49ers Blog and Q&A

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

November 30, 2007
Smith-Nolan: A marriage on the rocks?

Question: Okay, I have to take this opportunity to fire a question at you since you're the inside man with the good scoop. Do you think the relationship between Smith and Nolan has soured to the point where it is irreparable? One minute Smith and Nolan are strolling hand in hand down Lombard Street, and the next Nolan is mocking Smith at press conferences. Are we nearing the end of the Nolan/Smith marriage? I'm a big fan of Smith and Nolan and cannot believe what I've been reading. When a team starts to point fingers, it is usually a sign that the end is near.

Ray, San Jose

Answer: Ray, it's the question we "insiders" are asking, too. It seems as if Nolan can't help but snipe at Smith (and perhaps Smith's agent, Tom Condon) every chance he gets. Many of you have seized upon Nolan's comment earlier this week that Trent Dilfer, in the Nov. 18 game against the Rams, played better than any 49ers quarterback has played since Nolan has been in San Francisco. That certainly was a nice thing to say about Dilfer, but how do you think it made Smith feel? Dilfer finished with a 44.8 passer rating in that game. Is Nolan forgetting Smith's performance in Seattle last year (which, by the way, was a win) in which Smith finished with two passing TDs, a rushing TD and a 102.4 passer rating?
Maybe it's calculated. Maybe, like a lot of people, Nolan worries that Smith lacks the eye of the tiger and he's trying to fire him up for next season. Maybe it's a twisted form of motivation. But whatever the reason, Nolan isn't coming off well and his relationship with Smith is like Smith's forearm -- strained.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Mike Nolan continues to make negative references about Alex Smith " Dilfer gives us the best chance to win", again regarding last week Rams loss " that the best quarterbacking we have had in three years" Is this Nolan's way of getting Alex fired up or is this indicating that Nolan no longer see Smith as the quarterback of the future or even the starter? What do you think? Lastly, I caught some looks of Alex during the game and he looked sullen. Was that so and what was he like after the game? Thanks

Julian, San Francisco

Answer: To be honest, the locker room in Arizona was so frantic and there were so many players I had to talk to, I didn't even notice Smith. He did talk to reporters this week, and he seemed normal. But as we know, Smith doesn't exactly wear his heart on his sleeve.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, this question may be a little premature, but say the offense averages 3-4 touchdowns the rest of the season. Does Nolan retain Hostler? Will, or should, all the credit go to Tollner? In your opinion is Hostler past the point of redemption? As of now, a part of me wouldn't like to see him back under any circumstance, but, if he continues to improve, I'm willing to keep an open mind; considering continuity is preferable over another rookie coordinator (yes, even Zampese). Now, if Norv Turner or Cam Cameron are let go, adios Hostler.

Terry, Davis

Answer: Is Hostler past the point of redemption? That's a good question. Remember, the 49ers put 37 points on the board against Arizona, but it's not as if they were an offensive juggernaut. The defense and special teams set them up nicely for several scores. The way I see it, the 49ers will finish with four or five wins this season. Can the Yorks afford to stay with the status quo following a season that began with such high expectations? Not if they expect to sell tickets next year.

- Matt Barrows

Question: What kind of impact would you say that Ted Tollner has on the 49ers? I know it's really easy to say that he had a huge impact being that the '9ers had their best offensive game, probably in the whole Nolan era, in the very same week that Tollner was hired. Also, was Tollner a consideration for offensive coordinator after Turner left? It would seem to me, since Tollner has coordinator experience at the pro level, and knows the Air Coryell system that Turner was teaching, that he should have at least been a logical candidate. What do you think?

Justin, Manteca

Answer: I really like Ted Tollner, think he's one of the classiest guys in the league. But I think his input on Sunday was minimal. He was still in catch-up mode, learning the offense, familiarizing himself with the personnel, at kickoff. I also think it would be unfair to Hostler to give all the credit to Tollner. As far as whether he was a candidate for offensive coordinator ... I know that Nolan was considering him for quarterbacks coach back in 2005 but that Tollner instead accepted an OC job with the Lions. I think when Turner left, Nolan was more interested in continuity than he was in bringing in an experienced play caller. Tollner's background is with the West Coast offense and he certainly couldn't/wouldn't have picked up where Turner left off. Was it the right move? Hindsight is 20/20.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Do you think that the 49ers will take a QB in the first three rounds of the draft in 2008? If so, who do you think it would make sense for them to look at?

Sam, Endicott, NY

Answer: I don't know if Missou QB Chase Daniel is coming out after his junior season, but he seems like a really smart player. To be honest, though, I have no idea at this point. Ask me again after the combine.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt, You mentioned earlier that Coach Nolan may be interested (next year) in Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby and Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs. Do you think they would continue to stack the position, or let Smith &/or Ulbrich take a hike?

Don, Citrus Heights

Answer: Well, I mentioned Dansby more because I think he's a good player than because I think Smith/Ulbrich need replacing. But a Dansby-Willis combination in the middle would be mighty intimidating. As far as Suggs, my guess is that he would challenge TBC for the OLB role opposite Manny Lawson. At this point, however, it's all pure speculation.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt: When you start listing the best available free agents who could offer a solution to the 49ers offense, how about Alex Faneca of Pittsburgh. Per reports, he is extremely angry at the Steelers management over the way they have handled his negotiations and is determined to leave. Every time I see him play he is "pancaking" his man and he is an excellent pass blocker.

James, Lincoln

Answer: Maybe if Larry Allen retires the 49ers will replace him with another top-notch guard like Faneca. But I just don't see the 49ers footing that bill when they have two guys - Adam Snyder and Davis Baas - waiting in the wings at that position.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Trent Dilfer played well last week. With all the QB struggles, and I'm not giving up on Alex Smith, but if Dilfer retires at the end of season, would Chad Pennington make a good backup for us? Drafting another young gun would set us back another 5 years, and Chad lost his job, but he really was not playing that bad. Also Kendrell Bell lost his job in Kansas City. Bell was a good inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme in Pittsburgh, with aging Derek Smith, how do you feel about Bell? One more, is Faneca on your list?

Webster, Atlantic City, NJ

Answer: Pennington has suspect arm strength. I think he'd be ok in a West Coast system, but if the 49ers keep the Turner system, they'd need a stronger arm. ... As for Bell, he might be one of the few guys Derek Smith can beat in a foot race.

- Matt Barrows

Question: David Baas has received positive mention a couple of times recently. How do you rate his overall play? Compared to Justin Smiley? Think Baas is in the starting lineup to stay?

Kevin, Pleasant Hill

Answer: Baas had a nice game against the Cardinals. Did you see which way Frank Gore ran on his long TD run? To the right.

- Matt Barrows

Question: What do you think of Michael Robinson's "field sense?" He ran out of bounds on the fake punt against AZ when he clearly could have just got the first down. Last year against in St. Louis, prior to the celebrated 4 down, he had the first if he would only put his head down and dive but he didn't, trying to get yards that weren't there. He makes that first and the Niners probably make the playoffs last year. Your opinion?

Ray, Davis

Answer: I'm a Michael Robinson guy. Yes, he stepped out of bounds on the fake punt but he's a much better runner than he was at this time last season. Think of how much better he'll be next year.

- Matt Barrows

Question: What happened to LeRon McCoy?

Austin, Yreka

Answer: Still alive. Hasn't satisfied the gatekeeper.

-- Matt Barrows

Question: What's with Jason Hill? Is he really hurt that much, or do they think that that he doesn't have that much potential?

Bob, Penn Valley

Answer: They like Hill but his injuries are legitimate. He had a quad strain early in the season. Now he's got a bad groin. And no, I don't think he's Rashaun Woods ...

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, Love your stuff, how could someone not have come up with Patrick "Whatchu talkin bout" Willis? Seems too good to pass up. Love to know what you think.

Josh, Redwood City.

Answer: Lots of people came up with that. It's a great thing to shout with your buddies after he makes a hit, but as a nickname? It's nine syllables. Even "Round Mound of Rebound" had fewer. To me, nicknames should be short, sweet and descriptive, such as "Hammerin' Hank," "Broadway Joe," "Sweetness" and "The Fridge." Michael Jordan's was only three letters - Air.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Whatever Willis' nickname is, can we all just call Dilfer Professor X (He's bald, wise, and immobile)

Robert, San Jose

Answer: But can he read the minds of defensive backs? His INT total would seem to suggest he can't.

- Matt Barrows

Question: M-A-I-O-C-C-O ... stopped the P-Willie vote! First he is trying to dominate the blogosphere and now he is holding down the "fanclass" by denying our right to vote. How does he do it?

John, Lafayette

Answer: If only he would use his genius for good and not evil. Sadly, it seems that every Superman (me) must have a Lex Luthor (him). And no bald jokes!

- Matt Barrows

November 30, 2007
Democracy in America ... P. Willie challenge back on

There's an old adage about democracy and sausage -- both are great, but you don't want to see either being made. That was the case earlier today when some malfeasance shut down our P. Willie Nickname Challenge. I blame Maiocco, but our tech guys say someone was trying to rig the vote for one of the other surveys in our forums section. Anyway, the election is back on (for now) and you can click here to vote. We'll leave the challenge going for a few days and hopefully get a nice showing by the electorate.
-- Matt Barrows

November 29, 2007
It's on ... The P. Willie nickname challenge

***update*** Well, it was on. Apparently, The Bee's forum section, in which the vote was located, was corrupted last night and was bringing down our server. Who would corrupt an innocent forum? Who would try to rig an election?I have two suspects in mind -- Karl Rove and Matt Maiocco. Hopefully, this will be resolved (by someone way smarter than me) in a timely manner. Sorry for the snafu
-- Matt Barrows

Ok, I've narrowed the list to five nicknames. Click here to vote for your favorite. The bad news: You must register to vote. The good news: Registering should limit everyone to one vote, which ought to prevent some of the eager beavers out there from stuffing the ballot box. We'll keep the polls open for a few days at which point we'll begin the inevitable debate over who originally came up with the winning entry ....
-- Matt Barrows

November 29, 2007
Bewitching hour for Smith and his shoulder

Not only has Alex Smith not thrown a ball in nearly two weeks, he hasn't even lifted his right arm over his head. The strategy is to keep his injured shoulder as immobile as possible for two weeks - which will be this Sunday - and then re-examine it at that point. Smith said that examination could occur Monday or Tuesday. He is contemplating a return trip to Birmingham, Ala. to visit Dr. James Andrews or he could possibly fly to Los Angeles to meet with a doctor there that Andrews recommended. The visit will be an important one - the results could determine whether Smith plays again this season or possibly whether he will have surgery to reattach the ligaments between his collarbone and shoulder.

For those sad few that won't be able to watch the Packers-Cowboys game tonight, here are the draft-worthy players to keep an eye on in the Louisville-Rutgers game. As always, these are just the seniors, hence there is no Ray Rice ...

Eric Foster DT
Jeremy Zuttah T

#82 Gary Barnidge TE
#12 Brian Brohm QB
#85 Harry Douglas WR
#78 Breno Giacomini T
#11 Malik Jackson OLB
(For what it's worth, I thought Douglas looked particularly good in the game against Wva. earlier this year.)

The 49ers love to draft players from the SEC. So on Saturday, I thought we'd go with the SEC Championship game between LSU And Tennessee.

Glenn Dorsey DT
Early Doucet WR
Matt Flynn QB
Jacob Hester FB/RB
Arlington Highsmith OLB
Chevis Jackson CB
Craig Steltz SS
Keith Zinger TE

Erik Ainge QB
Chris Brown TE
Xavier Mitchell DE
Eric Young T

And finally, I'm closing the P Willy Nickname Challenge as of this afternoon. I've received more than 250 submissions, some of them great, some of them OK, and many of them just really, really horrible. I'm thinking that I will pick the top 5, put them to an on-line vote and let the people decide. More on that later. In the meantime, here's a small sampling of the submissions I received. I've withheld names in order to spare some people public ridicule.

1. Patrick "The Machine" Willis
2. Mississippi Mayhem
3. Mississippi Vice
4. Boss Hog (did he play at Arkansas?)
5. The Destroyer
6. The Annihilator
7. The Hit Man
8. Patrick "The Pain Train" Willis
9. Fast Willy
10. Slick Willy
11. Cyborg
12. The Fog (Phonetically, I'm not sure this will work in SF)
13. Patackling Machine
14. The "Heat-Seeking Missile"
15. The Widow Maker
16. 'pshyco patrick'
17. The Hammer (multiple submissions)
18. Patrick "The Road Block" Willis.
19. Will-do
20. Will-power
21. Marshall Will
22. Patrick "the UFO" Willis (huh?)
23. Patrick "The Stalker" Willis
24. Pit Bull Willis (let's hope he never plays Michael Vick)
25. The Red Barron
26. Shock and Awe
27. Shock and Awesome (see what they did here!)
28. Patrick "The Quiet Storm" Willis
29. Wolverine Willis
30. The Patty Wagon
31. Beowillis
32. Sir Patrick
33. 52-pickup
-- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2007
Gore mourns again

Talk about a roller coaster week. On Sunday, Frank Gore runs for more than 100 yards for the first time this season and his team wins for the first time since September. On Monday he learns that Sean Taylor, a guy he has known since high school and who was a fellow-freshman at Miami, has been shot, and on Tuesday he wakes up to the news that Taylor is dead. Gore said he would talk to Mike Nolan after practice today about possibly being excused to attend Taylor's funeral, which is expected to be held early next week. "The University of Miami - all the boys come out of there," Gore said. " We're like brothers. It's tough. It's like losing my brother." If Gore goes to the funeral, it will be the second service he will have attended in Miami in the last two months. Gore's mother, Liz, passed away in mid September after a long battle with kidney disease.
This just in: Taylor's funeral will be held 11 a.m. Monday in South Florida. Gore will be in Charlotte, N.C. Sunday evening.

