to be ready for the regular-season opener a week from Monday
A trio of back-up defensive backs, Donald Strickland (chest), Vickiel Vaughn (shoulder) and Dashon Goldson (elbow), also will sit out the game with injuries.

The only injured player to make the trip to San Diego was Gore. The guy not only is incapable of taking a night off from football, he also is trying to emulate Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson -- on the field and off it.
Gore made the trip with a Tomlinson jersey - don't worry, 49ers faithful, it was in his suitcase not on his body - and has requested tapes of Tomlinson giving interviews. The Chargers running back, of course, led the league last year with 1,815 rushing yards. Not a bad act to copy. Tomlinson, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates will not play tonight, either.

The 49ers plan to make a "handful" of cuts tomorrow, but the main purge will come Saturday when every team must reduce its roster to 53 players.

August 29, 2007
Throwbacks just a big tease

Ok, maybe we read too much into Mike Nolan's comments yesterday when he was asked whether he still supported a permanent change to the classic unis the team wore when it won its first Super Bowl. Said Nolan rather archly, "We're in the process of looking at our uniform." And then he begged off the subject. "We haven't game-planned our comments yet," he said. Some of my suspicious colleagues and I interpereted his remarks to mean that there was something in the works vis a vis a uniform switcheroo.

After checking around, there is not. At least not yet, anyway. The team will definitely wear their throwbacks for the Arizona Cardinals game on Sept. 10, and they have yet to settle on a second date this year. But they will not wear them beyond those two dates in 2007, and officials at the league offices in New York said there has not been any formal request to return to the team's former duds. That process would take at least a year to be completed.

It's hard to tell how the fans split on this important issue, but I, for one, throw my support behind the old threads. It seems to me that uniforms these days have become too busy (see: Cal, Oregon, Arizona Cardinals) and that any change to the cleaner, simpler jerseys of yesterday would be for the better. I personally like the old fire-engine red more than the current shade and I don't care for the "shadowed" number either - it's sooo USFL. And, of course, the old uniforms hearken back to the team's glory days. They are classics, like the Bears' and Packers' duds, and a team that's been around as long as the 49ers should embrace and celebrate its history. It's a look that stands the test of time.

Will the 49ers improve this season? The oddsmakers seem to think so. According to Bodog.com, the odds of the 49ers winning ... the Super Bowl are 18/1, ... the NFC are 7/1 ... the NFC West are 9/5. Last year, those same odds were a wee bit greater - 150/1 to win the Super Bowl, 70/1 to win the conference and 15/1 to win the division.

Some over/unders that caught my eye:
Alex Smith TD passes - 19.
Frank Gore rushing yards - 1580.
Frank Gore lost fumbles - 3 1/2.
Darrell Jackson receiving yards - 975.
Vernon Davis receiving yards - 625. (Davis told me Tuesday that he was shooting for 1,000).

And now for a more wholesome storyline ... Smith, who is from San Diego, will have some special guests at tomorrow's game - the 10 former foster children his foundation is sending to San Diego State. As some of you may have read in The Bee, foster kids are left to fend for themselves after they turn 18. They get a $400 check (not a typo) from the state, a pat on the fanny and, well, that's about it. Good luck, kiddo ...

The Alex Smith Foundation is trying to change that, and one of the ways is by sending 10 students a year to college. The foundation covers everything - tuition, books, room and board, food, etc. The goal is to eventually sponsor 50 students at a time. Smith met eight of the 10 students at a kickoff dinner in June. He said this will be the first time he meets all 10.

The kickoff dinner two months ago also included a bowling outing. A film crew from the United Way arrived to shoot a commercial about Smith's foundation. As has been the case in recent years, the United Way ad will have a comedic bent - depicting Smith trying to get a strike by throwing a football the length of the bowling lane. Smith said they took several takes, but the best he could do with a pigskin was knock down nine pins. He's hoping that through the magic of television, all ten will fall down when the commercials begin airing.

To read the story about Smith and the guardian scholar program, go to:
http://www.sacbee.com/100/story/285727.html

-- Matt Barrows

August 28, 2007
Staley tapped to start at right tackle

This just in ... Mike Nolan has made a decision on who will start at right tackle to open the season and the winner is rookie Joe Staley. Nolan announced the decision after talking to both Staley and incumbent Kwame Harris this afternoon.
Harris was the 26th overall draft pick in 2003 and he started all 16 games at right tackle the last two seasons. He has been a very good run blocker the last few seasons, but he has a hard time moving his feet in pass protection, which has led to several well-documented sacks and untimely penalties.
Staley, meanwhile, was the 28th overall pick this past April. He began his college career as a tight end and has the quick feet to keep up with the league's fastest defensive ends. He said he has been working on his power game and it remains to be seen whether he can be as effective as Harris as a run blocker. Staley said he curently weighs 310 pounds and ultimately hopes to max out at 320-plus pounds.
Here's what Nolan had to say in a quote released by the team:
"Joe Staley has been named the staring right tackle today. Starting positions on our team are earned. Nobody is handed a starting role. Just like the linebacker spot with Patrick (Willis), this decision had more to do with what Joe has done. Both Joe and Kwame had outstanding camps. It was a very close competition. Joe was more consistent. That is the reason for the decision. Joe earned the starting position based on his production on the football field both in practice and in the games."

August 28, 2007
Sibling rivalry in San Diego

After today's practice, the media gaggle surrounded Alex Smith at his locker and asked him what he hoped to get out of the 12 snaps he is scheduled to play Thursday night. Before he could open his mouth, someone in the background yelled out, "A first down." That someone was scourge/mentor/big brother Trent Dilfer, and it led to a discussion of what Smith really wanted out of the San Diego game.
As it stands now, Dilfer has a quarterback rating of 106.6. Smith's is 103.9.
"The goal is to get above 106," Smith said. And then addressing the other heckler in the background, he said, "We don't even want to talk about where Shaun (Hill) is at." For the record, Hill's quarterback rating is 62 but he did lead the team to a fourth-quarter win against the Raiders

Bryant Young has practiced the last two days and he reported that his ailing back has emerged without any issues. Young said he expected to play a few snaps against the Chargers both to sharpen his skills and to develop a little chemistry with his line mates before the regular season begins. "When you're sweating it together - that's so important as opposed to being on the sideline," he said.

Frank Gore took his first handoff in a team situation since July 30, the day he broke a bone in his right hand. Gore was playing with a padded glove on top of his hand. Asked how Gore was affected by his carries, Nolan said, "He leaves me alone when he does. It probably means more to me." Gore got into such a funk about his injury that a few weeks ago, Nolan sat down with him and told him he needed to handle it with a more positive attitude.

And now a subject that everyone seems to have an opinion on. During the group media session, MM asked Nolan what he'd think if he saw a stadium full of suit-wearing fans on Sept. 10. While we were on the subject of threads, I asked the coach if he was still interested in making the throwback uniforms the team's permanent dud. His response: "We're in the process of looking at our uniform. But let's leave it at that." Pressed on the topic, Nolan coyly said, "We haven't game-planned our comments yet." The 49ers will wear the throwbacks on opening night. They have been hush-hush about the second date. What does this mean? Beats me, but it's obvious there is something cooking. Stay tuned, throwback backers.

-- Matt Barrows

August 27, 2007
Right tackle still a question mark

That big announcement about who will start at right tackle for the 49ers? It didn't happen today. Instead, Mike Nolan said that incumbent Kwame Harris and challenger Joe Staley would continue to rotate in Thursday's game in San Diego as they have the two previous preseason games. Which is a little surprising considering a.) If the 49ers ultimately pick Staley, he'll have had little time playing alongside the first-team offensive line and b.) the starters are only scheduled to go 12 plays against the Chargers. That means that if Kwame Harris plays the first two series like he did in Chicago, that might be it for the first-team offensive line.

I'm sure a lot of people are scratching their heads over why Staley wasn't named the starter, and frankly, so am I. Harris' shortcomings have been well-documented for the last few years and Saturday night's performance in Chicago was a microcosm on his career. On the team's first possession, he failed to get a block on defensive end Adewale Ogunleye on a failed third-down pass play. On the next possession, he committed a false start on third down.

Staley, meanwhile, was efficient against the Bears. The first-team offense's only touchdown of the night came when Maurice Hicks followed Staley and a host of offensive lineman into the end zone. Staley said that, should he ultimately be named the starter for the Sept. 10 game against Arizona, he wouldn't have a hard time fitting in because center Eric Heitmann is so good at making sure the offensive line is organized and knows their assignments. He also said he thought an announcement could be made later in the week. Until then, all he can do, he said, is keep practicing.

In other news ...

... Nolan said that Frank Gore definitely won't play against the Chargers. Gore said he would begin practicing this week and that, combined with next week's full slate of practices, he should be ready for the Cardinals game. He said he would experiment with a protective brace over his injured right hand. If he is comfortable with it, he could have it on against the Cardinals.

For the first time, Nolan gave a prognosis for rookie safety Dashon Goldson, who injured his elbow against Oakland on Aug. 18. He said the injury would take four or five weeks to fully heal. However, he said Goldson was the only player who will not be able to play in the season opener.

It looks as if several players will not be in the lineup against the Chargers. Tight end Billy Bajema (ankle), safety Vickiel Vaughn (shoulder) and cornerback Donald Strickland (chest) did not practice Monday. Receiver Darrell Jackson (hamstring) and linebacker Brandon Moore (thigh bruise) also did not practice. Jackson is questionable for San Diego. No word yet on Moore. Defensive end Bryant Young (back) practiced and might play.

-- Matt Barrows

August 26, 2007
49ers release Maxwell, Green

The 49ers today said goodbye to two players - receiver Marcus Maxwell and linebacker Roderick Green -- who, a few months ago at least, seemed to have a legitimate shot of making the 53-man roster. Also released Sunday were fullback Steve Dildine, kicker MacKenzie Hoambrecker, punter Ken Parrish, cornerback Sammy Joseph, offensive lineman Nick Steitz, linebacker John Syptak and receiver Dominique Zeigler. The 49ers must reduce their roster to 75 players by Tuesday.

Mike Nolan said he released Maxwell, a seventh-round draft pick in 2005, with the thought that he may be able to catch on with another team. No 49er went into training camp with more momentum than Maxwell. He had an outstanding season for the champion Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europa, and he arrived in camp stronger and more confident than ever.

While Nolan conceded that Maxwell had improved from his rookie season, he also said that the 49ers had added several players - Darrell Jackson, Ashley Lelie and rookie Jason Hill among them - that pushed Maxwell farther down the roster.

"This might give an opportunity for (another team) who saw him in the World League to give him another look," Nolan said.

Green, meanwhile, gave a big boost to the 49ers' pass rush at the end of last season. However, youngsters Parys Haralson and Jay Moore appear to have sewn up the back-up outside linebacker spots. Nolan said Green would be on a "short list" should there be injuries at outside linebacker during the season.

Defensive end Melvin Oliver (knee) and receiver C.J. Brewer (knee) will be placed on injured reserve, which will help the 49ers reach the 75-player limit.

As far as injuries, tight end Billy Bajema (ankle), cornerback Donald Strickland (chest) and safety Vickiel Vaughn will not play in the season finale Thursday in San Diego. Nolan also said that receiver Darrell Jackson (hamstring) and defensive end Bryant Young (back) are questionable.

Strickland spent the night in Chicago after suffering what Nolan described as a lung contusion. He was released and flew home on his own today.

-- Matt Barrows

August 25, 2007
Windy City blues

Well, it wasn't 41-0 at halftime, but tonight's loss to the Bears was almost as ugly as the one last season. The worst part is that the 49ers put a lot of stock into this game. They started game planning on Monday, one day before they would in a regular-season game, and, of course, they played their starters well into the third quarter. This game was going to be a litmus test for a team that looked pretty good in its first two exhibition games. The result of the test:
Defense - Ugh
Offense - Meh
Special teams -- The game began with a kick out of bounds.
In the end, it reminded me a lot of last year's game against Philadelphia. The 49ers went into that game hoping to prove that they could hang with one of the elite teams in the NFC. Instead, they learned that they have a long way to go to reach that level.

I should first mention that I did not make the trip to Chicago due to some budget/money/travel issues at The Bee. This issue is there is no money in the travel budget. So I watched it on TV - reporter notebook and pen handy -- just like everyone else. I will travel for Thursday's game in San Diego and throughout the regular season.

The 49ers obviously couldn't sustain drives, had way too many penalties and gave up too many big plays on defense. Bears receiver Bernard Berrian (who, it always should be noted, was drafted one slot after Derrick Hamilton in 2004) averaged more than 26 yards a pass and the Bears held the ball twice as long as San Francisco in the first half.

The defensive issues are a little puzzling because I though there were some great individual efforts. Issac Sopoaga looked unstoppable at nose tackle for the second straight game, and it should be noted that his main opponent, Chicago center Olin Kreutz, has been to six Pro Bowls. The 49ers must be relieved by Sopoaga's play, and I suspect they might also be contemplating a contract extension for the powerful Samoan.

I thought linebacker Patrick Willis also was outstanding as far as running down tacklers all over the field and making them pay when he knifed in for the tackle. Barring injury, I see him leading the 49ers in tackles at year's end and having a good shot at defensive rookie of the year. Willis led all tacklers for the second straight game.

I also thought that Manny Lawson did a much better job in the running game, although he missed a first-quarter tackle on the sideline that would have prevented a first down. Lawson attempted the tackle with his head on the left side of the ball carrier. It should have been on the downfield side. (Scot McCloughan told me that rule. See, Scot, I'm paying attention).