A lot of you have been asking whether the 49ers might go after prolific Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after the season. The answer is even if they wanted Anderson, they more than likely won't be able to get him. Look for the Browns to put the highest RFA tender on Anderson, meaning that another team would have to fork over a first- and a third-round pick in the 2008 draft to nab him. Profootballtalk.com wrote the other day that the 49ers would be out of the running in this scenario because they don't have their own first-round pick, which of course was traded to the Harlem Globetr ... er ... the New England Patriots last April. That's not exactly the case. The 49ers' do have a first-round pick, one that originally belonged to the Colts. According to the league, in order to use what was originally another team's pick in a restricted-free-agent scenario, that pick has to be more valuable than the team's own selection. That is, the Colts would have to finish with a worse record than the 49ers. The most wins the 49ers can hope (and I mean really wish upon a star) for is eight. The Colts have already won nine games. Bye-bye, Derek. We hardly knew ya ....

Both Marcus Hudson (knee) and Shawntae Spencer (quad) have been ruled out for Sunday's game in Charlotte. That means a lot more Donald Strickland and even a Tarell Brown sighting this week. Nolan also said that safety Dashon Goldson could see a lot more playing time.

Gore was named NFC Offensive Player of the week today for his 116-yard rushing performance against Arizona. Gore also caught 11 passes for 98 yards, the most receptions by a 49ers running back since Terry Kirby caught 11 in a game in 1996. Here's how old Barrows is: I covered Kirby when he was at UVA. No word yet on whether Patrick Willis has won defensive player of the week.

Speaking of Willis .... Thanks for jamming my e-mail basket with all the nickname suggestions. I've already received more than a hundred, although there are definitely a few repeats. (I can't believe how many "Diff'rent Strokes" fans are out there). I'm thinking I'll winnow the list to four or five and then we'll have a vote off. Remember, a Bee T-shirt is on the line. Maybe I'll even throw in an autographed copy of my head shot that everyone seems to like so much ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2007
Crystal ball: How's Nolan looking today?

If Mike Nolan's coaching career were captured in a line chart, that line would have hit rock bottom right around Nov. 14. That was the Wednesday after the 49ers' awful national television loss to Seattle when Alex Smith admitted that he and his coach weren't exactly on the same page. The line stayed level the following week after a loss to St. Louis but this week it is on the rise again. Does one dramatic win in Arizona erase 10 absolutely horrid weeks of oatmeal-bland offense? No. Does one win ensure that Nolan is still calling the shots in 2008? No. But it does take some of the pressure off both Nolan and the Yorks.

I believe the Yorks want to bring Nolan back for next year and are looking for reasons to do just that. Sunday's win makes their decision a little easier and one or two more wins to close out the season will make it a lot easier. So where will Nolan find those one or two more wins that will put him in the clear? The schedule looks a lot tougher than it did when it was released in April. To wit:

* Dec. 2 in Carolina. This looks like the best bet for a win. The Panthers have dropped their last five games and probable starting quarterback Vinnie Testaverde is 1-4 since being signed in mid October. Testaverde is so old - How old is he? - he's so old that he remembers the Alamo.

* Dec. 9 vs. Minnesota. The 49ers are pretty good against the run, but the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, whom SF Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto refers to as "Purple Jesus." Minnesota not only has the best rushing offense, it has the best rushing defense.

* Dec. 15 vs. Cincinnati. If the 49ers can score 37 against the Cardinals, they should go nuts against the Bengals, who have one of the worst defenses in the league. And it might take 30-plus points to keep pace with Cincinnati's offense.

* Dec. 23 vs. Tampa Bay. Jeff Garcia and the Buccaneers are quietly putting together a solid season. The big question might be Garcia's back, which he injured in Sunday's win against Washington. Garcia is from Gilroy, played his college ball at SJ State and had his glory years in San Francisco until he was unceremoniously dumped early in '04. You think he'll be up for this game?

* Dec. 30 at Cleveland. The hard-luck Browns finally are good again and likely will be playing for a playoff spot in the final week of the season. That seems like a tough task for the 49ers, but they were in very similar scenario last year in Denver. Browns offense: awesome. Browns defense: stinks.

By the way, that Dec. 23 game is scheduled to be aired on Sunday night on NBC. If the league decides to put a more compelling game in its place, it must do so by Dec. 11.

Patrick Willis needs a good nickname. P Willy sounds like it belongs to a 70's era porn star. Somebody on 49ersWebzone started calling Willis "Waterboy." That's pretty damn good, but if anyone can come up with a better nickname, I'll send them a Bee t-shirt for Xmas.

Also, Willis got plenty of kudos for running down Sean Morey on Sunday. But if Willis hadn't dragged Morey down, Michael Lewis would have. Not bad for a safety who arrived here this spring with a reputation for not having a lot of speed. Lewis has been a very nice fit in the 49ers' defense.

With CB Marcus Hudson out with a knee sprain and Shawntae Spencer's quad ailing, the team made a practice-squad move today by cutting TE Zac Alcorn and signing CB Markus Curry, who spent the offseason with the 49ers. Spencer could miss this week's game against Carolina, which would give rookie Tarell Brown more playing time.

-- Matt Barrows

November 26, 2007
Heroes abound, some of them unsung

There were so many heroes after yesterday's 37-31 game in OT that Mike Nolan awarded game balls to every player. Some of them were obvious: Trent Dilfer had his best game as a 49er; Frank Gore ran like the 2006 version of himself; Walt Harris had two interceptions; and Patrick Willis had 20-plus tackles, saving the game when he ran down a wide receiver in the open field early in overtime. One guy probably not on your list is linebacker Derek Smith. According to Nolan it was Smith's coverage on the final play of the game that allowed Ronald Fields the time to get to Kurt Warner. Warner was looking for a short pass to either his tight end or to receiver Anquan Boldin, both of whom were maneuvering in the middle of the field. Smith, however, chucked the tight end when he came over the middle, causing the tight end to collide with Boldin. As a result, Warner had to tuck the ball in.

"As soon as he pulled the ball down, it gave Ron Fields a couple of steps to take the quarterback down," Nolan said.

As if scoring 37 points - the most in the Nolan era; the most since 2003, in fact - wasn't shocking enough, Nolan on Monday also admitted ... and maybe you should sit down for this ... that he was wrong. At the end of the first half, Nolan had Joe Nedney attempt a 55-yard field goal on second down with 11 seconds left. That allowed the Cardinals time for their Hail Mary touchdown on the last play of the half. Asked if he should have called one more play to trim a few more seconds off the clock, even if it was a deliberate throw out of bounds, Nolan said: "You're right - should have taken a snap and thrown it away."

Speaking of Hail Marys, the 49ers' usual Hail Mary buster is out for the season with a torn ACL. Linebacker Manny Lawson, who stands 6-5 and has a long reach, has that role. Nolan said he's also thought about using tight end Vernon Davis or receiver Ashley Lelie in those instances but said safety Michael Lewis should be a guy who can out-jostle receivers like Larry Fitzgerald. "If Michael's not around, I have to think long and hard about putting Ashley or Vernon in there," Nolan said.

The 49ers are 6-0 in their most recent overtime games, prompting Nolan to quip: "Sounds like we have to get into overtime more often."

Sunday's game earned the team a "Win Monday." That is, the players got the day off. It's back to work Wednesday in preparation for the Carolina Panthers.

-- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2007
What I'm seeing in Arizona ...

It's now 12:34 P.M. local time. I'm at the Uiversity of Phoenix Stadium, which looks like a big, silver inflatable bed from five miles away. I'm looking at some of the players warming up and this is what I see:

Alex Smith, Jeff Ulbrich and Derek Smith are chatting with Cardinals linebackers coach Billy Davis, who, of course, was the 49ers' "defensive coordinator" last year. I put that in quotations because it was actually Nolan who was calling the shots. I haven't seen Alex Smith throw any passes and maybe this is telling, maybe it isn't -- Ulbrich and Smith are in their gold game-day pants, Smith is in shorts.

12:53 p.m. ... Davis is now surrounded by five 49ers assistants. they seem to be having a good time. I keep waiting for Mike Nolan to stroll out and join the party. So far I don't see him. On the 49ers' sideline, Nolan's wife, Kathy, is hanging out with the Yorks' twin daughters. Joe Nedney is nailing FGs from 41 yards out.

1 p.m. ... One of the Cardinals employees just passes out the inactive list. Alex Smith is on the list, so is poor LeRon McCoy, a former Cardinal who hasn't been able to satisfy the Gatekeeper and get on the field. The others are CB Tarell Brown, S Dashon Goldson, T Patrick Estes, DT Atiyyah Ellison, WR Jason Hill and DT Aubrayo Franklin. It looks as if Shaun Hill will be Trent Dilfer's back-up. Smith won't even dress. For the Cards, S Adrian Wilson is out with an injury. That's good news for Vernon Davis.

1:06 p.m. ... Just watched Nedney hit a 55 yarder with plenty of room to spare. His counterpart, Neil Rackers, just hit one from 59 yards out. Both kickers are feeling mighty confident.

1:16 p.m. ... Michael Robinson is chatting it up with the Cardinals' Bryant Johnson. They both went to Penn State. Maybe Robinson is telling Johnson to sign with the 49ers in March. Shaun Hill (broken finger) is taking snaps and making a few throws. What happens if Dilfer gets hurt???

1:32 p.m. Nolan and Jim Hostler are watching Hill pretty closely as he warms up. His index finger in bandaged and he's not getting a lot on his throws. What are Nolan and Hostler (Nostler? Holan?) thinking? Please, Trent, don't get hurt.

November 24, 2007
Unrest in the House of York?

Question: Matt, "Does Nolan Need a GM?" was great. As Nolan would say, hiring a GM would be "changing the problem." After reading the Chronicle article, I got the feeling that York is as distressed over the amount of money spent in the off-season as she is over the losses. Do you believe the motive behind hiring a GM, like Paraag Marathe as MM has suggested, is a way for the Yorks to curb spending? Is Marathe even a plausible candidate? I wouldn't mind seeing McCloughan promoted, but Marathe just seems like a corporate (guy) to me. Am I wrong?

Terry, Davis

Answer: I realize that to a 49ers fan, defending the Yorks is like defending the Sheriff of Nottingham. But since jettisoning Erickson and Donahue in 2005, the Yorks have done everything right. Until Wednesday, they had kept a low profile and let the football people handle the football issues. I'm sure the Yorks are distressed that they spent quite a bit of money in the offseason and that the result is a worse, not better, team than before. But it's hard to call them frugal after the free-agency spending spree.

As far as Marathe - the guy is sharp a tack but still too young to be viewed as a legitimate GM candidate. And I definitely can't see Nolan taking orders from him.

- Matt


Question: When Nolan says York understands what is going on, what does that mean? Does it mean York understands Nolan stinks as a coach? Does it mean that York understands he made horrible mistake? Can you ask Nolan to clarify?

John, San Francisco

Answer: I think he means that York (and I'm assuming it's John York) understands that Nolan and his staff are trying their best to pull out of their slide. Is that enough to salvage their jobs? I think the Yorks would like to see a few wins before the end of the season before they commit to another year for Nolan.

- Matt

Question: As the 49ers ship sinks slowly in the west, it seems that Mike Nolan has no clue and no answers for the 49ers problems. Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News called for Nolan's ouster in her column on Monday, November 19th. Matt, do you feel that the 49ers need to replace Mike Nolan at the seasons end?

Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: I think two things: First, that Nolan has done a good job rebuilding a 49ers team that, at the end of the 2004 season, was as talent-starved as any NFL team in recent memory. Two, I think that if they continue down their current path - losing to teams they should beat - the Yorks will have to think long and hard about firing Nolan. If the 49ers finish 2-14 and don't make big changes they will be opening themselves up to that familiar refrain - "The Yorks don't care about winning!" - that they tried to hard to eliminate in recent years. In other words, Nolan needs to win some games in order to make the Yorks decision an easy one.

- Matt

Question: I couldn't be any unhappier as a first year season ticket holder. It has become clear Nolan is the one to blame. HE SHOULD NEVER HAVE GIVEN TURNER PERMISSION TO SPEAK TO THE CHARGERS. It was crucial for Smith's development as well as Nolan's that the greatest offensive coach either guy has been around stay and build on last year's momentum. Nolan gambled everything by trusting the offense to a first-timer and lost it all. Would you agree? Did we have the right to not allow Turner to interview with S.D.?

Jason, Sacramento

Answer: I don't think teams can prevent their coaches from seeking better jobs. That is, if the Chargers wanted to make Turner an offensive coordinator, Nolan could have barred the move. But he was powerless to prevent Turner from seeking a head-coaching job. If there is a criticism, it's that Nolan, knowing that Turner was interested in becoming a head coach again, didn't have a good Plan B.

- Matt

Question: If Nolan were to be fired at end of season, who would be front runners for head coach and maybe even offensive coordinator

Mandip, Sacramento

Answer: I think a lot of it will have to do with which other coaches (and their staffs) also get fired. The big name, of course, is Bill Cowher, but I expect him to take an east-coast gig - Carolina (he has a home in that state), New York Giants (huge market) or Washington Redskins (huge salary). If Seattle cuts ties with Mike Holmgren, he might be a great fit in San Francisco because of his ties to Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense. Other names to consider: Mike Martz, Mike Singletary and Dennis Erickson. Just kidding. (I think).

- Matt

Question: Could you explain Nolan's attitude toward change? Take the offensive line; he won't shift Staley to left tackle even though that appears to be why he was drafted. He won't shift Snyder to left guard and replace Allen, even though he say's Snyder is best suited to guard and Allen isn't in future plans. He won't put Harris back at tackle even though he praised his improvement last year and in pre-season. ...I don't get it.

Tom, Sacramento

Answer: Nolan bristles at the suggestion that he's a conservative coach (Hey, look how many times I use the on-side kick!) but he is. Look how long it took him to bring in help on offense. Nolan compared this week's hiring of Ted Tollner to his 1999 stint in Washington when the Redskins brought in Bill Arnsparger to help him with the defense. The big difference: The Redskins hired Arnsparger four games into the season when the Redskins were 3-1. The 49ers finally went to Tollner when it was too late - 10 games into the season when the 49ers were 2-8.

- Matt

Question: Matt, another question for you. Heard the Mike Silver interview this morning on KNBR. He says even if Smith is 100% healthy this season, he will not start another game. He says the coaching staff is not pleased he went to the media about his injury. He then followed that up by saying he won't be with the team next year. I know Silver from way back when he covered the team so I don't take his words lightly. Do you have any insight on this?

Crab, San Francisco

Answer: Nolan certainly was not happy that Smith went to the media regarding his injury concerns. And yes, there is a good chance that Smith won't play again this season. But concluding that Smith won't be around here next year, in my opinion, is reading the tea leaves a little too closely. People who really know quarterbacks - Mike McCarthy and Norv Turner - believe that Smith will be very good. What he needs is better help - both on the field and on the practice field.

- Matt

Question: Hi Matt. I love your blog. I'd like to know in your opinion why can't the 49ers get the run game going at all? Please don't say the usual result of defenses "stacking the box". Sometimes Gore has good runs but then nothing Thank you.

Anthony, Sacramento

Answer: Last year, Gore routinely got to the second level of defenses, made the safety miss, and then was off for a 50-plus-yard run. This year, it's all he can do to push ahead for four yards. Watch tomorrow's game. You'll see that the safeties are more aggressive and they're unblocked as they reach Gore. Which is to say, defenses have adjusted to the 49ers' run game but the 49ers have yet to adjust in turn. The adjustment would be to take advantage of overzealous safeties by throwing downfield. But whether it's poor quarterback play, poor offensive line play or poor receiver play - all of which have cropped up this season - the 49ers can't take advantage.

- Matt

Question: When a rookie like Jay Moore goes on injured reserve, I know he cannot "practice with the team". But by now Moore (high ankle sprain) probably has recovered sufficiently to begin private (non-team) workouts to improve his pass coverage techniques. Can assistant coaches (or other 49er employees) legally assist Moore re his private workouts? Can those workouts occur at the 49er practice facility? Can Moore sit in on classroom preparations for games (eg, to get the benefit of Mike Singletary's expertise)?

Cody, Lafayette

Answer: Moore definitely is a regular at the 49ers facility as he rehabilitates his ankle and he takes part in classroom and film-room sessions. But he can't practice with the team no matter how his ankle feels. As far as private workouts - I'm not sure. That certainly would be hard to monitor, but I don't think there are enough hours in the day for an assistant coach to give Moore private sessions.

- Matt

Question: Matt, What did the 49ers have to be thankful for on Thanksgiving this year?

James, Sacramento

Answer: Dunno, but the rest of the nation can be thankful they were spared watching the 49ers on Thanksgiving Day. The 49ers offense + tryptophan = zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

- Matt

Question: Must be difficult to answer questions about the 49ers this season. Absolutely nothing positive, everything negative. I only have to watch, or think about them on Sundays. My question to you is: Are you crazy? Can't you find another job?

Glen, Orangevale

Answer: Another job? The market for newspaper journalists isn't exactly bubbling right now.

- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, I know the season is not over with and I still have faith in the players including Alex Smith to turn this around. But I was curious what you think the 49ers big offseason move will be this next year. Or what free agents might they look at or you think will be a good fit for them?

Ryan, Long Beach

Answer: Well, a lot of potential free agents still might re-sign with their current team. But two guys to keep an eye on Sunday are Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby and receiver Bryant Johnson. Another guy sure to pique Nolan's interest is Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs.

- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, when you see the Niners practice, do you see life in this team or are they looking the same like Sundays. If they don't execute well in practice it won't happen in the games. Keep up the good coverage, greetings from Austria

Andi, Lunz, Austria.

Answer: I wouldn't call the 49ers' practice sessions "crisp." On offense they look pretty much they way they do in games - nothing like a well-oiled machine.

- Matt

Question: What is the real story about the Jonas Jennings meltdown? Inquiring minds want to know.

Bob, Sacramento

Answer: I only know rumors. And because I won't stoop to being a rumor monger (read: because I don't want to be sued) I won't share them in this forum.

- Matt

Question: Matt: For some reason I just started to read your blog (which is excellent) and am really learning a lot. I would like to know which sports writers you read? Thanks.

John, Chico

Answer: Well, I grew in the Washington, D.C. area reading Kornheiser and Wilbon. The best pure writer of that Washington Post group is Thomas Boswell. Nowadays, I read all the 49ers writers every day hoping A.) They haven't scooped me and B.) That they may have committed an error/typo that the rest of us can poke fun at all day long.

- Matt

Question: Matt: Have you noticed a decline in blog traffic since when the 49ers started tanking?

Brian, Folsom

Answer: Funny thing. I've noticed a decline in blog traffic but an increase in Q & A's. After all, this season hasn't raised interest in the 49ers but it certainly raised all sorts of questions.

- Matt

Question: Matt, keep up the good work. Although I continue to support Mike Nolan, his value and emphasis on consistency seems to too often equate to stubbornness, specifically on offense (e.g. always running behind Larry Allen on short yardage downs). Recently, I came across a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde that gave me pause and I immediately thought of Nolan: "Consistency is the last resort of the unimaginative." Will you share that with Coach Nolan? I'm interested in hearing his take on the quote, as well as your own. Thanks.

Terry, Davis

Answer: No response here. Just a nice quote.

- Matt

November 23, 2007
Five reasons to be thankful, 49ers-style

There was a nice story in yesterday's Bee by my pal, Dorsey Griffith, about the healing power of gratitude. In that vein, I searched (albeit pretty darn hard) for five things for which 49ers fans can be thankful for and hopeful for this holiday weekend. Hope this makes you feel better.

1. Vernon Davis. Sure, the gaudy numbers that every 49ers fan dreamed about when Davis was drafted No. 6 overall have yet to materialize. But guess who was the only 49er who stayed after practice on Thanksgiving to work on his game? Yup, it was Davis out there with one of the equipment managers and the JUGGS machine working on his pass-catching skills. Davis' work ethic is impressive, and more importantly, it hasn't diminished as the 49ers' offense has circled the drain. To me, that's a sign of a potentially great player.

2. Parys Haralson. He's no Lawrence Taylor by any stretch, but the second-year linebacker is developing into a nice pass rusher. He had the 49ers' only sack in the horrible Monday night loss against Seattle and did a nice job harassing (haralsing?) Marc Bulger this past Sunday. At worst, Harlason looks like he'll add nice depth to the all-important outside linebacker spot in coming years. At best, he could start opposite Manny Lawson.

3. Joe Staley. This is a guy we'll be talking about a lot in April since the 49ers traded their first-round pick - to New England of all teams - in order to acquire Staley last year. In order to justify that trade, Staley has to have an exemplary season and so far he is doing just that. He has left-tackle-of-the-future written all over him.

4. Indy. All of a sudden, the Colts don't seem like the second-best team in the league anymore. Why do you care? Because the 49ers have Indy's first-round pick in April. Sure, a mild swoon by the Colts might only improve the 49ers' draft position by a pick or two. But sometimes one pick is the difference between Logan Mankins and the next-best guard.

5. Free agency. The cure for every ailing team (seemingly). Who knows who will be available in March, but the 49ers desperately need a high-end receiver and the Cardinals Bryant Johnson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. You might want to check him out on Sunday.

Other odds and ends ...

Mike Nolan backed off comments from a day earlier that Alex Smith could be available against the Cardinals. Smith is listed as questionable on the injury report but it seems doubtful he will be used in anything but an emergency capacity.

Gerry Austin's back. The referee who botched the Vernon Davis call in Pittsburgh (and then bungled the explanation) will be calling Sunday's game in Glendale.

Nolan spoke for a long time about how he is handling the 49ers' miserable season. Dealing with his father's funeral last week, Nolan seemed run down and understandably so. He's been feistier this week and the thing he said that struck me most is that he believes he is custom built for this type of challenge. I'm writing more about Nolan and his many misfortunes in Sunday's Bee.

-- Matt Barrows

November 22, 2007
Yorks meet with Nolan over GM story

Mike Nolan said he met with the Yorks following a Wednesday report that said Denise DeBartolo York was leaning heavily toward bringing in a strong general manager who would usurp Nolan's authority regarding personnel matters.

"It was a positive conversation and I'm right in that it will be talked about in January," Nolan said.

He said the Yorks - he didn't specify whom he spoke with - expressed "disappointment" that the story came out when it did. John and Jed York have declined all requests to talk about the season and discuss Nolan's status. Nolan also seemed to suggest that some of the story was taken out of context, but backed off when asked if the York's questioned the veracity of the story.

"I'm just saying what I just said," Nolan said. "We'll talk about it in January and we'll do everything we can to make the 49ers better at that time. That's what I'm saying."

Mike Singletary said he pulled out of the running for the Baylor job because of "philosophical differences." Said Singletary: "There were several questions that I could not compromise on."

Singletary said he's always thought his future was in the NFL but felt obligated to give Baylor, his alma mater, his consideration. He has two children that attend the university, including a son who red-shirted this season. He likely will play defensive end or outside linebacker next year. Singletary also said he was confident he would be offered an NFL head coaching job at some point.


"I really don't worry about those things," he said. "I just continue to work my tail off. Those things will come."

Scot McCloughan blew out of town before I could hit him up for this week's matchups. But in case you missed the Cal-USC game earlier this year, here are the draft-worthy Trojan seniors to keep an eye on in tonight's game. In my humble opinion, Keith Rivers would be an excellent bookend for Manny Lawson.


#79 Sam Baker OT
#83 Fred Davis TE
#49 Sedrick Ellis NT
#96 Lawrence Jackson DE
#55 Keith Rivers OLB

And now the biggest, most important, most monumental game of the year. I'm talking, of course, about Saturday's match up that pits the Virginia Cavaliers (founder: Thomas Jefferson) against the dastardly Virginia Tech Hokies (founder: inventor of Garden Weasel). The winner plays Boston College next week for the ACC Championship.

Va. Tech:

#11 Xavier Adibi LB
#76 Duane Brown OT
#49 Chris Ellis DE
#81 Justin Harper WR
#2 Josh Morgan WR
#25 D.J. Parker FS
(I thought Morgan jumped out in the earlier game against Ga. Tech)

For Virginia, there is only one, DL Chris Long, son of Howie. He's the ACC sack leader and has a chance to become UVA's all-time sack king. Just think of how well he would pair with Ray McDonald at defensive end. Unfortunately, the 49ers are not going to be in position to draft him.
-- Matt Barrows

November 22, 2007
Singletary sticking with SF ... for now

Here's something for 49ers fans to be thankful about today -- Mike Singletary reportedly has pulled out of the running for the coaching job at Baylor University. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports this morning that Singletary, a Baylor alum, called athletic director Ian McCaw late last night to inform him of his decision. It sounded like Singletary didn't belive that the Bears were in position to compete on a national stage.
"I don't think it's going to work, and I don't think we can come to an agreement on some of the things that are on the table," Singletary reportedly told McCaw. "If you're talking a national championship -- that's one of the things that I mentioned -- then I want to talk to you. If you're talking just competing, I don't want to be a part of that."
Singletary also said further consideration of the Baylor job would be too much of distraction considering there are still six games left in the 49ers season.
However, this doesn't mean Singletary is snug in San Francisco. Look for him to be among the canidates when the inevitable NFL openings beginning popping up in late December and January.
-- Matt Barrows

November 21, 2007
Does Nolan need a GM?

Out of all the topics that came up in Mike Nolan's jam-packed Wednesday presser - Ted Tollner, Alex Smith, Baylor University, yadda, yadda, yadda - the head coach was loath to talk about one. In today's Chronicle, team owner Denise DeBartolo York says the 49ers are leaning toward bringing in a strong general manager at the end of the season and relieving Nolan of his GM duties. What do you think about that, Mike? "They'll be a time to speak about that in January," he said tersely, and then used that refrain over and over when asked GM-related questions.

He did say that he leans heavily on his resources regarding his role as GM. Scot McCloughan handles all the personnel issues while Lal Heneghan handles all the league issues. Nolan, of course, has the final say on which free-agents the team brings in or which draft picks the 49ers select, but he has a lot of help. "The decisions I make are not one-man decisions," he said. "They are team decisions."