Once again, however, there was very little pass rush. The only time that Rex Grossman was pressured was when rookie Ray McDonald crashed the pocket in the first quarter and hit his arm while throwing. Other than that, Grossman had plenty of time to pick apart the 49ers' secondary, which, apart from Nate Clements, had a shaky outing.

The 49ers seemed to have a tough time covering tight ends. Rookie Greg Olsen twice caught a pass with nary a 49er within 10 yards of him, and Grossman's touchdown pass to Desmond Clark was ridiculously easy. Clark was lined up opposite Tully Banta-Cain on the plan. Banta-Cain rushed the passer and Brandon Moore followed the fullback out of the backfield. No one covered Clark.

For the third straight game, Moore was in perfect position to make an outstanding play, this time on Adrian Peterson's second-quarter touchdown run. But he could not come up with the tackle.

In the second half, Parys Haralson was very visible, both rushing the passer and in run defense. I thought Joe Cohen looked good on some plays, was shoved around pretty handily on others. Vickiel Vaughn did a nice job filling in for injured Dashon Goldson at safety.

As far as the offense goes, I can't see Kwame Harris holding onto to his starting job any longer. The first half was a microcosm of his career - nearly knocked down by Adewale Ogunleye on the first series, false start on the second series, etc. By contrast, rookie Joe Staley was efficient on his first series, which was extended when the Bears dropped a punt deep in their own territory. I watched Staley closely during the series and this is what he did:
-- On first down, (passing play) he ran his opponent well out of the play.
-- On second down (run left) he knocked Darwin Walker to the ground.
-- Third down was a flubbed snap.
After the 49ers recovered the fumbled punt:
-- On first and second down, he shoved his man out of the play.
-- On third-down, Maurice Hicks followed Staley and a host of other linemen into the end zone. I thought that Justin Smiley had the best block of the play, scooting Dusty Dvoracek out of the spot where Hicks crashed across the goal line.

It was hard to assess Alex Smith because a.) the 49ers chose to run for most of the first half and b.) he didn't have much time to throw. I thought he did show very good pocket awareness, though, especially on his long thrown to Vernon Davis in the third quarter. He took a couple of steps forward to find space to throw and kept his eyes downfield the whole time.

I thought Ashley Lelie had another good game. If he gets cut, it will be a shock.

At the end of the first half, I wrote in my notebook, "return game puts me to sleep". That was before Brandon Williams nearly ripped off a punt return for a touchdown. Williams certainly is more shifty than explosive, and it was nice to finally see him get a big gain.

There were five players under the microscope tonight. Here's how they fared:

1. Kwame Harris. He stood out - for all the wrong reasons - in a game in which he had to play flawlessly in order to hold off Joe Staley. It's very hard to believe that he will be the team's opening-day starter.

2. Bryan Gilmore. His catch on a two-point conversion was his only reception. He also stumbled on what probably would have been a successful reverse to Michael Robinson on a first-quarter kick return.

3. Thomas Clayton. The rookie running back looked good, hitting the hole with better intensity than he did just two weeks ago. Because the starters played so long, he did not get a lot of carries.

4. Colby Bockwoldt. The linebacker is known for his special teams play, but he could not bring down return-man Devin Hester despite having both arms around him. Hester picked up another 11 yards on a punt return after breaking free.

5. Manny Lawson. He certainly wasn't flawless, but he played much better than he did in his two previous outings.

-- Matt Barrows

August 24, 2007
What's wrong with the run defense?

Question: Matt, the defensive line the last two preseason games has not been able to stop the run. Iím concerned. I know BY and Franklin are recovering from injuries but I thought with our free agency pick-ups and the draft our defensive line play would be much improved. I know it's early but how do you see the DL coming together and shutting down the run come September? Can you give me an update on Jay Moore's, LB, progress to date? Will he make the team?
Ron, Lincoln

Answer: I used to think that Alex Smithís chemistry with his receiving corps was the biggest concern heading into the season. Smith, however, has done an excellent job in assuaging me. Now I think itís the run defense. What I keep hearing from coaches is that the defense needs to play as one unit. They need to get used to their assignments and, more importantly, get used to each other before we really can see results. The problem is that the first-team defensive line, the unit that sets the tone for the rest of the D, wonít play together at all during the preseason. How long will it take them to jell? I donít know, but it wonít happen immediately.
The other concern is the outside linebackers, who have not done a very good job of keeping containment on the edge. Thatís something Iím really interested in seeing against the Bears.

As far as Moore, he definitely makes the team. Heís going through what Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson experienced last season Ė a difficult transition from defensive end to linebacker. Heís a guy who ultimately should be very good at setting the edge on running plays. Heís the biggest outside linebacker the 49ers have.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, I wonder if you might be able to elaborate on what the heck happened with the parking situation at the 49er/Raider game. My wife and I left Sacramento at 5:00pm, mistake, and 5 hours later were still in line to get into the parking lot of the stadium. Needless to say we missed the entire game. Was it poor lot attendants or lack of space in the parking lot? This definitely makes me want to never attend a game again and watch them on my 60" tv for good. Any input would be great. Thanks, youíre doing a great job.
Jeremy, Citrus Heights

Answer: Youíre not the only one whoís written about this. I didnít get home until well past 1 a.m. and I live in San Jose. I shudder to imagine when my Sacramento-area readers arrived at their doorsteps. According to parking officials, it was a perfect storm of events that led to Saturdayís debacle. There were some people who arrived solely for the tailgating, thus taking the spots of ticket holders. There was a Rage Against the Machine concert adjacent to AT&T Park and many idiots -- uh, I mean people -- arrived at Candlestick thinking the concert was there. However, that doesnít explain why traffic was so miserable after the game, too. You would think that after three decades of football games at Candlestick, they wouldnít have snags like the one that prevented thousands of people from watching the game. Iíll definitely look into this more before the home opener on Sept. 10, which starts at about the same time the Raiders game did but is on a weekday night. Good luck with your drive.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi, Matt. Believe it or not I'm a huge V-Ice fan. I was wondering If you saw the act put on by the DB's called "Vanilla Ice & the Chocolate Chips"? If so, do you know what it was about or was it just a Ice Ice Baby parody? Thanks for your time and your awesome Niner articles, you and MM are the best! P.S. In a football related question, I heard the Niners are not interested in linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. But, does he even fit into a 3-4? I don't think he's played it. If we like him, would he replace Smith, or add depth?
Nick, Fremont

Answer: I did not have the pleasure of seeing the act, but by all accounts it was pretty good. I can only assume that ďIce, Ice, BabyĒ was the theme. As far as Trotter, Nolan said he liked him as a player. And he wouldnít say that if he thought otherwise. I believe he could fit into the 49ersí 3-4 defense as a ďTedĒ or strong-side middle linebacker. As it happens, the 49ers already have two pretty good players, Derek Smith and Brandon Moore, at the position.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt-It sounds silly, but aren't teams potentially wasting two roster spots by employing a punter, kicker, and long snapper? Are those such one-of-a-kind skills that a place kicker with a strong leg can't learn to punt or vice versa? Is long snapping so hard to do that you can't get a 3rd string LB or TE to learn to do it? The Niners are a young team with some pretty stiff competition at the back end of more than one position. I would think they could use a couple extra roster spots....
Matt, Tysonís Corner, Va.

Answer: Iíve wondered the same thing for years. The punter and kicker stand around so much in practice that it would seem that one guy would have plenty of time to learn how to do both jobs. Of course, this would all be fine and dandy until the day the guy missed a crucial extra point or shanked a punt. Then everyone would be up and arms about why the 49ers didnít have players who concentrated on one skill. As far as long-snapping, though, Iíve watched tight end Billy Bajema try his hand at it for the last few years. Some of his snaps are good, some sail over the punterís head. None, however, has the accuracy and zip of Brian Jenningsí. The guy is freakishly consistent.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt- I agree with you in that there was little push in the pass rush in the Raider game. This is a huge concern. Amongst Bill Walsh's most astute quotes was, "The key to winning in the NFL is a 4th quarter pass rush". Are there any older vets out there with some gas in their tank (Richard Dent/Charles Mann/Tim Harris etc...) that can help? The defensive backfield has improved...but they can't cover folks all day.
Chris, Elk Grove

Answer: As the brilliant Matt Maiocco (M-A-I-O-C-C-O!) reported recently, the team was interested in a few would-be free agents this spring (Justin Smith, for example) but they ended up re-signing with their own teams. Quality D-linemen are so hard to come by that teams rarely let them out of their grasp. I donít foresee any help following cut-down day, but who knows?
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, what was your favorite sitcom of all time? Did it begin with an "F"?
Peter, Los Angeles

Answer: How did you know Iím a huge fan of ďFather Knows BestĒ? The problem with television today is all the reality crapola. I donít know about you, Peter, but Iím not particularly interested in seeing a bunch of tubby people humiliated as they try to lose weight or a bunch of no-talent ďdancersĒ try to impress David Hasselhoff? When did the Hoff become an arbiter of talent? The man was upstaged by a talking car for Godís sake. Iím seriously considering reading books at night.
-- Matt Barrows

August 23, 2007
Harris, Harris in 49ers' starting lineup

The 49ers had their first post-training camp practice Thursday. They'll meet tomorrow morning before flying off to Chicago for Saturday's 5 p.m. game against the Bears. As far as playing time, cornerback Walt Harris is scheduled to play a quarter -- his first preseason action of the year -- at which point he will be replaced by Shawntae Spencer. At right tackle, Joe Staley said the plan is to rotate with Kwame Harris every two series. That is, Harris will play the 49ers' first two offensive series, Staley will play the next two, etc. Staley is no longer wearing a cast on his right hand but will have another one put on before the Chicago game to protect his ailing thumb. At running back, Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson will alternate with the first-team offense into the third quarter. After that, they will be replaced with rookies Thomas Clayton and Arkee Whitlock.

The players who will definitely not suit up are Bryant Young (back), Frank Gore (hand), Aubrayo Franklin (knee), C.J. Brewer (knee) and Dashon Goldson (elbow). Nolan said that Franklin, who suffered an MCL sprain early in training camp, is ahead of schedule but probably wouldn't play in the preseason finale in San Diego. Franklin said his plan is to resume practicing the week prior to the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against Arizona. It is unlikely that the 49ers' starting defensive line - Marques Douglas, Franklin and Young - will play together before the Cardinals game. Is Nolan concerned? "Sure, but there's nothing I can do about it," he said.

Nolan said he plans to cut 10 or 11 players following Saturday's game against the Bears. All teams must reduce their rosters to 75 players by 1 p.m. Pacific on Tuesday. They have to reduce the roster to 53 players by 1 p.m. Pacific on Sept.1.

Nolan had some very interesting things to say about Frank Gore and some of the other players on the team with dyslexia. He said the 49ers have brought in experts who have instructed the 49ers' assistant coaches in how to teach players with dyslexia. Nolan said there are several players on the team who fit that category, Gore being the most well known. "It can be overcome," said Nolan, adding that have been no issues with Gore as far as learning plays and picking up the playbook.

The 49ers won't practice again until Monday. It's a good thing. The team's grass practice fields have taken a beating over the last three and a half weeks. On Thursdays, there was a large rectangular patch of bare earth on each field. The 49ers are digging them up and laying new sod. The team therefore held practice on its artificial field.

-- Matt Barrows

August 22, 2007
Fights, fights and more fights

The 49ers were feeling feisty on Wednesday's steamy finale to training camp. The rough stuff began during a goal-line drill when linebacker Jeff Ulbrich took exception to a lowered shoulder by running back Michael Robinson. Ulbrich shoved Robinson. Robinson threw the ball at Ulbrich's midsection, and the fight was on. During the fracas, linebacker Patrick Willis made a beeline to tight end Billy Bajema, and those two also had to be separated. A few plays later, running back Thomas Clayton also tangled with linebacker Parys Haralson. And in case you're wondering, no, tight end Vernon Davis was not involved in any of the melees, although he easily could have been. Toward the end of the practice, in what was supposed to be a non-contact drill, Davis caught a short pass near the goal line, lowered his shoulder and nearly bowled over linebacker John Syptak. Syptak raised his arms as if to say, "What the heck?"
"We had two or three wrestling matches - that's what I like to call them," Mike Nolan said. "No clear winner in any of them."
With training camp at an end, players will no longer have night meetings and veterans can sleep in their own beds. Those players who do not yet have housing can remain in the team hotel.

Two years ago during training camp, Thomas Herrion impressed Nolan when he swooped in to rescue Alex Smith when Smith was struggling to belt out the University of Utah fight song. The melodious Herrion helped Smith - the two were both former Utes -- finish the song is rousing fashion.
So it was only natural that the 49ers named their annual rookie talent show in the late Herrion's honor.
Nolan said the first annual Thomas Herrion Talent Show went down to the wire with the rookie defensive backs narrowly edging out the offensive linemen. The defensive backs did an act entitled "Vanilla Ice and the Chocolate Chips" with safety Jake Patten in the lead role.
Nolan also commented on linebacker Patrick Willis, who impressed teammates with a spirited rendition of James Brown. Said Willis to Nolan after the act: "I'd rather play New England 10 times in a row than have to ever do that again."