The power Nolan wields certainly is out of the ordinary. When he was hired in 2005 he was a first-time head coach who suddenly had as much control as any head coach - Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, etc. - has had in recent years. You certainly can make an argument that Nolan needs his wings clipped following this horrible season, but I'm not sure you can pin the 49ers' struggles on Nolan's role as general manager.

Sure, there have been some misses in the draft. Brandon Williams turned out to be a bust and David Baas still must prove he was worth the No. 33 overall pick. But have the 49ers been worse than any other team? No way. They've also hit on several players, including the two first rounders this season, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis. There certainly have been some misses in free agency, too. (I'm thinking of three initials). But there were two nice hits - Nate Clements and Michael Lewis - who have lifted the 49ers' defense this year. Nolan's first task upon becoming head coach in 2005 was to change the attitude in the locker-room, and you can argue that he and McCloughan have done a nice job at that.

The major shortcoming, and the reason the team is 2-8, is that the 49ers have zero - I mean not one iota of -- offensive expertise. They have a great special teams and a decent defense. But those two units are overshadowed by the massive ineptitude on offense.

This is partially Nolan's fault. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he is a cautious coach and the entire team operates under what I call Nolan's "umbrella of caution." It is why, on third- or fourth- and one, the 49ers always go to the same play - Frank Gore, draw, to the left. I know it's coming. You know it's coming. The defense certainly knows it's coming.

But Nolan also has been unlucky. Who would have thought that a team as bad as the 49ers have been in recent years would lose not one, but two offensive coordinators to head coaching jobs? Nolan had the additional burden of trying to replace Norv Turner late in the season. He couldn't lure any big-name outside candidates (Ken Zampese) in at that point and had to rely on an in-house candidate with no experience at the position.

Which is all a long way of saying this: If the Yorks retain Nolan for next year - and it seems like they will -- what he needs far more than a general manager is a strong and competent offensive coordinator.

Other tidbits:

Nolan said he tried to hire Tollner in 2005 but that he had already committed to Steve Mariucci's staff in Detroit. Nolan had already hired Mike McCarthy as offensive coordinator when he approached Tollner.

Tollner - who, by the way, is one of the classiest guys in the league - downplayed his role. He said he would merely be "another set of eyes." He did say, however, that he's been following two teams from afar - the 49ers and the Chargers. Poor guy.

If Mike Singletary accepts the Baylor job, Nolan said he expects Singletary to finish the season with the 49ers. Singletary said he didn't want to talk about the Baylor situation because he was focusing on the Cardinals.

Alex Smith said his doctor's appointment in Alabama showed that his right shoulder has not healed much from the time he separated it. It's still essentially separated and the ligaments that attach it to the collarbone have not scarred together like he expected. Dr. James Andrews, however, expects both shoulder and forearm to heal with time.

-- Matt Barrows

November 20, 2007
49ers sign QB Drew Olson to practice squad

With Shaun Hill dealing with a broken finger and Alex Smith's season in limbo, the 49ers signed former UCLA quarterback Drew Olson to the practice squad today. Olson spent time on the Carolina Panthers' active roster this season and was on the Ravens' practice squad last year.
The team waived OL Sean Estrada to make room for Olson, who was born in San Francisco.
There is no word yet on how Smith's doctor's appointment in Alabama went. If I find out, you'll be the first to know ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 19, 2007
Nolan gives stiff arm to forearm question

Mike Nolan refused to answer questions during his Monday press conference about whether the 49ers are to blame for the forearm issues that have sidelined quarterback Alex Smith. The Smith camp believes that the team overworked Smith's forearm in mid October as he attempted to come back from a shoulder separation. Smith was intent on returning for the 49ers' Oct. 21 game against the Giants but was set back when the forearm became so week that he had trouble gripping the football. The condition has not improved and the muscles in his right arm are noticeably smaller than those in the left arm.
"I respect your question," Nolan said when asked about how the forearm injury occurred. "I don't respect your source. It would be like me pretending to be your doctor."
The source that Nolan was referring to is Smith's agent, Tom Condon, who spoke to ESPN this weekend about Smith's condition. Smith will fly to Birmingham Ala. today and meet with noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews Tuesday for a second opinion. The 49ers have called Smith's forearm issues a strain. Smith is seeking a more definitive diagnosis.

In other news from the press conference ...

* Nolan continued to defend his decision to go for a field goal on fourth and 10 that brought the 49ers within four points of the lead in yesterday's game, rather than try for a first down and a possible tie. "We've got a very exceptional and very unique on-side kick." The 49ers are 0-3 on their most recent on-side attempts.

* Nolan said he talked to John York after Sunday's loss. "He's been very supportive. He understands what's going on ..."

* Nolan said he thought this year's coaching staff is better than last year's, despite the fact that last year's had Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. When asked whether Turner's replacement, Jim Hostler, would be around next year, Nolan said: "I'm not going to say Jim's not (going to be back)."

* Nolan said he has not heard from Baylor University or Mike Singletary about the coaching vacancy at Baylor. Singletary is reportedly the frontrunner for the job.
-- Matt Barrows

November 18, 2007
Smith to be examined by Dr. Andrews

Alex Smith said he planned to fly to Birmingham, Ala. Monday after team meetings to meet with orthopedist Dr. James Andrews the following day.
Smith has used Andrews as a consultant ever since separating his shoulder Sept. 30. Andrews has received MRI results from the 49ers but has not yet examined Smith in person.
Andrews will look at both Smith’s shoulder and his right forearm, which became badly enervated as Smith began rehabilitating the shoulder in mid October. Smith was preparing to return to action for the 49ers’ Oct. 21 game against the New York Giants but was set back when the muscles in his forearm began spasming. The problem has not gone away and has affected Smith’s grip on the football as well as his accuracy.
The 49ers have said that Smith is dealing with a strain. Smith is seeking a more definitive diagnosis from Andrews.

November 18, 2007
Shaun Hill No. 3 despite broken finger

Shaun Hill will be the team's emergency quarterback despite breaking the index finger on his right hand in Thursday's practice. I've been watching Hill during warm-ups and he seems to be throwing -- the short pass, at least -- ok. At the very least, he'd be able to take off and run with the ball, which is what the other emergency back-ups, Michael Robinson and Arnaz Battle, would be asked to do as well.
The other inactives are WR Ashley Lelie (quad), WR LeRon McCoy, CB Tarell Brown, S Dashon Goldson, T Patrick Estes, DE Atiyyah Ellison and DT Aubrayo Franklin (calf.) Isaac Sopoaga will start for Franklin.
For the Rams, center Brett Romberg is the only inactive of significance, unless you consider Brandon Williams significant.
-- Matt Barrows

November 18, 2007
Condon on the warpath

Immediately after Alex Smith's Wednesday admission that his shoulder/forearm has been the root of his struggles, two of the more astute 49ers followers, AP's Greg Beacham and, of course, MM, said they suspected Smith's agent, Tom Condon, was pulling the strings. They were right. Condon has been talking to the ESPN gang about the damage done to Smith's forearm as he tried to come back from the shoulder injury.

Apparently, Smith overworked the forearm to such a degree that it developed tendonitis that never went away. It has caused the forearm to shrink and has been so painful that Smith reportedly has had to have a pain-killing injection in that area.

Why would Condon make this move? Because, like all of you, he probably watched his client being thrown to the wolves on national television Monday night. Everyone from Ron Jaworski to Steve Young was taking whacks at Smith and wondering -- albeit indirectly -- whether he had "it", whether he was quarterback-of-the-future material.

And, of course, Smith wasn't getting any defense from his head coach, who routinely said that Smith's health was the fine, the implication being that it was Smith's poor play, not his injured shoulder and enervated forearm that were causing problems. Condon probably felt that if the 49ers weren't going to stick up for his guy, he would have to.

-- Matt Barrows

November 17, 2007
Smith, Nolan on a break?

Question: Do you sense any relationship damage between Mike Nolan and Alex Smith? They were not on the same page on the things they said. I feel like Nolan is trying to "blame" everything on Smith and Hostler, and hope his job would be safe after the season.

Ken, Fremont

Answer: The 49ers certainly are painting it like everything is hunky dory between Smith and Nolan and that the media overreacted earlier this week. But I think it was significant that Smith divulged his issues to the media. Up until that point, he had been Mike Nolan's most well behaved pupil, and indeed his obedience - remember his workout in Salt Lake City in which Nolan had him hop on one foot? - was one of the reasons Nolan drafted him. He would be what Nolan wanted at the position - an extension of the head coach.

Smith broke from that arrangement Wednesday. What was his motivation? Maybe he was tired of getting slammed for poor play and not having his coach stick up for him. Nolan kept characterizing Smith's shoulder issue as "soreness" as if he had slept funny and had a crick in his neck. In reality, Smith said Wednesday, he's been dealing with quite a bit of pain and that shoulder hasn't felt right. That's something Nolan should have picked up on. He should have defended his quarterback.

- Matt Barrows

Question: As to your latest web entry "Trouble in 49'erland" -- I'm not all that great at reading between the lines -- but I seem to sniff some trouble and dissatisfaction between Mike Nolan and John and Jed York. Can you elaborate on that?

Bill, Sacramento

Answer: No, I don't think that's the case. If anything is hunky dory at this point, it's the Nolan-York relationship. However, the Yorks have been mum in recent weeks so it's hard to say what they're thinking.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Thanks for the good reporting. My questions are about the locker room---are the players still behind Nolan, or is that falling apart? What about Smith? Do the O players support and trust him, or have they lost faith? It sure seems like everything is falling apart, but so far no one is talking. What's up?

Griz, Denver

A: There definitely was some frustration toward Smith following the Seahawks game. But I think there's an understanding among the players that Smith is battling through a tough injury and they admire him for doing that. As for the locker room as a whole - it's still in tact. It seems that everyone is still on board with Nolan. And that is the best argument for sticking with him next season. Most of the players, it seems, genuinely believe in him.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt ... Is there any talk of replacing Nolan? The team's gone from mediocre to bad to worse under his 'reign' ... I'm sure by now, everyone is wondering why roster changes aren't coming into play .. but the buck stops at the head coach ...

Jennifer, San Carlos

Answer: There's been plenty of talk about replacing Nolan, but at this point it's coming mostly from the fans. I think the Yorks are inclined to wait out the rest of the season and proceed from there. As far as roster changes, I tend to agree with Nolan. Sure, you can stick Jason Hill into the lineup. And maybe Tony Wragge should play guard. But they're not going to make a whole lot of difference at this point.

- Matt Barrows

Question: So that's what? -- 0-3 when SF calls a timeout before a 3rd/4th and short situation then runs left? Planning on grilling Nolan about that again?

Joel, St. Louis

Answer: Why should I grill him? It's obviously not sinking in. Stubbornness can be a virtue in some circumstances, a curse in others. This situation is definitely the latter ...

- Matt Barrows

Question: What happened to the Hill to Hill connection? That looked really promising in the pre-season. Also, when does the bull-headed George Bush...er...Mike Nolan decide his strategy is not working and try another? "Stay the course" only makes sense when you have a few positives, we have NONE.

Dave, Sacramento

Answer: I've gotten lots of questions about back-up quarterback Shaun Hill this week. Hill, of course, broke a finger on his throwing finger Thursday, an injury that should keep the "Start Shaun Hill!" bandwagon in the garage for at least two weeks. When healthy, Hill is definitely the third most impressive quarterback on the team. He has a funny throwing style and he's not always accurate. Would he be more effective than Dilfer or Smith in the 49ers' offense? It's impossible to say for sure - Hill's never thrown a pass in a regular-season game. But my guess is that he would not.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt...The problem, in my opinion, is York. He has yet to hire a general manager who can take the reigns and turn this thing around. Can he and everyone around him really be that clueless? How can anyone expect this team to win when...you don't have anyone who can FIND talent? It also seems obvious that without any football people making decisions, that this will not change. As a reporter who covers the team, is this obvious to everyone? Am I off base? What, if anything, do you think the team is doing to improve?

Steve, Melbourne, Australia

Answer: Well, you may have hit on one of the possible end-of-season solutions. Maybe the Yorks retain Nolan but clip his wings by bringing in a strong GM.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Looking at the '9ers, it seems that there's just a complete breakdown on the entire offense. Smith seems to be very poorly coached, including his mechanics, understanding of the plays, and understanding of what the defense is trying to do to him. Also, he doesn't have any receivers that he seems to feel comfortable throwing to (and who would blame him when they run poor routes and drop several passes). Last and certainly not least, he has no protection. They should have improved! Besides lack of talent, couldn't you put the bulk of the blame for their regression on coaching?

Justin, Manteca

Answer: I spoke to a bunch of former NFL players who watched the Monday night game, and they couldn't believe how bad Smith's mechanics looked. (I'm writing about that for Sunday's paper). The question, of course, is how much of that is due to coaching and how much is due to Smith's injuries. I'd say it's a little of both. One thing's for sure. If the 49ers don't improve on offense, they will set all sorts of franchise records for futility. If that happens, I don't see how the 49ers can stand pat in the offseason. They'll have to blow up the offensive staff and bring in a high-profile offensive guru.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I'm astonished at your recent support of McCloughan. His drafting, other that Gore, Willis and Staley, is awful. Baas is essentially a 1st rounder that can't play on a bad line in his 3rd year. His free agents other than Clements are a waste of money and they have blown their cap room. How do you sign Lelie for big money when your coaches won't play him? Franklin and Banta-Cain are non-factors. Surely the Yorks' absolute incompetence created this mess but McCloughan's incompetence will bury Mike Nolan, who deserves better. How can you support McCloughan?

Tom, Gridley

Answer: You have to remember that McCloughan doesn't have free reign as far as whom he drafts or whom he brings in. He's not a general manager. Everything goes through Nolan. You asked why the 49ers would sign Lelie to a big deal and then not play him. That's a fantastic question, but one that should be directed at the coaching staff. Nolan ostensibly signed off on the Lelie signing this past spring but then capitulated to his assistants as far as playing time. Only when an opposing team's defensive coordinator told Nolan that Lelie was the only wideout his team feared did Lelie start to see playing time. There's plenty of stubbornness on the coaching staff, from the head coach on down. I think that is preventing us from knowing whether some of the guys McCloughan brought in are worthwhile or not.

- Matt Barrows

Question: It's Mike Hart, not Leon Hart (or Leon Hall, who graduated last year).

James, Modesto

Answer: Michigan rb Mike Hart's full name is Leon Michael Hart. By the way, the guy in that game I was most interested in was WR Mario Manningham, an underclassman who I think could really help out the 49ers. He's a great route runner - so good, dare I say, that he would even satisfy the Gatekeeper.

- Matt Barrows

Question: I have Steven Jackson of the Rams on my fantasy roster. Should I be institutionalized for insanity if I fail to start him Sunday?

Sam, Sonora

Answer: Do you have Bulger? Unless the 49ers pass rush show up, I predict he'll have a Brees-like afternoon.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, You've covered the 9ers for a number of years. Have you ever seen a team perform this poorly?

Bob, Houston

Answer: I thought we reached the ground floor in 2004. Turns out there's a cellar.

- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt. I noticed that you listed Walt Harris as an UFA after this season in response to a question, but didn't the team extend his contract recently? If I'm mistaken, I apologize.

Andrew, Bessemer, Pa.

Answer: No - I'm wrong and you're correct. Walt has two more years on his contract after this season. His base salary starts to get pretty high starting in 2008, though ...

- Matt

Question: Hey Matt; I asked you 2 weeks ago a question. Never got answered, but no worries, I know there are a ton of questions out there for you. But I will ask again, & after last night's disgusting display of offense against the Seahawks, maybe you will enlighten us. Who in your opinion is the best QB on the 49ers roster? Perhaps Michael Robinson?

Jason, Las Vegas

Answer: The best quarterback is Alex Smith ... when he's healthy. But I wanted to expand on Jason's question. I hope you guys (and Jennifer) know that I can't get to every question each Saturday. This small batch, in fact, has taken me more than three hours to edit and write. Some questions are repetitive. For example, I had five people point out my error on Walt Harris (and I'm glad you did). Some aren't really questions, merely rants. Some I don't have answers for. Some are written so poorly and with so many depressing spelling errors and punctuation problems (I weep for the future) that it would take me hours to decipher and edit. By the way, most computer programs have something called "spell check." Please familiarize. But this is probably my favorite part of this blog, so keep them coming. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

- Matt Barrows

November 16, 2007
No big-name QB for 49ers

With Shaun Hill dealing with a dislocated finger and Alex Smith struggling with weakness in his forearm, the 49ers will be down to one healthy quarterback Sunday -- starter Trent Dilfer. The 49ers might add a passer to the practice squad but there is no push to bring a bigger-name player onto the active roster. Both Arnaz Battle and Michael Robinson could fill in as an emergency quarterback.

Linebacker Parys Haralson was not fined for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Matt Hasselbeck on Monday. The hit, which occurred on third down, gave the Seahawks a first down and they laater scored on the drive.

For those of you watching the Michigan-Ohio State game tomorrow, here are the draft-worthy seniors to keep an eye on:

#2 Shawn Crable OLB
#20 Leon Hart RB
#7 Chad Henne QB
#77 Jake Long T

Ohio State
#74 Kirk Barton T
#6 Larry Grant OLB

-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2007
Lelie out; Jason Hill on standby

Some odds and ends from Thursday’s practice:

* Ashley Lelie pulled a quad muscle on Wednesday and will not play. Bryan Gilmore likely will be the No. 3 receiver with Jason Hill also seeing some action

* Safety Michael Lewis missed practice because his wife is having a baby

* Frank Gore (ankle), Mark Roman (knee) and Alex Smith (forearm) were limited in practice.

* Shaun Hill injured a finger on his throwing hand when it hit a teammate’s helmet. Hill ran into the training room toward the end of practice. Mike Nolan did not know the extent of the injury. With Hill out, Arnaz Battle took a few snaps at quarterback.

*Speaking of quarterbacks, starter Trent Dilfer, 35, got into a fracas with rookie cornerback Tarell Brown, 22. Dilfer had to be pulled from a pile of players (by peace keeper Vernon Davis of all people.).
“Tarell Brown had some comments and Trent didn’t like them so he ran over,” Nolan said. “He wanted to bear hug him, I guess”
Asked if he was surprised that his starting quarterback would get into a practice scrap, Nolan said, “Not when you have the personality Trent has.”
-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2007
Dilfer to start against Rams

Trent Dilfer will be back in the starting lineup Sunday when the 49ers play the St. Louis Rams, and there is a possibility that he will be the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Alex Smith said he would do very light work today, and that he would continue to consult with Dr. James Andrews and the 49ers' medical staff.
Smith is bothered by both his right shoulder, which was separated six weeks ago, and his right forearm, which is affecting his grip on the ball. MRIs recently have been taken of both and they have been sent to Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. for his perusal. Smith said Andrew's opinion will have a bearing on whether he plays again in 2007.
"It will depend on what Dr. Andrews thinks and what our doctors think about the long term," he said.
Smith also said he cleared the air with coach Mike Nolan. Both men seemed frustrated with each other Wednesday -- Smith because Nolan had been minimizing his injury, and Nolan because Smith shared his concerns with the media before the head coach.
"This is like a family," Smith said. "You're going to have disagreements. It's going to happen in any family."
-- Matt Barrows

November 14, 2007
Trouble in 49erland

Asked yesterday about Alex Smith's health, Mike Nolan said what he's been saying for the last three weeks. "He's fine," Nolan said. Today, however, Smith said he was definitely not fine, revealing for the first time not only lingering problems with his right shoulder and forearm but a disconnect with the coaching staff as well.

Smith will sit out practice today to rest his forearm, which has been sore since the 49ers' bye week. Smith said he probably rushed back too fast from the shoulder injury and put too much pressure on the forearm, which had been in a sling for several days after the shoulder separation. Nolan said he expected Smith to practice tomorrow and to play Sunday against the Rams. Smith's take was a little different. He said he'll make some throws tomorrow and "see how it feels."

The bigger issue continues to be the shoulder itself. Smith said he is still dealing with pain and that the injury certainly has affected his throwing motion. It's also affected his mechanics, which, as many observers have noted, has been off kilter in recent weeks.

"I felt I was making progress," Smith said. "But definitely Monday night I did not feel good as far as throwing the ball. It was not comfortable at all."

And an even bigger issue than that is a sense from Smith that perhaps he rushed -- or was rushed -- back too soon following his Sept. 30 separation. Smith had four weeks off before returning for the Saints game on Oct. 28 and has not looked good since.

"It's really been hard because to continue to have it get reported that you're 100 percent, and that's not really the case," Smith said. "That's been frustrating as well."

Asked whether it would be better for him, and for the 49ers, if he sat out several weeks to give his arm and shoulder time to rest, Smith said it was hard to say.

"I continue to want to be here for this team," he said. " I think there's nothing worse than when things get tough (and you) bow out. I want to continue to be a part of this and get this turned around. So who knows."

We spoke to Smith minutes after speaking with Nolan, who was asked if he could commit to Smith being the long-term starter with the team. He said there's a possibility that every player on the team could be gone next year, including the quarterback. He also said he didn't feel bound to Smith even though Smith was his first-ever draft pick, going No. 1 overall in 2005.

"My responsibility to the organization is winning games," Nolan said.

Other notes:

Nolan said that he's spoken with John and Jed York in recent weeks. "They've been very supportive and it's (job security) not been a concern of mine," Nolan said.

Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will be out four weeks with a calf strain. Isaac Sopoaga will take his place in the lineup with Ron Fields also filling in. Atiyyah Ellison - inactive the first nine weeks - will get a long look in practice, Nolan said, but that Ray McDonald will probably be active Sunday instead.

The funeral for Dick Nolan will be held Saturday.

-- Matt Barrows

November 13, 2007
No changes in store for woebegone Niners

Mike Nolan will not shake up his coaching staff nor will he give Alex Smith the hook after the quarterback's third straight middling effort Monday in Seattle. "Right now we are taking them one at a time ... And that goes for everybody," Nolan said when asked how much leeway Smith will receive from here on out. Smith, he said, will be the quarterback when the team hosts St. Louis on Sunday. Lose that game, by the way, and the 49ers will fall into a tie with the Rams for last place in what everyone can agree is the absolute worst division in football.
Nolan's staff will remain the same, too. Nolan said there are "no quick fixes" and said the preparation and the game plans have been to his satisfaaction. He did agree, however, with tight end Vernon Davis' mid-game contention Monday night that he wasn't being used enough in the passing game.
Davis, who had been a big part of the passing game the previous two weeks, did not have a pass thrown in his direction until the fourth quarter. During the third, he approached Nolan on the sideline and asked the coach why he wasn't getting more opportunities. Nolan agreed and at that point asked offensive coordinator Jim Hostler over the headset how many touches Davis had gotten so far. The answer, of course, was zero. Hostler got the hint and Smith threw two passes to the tight end in the fourth quarter, one of which was caught for four yards.
Oh, I forgot -- there might be one change in store for the 49ers. Jason Hill just might see a little more action at receiver. Hold onto your hats ...
-- Matt Barrows

November 12, 2007
Gore a go; Alexander out

After missing last week's game with a sprained ankle, Frank Gore will start tonight for the 49ers. His Seattle counterpart Shaun Alexander, who like Gore was listed as questionable on the injury report this week, will not play due to an array of injuries including a sprained knee.
Receiver Deion Branch and linebacker Leroy Hill also will sit for Seattle. Cornerback Walt Harris, out last week with a knee injury, will start for the 49ers.
The 49ers inactives include safety Keith Lewis, who went through a full week of practice on his injured hamstring. The back-up safety tonight likely will be rookie Dashon Golson. WR LeRon McCoy, CB Tarell Brown, T Patrick Estes, DL Atiyyah Ellison, DE Ray McDonald and WR Jason Hill. Hill, who played collegiately at Washington State, said he had several ticket requests for tonight's game. Shaun Hill is the third quarterback.

November 12, 2007
Dick Nolan remembered

Two things stand out about my trip to Dallas in the summer of 2005. One was that it was unbearably hot and humid - over 100 degrees - the type of weather that made you wonder how Texans functioned in the days before air conditioning.

The second was how generous Dick and Ann Nolan were. I had set out for North Texas to do a story on Mike Nolan, Dick and Ann's middle child, who had been named head coach five months earlier and who would be holding his first 49ers training camp in a few weeks. Before leaving, Mike told me that his father recently had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and that he might have some trouble during the interview.

When I pulled up to the Nolan's house, Dick was waiting on the front stoop. Dick Nolan was a large man - bigger and broader than his son - and he had a shock of thick white hair that gave him the appearance of a lion. One of the first things I noticed was his wrist. Unlike a normal man's wrist, which tapers down as it approaches the hand, Dick's grew wider - the result of one of his many football injuries.

Inside the house, Dick and Ann regaled me with stories. They were the quintessential football couple. Dick was understated and famously taciturn. Ann was sweet and talkative. Dick would start a story. Ann would finish it. It was clear that the stories didn't belong solely to him. She had been by his side for more than 50 years. They belonged to both of them.

They told me a particularly telling story about the day Dick separated his right shoulder while playing cornerback for the New York Giants in the 1950s. In those days, medical treatment at the stadium consisted of a few bags of ice. All the Giants could do was give Ann a few dollars and hail the couple a cab. Together they rode over cobblestone streets - Dick's shoulder untreated - to the nearest hospital. It would be five hours before he got any attention and his shoulder was problematic for the rest of his life.

In July 2005, Dick Nolan's memory - especially his long-term memory - still was pretty good. When I later double-checked dates and jersey number and the scores of games, he was right every time. A year and a half later, however, Ann would no longer be able to care for him and Dick would be forced to move into an assisted living facility eight miles from their home.

Toward the end of the interview, I helped Ann clear away a few plates - she had made me cookies and lemonade - and in private I asked her whether Dick's Alzheimer's was related to football. No one knew for sure, she said, but that Dick had had a number of concussions and blows to the head over his career. There was a strong suspicion among family members that one had led to the other. The interview ended much like it had begun - with Dick walking me to my car on that hot, hot day and seeing me off.