A few weeks ago when Larry Allen was a no-show on the first day of training camp, everyone was wondering if the big guard was going to retire. Now the question is whether Allen is going to play another season, maybe more.
The difference between Allen in 2006 and Allen in 2007 is stark. He said he currently weighs about 340 pounds. No one ever found out what he weighed last year, but it sure as heck wasn't 340 pounds. Fellow guard Justin Smiley estimated it was around 370 pounds.
Allen looked anything but spry last season. He labored through drills and spent the time immediately after practice running sprints - and I use the term "sprint" quite loosely - in an effort to lose weight. These days, he is pulling and running sweeps almost as much as Smiley. He looks five years younger.
So does he think he has another season or two in him? Allen doesn't have an answer yet. Like fellow 13-year veteran Bryant young, he said he'll wait until the end of the season to see how he feels.
"Like I said, at the end of the year I'll look at it," he said. "Like I do every year."

Receiver C.J. Brewer confirmed today that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice yesterday, an injury that will put him out of action for the rest of the season. Brewer, who tore the ACL in his left knee five years ago today, said he knew the diagnosis as soon as it happened.
He had just caught a pass from Shaun Hill when he made a move to sidestep a defender.
"As soon as I made that cut, as soon as I felt that shift - I knew right away," Brewer said.
Though the young receiver had little chance of making the 53-man squad, the 49ers saw enough potential in him to keep him on the practice squad all last season. At 6-2, 210 pounds, Brewer is lithe and has nice hands, and he has made a few acrobatic catches in practice this year and last.
He will have surgery Friday at which point doctors will use a ligament from a cadaver to help repair his knee. Brewer said he was aiming to be ready for next year's OTAs. He has been placed on injured reserve.

It's a shame NFL Europa is finito. A guy like Luke Getsy really could have benefited from a year or two in the developmental league. The 49ers like the Akron quarterback because he's sharp and because he picked up the offense quickly. But he won't play Saturday against Chicago and, barring injury, it's safe to say he won't make the 53-man roster. Getsy's best hope is to play in the preseason finale in San Diego and prove to the 49ers he deserves a spot on the practice squad.

Nolan said the starters would play through the first drive of the third quarter against the Bears. The second-team unit will finish the game with a few third teamers thrown into the mix in the fourth quarter. He said Kwame Harris and Joe Staley would alternate series in the game. The situation at right guard will be like it was against the Raiders - David Baas entering for Justin Smiley for the third series.

There were several stand-out plays in Wednesday's padded practice:
-- Willis intercepted a pass from Hill that was intended for Bajema. On the next play, Hill nearly was picked off again, this time by cornerback Tarell Brown who slapped the ball to the ground. Secondary coach Johnnie Lynn's reaction: "I like the pbu but I'd love the interception." Pbu=pass broken up.
-- Brown later caught a deflected pass from Hill that was intended for receiver Dominique Zeigler. In Hill's defense, he was icing a swollen thumb on his throwing hand earlier in the day.
-- Alex Smith made a nice pass to Arnaz Battle while rolling to his right. Battle made an equally impressive catch on the sideline, keeping his toes in bounds for the reception.

-- Matt Barrows

August 21, 2007
What break? Gore catching balls in practice

Even a broken hand can't keep Frank Gore out of practice. The running back, who is an admitted practice-a-holic, went through individual drills Tuesday as he has from time to time, but also took part in some non-contact work against the defensive backs.

Lining up in the backfield, Gore attempted to catch a swing pass from Alex Smith with his left (unbroken) hand, but it fell to the ground. Later, he was able to gather in an easier five-yard dump-off from Smith. He was wearing a protective cast on his ailing right hand.

The prognosis on Gore's broken hand remains the same: He should be ready for the season opener on Sept. 10 and could even find his way into the preseason finale on Aug. 30.

In other training-camp news ...

Mike Nolan reiterated that he would play his starters for at least a half Saturday in Chicago. As far as individual playing time, he said he and his coaching staff would discuss that tonight. He did say that he thought right tackle Joe Staley could enter the game sooner than the third series, which is when he entered against the Raiders.

Nolan also said that he hoped Walt Harris (calf) and Patrick Estes (ankle) would play. Both practiced on Tuesday with Estes filling in with the first-team unit for Jonas Jennings who is resting a sore back. Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battle and Hannibal Navies (ankle) also missed practiced. Defensive end Bryant Young (back) practiced some, but Nolan said he didn't expect Young to play against the Bears.

Receiver C.J. Brewer immediately grabbed his right knee and fell to the grass after catching a pass from Shaun Hill. It seemed that the knee buckled when Brewer tried to stop. The 49ers are calling it a sprain, but they will have more information tomorrow after tests are performed. Brewer was carted off the field.

Vickiel Vaughn practiced along-side Keith Lewis at safety with the second-string defense. In fact, it was Vaughn's interception of a wobbly pass from Hill that ended the afternoon practice.

The stork sure was busy this weekend. Just as an exhausted Taylor Jacobs was arriving at Monster Park following the birth of his son, Marques Douglas was heading in the opposite direction. Douglas said he was pulling into his parking space at about 4 p.m. when he got a call from his wife - she was going into labor. Douglas put his truck in reverse and about an hour a half later witnessed the birth of his second child, a 6 lb., 7 oz. baby girl named Cadence. Douglas, of course, missed the game but was back at practice today.

Rookie Dashon Goldson said there is too much swelling in his right elbow for doctors to get an accurate read as far as how long he'll be out of action. Goldson, who was wearing an Ace bandage on the joint Tuesday, said he wanted to return for the team's preseason finale in San Diego. "I'm feeling good already," he said. "I hope I'll be back next week."

Kat Madariaga, the team's persistent publicity manager, wanted me to remind everyone that single-game tickets go on sale via Ticketmaster Saturday at 10 a.m. They start at $59 each (Um, why not $49, Kat?) and fans can get up to six tickets per game. I, of course, get in free of charge (don't hate me) but if I were a paying customer, these are the games that would most tempt me to break open my wallet:

* Sept. 10 vs. Arizona. Monday night. Bill Walsh tribute. Throwback jerseys. I have a feeling Monster Park is going to be a mad house.

* Oct. 7 vs. Baltimore. Nolan faces his old team for the first time. It's also a chance to see the old Ray Lewis and the new Ray Lewis (Patrick Willis) on the same field.

* Oct. 28 vs. New Orleans. The Saints are a Super Bowl favorite right now. Will they still be one in late October?

* Dec. 15 vs. Cincinnati. Ocho-cinco vs. Nate Clements. Need I say more?

-- Matt Barrows

August 20, 2007
No surgery for Goldson

Rookie Dashon Goldson's elbow injury was described Monday as a strain/sprain. He strained a muscle in his right arm and sprained a ligament in the elbow. He's definitely out of action for Saturday's game in Chicago and team doctors will reevaluate him next week to see if he can play in the finale in San Diego. If he had torn a ligament, he almost certainly would have been lost for the season.

Darnell Bing filled in for Goldson with the second-team defense during the morning practice because Vickiel Vaughn sat out the session with a sore knee. Both Vaughn and Bing played in the afternoon.

Other 49ers' injury news:
Frank Gore (hand) went through some individial drills, as did Bryant Young (back), Patrick Estes (ankle) and Walt Harris (calf).
Darell Jackson rested for the morning practice but was back for the afternoon session. Arnaz Battle missed both.
Tackle Jonas Jennings rested on Monday. Hannibal Navies sprained an ankle in the Raiders game and did not practice.

The 49ers had their final two-a-day practice of the summer. Training camp wraps up Wednesday and players will be allowed to go home after practice instead of going to the team hotel in Santa Clara.

Mike Nolan said the 49ers' first-string unit would play the first half -- and possibly into the third quarter -- against the Bears.

August 20, 2007
Willis now a starter

Mike Nolan announced today that rookie Patrick Willis had been elevated to the first-string defense and that his promotion would occur at the expense of last year's tackle leader, Brandon Moore.

Willis, the 11th overall pick, had been playing behind Derek Smith at the "Mike" linebacker spot. Willis will move into Smith's spot and Smith will slide over to the "Ted" linebacker spot Moore had been playing.

Moore had been conspicuous in the first two preseason games for missing tackles, but Nolan insisted the move was due more to Willis' play-making ability and potential than it was to being discontent with Moore.

"To be honest, it had a lot to do with what the rookie's capabilities are," Nolan said.

Another player affected by the change is Jeff Ulbrich, who had been playing "Ted" linebacker with the second-team defense. He will now play behind Willis at "Mike."

The "Ted" linebacker usually lines up on the tight end's side of the formation and typically is asked to take on more blockers than the "Mike" linebacker. "However, the positions are very similar and the players' roles are often reversed depending on which play is being run.

The players said they found out about the move this morning. Willis said he was notified of the switch by linebackers coach Mike Singletary.

"My goal this season was to come out here and produce and get the chance (to start)," he said. "I just didn't know how soon."

Meanwhile, Moore is dealing with a situation he has gone through several times already with the 49ers - being demoted to the second string after playing well as a starter the season prior.

Moore was plugged into the starting lineup midway through the 2006, and his insertion coincided with the 49ers' defensive resurgence. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in a win over Minnesota and he finished the season with team-high 114 tackles. It was the first time since 2001 that Smith did not finish with that honor.

Said a disappointed Moore: "I guess I didn't start the season the way I should have."

There has been no update yet on the elbow injury to rookie safety Dashon Goldson. Goldson was wearing a plastic cast over his entire right arm, prompting teammate Roderick Green to say he looked like a Transformer. A prognosis on Goldson should be available this afternoon.

-- Matt Barrows

August 19, 2007
Great D or bad O?

There's some talk in the morning papers about how much the 49ers' first-team defense improved over Monday night's we-forgot-how-to-tackle game against the Broncos. I'm not so sure.

Yes, they held the Raiders to zero points in the third quarter. But it wasn't a ferocious 49ers' defense that caused Andrew Walter to drop a snap on third down or caused a wide-open Travis Taylor to allow a perfectly thrown ball to doink off his chest. If Taylor catches that ball, it's a huge gain. There was no one near him.

The Raiders allowed 72 sacks (not a typo) last season. Neither Walter nor Daunte Culpepper - both of whom are as mobile as lawn jockeys - were sacked last night nor did they receive much pressure.

More troubling, in my opinion, is the run defense. Raiders running backs seemed to have an easy time getting around the edge of the 49ers' defense, even on plays in which they originally set out to go up the middle. In a 4-3 defense, setting the edge is the responsibility of a defensive end. Mike Nolan said last night that the outside linebackers, or even a safety, are supposed to do that in a 3-4.

On LaMont Jordan's first long outside run early in the second quarter, Tully Banta-Cain was turned in by the left tackle and shoved 10 yards down the field. To his credit, Banta-Cain came back with two solid stops on the same drive. But both he and Manny Lawson need to do a better job of holding their ground and driving the running back inside to the teeth of San Francisco defense.

Of course, there were several mitigating factors for the defense last night. They were playing without their starting defensive line, which hasn't played together since the spring. It's also preseason, a time when defenses use vanilla formations - especially pass-rush formations - so as not to tip off future opponents. And, of course, they are still learning the 3-4 defense.

Other observations ...

The most heartening sight for a 49ers fan has to be the play of Alex Smith. He looks poised, comfortable, in charge. He's been hitting an array of receivers, and once again showed nice veteran savvy on his biggest pass play of the night, the 19-yard touchdown to Delanie Walker. On the play, Smith first looked to his right toward receiver Darrell Jackson. This caused the safety to move in that direction, thereby vacating with other side of the end zone to allow an easy throw to Walker.

I have a strong feeling offensive coordinator Jim Hostler will be on the field this season. The game-day operations did not go smoothly with Hostler in the coaches' booth. Smith seemed frustrated on several plays and had to burn a timeout in the first quarter. Then the 49ers inexplicably allowed 17 seconds to tick off before calling a timeout at the end of the first half.

Ashley Lelie looked very good, and even caught a pass from Smith - something he hasn't done since the May minicamp. Asked if Lelie caught his eye, this how Nolan responded: "He sure did ... Is he the one who spiked the ball and got the penalty? He caught my eye on that one, too." Indeed, Lelie's delay-of-game penalty cost the 49ers five yards on their final drive of the first half. The offense was penalized three times for 25 yards on the drive.

Kwame Harris and Justin Smiley picked the wrong game to have off nights. Both were on the sideline during the first-team offense's third and fourth series while coaches took a look at back-ups Joe Staley and David Baas. Harris, who has trouble with speed rushers, was looking for Derrick Burgess to rush up the field on a third-down play in Raiders territory. Instead, Burgess took an inside move and crashed into Smith just as he was throwing. Smiley, meanwhile, was flagged for back-to-back holding penalties that moved the 49ers from the Oakland 18 to the 38.

The only injury was suffered by Dashon Goldson, who was nursing a sprained elbow. Goldson again looked very good, and seems to be just the type of physical safety the 49ers love. Linebacker Patrick Willis (game-high eight tackles) also looked good and I thought running back Thomas Clayton was hitting the holes harder than he did Monday against Denver.

An area that plagued the 49ers last season was third-down efficiency. They still have work to do. They were four of 10 (40 percent) on third downs.

*** Just spoke with Mike Nolan on a conference call. He said the injury to Goldson is more severe than previously thought and that the rookie safety would not play Saturday against Chicago. It seems Goldson got his arm caught between the legs of a Raiders running back while making a tackle. The ligaments in the elbow are certainly strained. What the 49ers' medical staff is waiting to see is whether they are torn, something that could cost Goldson the season.

Otherwise, Nolan said he thought nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga had the best game since Nolan became the 49ers' head coach in 2005. He also had high praise for right defensive end Ray McDonald. He said left defensive end Ronald Fields did not play as well as Sopoaga and McDonald.