-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2007
Dick Nolan passes away

Mike Nolan missed two practices this week to be with his father, Dick, who was in the latter stages of Alzheimer's disease and who also was battling prostate cancer. Today, the elder Nolan passed away at age 75. Dick Nolan coached the 49ers from 1968 to 1975, winning three straight division championchips from 1970-72. Mike Nolan learned the news shortly before the team departed for Seattle. He will be on the sidelines for Monday night's game against the Seahawks and likely return to the Dallas area during the week for his father's funeral.
-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2007
49ers strike a raw Norv

Question: Do you think it's a foregone conclusion that Hostler will be fired by the end of the season? I think he will go the way of Billy Davis, since somebody has to take the fall for Nolan's neo-conservative offensive game planning, if not Nolan himself. Who do you think is in line to replace Hostler? Will San Diego let Norv Turner go if the Chargers fail to make the playoffs? And will any OC make a difference because the players' talent level just isn't up to par? Keep up the good work, dude!

Zeb, Sacramento

Answer: I think your instincts are correct, Zeb. Unless the 49ers go 8-0 or 7-1 or 6-2 from here on out, someone has to be the fall guy, and Hostler seems perfectly suited for that whether he deserves it or not. I thought the Falcons game was the best one he's called this season. The 49ers should have put 30 points on the board. Execution, however, failed them in that game. I have no idea what will become of Norv. What I do know, is that Alex Smith and Frank Gore would welcome him back with open arms.

-- Matt

Question: Is Alex Smith the wrong QB for this scheme? When he was drafted, the Niners were a WCO (West Coast Offense) team. With his ability to move and deficiencies as a deep passer, he was well suited to this. Then Nolan changed to Turner's system, best suited to a deep passer who can take a pounding. After a good short-term result in 2006, we have a $49 million player banged up in the wrong system. Maybe he can't do it either way, but this is Nolan's blunder all the way. He is an offensive dunderhead.

Bill, La Canada

Answer: I asked Smith before the season about the two systems he's run. He said he much preferred Turner's to the West Coast because it gave him more freedom. The West Coast, he said, made him feel like a robot. Maybe you're right. Maybe it's like a kid choosing between broccoli and Rocky Road. He'd much prefer the ice cream, but he'd be better off eating the veggies. I think Smith was comfortable with Turner, not so much because of the system, but because Turner was the father figure Smith needed at the time. Turner had had success, he'd mentored a Hall of fame quarterback in Troy Aikman, and he'd been a head coach. In short, Turner was someone a cerebral quarterback like Smith could trust wholeheartedly. I'm not sure that exists with Hostler - not because Hostler is a bad coach - but because he simply doesn't have Turner's experience.

-- Matt

Question: You make a very valid point with time outs and timing. Let's talk about predictability. Is it possible that the offense is so vanilla that they have become predictable? This year's offense lacks imagination. Where does the problem lie? With the Head Coach or with the Offensive Coordinator? Ultimately it's with Coach Nolan but will that be the source or a scapegoat for the inability of the coordinator to be creative in conducting the offense? Excuses such as three coordinators in as many years fall on deaf ears when we are seeing professional players not perform. Who has the problem?

Steve, Round Rock, Texas

Answer: Anyone who reads this space knows that I've been tough on Nolan. I think the franchise has been under an umbrella of caution since he became head coach. However, he's also dealt with some bad luck. Norv Turner was hired by the Chargers late in the season. Nolan didn't have access to top-tier candidates - their teams denied the 49ers interview requests - and he also didn't want to subject Alex Smith and his teammates to their third new offense in as many years. Nolan and co. have eight more games. That's plenty of time for them to climb out of the quicksand they find themselves in.

-- Matt

Question: I have always been a huge Alex Smith fan, as I watched every game of his at Utah. However, I am having difficulty maintaining my fanhood given his NFL performances. One of his many strengths in college was his amazing accuracy. What gives? He has become very inaccurate. Is this thought to be a mechanics issue? Confidence issue? Other? (I suspect it is related to the fact that defenses are much more complicated and aggressive). Lastly, is he allowed to audible or do the coaches rein him in?

Stephen, Portland, Ore.

Answer: He was very accurate all summer long and early in the season. He denied this week that his shoulder was causing accuracy problems in Atlanta, but it's clear that is the cause. The question is whether it's a physical or mental issue. He mentioned that his mental clock went off early on several occasions, causing him to let go of the ball prematurely and miss open receivers. In my opinion, that stems from not trusting the offensive line - and who can blame him? - and trying to avoid another big blow to his shoulder. Smith's biggest hurdle this season will be making that doubt go away.

-- Matt

Question: Matt my friend, now time for the tough question...if you own the 49ers, do you fire Nolan and/or McCloughan? If not, why? If so, who would you look at as a replacement(s)? Also, would you give up, say, a 1st and a 3rd next year to pry Derek Anderson from the Browns to come in and compete with Alex Smith?

Lebowski, L.A.

Answer: I'm going with the big wimp out, Lebowski. If I own the team, I base my decision on the final eight games of the season. I don't fire McCloughan in any scenario - he's the best personnel man the 49ers have had since Bill Walsh. As for Derek Anderson, his success is largely due to having a great receiver (Edwards) and a great receiving tight end (Winslow, Jr.). I'd hate to give up my No. 1 and No. 3 and have him perform no better than Smith. Also, if I own the team, I really need to draft another outside linebacker, a big, fast receiver, another defensive end and suddenly another o-lineman.

-- Matt

Question: Ok, now that we are going to get to see how the OL does with Snyder & Baas in the starting lineup can we see what a real WR would do? Jackson isn't doing his job and should be replaced, now. If Lelie can't get out of Nolan/Sullivan's dog house at least let the rookie Hill have a shot. While watching the Pats v Colts game I noticed that the majority of snaps were in the shotgun. Any chance Smith will get the same option.

Ken, Salem, Ore.

Answer: Smith's been in the shotgun quite a bit in recent games, especially against the Saints. Hill seems to be creeping closer to the line-up. No indication yet when the gate keeper - Jerry Sullivan - will let him pass.

-- Matt

Question: Matt, what has happened to/with Brandon Moore? Why isn't he utilized more? Have the coaches forgotten his very productive year last year? Has his self-confidence been shaken by the apparent lack of confidence the coaching staff has in him? I'd rather see him on the field more - not the addition of Roderick Green.... Thanks, Paul

Paul, Alameda

Answer: I have no idea why the coaching staff lost confidence in Moore. However, this is a reoccurring theme in Moore's career, no matter the coaching staff and no matter whether it's college or the NFL. So you have to assume that problem is Moore's. After all, he hasn't done much as a third-down rusher.

-- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, Love your blog, man, you always have lots of good info. My question for you is... if the 49ers happen to do bad enough that Nolan either resigns or is relieved of his duties, do you think with the current personnel group that the '9ers are better built for the 3-4 or the 4-3? I keep looking at draft prospects and possible free agents and it always seems so hard to find 3-4 linemen (which the '9ers desperately need).

Justin, Manteca

Answer: Good question, Justin, because it seems as if the roster is in some no man's land between being a 3-4 and 4-3 defense. As it stands now, they don't have enough outside linebackers to be a 3-4. but they don't have enough DE's to be a good 4-3. ... Hence the poor pass rush.

-- Matt

Question: Remember how Tully Banta-Cain took exception to a reference you made about his weight last summer? Perhaps rapid weight loss/fluctuation has something to do with his substandard performance. He has not done anything since we signed him. A major disappointment. He should show up closer to his fighting weight and so he would not have to lose so much in the 11th hours. He should lose the attitude as well.

Justin, Palo Alto.

Answer: Yes, I remember. I believe the offending adjective was "roly poly." What was striking to me was that the adjective was found in an overwhelmingly positive story in which Mike Singletary said he expected a 10-sack minimum from his new outside linebacker. I'm not very good at math but ....

-- Matt

Question: Matt, love your stuff I can never get enough. A questions was asked on Matt Maiocco 49ers blog, do the 49ers have good practices that don't show up on game days? Maiocco's response was they look the same in practice as they do on Sundays. Matt is that really true, and how could Nolan not demand perfection on the practice field? Does not execution equal wins in the NFC West? Or in the NFC for that matter?

Eric, Atascadero

Answer: First of all, you are one of the few people to spell "Maiocco" correctly. Excellent job. Now to your question ... I never covered any of the Bill Walsh-led teams, but I'm told that the practice mantra back then was: Never let it (the ball) touch the ground. I can confirm that that is NOT the slogan of the current 49ers. Speaking of TBC, he was on the radio the other day and said he was surprised that the 49ers' offense does not correct its mistakes on the practice field. They simply move on to the next play. I have to agree with him.

- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, just a quick question about next year as I am not holding out much hope for this team at the time I'm typing this. My question is, who are our restricted, and un-restricted free agents on this team. And, what are we looking at for draft picks (including any extra's for lost players) Thanks

Shannon, Methuen, Mass.

Answer: Because the 49ers were so prolific in free agency this past season, they won't have many compensatories this year. As far as UFA's, the big ones are Bryant Young, Larry Allen, Kwame Harris, Bryant Young, Walt Harris, Marques Douglas and Isaac Sopoaga. The team may offer Sopoaga an extension during the season.

-- Matt

November 10, 2007
Nolan back in Santa Clara; Gore ready to play

Mike Nolan was flying into the San Jose Airport early Saturday afternoon as the 49ers were ending the final practice of the week. Nolan was dealing with family matters in the Dallas area, leaving Mike Singletary to conduct his second straight practice. The session ran nearly a half-hour long.
“I don’t really know," Singletary said when asked about the overrun. "I don’t really care. The most important thing is that we executed and got things done. I don’t ever look at the time.”
Singletary said he thought that Frank Gore looked good and that he expected him to start Monday's game in Seattle. The forecast is calling for rain, wind and a temperature in the low 40s -- very much like last year's game. The 49ers would love a similar result.
-- Matt Barrows

November 9, 2007
Singletary runs practice

For the second time this year, assistant head coach Mike Singletary ran practice for Mike Nolan. Nolan did not attend practice today for family reasons. No specific reason for Nolan’s absence was given, but it is known that his father, Dick Nolan, is in declining health with Alzheimer’s and prostate cancer. The elder Nolan was placed in an assisted living facility in the Dallas area earlier this year.
Singletary ran a training-camp practice this summer while Mike Nolan attended a memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh. Nolan is expected back for tomorrow's practice. The 49ers leave for Seattle on Sunday.
Said Singletary: "We've got Mike in our prayers and we know everything down there will go well."

November 9, 2007
Silver lining -- you have to squint to see it

You have to dig pretty deep these days to find anything good to say about the 49ers' offense. In the past two weeks, however, a couple of positives have bubbled to the surface.

The first is Vernon Davis, the tight end whose mouth -- three months ago at least -- seemed destined to bring the 49ers a world of on-field penalties and locker-room strife. Davis has been, dare I say, downright mature since returning from his knee injury. He says all the right things during the week, and more important, is becoming a consistent target the 49ers hoped he'd become when they used the No. 6 pick to draft him last year. Former 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson compared Davis to Giants' tight end Jeremy Shockey, but said Davis was faster. Peterson also said that Davis' route running skills - which were rough last season - were improving this year. To read the story I wrote about Davis today, click here.

Another 2006 draft pick who seems to be progressing nicely is Michael Robinson. He's been one of the demons on the punt- and kick-return units - more on that in a few days - and he is beginning to erase doubt about whether he can be an adequate back up to Frank Gore. Robinson is very good in the passing game, and Sunday in Atlanta had 67 yards on 17 carries on the ground. Now if the 49ers could just find a go-to receiver, you might say the future looks bright ... or at least less dim.

Keith Lewis (hamstring) was supposed to go through a limited practice yesterday. Instead, he made it through the full session and plans to do the same. As far as hamstring injuries go, they get worse the higher up the muscle they occur. Lewis' involved the very top of the muscle. But he said today that he had very little soreness from Thursday's session and that he planned to be on the field Monday night. "I've got to play this week. I'm tired of watching it on TV."

Frank Gore says his ankle feels better this week than it did last week. He's still limited in practice but said the weekend off helped the healing process as will the Monday night start. My guess is that Gore again will be listed as questionable tomorrow.

Joe Staley had his best game of the season against fellow rookie Jamaal Anderson of the Falcons. The 49ers' offensive linemen get graded on each of their plays. Of the 66 plays Sunday, Staley received only two minuses - and one of them was against veteran John Abraham.

The 49ers practice today from 2-4 p.m. I'll have more news at that time ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 8, 2007
Tick tock -- Alex Smith's mental clock

What's the state of Alex Smith's mental clock? Earlier in the week, Smith blamed a couple of misfires in the Atlanta game - including the one to Bryan Gilmore - on throws that were a bit rushed. There's a fine line on when to throw those passes, Smith said. You have to wait for the receiver to make his break and get open. But you can't wait so long that a defensive lineman is on top of you when you throw.

Smith said his mental clock - the time in which he feels he must get rid of a pass - went off too early on some of those plays. But he said it wasn't because he was worried about absorbing another hit to his still-healing right shoulder.

"I don't think so," he said. "No. It's not something I'm thinking about the shoulder or anything."

Instead he said he was anxious about letting go of the ball -- and potentially making a play -- before the pocket collapsed. As it turns out, he had more time than he thought to step into those throws.

Patrick Estes is back on the 53-man roster wearing No. 76. Mike Nolan, however, said that Kwame Harris will continue to be the top back up at left tackle. Harris had back spasms today and did not practice.

Nolan and his coaches will decide this week whether linebacker Roderick Green can play against Seattle. If he does, he'll be limited at first to passing downs.

Frank Gore (ankle) will go through a limited practice today. Nolan said he was "hopeful" to have Gore back by Monday night.