Nolan also said there would be no changes to the starting lineup at wide receiver and offensive line, but that he liked how some of the backups played against the Raiders. He said Joe Staley in particular looked good and that he could enter the game sooner than the third series Saturday against Chicago or a week later against San Diego.

-- Matt Barrows

August 17, 2007
Who makes the team at LB?

Question: Hey Matt -- How many linebackers will the 49ers keep this season? Can you give us your opinion on who makes it? Thanks.
Kyle, Stockton

Answer: Well, it's only a guess at this point, but I think the 49ers will end up with eight or nine linebackers. Not only does a 3-4 defense require extra linebackers, but linebackers are very valuable on special teams, especially coverage teams. As far as who makes it - first you have the starters: Tully Banta-Cain, Manny Lawson, Derek Smith and Brandon Moore. Then you have their back-ups: Parys Haralson, Jay Moore, Patrick Willis and ... Well, here's the rub. There are three guys playing back-up on the inside: Jeff Ulbrich, Colby Bockwoldt and Hannibal Navies. I think Ulbrich makes the squad because the coaches love him and because he really has embraced his role as a leader on special teams. He's also a great guy in the locker room. If the 49ers end up with nine linebackers, that means Bockwoldt and Navies are duking it out for the final spot. Navies might have an edge because he plays both inside and outside linebacker and because he is an experienced starter. Bockwoldt, however, is excellent on special teams and is four years younger than Navies.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I've heard good things about Ray McDonald. In the Denver game- I saw him get excellent penetration a few times and his physique reminds me of another 'Niner great- Dwaine Board. It seems to me that he has that "it" coaches talk about. Am I getting ahead of myself? What have you seen/heard? I also think Delanie Walker has that "it" in that he seems to have a knack/feel for getting open.....
I appreciate your thoughts! Thanks!
Chris, Elk Grove

Answer: I can tell you that the 49ers are very high on McDonald who turned a lot of heads in spring drills and soon found himself on the second-team defensive line. He's a great pass rusher and figures to play a lot as a right defensive end on third downs. They might even move him inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. I don't want to say he's taken a step back lately, but like any rookie he's doing a lot of thinking and not as much reacting. The coaches aren't worried. Once he fully understands his assignments, they expect him to be a big contributor this season. The knee problems that caused him to fall to the third round have been a non-issue so far.

As far as Walker, his knack for getting open is due to the fact that he was a prolific receiver in college. Walker is up to 240 pounds but says he hasn't noticed any loss of speed. Once that happens, he said, he'll stop gaining weight.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: How would you grade Delanie Walker's blocking? I thought he looked ok but it was hard to tell with the very poor ESPN coverage as they had almost no replays.
Ken, Salem Ore.

Answer: "Ok" would be the best way to phrase it. After all, the guy never blocked much until he came here last season and then spent most of the year with a separated shoulder. Walker seems to have the necessary frame to be a good blocker. He just needs practice and to add more strength to his lower body.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, continuing Rod of Hayward's thought, if the 49ers had selected Hawk would they still have taken another linebacker, Willis, this year or perhaps traded back for a tight end?
Ron, Sacramento

Answer: Remember, they took Manny Lawson later in the first round last year and plugged him into the weak-side linebacker position where they would have played Hawk. So, yes, I think they would have selected Willis even if Hawk had been on the team. (they just wouldn't have drafted Lawson).
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I thought I read the 49ers were going to run more 3 and 5 step drops. Did I miss them? Against Denver, everything was a deep drop. Are they practicing shorter drops in practice, and if so, how often?
Berger, Reno

Answer: Yes, they're practicing quicker drops. Remember, it's hard to judge a team from the preseason because they are showing only a small percentage of the offense. Jim Hostler and co. have wrinkles that they've thrown into Norv Turner's offense, but they don't want to show their hand in a meaningless game in early August.
-- Matt Barrows

August 16, 2007
Staley, Baas to work with first-string offense

Mike Nolan wants to give both Joe Staley and David Baas a chance to work with the starting offensive line Saturday against the Raiders. Nolan said he wants the starting offense to get 24 snaps against the Raiders. The plan is to have Staley and Baas play the third series.

Staley, of course, was the second of two first-round draft picks this year, and has been playing behind Kwame Harris at right tackle. Baas also was a high draft pick - 33rd overall in 2005 - and is behind Justin Smiley at right guard. Both Harris and Smiley will be free agents after this season and there is a strong possibility neither will return in 2008.

Staley received high marks from the coaching staff for his Monday night performance against the Broncos and many believe it's only a matter of time before the rookie replaces the beleaguered Harris in the starting lineup. Maybe -- but the coaches also believe that Harris is having his best camp ever.

Nolan also said that starting wideouts Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle will not play the full 24 snaps with the rest of the first-team offense. He said he wants to give the other receivers - including Ashley Lelie - more work.

The starting offense played only a quarter - 13 plays -- against the Broncos. They'll play nearly twice as long against the Raiders. The 49ers second-team units will play until the end of the third quarter.

Other 49ers observations ...

Team officials are still raving about the 26-yard pass Alex Smith threw to Battle in Monday's game. The completion, of course, put the 49ers on the Denver one-yard line and set up the team's only touchdown of the afternoon. More importantly, however, was the fact that Smith released the ball before Battle made his final move. It's the type of throw that Smith hardly ever attempted in previous seasons.

An item I wasn't able to include in today's story on Lelie is this: The offenses he was part of in Denver and Atlanta were virtually identical. Therefore, there wasn't much of a transition when he was traded to the Falcons last year. The transition from Atlanta to San Francisco has been much more significant because Lelie has had to learn Norv Turner's numbers-based offense. Lelie told me he almost has the offense down pat but that he still isn't playing as fast as he can. "I think I'm almost there," he said. "... I'm just getting to the point where I can react."

When the 49ers' played the Broncos on Monday, offensive coordinator Jim Hostler was on the field while new quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti was in the booth. The two will switch for the Raiders game, but I'm expecting Hostler ultimately will call games from the field. That's what he's used to - and perhaps just as importantly - that's what Alex Smith is used to, too.

-- Matt Barrows

August 15, 2007
Gore still going for 2,000

Attention fantasy football nuts the world over: Frank Gore says that his recent hand injury in no way affects his goal of rushing for more than 2,000 yards this season.

"As long as I'm playing, that never changes," said Gore who spoke to local reporters for the first time since breaking a bone in his hand more than two weeks ago.

For the record, Gore said he broke the bone that extends down from his middle finger during a blocking drill. The finger got caught awkwardly in the opposing player's pad. In Gore's words: "A freak thing."

He said he thought he'd return to practice in a "couple of weeks" but said he didn't know whether he'd play in the preseason finale Aug. 30 against San Diego. His counterpart in that game, LaDainian Tomlinson certainly won't play that day or in any other preseason game, but Gore said that gives him little comfort.

"It's different," said Gore, who admitted that he loves to practice. "He's practicing, but he's not playing the games. It's different for me. I'm not practicing or playing."

Other training camp notes

Receiver Darrell Jackson sat out the morning practice but will be back for the afternoon session. Mike Nolan said he didn't want Jackson and fellow starting receiver Arnaz Battle missing the same practice - it throws off Alex Smith's rhythm. Battle will be out this afternoon.

Nolan said last week that cornerback Walt Harris sat out Monday's game against Denver because of "preferential treatment." It turns out that Harris has a calf bruise that is more bothersome than the team originally believed. Nolan didn't think there would be any long-term effects, but Harris missed Wednesday's practices.

Delanie Walker came out of the weight room looking just as bulky and puffed up as fellow tight end Vernon Davis. Ok, nearly as bulky. Walker said he is up to 240 pounds after arriving in Santa Clara last year as a 228-pound rookie. A lot of that new weight is in his legs so that he can better brace himself against linebackers and defensive ends.

Nolan said that Gore probably would be the team's short-yardage back this season but that he was interested to see how Michael Robinson evolves in that area.

Joe Nedney kicked half a dozen or so field goals from between 39 and 42 yards Wednesday morning. The only one that wasn't good - wide right - was from 41 yards. Battle was the holder on some of the kicks.

Smith followed up a nice performance Monday night with a good practice Wednesday. He hit Davis on a nice touchdown pass over Brandon Moore on one play. His best pass, however, was to Battle in the corner of the end zone. Battle made a finger-tip grab over rookie Tarell Brown, who had good coverage on the play.

-- Matt Barrows

August 14, 2007
Monday night revisited

Mike Nolan gave good day-after grades to several players, including Patrick Willis, whom he described as "very active." Willis started the game behind Derek Smith at middle linebacker, but entered during the first series when the Broncos were in a goal-line situation. Willis also played in the team's nickel packages.

"His athletic ability shows because he gets out of trouble sometimes that other guys don't get out of," Nolan said.

Nolan also commended Michael Robinson and Marcus Hudson for their play on special teams. After the game, he said rookie cornerback Tarell Brown and running back Maurice Hicks also did a nice job.

Overall, Nolan was not happy with the defensive performance in Monday's 17-13 loss, reiterating that the 49ers missed too many tackles. Still, he noted that there are several new starters and that effective run defenses play as one unit. In other words, he was disappointed but not entirely surprised.

Some of my observations from Monday's game ...

I thought receiver Brandon Williams looked stronger and more decisive than he did last season - both on returns and as a receiver. Williams is especially hard to cover when he lines up in the slot. I think he is all but guaranteed a spot on the team because he is the only reliable punt returner aside from Arnaz Battle, who, as a starter, probably won't be asked to do that job. If Williams continues to be an asset in the passing game, it will make the coaches' decision that much easier.

Ashley Lelie continues to work with the third-team offense alongside guys like Marcus Maxwell and rookie Jason Hill. I wonder if the coaching staff is still punishing him for missing mini camp and OTAs with a quadriceps strain. When asked if Lelie will get more work with the first- and second-string offense in coming weeks, Mike Nolan said: "Too early to tell. Stay tuned."

It was very interesting to see Delanie Walker start the game with fellow tight end Vernon Davis. Walker is an exceptional receiver and his presence gives Alex Smith four legitimate targets in the passing game - both tight ends plus Battle and Darrell Jackson. For defensive backs, it will be a case of 'pick your poison.'

I was very impressed with rookie Joe Staley, who had to match up against fleet-footed rushers (Elvis Dumervil) and well as more powerful guys (Tim Crowder). Dumervil gave Jonas Jennings and Adam Snyder fits when they had to block him.

Where was Manny Lawson going on that outside run by Mike Bell at the end of the third quarter? It looked as if Lawson thought someone else had the ball and took off downfield to catch him. In the meantime, Bell was rushing for 11 yards down the left sideline. I guess we'll have to chalk it up to players learning their assignments in a new defense.

The only significant injury was suffered by linebacker Colby Bockwoldt, who suffered a thigh contusion. Nolan said he considered Bockwoldt questionable for Saturday's game against the Raiders

Finally, Nolan began his post-game press conference Monday night by noting that former 49er Charlie Krueger was an honorary captain. Krueger was a defensive tackle in the 1960s and his No. 70 is one of 10 49ers' jerseys that have been retired. He also was the one player who really took the young Mike Nolan under his wing when Nolan's father, Dick, coached the team. Nolan said Monday that it was Krueger who helped build his love of football.

Here is an anecdote about Krueger, Nolan and his younger brother Kelly that took place in the late 1960s near the 49ers' Santa Barbara training-camp facility. It's taken from a story I wrote about Nolan in 2005.

"....Nolan grew close to the players, particularly defensive lineman Charlie Krueger, who would include Mike and Kelly in his training camp pranks - quarterback George Mira was the usual target - and after practice would pile the boys into the back of his green GMC pickup to find a good swimming hole.

During one outing, Krueger said he led the boys to a spot on the Santa Ynez River only to find it was teeming with nude sunbathers from the college.

"So I'm saying to myself, 'What's (Dick) Nolan going to think I'm doing with his kids?' " Krueger said. "He'll think I'm taking them out to ruin them. So after practice the next day, I took Nolan aside and told him what happened. And he said, 'Oh, I knew about that. That's the first thing Kelly yelled to his mother when he got home.' "

Said Ann Nolan: "When (the boys) told me what happened, I said, 'Well, once you've seen one (nude body) you've seen them all.' They said, 'No, mom, they're all different.' ""

-- Matt Barrows

August 13, 2007
Wherefore were thou, Al Davis?

Question: Hi Matt, I've been reading a lot about Bill Walsh's memorial lately. Puzzled as to why Al Davis has not been mentioned in any of what I've read. Did he attend? Maybe he's sick? If he did attend, why wasn't he asked to speak?

Paul, Manteca

Answer: Al Davis did not attend the service, although he and John Madden visited Walsh at his home shortly before he passed. No one knows why he didn't come. He certainly gets a pass at his age. But maybe he didn't care to rub shoulders with all the league officials who were on hand.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt: Would Kwame Harris project as a better guard than tackle (and as a replacement for Larry Allen)?

Cal, Sacramento.

Answer: It's an interesting thought. One of Harris' biggest shortcomings is lateral movement, which would be minimized at guard. However, he's also very tall, and guards need to play lower (with more leverage) than tackles. As far as Allen's replacement, the 49ers have Adam Snyder earmarked for that role. I don't expect Harris to be re-signed.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: I have heard members of the 49ers say Vernon Davis is an energetic, excitable guy (it was noticeable during his NFLN interview). In reading what happened between he and Moore, it seems like aside from pushing each other physically, they're trying to push each other mentally; in this case Moore helping VD to learn to keep his composure and not cost the team when the blood's pumping. Would you agree, and would you say Vernon is receptive to these little "lessons"?

Joel, St. Louis, Mo.

Answer: Yes - I'd say that most of the back-and-forth between Vernon Davis and the defense is psychological in nature. And yes, I thought that's what Moore was getting at when he said "Don't spike it" - that spiking the ball would incur a penalty in a real game.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, Here's a question. What's wrong with the following sentence from your recent blog, "Now I understand why it's so important for players to way themselves every day."? Other than the above, you're doing a fine job.

Mark, Dallas

Answer: No weigh! How could I be so stoopid? That shows you the difference between what appears on a blog and what appears in the paper. The newspaper stories are read and re-read by many sets of eyes. They undoubtedly would have caught the "weigh/way" error. The blogs do not receive the same attention to detail. I read over them a few times before posting, but as you can plainly see, don't catch every mistake. Mea culpa.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: With Willis looking so good already in camp, I just think back to last year's draft and the Niners liked A J Hawk. If both players were in the same draft together, who do you think the team would choose and why?

Rod, Hayward

Answer: Wow - that's a tough question. Remember that the 49ers were prepared to take Hawk with the No. 6 pick in 2006 if the Packers had taken Vernon Davis at No. 5. Is Hawk five selections better than Willis, who was taken with pick No. 11?. Probably not. But you also have to consider that the 49ers would have made Hawk a weakside linebacker whereas Willis is a middle linebacker. It seems that outside linebackers are a bit more valuable than inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: As a long time 'Niner fan, one of my all time favorites was Dave "The Intimidator" Wilcox, No. 64. While I don't necessarily have an issue with Dwight Clark's No. 87 being retired (or even Charlie Krueger's No. 70), I simply do not understand why Wilcox's No. 64 is not. He's in the Hall of Fame, played his entire career as a 'Niner, was a Pro Bowl performer something like 8 times. Additionally, he's considered one of the best strong side LB's to ever play- something you can't say about Clark or Krueger at their spots... What gives???

Chris, Elk Grove

A: It's a great point and unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you. You could make the same argument about a number of players. Y.A. Tittle was a two-time MVP and yet Jim Druckenmiller and Vinnie Sutherland are among the many to have worn his No. 14.

-- Matt Barrows

August 12, 2007
Five 49ers to sit out Broncos game

Mike Nolan said today that Bryant Young (back), Aubrayo Franklin (knee), Frank Gore (hand), Patrick Estes (ankle) and Walt Harris wouldn't play in the team's preseason opener tomorrow evening against Denver.

Asked about Harris, Nolan said it was "preferential treatment." Harris turned 33 years old on Friday and his veteran status - as well as his outstanding play last season - merit a little time off here and there. The same might be said of Young, who has rarely practiced this summer while he works through a back injury. The 49ers don't believe the situation is serious and they are being extra careful with Young to make sure it doesn't become serious.

With Harris and Young out, it means that only six of the defensive players who started the team's rousing Dec. 31 win over Denver will play in tomorrow's game. Shawntae Spencer will start in place of Harris.

Receiver Marcus Maxwell (hamstring) practiced Sunday and will play. Maxwell has been a bit of a forgotten man in training camp and needs to play well this preseason in order to secure one of the five or six spots on the 53-man roster.

In other training camp news ...

Nolan has two new coordinators who will be calling plays for the first time. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will be in the booth tomorrow while offensive coordinator Jim Hostler will be on the field. New quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti will be in the booth along with tight ends coach Pete Hoener. Next week against the Raiders, Cignetti will be on the field while Hostler is in the booth.

Nolan said the 49ers considered drafting Jarvis Moss, the Broncos' first-round draft choice out of Florida. Denver has Moss playing right defensive end. The 49ers, however, likely would have switched him to weak-side linebacker, an area that became less of a need when the team signed free agent Tully Banta-Cain.

Larry Allen has more basketball jerseys than Imelda Marcos has shoes. But he must have dug deep, deep into the closet for Sunday's attire - a Fennis Dembo jersey from Dembo's days at Wyoming. Who is Dembo, you ask? He is to basketball what Joe Dudek was to football. Obscure.

-- Matt Barrows

August 11, 2007
Starters to play a quarter Monday

Mike Nolan said Saturday he wanted his starters - both offensive and defensive - to play the first quarter during the team's preseason opener Monday. The second-team units will play the second quarter and some of them will begin the second half. The third-team guys will finish out the game in the third and fourth quarters.

At running back, he said Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson would alternate in the first quarter but that Robinson would continue to play in the second. It's not that Hicks is ahead of Robinson on the depth chart, Nolan said. It's just that Hicks is a veteran while Robinson is still learning the position.

At quarterback, it will be Alex Smith in the first quarter and Trent Dilfer in the second. Dilfer also could start the third quarter. Nolan said that Shaun Hill probably would play the rest of the second half but that there was a possibility Luke Getsy could see some action at the end.

At left tackle, Jonas Jennings and Adam Snyder will play the first half while Damane Duckett will play the second. At right tackle, Kwame Harris will start the game with first-round draft pick Joe Staley entering in the second quarter. Staley also could start the third quarter with Harvey Dahl taking over shortly thereafter.

The 49ers had just one practice session Saturday. On the field, tight end Zach Hilton stood out on two straight plays. On the first, he grabbed a deep pass along the sideline from safety Mark Roman on a pass from Hill. On the next one, he reached up to snag a Getsy pass over the team's other starting safety, Michael Lewis. Of course, it's hard to overthrow Hilton, who at 6-8 is the tallest guy on the team. I don't know how many tight ends the 49ers will keep this season, but if it's four (the same as last season) Hilton has a very good chance of making the squad.

Aubrayo Franklin was walking around the locker room without a limp Saturday. Franklin sprained his medial collateral ligament in his left knee earlier in the week and said he was on track to return to action for the team's regular season opener. For the record, he also gave the proper pronunciation of his first name. It's ah-BRY-uh

Tarell Brown came out of practice earlier and had a bag of ice wrapped around his left knee. The rookie cornerback is sore but plans to play in Monday's game. Receiver Marcus Maxwell (hamstring) missed a third practice but said he expects to play.

There will be a moment of silence at Monday's game in honor of the late Bill Walsh.

-- Matt Barrows

August 10, 2007
Norv not interested in 49ers receivers

Some of you have asked about an intriguing trade possibility. It seems that down in San Diego, starting receiver Eric Parker will miss a sizeable chunk of the season after having surgery on his right big toe. The Chargers need another receiver. The 49ers have an abundance of receivers. The Chargers head coach is Norv Turner. Turner is quite familiar with the 49ers' wideouts, having run the San Francisco offense last season. It seems to make sense, so let's make a deal, right?

Wrong. I asked Mike Nolan about that possibility today and he said no one from San Diego has called nor does he expect them to. The 49ers might have a lot of receivers on the roster, he said, but they don't have many "top dogs" as he phrased it. Most of their wideouts are in the same boat. Taylor Jacobs, Brandon Williams, Bryan Gilmore and Marcus Maxwell have flashed potential here and there, but they have never done so consistently. You could even throw Ashley Lelie into that mix. And because of that, there's no way the 49ers would consider trading Arnaz Battle or Darrell Jackson.

And besides, Nolan said the team probably would keep only five receivers on the roster. That is, they'll end up cutting some of their receivers anyway, giving the Chargers to pick them up at no cost.

Other observations from Friday, Aug. 10 ...

Cornerback Nate Clements dominated a red-zone situation in 11-on-11 drills today. The 49ers ran three straight 3rd-and-five situations from the 19-yard line. Clements broke up an Alex Smith-to-Bryan Gilmore pass on the first play and a Smith-to-Taylor Jacobs pass on the third.

Delanie Walker showed his trademark hands when he made a great catch in traffic on the goal line. With cornerback Donald Strickland draped all over his back, Walker snagged the pass from Trent Dilfer.

By contrast, Vernon Davis dropped a pass in the same part of the field, drawing a patronizing (and comical) "Awwwwww! Awwwww!" from Clements. Davis later made amends on a similar route, which ended with him in the end zone. There was no chatter after the play. Is the guy going mellow on us?

Nolan said he and his coaches would have a lengthy discussion tonight about how much his starters will play against the Broncos on Monday night. With Frank Gore (hand) out of action, Nolan speculated that the 49ers may take a running back-by-committee approach in the game.

Why does a guy who has virtually no chance of making the team put himself through the rigors of two-a-days in the August heat? The answer was on the sideline Friday. Two scouts from the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, one from the Toronto Argonauts and one from the AFL's San Jose Sabercats were on hand to watch practice. A scout from the Edmonton Eskimos was in town last week.

-- Matt Barrows

August 9, 2007
Aug. 9 observations

Sorry, no observations today because I wasn't at training camp. Instead, I attended the memorial for Bill Walsh, which, I can report was an amazing event. And why not? Walsh planned it himself. I'll be writing about the greatest coach in NFL history -- yeah, I said it -- in tomorrow's paper. Until then, here are few of your questions and a few of my answers:

Question: Hello, Matt. I really wish the media would stop their endless hunt for the next T.O. Miacco yesterday, and you today chose it to be the title of today's blog. The reasons that T.O. became public enemy No. 1 are very different from what Davis is doing. Was Antonio Bryant not enough to feed the media's thirst? Do you not agree that with the media trying to put this very negative, and so far unfounded label on Davis you put yourselves in a adversarial role? I just don't want the media to try selling at a 49ers players expense...RIDICULOUS !!!
Nevek, Fairfield.

Answer: Well, Nevek, maybe you should read more than titles, which in the newspaper industry are known as headlines. In the blog to which you are referring, I responded to a reader by saying I didn't think Vernon Davis was going to be the next T.O. Also, it's Maiocco. M-A-I-O-C-C-O. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat). And as far as addressing the issue - is VD the next T.O.? - it's an absolutely fair question and one that has been asked by many, many readers.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Didn't Bill Walsh use a 3-4 defense, with a shotputter nose tackle (and Big-Hands Johnson for the Superbowl); plus, an 'Elephant' LB/speed-rushing end like Fred Dean?
Johnny, Bellingham, Wa.

Answer: The answer is, yes, the 49ers definitely had a 3-4 during parts of the Walsh regime. Charles Haley also played 'elephant' when he was with the team.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: How would you rate/grade each position in regards to quality starters to key backs ups? Who is a key player that, if injured, would ruin the season?
Scott, Elk Grove

Answer: From best depth to worst depth, I think it would go: OL, S, QB, WR, LB, DL, CB, RB, TE, P, K. One guy 49ers fans do not want to see injured in the regular season is Frank Gore.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt - One of the pieces I read this morning about Sopoaga hinted that Nolan will have Sop on a shorter leash because he was drafted in the Donahue era. It doesn't seem Sop's contract will be extended after this season. If that's the case, there will be only three Donahue-drafted Niners under contract going into '08 (Battle, Spencer and Andy Lee). In your opinion, does Nolan give those players who were here when he arrived their due respect? Or were they just that bad?
Kev, San Francisco

Answer: Good question, Kev. I think it's too early to say that Sopoaga won't be back next season. If he plays well in Franklin's absence and continues to be a reliable back-up at nose tackle, I think it's reasonable that the 49ers will want him back. Sopoaga also might want to stay on the West Coast because of his Pacific roots. I think the fact that he is still here - whereas most Donahue-drafted guys have long been jettisoned - is a testament to how valuable he is to the team. Also, there are a few other Donahue guys, such as Eric Heitmann,, who will still be on the team.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, are swarms of fans still planning on sporting suits to the Monday Night opener? Combined with the throwback jerseys and the ode to Bill Walsh, won't that make Niner fans look like the class act of the league?
Jeremiah, El Dorado Hills

Answer: I hope so. It's one of the most original ideas I've heard of in years. The question is, if the fans do show up in suits, will ESPN show it? ESPN is buddy-buddy with the NFL, which does big business with Reebok, etc. etc.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Last season Manny Lawson was brought in to be the team's' pass rushing OLB. Now it seems like the staff has changed their strategy with him more of a coverage LB while Banta-Cain plays the rushing LB. Would you say that this is due to Manny not living up to pre-draft expectations?
Robert, Irvine

Answer: Lawson is still going to have lots of opportunities to rush the passer this year. But the primary pass rusher is going to be Banta-Cain. I know this will sound like a weak compliment - sort of like when you're describing a homely looking person and you say he/she has a great personality. But Lawson does a lot of things really well - he covers a lot of ground, chases down plays on the other side of the field, is great in pass coverage. Rushing the passer, however, is not what he does best at this point in his career.
-- Matt Barrows

August 8, 2007
Nolan wanted more of the Broncos

The 49ers will play the Broncos in their preseason openers Monday night. It turns out, however, that Mike Nolan and Mike Shanahan wanted to do more than play one preseason game. When the schedules came out earlier this year, the two Mikes tossed around the idea of the Broncos flying out to California early and having the two teams scrimmage a couple of times before the game.

The logistics didn't work out. While the Broncos could have stayed in one of the Santa Clara hotels nearby, there was no place to serve as a Broncos home base while they were here. Nolan, if you'll remember, had similar discussions with Art Shell last year about scrimmaging with the Raiders. Shell was receptive to the idea, but someone above him was not. I wonder who?

Neither Nolan nor Shanahan were all that keen about being the last two teams to play a preseason game this summer. That first game determines when a team can report to training camp, and both coaches see their late start as somewhat of a disadvantage. Nolan said he and Shanahan are hoping to pass a rule change whereby every team begins training camp at the same time.