If you are watching the college game tonight - Louisville and West Virginia - here are the prospects to keep an eye on, according to Scot McCloughan. He also listed the guys to watch during Saturday's USC vs. Cal game. You'll notice that big-name guys like Steve Slaton and Pat White and DeSean Jackson are not on the list. Until they declare for the draft, NFL teams can only scout seniors.

Thursday night:

#82 Gary Barnidge TE
#12 Brian Brohm QB
#85 Harry Douglas WR
#78 Breno Giacomini T
#11 Malik Jackson OLB

West Virginia:
#96 Keilen Dykes DT
#35 Owen Schmitt FB

#79 Sam Baker T
#83 Fred Davis TE
#49 Sedrick Ellis NT
#96 Lawrence Jackson DE
#55 Keith Rivers OLB

#4 Thomas Decoud FS
#20 Justin Forsett RB
#53 Michael Gibson T
#7 Lavelle Hawkins WR

November 8, 2007
49ers re-sign Estes

With guard Justin Smiley and tackle Jonas Jennings both on injured reserve, the 49ers re-signed tackle Patrick Estes, the former seventh-round pick. It's not known whether Estes, a converted tight end, will be the top back-up at left tackle. That assignment also could go to Kwame Harris.
-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2007
Season over for Smiley

It's never good when it requires four men to pop your shoulder back into place. When Justin Smiley told the media that story following Sunday's game in Atlanta, it seemed evident to everyone -- including Smiley -- that his season might be over. Smiley got that confirmation today after an examination by noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Smiley tore the labrum in his right shoulder and will have to have season-ending surgery. David Baas will take his place at right guard.
Smiley tore the labrum in his opposite shoulder last year, but the tear was not as significant, and he was able to play through the injury for the remainder of the season. Sunday's injury, which occurred when Smiley has stretched out his arm to recover a Michael Robinson fumble, is more severe.
The injury means that the Atlanta game could have been Smiley's finale one in a 49ers' uniform. A second-round draft pick in 2004, Smiley will become a free-agent in March. It's not yet known how his injuries and the overall subpar play by the San Francisco offensive line will affect Smiley's value on the open market. At one point, Smiley and the 49ers were so far apart in their negotiations that it seemed inevitable Smiley would not return. However, questions regarding the status of several other offensive linemen -- including Jonas Jennings -- could renew interest in Smiley.
-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2007
Holmgren's fire still burns ... for Seattle

Just got off the phone with Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. A lot of fans have wondered whether Holmgren will last another year in Seattle and, if not, whether the 49ers might be interested in making the one-time San Francisco assistant their next head coach. Holmgren always speaks fondly of his time with the 49ers and has said on many occasions that he loves the Bay Area.

Maiocco asked Holmgren if he thinks about job security and whether he's pondered what will happen at the end of the season. It didn't sound as if his eye was wandering beyond Seattle.

"I think I have tremendous fire," he said. "I like our football team. I like our guys. I really wish we were better than we are right now."

He also said he has had no discussions with Seattle management about the future.

"I have another year on my contract for next year," he said. "Other than that, I haven't talked with anyone about anything."

It should be noted that the 49ers management hasn't expressed any dissatisfaction with Mike Nolan and his staff. Nolan still has half the season to turn his team around, and the gist of the conference call conversations today - both with Holmgren and Julian Peterson - was that the NFC West still was anyone's division to win. Well, except for maybe the Rams.

The 49ers might get "Flexed" out of their prime time game against Tampa Bay on Dec. 23. Sure, there's a nice story line with return of Jeff Garcia, who has the Buccaneers off to a 5-4 start. But if the 49ers don't improve by then, look instead for the NFL to award the prime time game to either Redskins at Vikings or Giants at Bills.
Sports Illustrated, which loves lists like Norm loves beer, has ranked the 32 NFL stadium experiences. The Monster Park experience comes in at No. 30, edging out only the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome and the Jets stadium. As someone who's been to just about every stadium (no Houston, Buffalo, Cleveland or Miami yet) I tend to agree. The only thing that boosts the experience, in my opinion, is knowing that you're in the stadium where Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young played and where "The Catch" took place. Wonder where that play would rank on SI's list of top NFL plays ever ...

-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2007
49ers sign Roderick Green

The 49ers and Roderick Green have agreed to a contract, according to Green's agent, and the pass-rushing linebacker is expected to begin practicing with the team this week. Green, 25, had 4.5 sacks last year despite playing just half the season. Yet, when the 49ers moved to a 3-4 defense this summer, he became expendable. The 49ers had hoped that the pass rush would be supplied in large part by free-agent linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. The former New England Patriot, however, has only 1 1/2 sacks over the first half of the season. Green worked out for the team yesterday at which point he agreed to the contract. The 49ers also signed offensive lineman Sean Estrada to the practice squad.

-- Matt Barrows

November 6, 2007
Ch-ch-ch-changes on 49ers o-line

Mike Nolan's first order of business upon becoming head coach of the 49ers was to solidify the team's offensive line. So it's only logical that the state of the Nolan regime mirrors the state of that line. That is, both are in disarray. The following is a player-by-player analysis of the o-line, and how things might shake out next season:

LG Larry Allen. It's very difficult to see him coming back for another season. Allen did an excellent job shedding weight in the offseason but at his age - he turns 36 later this month - he simply can't move like he used to. In fact, Mike Nolan on Monday pointed to Allen's stamina on that fateful fourth-quarter drive in Atlanta as one of the reasons he called a timeout on the goal line. Nolan said virtually the same thing last year when explaining why he called timeout before a critical third-down play in St. Louis. The 49ers' play following those timeouts - they ran left, behind Allen -- failed in both instances.

RG David Baas: He still does not play aggressively enough in the run game, but he looks like the long-term solution at right guard. With Justin Smiley's injury issue, the 49ers don't have much choice.

LT Patrick Estes: With one, probably two, offensive linemen headed for injured reserve, the 49ers will give the former seventh-round draft pick a long look.

T Kwame Harris: Remember him? At one point, the 49ers were willing to trade Harris for a fifth-round draft choice. Now he becomes the top back-up at both tackle positions and you start to wonder whether the 49ers could use an experienced lineman like Harris next season.

C Eric Heitmann: He's been playing well lately. Heitmann is signed through 2008 but would love to get an extension sooner.

LT Jonas Jennings: The big mystery. Players love the charismatic Jennings - after all, they voted him as one of their players' association representatives. The coaches? Mmmm - not so much. He was Mike Nolan's first big free-agent acquisition but has not been a "Mike Nolan" kind of player, missing half of the 49ers' games with an assortment of injuries. He also missed a game this season due to an undisclosed "private matter" and has been excoriated in the media by former 49ers Derrick Deese and Ronnie Lott. The 49ers will place Jennings on injured reserve due to an ankle that needs surgery. When asked if Jennings factors into the 49ers' plans next season, Nolan paused and said, "That's a surprise question. ... Sure, all our players on our football team would be (in our future plans) right now. No question." Which is to say, it was hardly a ringing endorsement for the left tackle. The salary-cap hit for cutting Jennings, however, would hurt.

OL Adam Snyder: Poor Snyder can't shake the role of "swing" lineman. After practicing mostly at left guard this offseason, Snyder - predictably - has seen the most action filling in for Jennings at left tackle. He's had his hands full with Will Smith and John Abraham, and the feeling among team officials is that Snyder's most natural, and future, position is guard. If Allen, Jennings and Harris don't return next season, however, the 49ers will have to stick someone at right tackle, and it could be Snyder.

RG Justin Smiley: He'll fly to Alabama today and meet with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews tomorrow. It's looking that, at best, he'll miss several games with a badly torn right labrum (shoulder). At worst, he'll have surgery and, like Jennings, be placed on injured reserve. Smiley was supposed to use this season as a springboard to a big free-agent payday. His value likely has diminished because of the injury and because of inconsistent play. However, another team likely will offer Smiley more than the 49ers are willing to pay.

Joe Staley: Despite one wicked stretch against Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck, Staley has been everything the 49ers have asked this season. He'll remain at right tackle for the remainder of the year but eventually will move to his more natural position, left tackle. With all sorts of issues swirling around Jennings, the question is when Staley will make the move.

Tony Wragge: Seldom-used this season, Wragge will figure heavily into the 49ers' future plans. If Snyder remains at tackle, Wragge could play left guard in 2008.

-- Matt Barrows

November 5, 2007
Jonas Jennings goes on IR

The 49ers have put left tackle Jonas Jennings on injured reserve, effectively ending his season. Jennings will have surgery on on his ankle. He suffered a high-ankle sprain in the team's loss to the Giants two weeks ago. Mike Nolan did not know the exact nature of the procedure but said it was to clean out "loose bodies" in the ankle.
Rumors have swirled around Jennings since he look a brief leave of absence from the team for a "private matter." When asked if the big tackle still figured into the 49ers' plans, Nolan said, "Sure, all of the players on our team are."
Adam Snyder will start at left tackle and Kwame Harris will back him up. First-round draft pick Joe Staley also will figure into the mix in coming seasons, but for now, Nolan said, Staley will remain on the right side. The team also has discussed bringing back Patrick Estes, who was cut early in the season.

In other news, Nolan said the team was expecting to have Frank Gore (ankle) back this week. The prognosis on guard Justin Smiley -- dislocated shoulder -- is up in the air. Smiley walked into team headquarters today with a black sling on his right shoulder.
-- Matt Barrows

November 4, 2007
Nolan can't shake time out troubles

Remember last year in St. Louis when Mike Nolan chose not to go for it on fourth and one? Of course you do - I still get e-mails about it. For a lot of 49ers fans, that was the point they started to lose faith in the head coach. My problem with that sequence wasn't so much Nolan's decision to kick a short field goal on fourth down but his decision to call a timeout before the just-as-critical third-and-one play. The 49ers had marched down the field with ease, they had the Rams defense on the ropes, it was a standing TKO. But the timeout gave the defense a chance to catch its breath and regroup. The result - the Rams stuffed Michael Robinson for no gain.

Which, of course, explains the massive case of déjà vu I experienced today in Atlanta. It was almost the exact situation: 49ers driving down the field, stealing momentum, putting the Falcons' defenders on their backsides. They drive all the way to the one-yard line and what do the 49ers do? They call timeout, thus enabling the Falcons to gather themselves and then stuff - who? - Michael Robinson for a three-yard loss on third down. Freaky. And frustrating.

Nolan will get lots of flak Monday at 12:15 for burning two timeouts early in the fourth quarter and deservedly so. The most critical blunder in my opinion is letting the Falcons off the hook. That's two years in a row. Nolan should have learned.

It's hard to blame offensive coordinator Jim Hostler for this loss. There were plenty of calls that could have - indeed, should have - gone for big gains, but the execution was not there. For example, if Alex Smith doesn't overthrow Bryan Gilmore by two feet in the second quarter, Gilmore is off to the races for an 83-yard touchdown. Later, if Darrell Jackson doesn't let a pass glance off his fingertips, he's in the end zone with a touchdown

Sidney Rice caught four passes today for 66 yards, one of them for a touchdown. Calvin Johnson had three catches for 47 yards and James Jones went three for 32. Why do I mention them? They're all rookie receivers. Which just goes to show that, yes, a rookie receiver can be productive. But you have to give him a chance.

-- Matt Barrows

November 4, 2007
Willis breaks bone in hand

Patrick Willis, who played most of his senior season at Ole Miss with a cast on his right hand, may have to do the same this season. Willis said he hurt his right hand on the 49ers' second defensive series. X-rays taken after the game showed a break on one of the small bones of his hand. Willis was wearing a black plastic cast as he left the locker room.
The injury is not likely to keep him out of action. After all, Willis didn't leave the game and led the 49ers -- again -- with 10 tackles.
-- Matt Barrows

November 4, 2007
Gore, Walt Harris inactive

Bad news for all the fantasy owners who started Frank Gore today -- the 49ers' running back will be inactive with a sore right ankle. Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks will alternate carries in Gore's absence.
Another inactive starter is cornerback Walt Harris, who is dealing with a knee injury. Shawntae Spencer will start in Harris' place. The other inactives are Keith Lewis, Jonas Jennings, Atiyyah Ellison, LeRon McCoy and Tony Wragge. The third QB is Shaun Hill.
That means rookie Jason Hill will suit up for today's game and play special teams.

November 4, 2007
Crumpler inactive

Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler is inactive for today's game against the 49ers. Dwayne Blakley will start in his place. Former 49er Harvey Dahl also is inactive for Atlanta. I'll post the 49ers' inactives -- including the state of Frank Gore's ankle -- when I have them.
-- Matt barrows

November 3, 2007
What's happening inside the 49ers locker room?

Question: I see flashes of good blanketed by mistakes every week. Is there a change in the attitude or the atmosphere of the locker room? I would hope everyone is holding himself accountable and not pointing fingers. That's what will turn them around. I see talent, a lot of it! I also see a lack of focus at times. So can you give some insight on what the players are saying or doing to turn it around?

Matthew, Lothian, Md.

Answer: No one is pointing fingers (at least not publicly) and everyone says they still believe in the coaching staff (at least publicly). One of the theories I was working on this morning in the shower (where I do my really deep thinking) involves leadership. The 49ers have a number of stand-up players, what Nolan refers to as "character guys." These are guys like Bryant Young, Derek Smith, Arnaz Battle, Eric Heitmann and Alex Smith. The problem - as I see it - is that these are all quiet, low-key, still-waters-run-deep kind of guys. They're not the kind of people who will get up in front of the team and make an impassioned speech that gets the locker room rocking. Maybe I've watched one too many sports movies. But it seems that what the 49ers need most is a good, old-fashioned Knute Rockne-esque kick in the pants.