On the practice field this morning ... Left tackle Jonas Jennings was taken off the field because he was slightly dehydrated. That brought up a discussion of running back Michael Robinson and his bout with dehydration last week that, as it turns out, was far more serious than needing a couple of cups of water.

Robinson's condition grew so bad, in fact, that some of his internal organs were starting to be affected.

"I was so dehydrated that blood wasn't getting to my kidneys," he said.

Robinson received six bags of IV fluid at a Stanford hospital immediately after the episode and another two bags at the team headquarters the next day. Despite all that fluid, he didn't go to the bathroom until midday of the second day of the ordeal.

Robinson said he had incrementally been losing water since the first day of training camp and hadn't been replacing it. He began training camp weighing 227 pounds and had dropped to 214 on the day he fell ill in practice. Now I understand why it's so important for players to way themselves every day. It's not a vanity issue - it's a health issue.

Also on the practice field, Vernon Davis got into another chest-thumping standoff, this time with linebacker Brandon Moore. After Davis made a short reception near the goal-line, Moore tried to knock the ball out of the tight end's hand, which, of course, Davis took exception with. Moore got a dig in by yelling, "Don't spike it! Don't spike it!" Spiking the ball in the field of play, of course, will result in a delay-of-game penalty.

Safety Dashon Goldson delivered the biggest hit of training camp when he smashed into fellow rookie Jason Hill on a play that resulted in an incomplete pass. Hill not only got up immediately but turned around and caught a 35-yard pass from Trent Dilfer on the following play. Hits like that are discouraged in practice and Goldson later said he was going for the ball.

With Jennings out and Patrick Estes dealing with a high-ankle sprain, Adam Snyder had to fill in at left tackle with the first-team unit. Snyder had been playing behind Larry Allen at left guard, which is where Nolan said he wants Snyder to remain. Damane Duckett and Harvey Dahl also have been playing left tackle.

Quarterback Alex Smith may be the face of 49ers, but that didn't stop him from receiving a face full of shaving cream in the locker room that came courtesy of back-up quarterback Shaun Hill. Word has it that Alex started it with a practical joke last night and that the battle promises to escalate.

When Tully Banta-Cain complained to me yesterday about the term 'roly poly,' which I used in a story about him earlier this week, I couldn't tell if he was genuinely upset or just playing with me. It turns out it's the former. The guy is not happy. So for the record, I sincerely apologize. In my own defense, I've written dozens of items this spring and summer in training camp about how good Banta-Cain has looked in practice.

-- Matt Barrows

August 7, 2007
T.O. part deux?

Question: Dear Matt, I hope you will take the time to answer this question as you have ignored my last three. I am concerned about the chemistry of the team. I fear that Davis may be T.O reincarnated and now I have read that Darrell Jackson has lazy practice habits and there has been friction between he and the coaching staff. Is there a chemistry problem on this team? Is Jackson as lazy as many say he is? Is the reason you don't answer my questions because the Niners have you on the payroll (kidding)?
Rick, Redding.

Answer: Rick, the last letter I received that started that way was from my ex girlfriend. Do I have to put a restraining order on you, too? (Kidding) ... I don't think team chemistry will be an issue. Overall, the 49ers have an excellent lockerroom (a reporter's dream) that won't allow problems to fester. Vernon Davis certainly has shown some T.O. tendencies early on, but I was impressed by what he said about his success depending on the other 10 guys on offense. That's something that never registered with Owens. As for Jackson, I would not say he's lazy. He's fighting through a turf toe injury, which sounds like a wimpy ailment, but by all accounts hurts like the dickens. Nolan wants him to run his routes the "49ers way," which is to continue 30 yards downfield after a catch. Jackson didn't do that in Seattle but appears to be changing his habits.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, you have recently stated that Sopoaga will be with the first-team defense at nose while Franklin is out. Who do you believe the starting ends are at this point? Douglas and Young? Fields and Young? Also, which sides will the ends play at primarily so I can tell who will be backing up who?
Jeff, Fletcher, N.C.

Answer: The starting ends are Bryant Young on the left side and Marques Douglas on the right. Rookie Ray McDonald - who is getting rave reviews, by the way - is behind Douglas while Fields is behind Young. Sam Rayburn also is seeing work of the left side.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Why did Tully's mom get mad at you for the roly poly reference? Rumor has it, Banta-Cain showed up at about 285 lbs. You can't help it if Banta-Cain is 'roly poly'. Serves him right for not staying away from In N' Out.
Justin, Palo Alto

Answer: That was sort of my point, but you don't argue (at least I don't argue) with an NFL linebacker. For the record, Banta-Cain showed up at 280 pounds but is now down to a much slimmer 265 pounds. Also for the record, he has been one of the most active and impressive guys in camp.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I just started reading your blog... it is very interesting and keep up the good work. Just one question.... With Banta-Cain, Moore, and Haralson fighting for that OLB/PR (Pass Rusher) position, who do you see as the starter?
-- Neville, Compton

Answer: Definitely Banta-Cain. Mike Singletary wants his players to go all out every play, which means Banta-Cain's back-up, Parys Haralson, should see a lot of action this season, too. Haralson also has been impressive. He's a well-built guy who's been showing a lot of intensity in practice. Banta-Cain, however, is the best pass rusher on the team by a healthy margin.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Do you see offensive sets that use Alex Smith in the shotgun? It would seem to be a good use of his skill set as the offensive continues to add situations to give opposing defenses something to think about.
-- Chris, San Jose

Answer: More shotgun work might come down the road, but right now the 49ers are mostly trying to wean Smith from his shotgun days at Utah.
-- Matt Barrows

August 7, 2007
Training camp observations, Aug. 7.

When the 49ers drafted defensive lineman Joe Cohen in the fourth round this past April, a lot of people thought it was the death knell for Isaac Sopoaga. After all, the coaches wanted Cohen to play the same position as Sopoaga, who, while far from being a failure, had not lived up to his potential as a dominating interior lineman.

After a week of practice, however, I can report that the competition between the two isn't even close. Sopoaga is far, far, ahead of the rookie at this point. On one play during 11-on-11 drills Tuesday, center Eric Heitmann not only pushed Cohen out of the hole but put him flat on his back. Later in the practice, back-up lineman Sean Estrada had his way with Cohen on two straight plays.

Sopoaga, meanwhile, is having a very good camp and will be the 49ers' first-team nose tackle while Aubrayo Franklin recovers from a knee injury over the next month. I'm writing a story about Sopoaga that will run in tomorrow's Bee.

In other training-camp news, Mike Nolan talked more about the situation at receiver, where 10 guys are competing to make the team. Nolan on Tuesday said "four, five or six" receivers would make the 53-man roster. The two who appear to be duking it out for the final spot are Taylor Jacobs and Brandon Williams. Nolan feels Williams is the more trustworthy punt-return man but that Jacobs shows more burst on returns. The coach also feels that Jacobs is the more established receiver but that Williams is making great strides in that area. In other words, Nolan is being quite cryptic about who is leading the race.

Tully Banta-Cain got on me today about describing him in Monday's story as roly poly. Apparently, his mom saw the story and didn't like the adjective one bit. I tried to explain to Banta-Cain that a roly poly was one of the toughest, most fearsome creatures in the insect kingdom, but he wasn't buying it. So here's my correction: Tully Banta-Cain is an Adonis who should have been cast as one of the Spartans in "300" and who would put Vernon Davis to shame in an ab competition. We cool now?

Nolan not only will attend Bill Walsh's private memorial on Thursday, the former 49ers coach had asked that the current 49ers coach say a few words.

By the way, Nolan's insistence on wearing a suit this season earned him a little national publicity. According to the team's spokesman, Nolan is No. 11 on Esquire's list of best dressed men.

I'm not a big ESPN guy. But I couldn't help chatting it up with reporter Colleen Dominguez during the morning practice today. (Can you blame me?). Which explains why I don't have a lot of training-camp observations today. (Can you blame me?).

-- Matt Barrows.

August 6, 2007
Update on Franklin

It turns out that Aubrayo Franklin's knee injury is a sprained medial collateral ligament, which could keep him out of each of the 49ers' four preseason games. Coach Mike Nolan, however, said that at this point the team expects Franklin, the 49ers' starting nose tackle, to be ready for the season opener on Sept. 10. Franklin, of course, played in Nolan's system while he was with the Baltimore Ravens and doesn't need the preseason to learn the position.

"There is the chemistry of playing together," Nolan said of the downside of losing Franklin for perhaps a month. "... And that's typically what the preseason is good for."

Speaking of the Sept. 10 game, team owner John York said today that the team would wear its throwback jerseys that game as part of a tribute to Bill Walsh, who passed away last week. The team had previously been granted permission to wear the throwbacks on two occassions, but the Sept. 10 game was not orginally one of them. York said the team also was working with the league and ESPN on a tribute that will be aired on television.

A lot of readers have been asking whether the team will memorialize Walsh in some fashion when they build a new stadium, which as of now is still in the planning stages.

"All of those things are being considered," York said. "There's a lot of great tradition and history here and a lot of that started with Bill Walsh."

York said opportunities to commemorate Walsh "will present themselves" but added that it is too early to make any decisions on whether those will involve the new stadium.

Nolan, meanwhile, said he would attend the private ceremony for Walsh that will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday. While he is away, Mike Singletary will run practice - his first official head coaching gig.

-- Matt Barrows

August 6, 2007
Franklin injures knee in practice

Some injury news from 49ers training camp this morning. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, one of the team's key acquisitions this offseason, went down with a knee in jury and was carted off the field. The injury occurred on a fake handoff during which the offensive line goes one way and quarterback Alex Smith breaks it back the other.

"It's like the whole line collapsed and he got caught under the pile," fellow defensive lineman Ronnie Fields said.

The official word is that Franklin has a sprained knee. However, teams typically downplay injuries early on. Last week, for example, the official word was that Frank Gore had gotten "nicked" in practice. In fact, he had broken his hand.

If Franklin is out for an extended time, Isaac Sopoaga will take over at nose tackle in the team's 3-4 defense with Fields and rookie Joe Cohen rotating as the back-ups. Cohen has looked so-so so far in camp, but Mike Nolan said he is beginning to see improvement in the rookie. There has been no indication that the 49ers would return to a 4-3 without Franklin.

In other news, Vernon Davis said that he has made nice with guard Larry Allen and that their scuffle on Saturday is now a distant memory. He also had a very interesting response when asked whether he would take a comparison to former 49er Terrell Owens as a compliment.

"No. No. As far as the ability to play the game - that would be a compliment, but other than that ... personality, and things off the field, things like that, I would say, no, I'm not like that."

"I'm going to do my thing, show off when I catch the ball and things like that," he said. "But when it comes down to team, I need these guys. I need these guys the most. That's how I'm getting open and running my routes - because I've got guys like Bryan Gilmore and Ashley Lelie beside me running their routes and doing their jobs."

Suffice to say, Davis' words drew a collective sigh of relief from 49ers headquarters.

-- Matt Barrows

August 5, 2007
You have questions, Matt has answers

Question: Matt, your training camp reports are top notch. I can't get this kind of coverage anywhere else. I had one question though. You mention in almost every blog that Vernon Davis gets into shouting matches with players. Is his attitude more of a motivated confidence or just cockiness? What does the team think of this? Do they like his lively antics or is he just a TO in training? Please let me know because I really like him as a player.

Corey, El Dorado Hills

Answer: Well, at least one player - Larry Allen - doesn't care for Davis' lively antics. However, I asked half dozen players on the defense last week what they thought of all his jawing, and to a man they said it merely made practices more competitive, more interesting. There doesn't seem to be any animosity toward Davis in the locker room, but I have to believe that his dust-up with Allen didn't win him any friends. Allen is a very quiet guy who never says more than three or four words at a time. But the players love and respect him. That he took Davis to task should be a signal to Davis that he needs to tone it down a bit. You asked if Davis is a TO in training. They both are very impressed with themselves and they both have no peer on the practice field. One difference, however, is that no one ever stood up to Owens, put him in his place. Maybe Allen did Davis a favor during Saturday's scrimmage.

--Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, you rock. I just discovered your blog and will now read it religiously. This is the best coverage anywhere on the web. I should have known, I lived SAC during the 80's and 90's and the Bee always had excellent Niners coverage. I'm really stoked, been a fan since 1970, and this year I have season tickets for the first time. I'm worried Gore could be vulnerable to injury or "camp bruises" he'd already have been over once coming back. What do you think?

Russell, San Diego

Answer: I have those fears, too. I've always said the 49ers should freeze Bryant Young in carbonite a la Han Solo in "Empire Strikes Back" and then thaw him out a week before the season opener. You always hear that football is a rough and violent game, but you really can't appreciate it until you see a gaggle of huge, fast men coming at you on the sideline. (Which is almost a daily occurrence for me). As for Gore, maybe you can look at his recent hand injury as a blessing in disguise. The 49ers weren't going to run him hard in the preseason anyway. Now he is assured to be fresh on Sept. 10.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, I didn't do a good job of asking my question a day or two ago. When I suggested naming the field "Bill Walsh Field", I actually meant the field in the stadium. The stadium can still have a corporate name. Do you feel that is a possibility? Maybe you can mention it to the Yorks when you see them?

Berger, Reno

Answer: Ah, that might be a good compromise. I'll bounce it off Jed York the next time I see him.

--Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, I was wondering how Marcus Maxwell looks now that he's playing against NFL DB's and not "Europa" DB's? Is the fact that I'm reading more about Jacobs, Hill and Gilmore making plays a telltale sign?