- Matt

Question: Regarding your piece about Nolan's backing (or non-backing) of Smith, I'd really like to know what you think based on your professional (read: non-biased, non-fan) experience. If you look around the league, not only this year, but every year, there is a QB who was steadfastly supported by his coach and teammates for a long time, only to be unceremoniously dumped at a moment's notice. Although these are not all the EXACT same case, some recent examples might include D.Brees, D.Carr, J.Plummer, D.Culpepper (twice), R.Grossman, J.Losman, C.Pennington, J.Harrington, T.Green, etc, etc, etc. Is Alex Smith heading down the same road?

Matt, Tyson's Corner, Va.

Answer: In most of these cases, these quarterbacks were drafted by one coaching regime and dumped by another. I think the fate of Alex Smith rests with Mike Nolan and vice versa. If Smith has a second-half resurgence, Nolan certainly will live another day.

- Matt

Question: Re your piece on "Will Alex Smith be a good QB?": Assuming Alex Smith does "make it" as a good (top twelve) QB, which current or former NFL QB will he most resemble? My Answer: Bob Griese (not his son Brian Griese): Top notch brain power, disciplined hard worker, & understands the game, but is only OK on arm strength & other physical skills. Not impressively big, or strong, & not a super run-jump athlete. I'll take a Bob Griese!

Jerry, Lafayette

Answer: Lafayette? That's Maiocco country up there. But I'll answer your question anyway. I think Smith has better athleticism than Griese. Going into the season, he planned to take off and run more than he has (He did in the win over Arizona) and whenever we talk to opposing coaches, they say they're wary of Smith's running ability. I wonder, however, if Smith overestimates his own legs sometimes. He's taken some colossal hits (See: Fujita, Scott) when he's tried to outrun defenders up the sideline. A smart guy like him should have learned to sidestep those situations by now.

- Matt

Question: Who would have thought Mike McCarthy's Packers would be playing so well? That's not my question. Do you think Alex Smith would have mastered the West Coast offense by now, had McCarthy not split for the Green Bay job?

Ed, Sacramento

Answer: Mastered? Mmmmm, I'd liken him to Luke Skywalker when he took on Darth in the Cloud City - familiar with the tools but hardly a Jedi (like Favre). The West Coast offense, however, would have kept Smith more upright than he's been considering how quickly the QB lets go of the ball in that system.

- Matt

Question: Should the 49ers possibly be looking into acquiring Derek Anderson? He seems to have good vision and a nice touch on the ball, or is this just a fluke season for another backup QB like others in the past?

Steve, Billings, Mt.

Answer: Well, I believe Anderson will be a restricted free agent, which means it will take both a big contract and a first-round pick to pry him from the Browns. I don't see that happening as long as Nolan and Smith are around.

- Matt

Question: Matt, I work out of town during the week and I can't wait to read your 49ers Blog on Friday's when I get home. I like Alex Smith's courage and potential, but part of me would like to know what might have happened if the 49ers would have gone a different direction during the draft three years ago. Who could they have drafted with the first pick and what quarterback could they have gotten with their first pick in the next years draft?

Bob, Colfax

Answer: Ok, Bob, let's climb aboard the Old Time Machine. I'll set the clock to early 2004 when T.O. and Jeff Garcia were bickering up a storm and the locker room was pure poison. But did they both have to go? Let's say Donahue keeps the local boy, Garcia, who's good for at least one or two additional wins in the horrible 2004 campaign. The 49ers select Braylon Edwards with the third pick in 2005, and in 2006, they draft Vince Young because, well, Garcia isn't getting any younger. Now set time machine for February 2008 and where are we? Super Bowl, baby!! By the way, when I went back in time, I invested heavily in Google stock. Now I'm filthy rich and have purchased a franchise in Los Angeles that I call the L.A. Manimals. The Manimals beat the 49ers 38-35 in 5 OT. They're calling it the greatest game ever. Sorry.

Question: I have watched the 49ers for 35 years. What makes Brady and Joe Montana so good? Play calling. Please, I beg you throw the quick slant pattern not the short out. I again beg you throw the crossing pattern. These are the passing routes that they used most especially on obvious blitzes. ASK Nolan to look at Brady's calls and have him look at game film of Rice and Taylor catching these patterns. I haven't seen one yet

Diane, Sun Valley, NV.

Answer: The truly sad part, Diane, is that Brady badly wanted to be a 49er in a year in which the 49ers drafted TWO quarterbacks. If only we had a time machine.

- Matt

Question: A couple of weeks ago you did an excellent piece on the ways the 49ers can improve the team in 2008. In it, you stated "But for some reason Brandon Moore doesn't have the confidence of the coaches and Derek Smith is slowing down". Can you expound on this subject/get at "the reason"? I would look forward to Moore along side Willis in 2008, but what about the coaches? These guys are physical, fast, instinctive....

Paul, Alameda

Answer: I really don't know the reason. I will say, however, that I thought Derek Smith had his best game in a while against the Saints. Moore struggled this preseason and hasn't exactly set the world on fire in his role as a third-down rusher. He has a history of coming on at midseason, though. Maybe he'll begin to make his move.

- Matt

Question: Do you think Goodell will revisit the SpyGate situation at the end of the season and decide to take the Patriots' 1st round pick from the 9ers instead of the pick which the Patriots would get based upon how they finish the season? I do ...for what it's worth.

Damian, Portland, Or

Answer: (To music) ... When you wish upon a star, makes no difference ...

- Matt

Question: Why does the NFL have Patrick Willis with 58 tackles and the team has him with 94 tackles. Which is correct? Do you think he will be the NFL defensive rookie of the year?

Cesar, Sacramento

Answer: It bugs me, too. After the game, the coaches review the film and then award players for tackles that weren't given to them on game day. I use the NFL stats because they were tallied by a neutral party. The team stats seem a bit overblown. And I do think Willis will get defensive rookie of the year. He's getting better and better in pass coverage every week, and I bet he'll have a couple of interceptions to go along with his massive tackle total by year's end.

- Matt

Question: What's the chance of the Yorks selling this team? It doesn't matter who the coaches are, the Yorks don't know how to run an NFL franchise. The Fans deserve an ownership that's competent, eh? This team sucks!

Lon, Paradise

Answer: I don't see the Yorks selling. The long-term plan is to hand the reins to Jed. And I also don't think you can blame John York this time. He's given Nolan and Co. everything they've wanted and has spent money hand over fist. He's also done a good job of letting the football experts run the show.

- Matt

Question: Please start the Mike Martz in '08 campaign. Watching Nolan makes me drink 12 too many White Russians.

Lebowski, L.A.

Answer: Mike Martz goes through QBs like you go through White Russians. Take a look at the Lions' sack total (35). Alex Smith will be in a full-body cast by Week 3.

- Matt

Question: Matt: I realize this isn't a "49ers Question," but I was hoping you could give me some advice. In your most recent blog, you stated that most newspaper reporters are (or were) English majors, which is of great interest to me. I am graduating in Dec. with my degree in English and have no immediate plans. While I would love to be a beat writer for a sports team, I don't know where to get started. Any help? Would a MA help? Thanks, Scott.

Scott, Fullerton

Answer: A future in newspaper journalism? Run, Scott, run -- as fast as your little legs will take you. You'd have a better shot as a unicorn rancher. Seriously, I would not get an advanced degree until you've worked for a newspaper (as a news aide, intern, etc.) and decide that's the job for you. And even then, there's a very strong argument (and one I'd support) for cutting your teeth at a tiny paper instead of incurring a big debt from a grad program. Also, I don't need some eager beaver who will work for peanuts gunning for my job. Kidding. Except not.

- Matt

November 2, 2007
Ronnie said what?

That was the general reaction from the 49ers when told of Ronnie Lott's scathing rebuke of Jonas Jennings on the radio this morning. Told what Lott said (see below), Jennings scrunched his face and said, "I have no idea what he's talking about." Later Jennings said, "I don't know where he could possibly get that from. God bless him. Just let him know I'm fine."
Coach Mike Nolan had a similar reaction. "I have tremendous respect for Ronnie Lott. He's an outstanding player and I still to this day have a lot of respect for him. That won't change. But those are his views." Asked whether he had any issues with Jennings, Nolan said, "Jonas is one of those guys on our football team that needs to be healthy and get back on the field. But oustide of that I don't have a comment on what was said. Again, those are (Lott's) comments."
Jennings is doubtful for Sunday with a high-ankle sprain. Adam Snyder will start in his place.

In other injury news, Frank Gore again is questionable. Both Gore and Nolan said Gore's ankle was about the same as it was at this point last week. Still, it seemed like there was less optimism that Gore will play Sunday. Nolan called it a game-time decision. Gore, meanwhile, said "I'll be able to go. I'll be alright." But later he admitted he couldn't cut and push off like he is accustomed to doing. He seemed very gloomy.
Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks will split time if Gore can't play.

Return man Michael Lewis, home for personal reasons, will meet the team in Atlanta. Lewis, Darrell Jackson, Alex Smith and Delanie Walker are all 'probable' to play against the Falcons.
-- Matt Barrows

November 2, 2007
Lott goes after Jonas Jennings

Who said Ronnie Lott doesn't deliver big hits any more? This morning on KNBR, Lott delivered a jolt to injured left tackle Jonas Jennings, but it wasn't clear what prompted the slam.
"I know the Jonas Jennings situation," Lott told co-host Brian Murphy. "That guy right there ... If I was the coach and he said some of the things that I heard he said, I would have cut him. We can't have a guy not thinking that his teammates support him. We can't have that in the locker room."
Later, Lott said the 49ers should cut Jennings, who was the team's big free-agent pick up in 2005.
"Sometimes you have to make a tough call. Sometimes you have to make a cut that costs you money."
But when asked if Jennings had somehow undermined the team or the coach, Lott said he didn't know the specifics. "I just know what I've seen and what I've watched and what happened at that position."
I'm not sure what to make of all this. Jennings, despite all his injuries, is one of the most popular players inside the locker room. I'll try to do some sleuthing after practice, which ends at 12:30 p.m.
-- Matt Barrows

November 1, 2007
*(Updated)* Will Alex Smith be a good quarterback?

Will Alex Smith be a good quarterback? It’s the question I get asked more than any other. The answer is, I don’t know. But I think so. Smith is smart and he’s a hard worker – and that combination usually makes for a successful football player. And as I wrote in today’s paper, he’s also tough, a quality that tends to have a big effect on teammates.

But it’s also entirely possible that I’m a bit biased. As a beatwriter, I’m supposed to be entirely objective about the team I cover. But there are inevitably certain players you end up rooting for inside your head simply because you like and admire them. And Smith is an easy guy for reporters to like. He’s unassuming. He’s smart. He reads books (and Harry Potter, by the way, doesn’t count as “deep reading”). He does the New York Times crossword puzzle. These are all attributes admired by former English majors, which is what many, if not most, newspaper reporters are. He doesn’t answer text messages while you’re interviewing him, which happened to me today with a player who shall remain nameless. (Ok, it was Keith Lewis, whom I actually like quite a bit). If you ask one of the other three beatwriters who cover the team, I’m sure they’ll say they, too, think Smith will emerge as a good quarterback. But they may be under a spell, too.

I’d like to think that Smith is a late bloomer. He’s only 23 and he’s a notoriously slow starter as shown by his career at Utah and Urban Meyer’s famous “nonfunctional” quote the day Smith was drafted. He’s also on his third offensive coordinator in three years. But at some point, those are going to start sounding like bad excuses, the kind of excuses that followed David Carr and Joey Harrington, the quarterback the 49ers will face this weekend, early in their careers. I’d hate to think that, while watching Harrington on Sunday, I’m looking at the future version of Alex Smith. I hope I’m wrong.

Talked to Joe Cohen today in the locker room. It seems that he and Manny Lawson have become rehab buddies as they both try to work their way back from ACL tears. This seems like a good situation, particularly for Cohen, who could really use the intensity and encouragement a guy like Lawson can provide.

Cohen, a fourth-round pick, injured three ligaments in his right knee. He tore the MCL, sprained the PCL and tore the ACL. The MCL and PCL will repair on their own. Like Lawson, he had surgery to repair the ACL with help from a cadaver ligament. Both hope to re-join the team by training camp.

Michael Lewis (the punt returner) had to leave practice to tend to a family emergency. He is in Louisiana and might travel directly to Atlanta for the Sunday's game. If he is unavailable, Arnaz Battle or Nate Clements could take over punt-return duties.

Starters Alex Smith and Darrell Jackson went through another full practice today. If healthy, Jackson would start against the Falcons, although Nolan said Ashley Lelie would continue to have a big role. Walt Harris (knee) did not practice but could see action tomorrow. Jonas Jennings (ankle) and Keith Lewis (hamstring) did not practice.

Here's a new feature for all you aspiring GMs out there. Every Thursday, I plan on asking personnel guru Scot McCloughan which upcoming college game to watch and which future NFL players to keep an eye on. The game to watch this week: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech, which starts, well, now on ESPN.

Here are the guys to watch for Va. Tech:

For Ga. Tech:

-- Matt 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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