Steve, Sacramento

Answer: That fact that you're hearing about Jacobs and Gilmore is a function of them getting a lot of reps with the first-team offense. Maxwell has been going against the twos and threes (mostly the threes). It's not that he's doing poorly. It's that he's still stuck at the bottom of the depth chart. Maybe the 49ers' coaches weren't as impressed with Maxwell's Europa numbers as the rest of us were.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt, thanks for covering the 49ers training camp so thoroughly! I'm really intrigued by the Thomas Clayton vs. Michael Robinson battle of the backups. The key with Clayton seems to be whether he's coachable with all his raw talent. Does he seem to be improving and carrying a good attitude with him as camp progresses? If you had to guess now, who would you pick as Gore's primary backup, or do you think Nolan will bring in another guy as a serious contender for the position?

Elie, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Answer: Hi, Elie - how can you be a 49ers fan and live in Pittsburgh? Do you have to hide in the basement on Sundays? As far as Clayton, he definitely has been the whipping boy early in camp. Part of that is because of his position on the team - late-round draft pick who, as a back-up rb, must shoulder a lot of the practice load. Part of it has to do with his reputation. Coaches are well aware that he had a rather high opinion of himself in college and they might be testing him to see how he reacts to adversity. They yell at him all the time and don't seem to scold defenders when they knock him to the grass. I can report, however, that Clayton has reacted to this in a very mature way. He simply gets up and finishes his run - no complaining. He also is hitting the hole harder than he did earlier in the week. As for Gore's primary backup, my guess is that it will be Michael Robinson.

--Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, Why didn't the 49ers make a bigger deal about the signing of their first round draft choice Pat Willis? I saw the announcement on ESPN but very little in the Bee or the Bay Area papers? Also, I thought the Len Eshmont Award went to the most inspirational and courageous player each year? This award has been very traditional with the NINERS AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER. I believe BY has been awarded this honor 4 or 5 time by his teammates in recent years.

Ron, Lincoln

Answer: Well, Willis was signed close to midnight the night before the first training-camp practice. That was too late for the paper. We did have a story on-line, however. As for the Len Eshmont award, I believe you're asking because I wrote about the Matt Hazeltine award last week. They are both given for "inspiration and courage" but the Hazeltine award is given to a defensive player. You're right in that the Eshmont Award is considered the 49ers' most prestigious award. Bryant Young has won it seven times.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: How is Darnell Bing looking in training camp? Any word yet? I watched him since high school and hopefully he'll get a shot to prove his skills as a safety.

Greg, Long Beach

Answer: Mmmm, he hasn't gotten a lot of playing time and is working with the third-team unit alongside Vickiel Vaughn, a seventh-round pick in 2006. With Mark Roman, Keith Lewis, Michael Lewis and Dashon Goldson ahead of him on the depth chart, I'd have to consider Bing a very long shot to make the team.

--Matt Barrows

Question: Matt - it appears the Niners have a chance to make a good trade with their buddy Norv down in San Diego. With Eric Parker being sidelined for half the year, it seems a team like the Chargers, who are Super Bowl caliber, would want to get another quality WR in camp. We have a good surplus (and Norv is familiar with them all) of WR's who know his offense - Gilmore, Williams, Maxwell, Jacobs. It seems we could get a 5th or 6th round. pick, or a player, for someone we will cut before the season anyway, right?

Lebowski, L.A.

Answer: Wow - you and I are on the same wavelength, Lebowski. I was having similar thoughts the other day, especially after Mike Nolan said he thought the team would keep just five receivers. The 49ers, however, want to make sure they don't trade one of their top five. I think they'll want to evaluate a little longer - maybe through at least one preseason game - before making a trade.

--Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, who's the frontrunner for kick returner and punt returner right now? And I know Lelie is fast. You think he'll mix it up?

Kameron, Roseville

Answer: This is going to sound boring, but Brandon Williams at punt returner and Mo Hicks at kick returner. That is, the same as last year. Taylor Jacobs also is getting a look at punt returner, but it's hard to believe Nolan will award such a difficult job to someone who's never done it in the NFL before. I don't remember Lelie returning any kickoffs - Williams has been doing a little - but it's not out of the question.

-- Matt Barrows

August 5, 2007
Banta-Cain, Keasey look impressive

Deep thoughts from Saturday's scrimmage

The Vernon Davis vs. Larry Allen rumble (The Fracas at Practice?) stole the thunder from Saturday's scrimmage, and I realize I wrote virtually nothing about what happened on the field. But I took copious notes, and here are some of my observations:

While Davis was pumping up the crowd on offense, his counterpart on the defense was linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who will be the primary pass rusher this season. Coach Mike Singletary talked up Banta-Cain in the morning, saying there was no reason why he couldn't be one of the elite pass rushers in the league. Banta-Cain did not disappoint in the scrimmage, "sacking" the quarterback (it was a no-tackling scrimmage) several times and flushing him out on others. Of course, you also have to consider the caliber of competition. With Jonas Jennings sitting out the session, Patrick Estes worked with the first-team offense while Damane Duckett, a converted defensive tackle, lined up at left tackle with the twos. The quarterback also was Trent Dilfer, who was never very nimble and is even less so at age 35.

Alex Smith looks sharp on short passes and crossing patterns. He's been working very hard on developing a quicker release and it showed in the practice. At one point, Mike Nolan had the first-team offense run three straight plays from the 19-yard line. Smith hit Bryan Gilmore and Davis for touchdowns on his first two throws. His third seemed to go through the arms of Arnaz Battle, who may have been screened by safety Dashon Goldson. The point is that all three throws were darts that were right on the money. Smith's deep balls, however, leave a little to be desired.

Speaking of deep throws ... Cornerback Nate Clements intercepted a deep pass from Dilfer that was intended for Ashley Lelie. Clements has an interesting body type for a cornerback. He's not wiry and wasp-waisted like a lot of guys at the position. He's a solid guy with a thick torso and thick arms. And yet he shows ballet-dancer like agility on deep throws - positioning himself better than the receiver and timing his leap perfectly. It was the second day in a row he has made a nice pick on a deep pass.

I watched nose tackle Joe Cohen a lot, mainly because I don't know a thing about him. Cohen, a fourth-round pick, is trying to wrest the back-up nose tackle job from Isaac Sopoaga. Cohen played with the third-team defense on Saturday, which went against the third-team offense. That meant he was going against guys like Nick Steitz - hardly a household name. Cohen was in on a lot of plays, but was not exactly an immoveable object. It will be interesting to watch him in preseason games.

Fullback Zak Keasey has no wiggle, but he hits the hole like a sledgehammer. Just ask cornerback Donald Strickland, who landed flat on his back after Keasey plowed into him. If you're looking for a dark horse to make the team, Keasey could be the man. He played very well at the end of preseason games last year, and if he has a repeat performance this preseason - who knows?

I like John Syptak, the linebacker from NFL Europe. The guy doesn't have a lot of athleticism but he never gives up on a play. He is the quintessential blue-collar player. Syptak was in on a lot of plays while working with the third-team defense. Given the team's depth at linebacker, a spot on the roster is very, very hard to imagine. But he seems like just the kind of guy you want on the practice squad.

--Matt Barrows

August 4, 2007
Training camp observations, Aug. 4

There was plenty of hitting at today's 49ers' scrimmage. Just one tiny problem: Some of the biggest blows occurred on the sideline. What began as a routine training-camp scrimmage grew more than a bit spicy when offensive teammates Vernon Davis and Larry Allen got into a fracas and had to be separated.

Very separated. A contingent of players, coaches and staff had to break the two apart and then moved Davis about 50 yards away onto an adjacent practice field. Despite the fact that Allen is one of the most powerful men ever to play in the NFL, Davis tried to get after him even after it had been broken up.

Bryant Young, Brian Jennings and Jonas Jennings helped separate Davis from the 49ers sideline where Allen remained. The team chaplain, Rev. Earl Smith, was one of those who helped try to calm Davis down.

Players and coaches downplayed the incident following the scrimmage. Said Young: "It was nothing - just part of the game. It's not a big deal. I've gotten into a couple over the years."

Indeed, Young got into a training-camp scuffle with offensive lineman Davis Baas two summers ago. But has he ever seen a fight between players on the same unit?

"That happens," he said. "You just have to make sure you're on the same page."

No one is quite sure how the melee began. A few plays earlier, Davis caught a 15-yard pass from Alex Smith. When he was ruled down, he raised his arms up and basked in the applause from the crowd. But the offensive drive against the second-team defense ended when a Smith pass to Maurice Hicks fell incomplete. As the offense was walking off the field, one of the combatants said something the other obviously didn't like.

Afterward coach Mike Nolan was asked if it was a concern that he had two offensive starters fighting each other.

"Yes and no," he said after pausing a few seconds. "I don't like guys fighting for someone to get hurt but I do like ... let's put it this way. If you're fighting about something, it means something to you. And that's really important. A lot of times, you'll find teams that are warm and fuzzy all the time. And in my opinion, those teams typically struggle in games because something's not important to them."

That explanation sounds similar to the one Nolan gave earlier this week when asked if he was concerned that Davis has gotten into jawing matches with numerous members of the defense. Nolan said he didn't want to see Davis, or anyone else for that matter, pick up a silly penalty, but that he liked to see spirit on the practice field. He said he didn't mind trash talk as long as a player could back it up.

Davis, meanwhile, said earlier in the week that he takes it upon himself to be a practice antagonist.

"If I see things are quiet and the guys aren't getting rowdy," he said Wednesday, "I'm going to take it upon myself to do something about it."

He also said he didn't mind if all his swagger and celebrating made him a target of opponents.

"I want that 'X' on my back," he said. "Put it on me. Come and get me."

Allen did just that.

Allen is a quiet guy in the locker room, but it doesn't seem like he tolerates whining. Just ask Jose Cortez. Remember the Cowboys-49ers game in San Francisco two years ago? Cortez missed an extra point and as he was walking off the field started screaming at his offensive line.

Allen responded by grabbing the kicker's face mask and nearly ripping the helmet off Cortez's head.

By the way, the media contingent that watched the scrimmage tried to talk to Davis, but he was ushered away from us. There will be more to come, I'm sure ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 4, 2007
Great expectations for Banta-Cain

I caught Mike Singletary today for a story I'm working on about linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. I asked the coach if there was a certain number of sacks he wanted out of Banta-Cain this season and I offered up a number - 10. Now Banta-Cain has never had more than 5.5 sacks in one season and I figured Singletary would give some wishy-washy answer about not having a specific number in mind or hoping that everyone on the defense contributes a little.

This is what he said: "Ten would be the minimum to me for him because of what he can do. Ten would be the minimum."

Suffice to say, the coaching staff has high expectations for Banta-Cain this season, and the newcomer certainly has not disappointed in practice. When I asked Banta-Cain the same question, he said he was hoping for one sack a game, which, of course, would leave him with 16 at the end of the season. I'm aiming to run this story in Monday's paper.

I also spoke with tight end Delanie Walker, who has been working hard on improving his blocking so far in camp. Walker, who played receiver in college, said he needs to work hard in that area so that his presence in the huddle doesn't tip off defenses that the 49ers are planning to pass. He also said he looked forward to getting on the field with Vernon Davis.

"They're going to cover Vernon and leave me wide open," he said. "That's what I hope they do anyway."

Speaking of tight ends, free-agent pickup Zach Hilton has really stood out, if for nothing more than the fact that he stands 6-8. Unlike the rest of the tight ends on the roster, Hilton has a bit of experience, having been in the league since 2003. Like Walker, he is concentrating on his blocking in camp.

"It can be tough," he said. "I have to work extra hard on keeping my leverage, keeping it low."

I finally got a chance to talk with safety Darnell Bing, who said he was in the dark as to why he was cut from the Raiders a year after they used a fourth-round pick to get him. He said the neck injury that landed him on injured reserve had nothing to do with it.

"That was never a serious injury in the first place," he said.

"Some of those positions were set in stone," he continued. "They say you have an opportunity, but at the same time you don't."

The 49ers will have their first intrasquad scrimmage later today, and I'll blog again after it's over.

-- Matt Barrows

August 3, 2007
Training camp observations, Aug. 3

Last year at this time Delanie Walker, who seemed to make incredible catches in practice each day - was the darling of training camp. This year, coaches are concentrating on making Walker into an effective blocker and it often hasn't been a smooth transition. Tight ends coach Pete Hoener--one of the best yellers on the staff -- has been going after Walker pretty hard the last few days. In my view, it's a sign that the 49ers have big plans for Walker whereas last season they didn't. A guy who is emerging as an excellent blocker is Vernon Davis. There's no reason to ever take the guy off the field.

Speaking of Davis ... two NFL referees gave the beatwriters a quick lesson on the rule changes and points of emphasis this season. One of them will be a crackdown on what the league terms "aggressive, in-your-face" acts. In layman's term's - jawing. Anyone caught doing that will be hit with a 15-yard taunting penalty. Said Field Judge Craig Wrolstad: "We want to clean it up for the kids that watch." 49ers coaches might want to triple-emphasize that rule with Davis. If he plays like he practices, there might be a yellow hankie on the field every time he catches the ball.

As far as Saturday's scrimmage, Mike Nolan said he was going to curtail the first-team's workload due to all the physical practices they've had this week. It will be set up by having the first-team offense go against the second-team defense and vice versa. The first-teams won't go "live" (tackling) but you might see the third teamers get into it.

During the scrimmage, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on second-team right tackle Joe Staley, who will go against Ronald Fields at times, and against Manny Lawson and Tully Banta-Cain at others. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but Banta-Cain has been very effective at getting into the pocket and disrupting the quarterback so far in camp. As for Staley possibly getting more repetitions with the first-team offense, Nolan said: "We'll see. One step at a time."

While his teammates have been practicing, Frank Gore (broken hand) has been going through some grueling workouts with conditioning coach Duane Carlisle. Carlisle specializes in increasing a player's speed, which is something that Gore has been working on all offseason.

As far as the wide receiver competition goes, one hint as far as who makes the team might be found at punt returner. Four players have been practicing there in camp: Nate Clements, Arnaz Battle, Taylor Jacobs and Brandon Williams. Both Clements and Battle are starters and it seems unlikely either of them will get the job. Jacobs has looked good in practice but hasn't fielded a punt in a game since high school. That leaves Williams, whom the team drafted in the third round last year specifically to fill that role.

Along the injury front, Aubrayo Franklin's inflamed injury doesn't appear to be serious but he was held out of team drills this morning. Bryant Young continues to rest his back and the team gave Shawntae Spencer (ankles) the morning off, too. Battle has sat out three straight days while resting his knee. Running back Michael Robinson (dehydration) was back at practice but didn't take part in team drills.

By the way, I caught the Barrows v. Maiocco (Matt Maiocco, Santa Rose Press Democrat) cage match some of you guys participated in on 49ersWebzone yesterday. One word: Ouch. Placing me in the ring with Maiocco at this point is like Luke Skywalker challenging Vader before he's had a single lesson from Yoda. Just not fair. Besides, I'm sitting next to Maiocco right now and his head is noticeably larger. Or maybe that's the flaxseed oil ...

- Matt Barrows

August 3, 2007
Walker needs to block

Training camp observations, Aug. 3:

Last year at this time Delanie Walker was the darling of training camp who seemed to make an incredible catch once a day in practice. This year, coaches are concentrating on making Walker into an effective blocker and it often hasn't been a smooth transition. Tight ends coach Pete Hoener--one of the best yellers on the staff -- has been going after Walker pretty hard the last few days. In my view, it's a sign that the 49ers have big plans for Walker whereas last season they didn't. A guy who is emerging as an excellent blocker is Vernon Davis. There's no reason to ever take the guy off the field.

Speaking of Davis ... two NFL referees gave the beatwriters a quick lesson on the rule changes and points of emphasis this season. One of them will be a crackdown on what the league terms "aggressive, in-your-face" acts. In layman's term's - jawing. Anyone caught doing that will be hit with a 15-yard taunting penalty. Said Field Judge Craig Wrolstad: "We want to clean it up for the kids that watch." 49ers coaches might want to triple-emphasize that rule with Davis. If he plays like he practices, there might be a yellow hankie on the field every time he catches the ball.

As far as Saturday's scrimmage, Mike Nolan said he was going to curtail the first-team's workload due to all the physical practices they've had this week. It will be set up by having the first-team offense go against the second-team defense and vice versa. The first-teams won't go "live" (tackling) but you might see the third teamers get into it.

During the scrimmage, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on second-team right tackle Joe Staley, who will go against Ronald Fields at times, and against Manny Lawson and Tully Banta-Cain at others. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but Banta-Cain has been very effective at getting into the pocket and disrupting the quarterback so far in camp. As for Staley possibly getting more repetitions with the first-team offense, Nolan said: "We'll see. One step at a time."

While his teammates have been practicing, Frank Gore (broken hand) has been going through some grueling workouts with conditioning coach Duane Carlisle. Carlisle specializes in increasing a player's speed, which is something that Gore has been working on all offseason.

As far as the wide receiver competition goes, one hint as far as who makes the team might be found at punt returner. Four players have been practicing there in camp: Nate Clements, Arnaz Battle, Taylor Jacobs and Brandon Williams. Both Clements and Battle are starters and it seems unlikely either of them will get the job. Jacobs has looked good in practice but hasn't fielded a punt in a game since high school. That leaves Williams, whom the team drafted in the third round last year specifically to fill that role.

Along the injury front, Aubrayo Franklin's inflamed injury doesn't appear to be serious but he was held out of team drills this morning. Bryant Young continues to rest his back and the team gave Shawntae Spencer (ankles) the morning off, too. Battle has sat out three straight days while resting his knee. Running back Michael Robinson (dehydration) was back at practice but didn't take part in team drills.

By the way, I caught the Barrows v. Maiocco cage match some of you guys participated in on 49ersWebzone yesterday. One word: Ouch. Placing me in the ring with Maiocco at this point is like Luke Skywalker challenging Vader before he's had a single lesson from Yoda. Just not fair. Besides, I'm sitting next to Maiocco right now and his head is noticeably larger. Or maybe that's the flaxseed oil

-- Matt Barrows

August 2, 2007
Camp observations, Aug. 2

With Frank Gore (hand) sitting out practice and Michael Robinson (dehydration) taking it easy this morning, the 49ers' No. 1 running back was Maurice Hicks. At a little over 200 pounds, he's the smallest running back on the team, but Hicks hits the hole like a Mack truck. Hicks acquitted himself very nicely in short-yardage situations early in practice and caught a quick screen pass from Alex Smith for a touchdown during a goal-line drill.

Another back who hits the hole well is Zak Keasey, who is close to 245 pounds after playing at 235 last year. Keasey is a long shot to make the team, but he might have a chance if he stands out on special teams. Rookie Thomas Clayton has taken his lumps over the past few days from assistant coaches and aggressive defenders. You have to give the rookie credit for not getting down. He takes a licking, gets up, and keeps on running. The team signed another running back, Arkee Whitlock, who took part in practice this morning. He is wearing No. 29.

Isaac Sopoaga was the team's starting nose tackle for most of the morning while Aubrayo Franklin rested a sore elbow. He will have an MRI on it today. Sopoaga has looked very good at times, not so hot at others, which has been the book on him since he was drafted in 2004. Yesterday, he was driven backward five yards by center Tony Wragge on a short-yardage drill - not what you want from a nose tackle.

Marcus Hudson is a big, physical cornerback who seems like he would be an excellent asset in the running game. However, he was beat on consecutive plays this morning, first on a deep pass from Trent Dilfer to Ashley Lelie then on a crossing pattern from Dilfer to Darrell Jackson. Dilfer, by the way, looks very sharp this summer.

Bryant Young sat out after practicing Wednesday. Coach Mike Nolan said his back was not 100 percent.

-- Matthew Barrows

August 2, 2007
Nolan lets P.I. battle simmer on back burner -- for now

Remember back in March when coach Mike Nolan thought about trying to change the current pass-interference rules? Well, he's keeping quiet for now but plans to resume the battle after the season.

As I wrote back then, Nolan thinks that the current rules on pass interference (heretofore P.I.) are too stiff, especially for something that's so subjective and can't be overruled by instant replay. As it stands now, P.I. is a spot-of-foul penalty, meaning the ball is placed where the infraction took place or on the 1-yard line if it occurred in the end zone.

It's incongruous with the rest of the rulebook, Nolan says. He doesn't think a violent face mask penalty that could result in a serious injury should be 15 yards while a ticky tacky P.I. penalty could potentially be 60 or 70 yards. Nolan's solution would be to make run-of-mill P.I. fouls 15 yards and the more flagrant ones spot-of-foul penalties.

"Everybody wants to see more offense," Nolan said. "But at the same time, it shouldn't change the winner or loser."

The subject came up today because Mike Pereira, who is in charge of the NFL's officials, is in town in part to discuss the new rule changes with the team.

I spoke with Pereira, who, by the way, is from Sacramento, about Nolan's gripe.

"From my standpoint, I'm not necessarily against Mike on this," he said. "It hurts me enough to make a five-yard mistake, but to make a 50-yard mistake? That's a killer to me."

However, Pereira didn't think the rule would change any time soon. The concern among owners is that as soon as you water down the penalty for P.I., defensive backs will grow far more aggressive and the long passing game - which is what fans love - will be curtailed.

"Now you're going to foul more, you're going to have a tendency to play more aggressively because they know it will only be 15 yards," Pereira said. "They don't want to take away the vertical game, and that's the one issue that's there."

He also said that trying to decide between a ho-hum P.I. penalty and flagrant one would be very subjective and thus quite difficult.

"But (Nolan's concept) has more support than it's ever had before," Pereira said. "So maybe if that support continues to build, in some point in time it might change."

-- Matthew Barrows

August 1, 2007
Is Luke Getsy good enough to quarterback in the NFL?

Question: Greetings, my question is about Luke Getsy. Do you think he has legitimate tools to be an NFL QB? He wasn't ranked too highly by the draftniks. He didn't make it at Pitt, but he's somewhat mobile, with a strong arm. Who's right here?
-- Steve, Placerville

Answer: Good question, Steve. Getsy has gotten his first extensive work this week, albeit against the third-team defense. He threw a very nice touchdown pass to Jason Hill earlier this week, in fact. The book on Getsy is that he's very smart, somewhat mobile and has an OK arm. Possibly the best thing going for him is that he's practice-squad eligible. His competition for the No. 3 QB spot, Shaun Hill, is not. If the 49ers follow the league trend and keep only two QBs on the roster, they could place Getsy on the practice squad and promote him in an emergency. How he performs in preseason games will be a big factor.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: With (Monday's) news of the passing of Bill Walsh, the man who made the 49ers the best franchise in the NFL, do you think the fans and media should push for the 49ers' new stadium (when built) to be called Bill Walsh Stadium?
-- Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: That's a nice thought, Dennis, and I should note that Berger from Reno suggested the same thing. Unfortunately, the 49ers are counting on naming-rights revenue to help fund the stadium. There should be some sort of permanent commemoration, though. It was a shame to see guys like Jerry Rice and Steve Young speak about Walsh Monday in front of a Stanford logo. Walsh's legacy should be with the 49ers, not Stanford.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, do you believe the influx of ball-control passing in our offense will be a better fit for Alex Smith? I know he has a strong arm, but his accuracy on deep throws is less than optimal. What do you think he is more comfortable doing?
-- Jeff, Fletcher, N.C.

Answer: Well, the offense will be very much like it was last year, with a few dashes of the West Coast thrown in. I know that Alex likes the Norv Turner offense much better than the one he ran his rookie season. He said he felt too robotic in the West Coast, that Turner's numbers-based system gave him more freedom. Just think, if he makes the same improvement from Year 2 to Year 3 as he did from Year 1 to Year 2, you shouldn't have any complaints.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I was wondering who player No. 55 was in the late 60s or 70s. All I know is that his first name was Matt H. Any idea who this was?
-- Sean, South Pasadena

Answer: Ah, you're talking about Matt Hazeltine, who played 13 seasons at linebacker from 1955 to 1968. Hazeltine died of ALS in 1987 at which point Bill Walsh created the Matt Hazeltine Award, which is given annually to the most courageous and inspirational player on the team.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, to borrow a page from John Madden - what about food, team meals and all that? I have roamed all over the Niners' Web page and see nothing about a nutrition guru. Back in the day, Jerry Rice would have a PB&J sandwich waiting for him following practice. What does the current crop of Niners eat, and when and where?
-- Sammy, Sacramento.

Answer: Fear not, Sammy. The 49ers definitely have a team nutritionist - I interviewed her last year, in fact. I can attest that they eat very well ... enough fruit, salad, grain and chicken breasts to stock a health food store. These days, they have three squares a day on the patio at team headquarters in Santa Clara.
-- Matt Barrows

August 1, 2007
Training camp observations, Aug. 1.

It's been written before, but it bears mentioning again: One of the things the 49ers may not have realized when they drafted Manny Lawson in the first round last year is what an asset he is pass coverage.

The linebacker is particularly effective at dropping back into coverage and taking away a portion of the field. Not only is he fast, but at 6-foot-5 and with long arms, he is very difficult to throw over. Rams quarterback Marc Bulger found that out last season when Lawson intercepted a pass intended for Torry Holt. And while Lawson has not made any interceptions so far this summer, his presence has thwarted several pass attempts.

Said Lawson: "That's one of the things that I harp on. I may not be right on you as far as coverage is concerned, but the quarterback can't see you."

The 49ers were in full pads this morning for the fourth time this preseason, and the rough stuff is starting to take its toll. Guard Tavares Washington went down with what appears to be a knee sprain and was carted off the field. Tackle Jonas Jennings finished a running play holding his right arm awkwardly. Coach Mike Nolan said the left tackle had suffered a stinger.

Long-time veterans Walt Harris, Larry Allen and Bryant Young were given the morning off. Michael Robinson also did not suit up after suffering from dehydration Tuesday. He could practice Thursday. The 49ers held Arnaz Battle out of practice in order to rest his knee.

The rough-and-tumble practices also frayed some nerves. Mild mannered tight end Billy Bajema got into a shouting match with Lawson during a red-zone drill. Bajema and Lawson had to be separated. Big cornerback Marcus Hudson also leveled running back Thomas Clayton on an outside run even though it was a non-tackling drill. Clayton landed on his back, but to his credit, popped up and finished the run.

Other observations:

Alex Smith threw a nice downfield pass to Taylor Jacobs after the quarterback was flushed to the sideline. Jacobs, by the way, has looked very good and is in the running for one of the precious few receiver spots. He also is being looked at as a punt returner.

Tully Banta-Cain reported that he had lost 15 pounds after showing up at 280 pounds this spring. It shows - he has been one of the more active defenders in camp.

It was an odd day for Vernon Davis. He got into only one animated jawing match in practice - with Banta-Cain. Nolan said he didn't mind all the animation from his players - as long as they can back it up.

-- 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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