49ers Blog and Q&A

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

June 30, 2008
Thomas tackles mental side of playing "Ted"

Minicamps, OTAs and training camp, oh my. The NFL "offseason" can seem like practice overkill. But when you hear new 49ers linebacker Dontarrious Thomas talk Xs and Os, you understand why the endless reps are so crucial. Thomas is battling Jeff Ulbrich for the starting job at "Ted" linebacker. Thomas is younger, bigger and more athletic than Ulbrich. But Ulbrich knows the position like the back of his hand. That's been Thomas' task during the spring practices - picking up a defense that is more complex than the one he was in in Minnesota.

Q: Was there a similar position to Ted when you were in Minnesota?
DT: Our Sam linebackers did a lot of the same things. Especially when we ran like an 'over' defense. I played that position. In Minnesota, I played all three positions.

Q: When you came here, how much catch-up was required to play Ted?
DT: The one thing I had to learn was how to be patient and slow down. In a 4-3 scheme, it's more gap responsibility. Here, you have gap responsibility. But you also have to be able to read the lineman and play off of them. There's that learning curve. And also that I've always been in the Tampa 2. It's been Tampa 2, Tampa 2, Tampa 2. I'm used to spot dropping (in pass coverage.) Here you have to know route progression and know what the receiver is going to do on his route.

Q: So there's more analysis and thinking on the fly here than in the Tampa 2?
DT: Yeah. In the Tampa 2, you're usually just the middle read guy. You're like the middle safety. You protect the middle of the field. Here, depending on the route, you might have that vertical or you might have to break off and wall that No. 3 (receiver) coming across because we do a lot of mixed coverages. Like we'll play a half or a quarter on one side and on the other we'll play a totally different defense. So you have to know what your responsibilities are.

Q: Is that why these OTAs were so valuable? Because you have to learn all these different situations?
DT: Definitely. I mean, depending on the formations and what they give you, your responsibilities can totally change. This definitely has been helping me out as far as catching me up and giving me some reps and getting familiar with the defense. Once you get familiar with the concepts and everything, then you learn how everybody fits. And then you know, 'Ok, I know I've got a safety so I can be fast over the top, or I know I've got this player so I can be slow.' You know where everybody fits. This defense - it's a lot more mental. There's more to learn. In different situations, your responsibilities can change on the fly. By practicing and repetitions, they train your brain to react really quickly because that first minicamp, that first practice and even the second and third - it was tough. It takes practice and repetition.

Q: What was that first minicamp like?
DT: There was a lot of catch-up. I was a little slow in my reads. I'm still working through that. I definitely feel I'm progressing. I know more of what I'm doing. That first minicamp I was like, 'I know I need to make this play,' but I was unsure about where I need to be. Now my confidence is getting there and I'm starting to be relaxed and starting to get a feel of the defense.

Q: How important is it to get in sync with the guy you're playing next to, whether it be Patrick Willis or Brandon Moore?
DT: I'm in a good situation here where Brandon Moore has played and he knows the position. He's a veteran guy. I can talk to Jeff. He's a veteran guy. He knows the position. Also, Patrick Willis is one of the great guys and he knows the position. Everybody comes together and pitches in and helps out.

Q: Will it take training camp and full-contact practices to really tell how far you've progressed?
DT: Yes, definitely. Once you get those pads on, it's a whole different story. That's when you have to master the physical aspect as well as the mental aspect of it.

Q: Is that when your size and strength should give you an advantage?
DT: You definitely have to have some leverage and some size, and I can pride myself on being a pretty strong 'backer. It's one of those things where coach Singletary, he drills you and drills you. He drills into you the fundamentals and technique, so I'm sure I'll definitely be confident that he's made me into the best 'backer I can be.

Q: How big are you right now?
DT: About 245.

Q: Is that your playing weight?
DT: By the time training camp's over, you lose a little weight. I usually play around 230, 240.

****************
Those of you waiting for the supplemental draft may have to wait until July 2009. So far, no players have announced themselves available for the supplemental, meaning there's a very good chance there won't be one at all. What does that mean? A sllloooowwww July news period becomes even sssslllloooowwwweeeer.

-- Matt Barrows

June 28, 2008
Q&A: Just how good is the O-line?

Question: I was heartened at the pick-up of Barry Sims especially to give Jonas Jennings competition at tackle. Matt, what do you think of the O-Line as it stands? Will they be able to help the run, and avoid injuries to the Quarterbacks? Can you foresee more moves to strengthen the O-Line? Thank you -- love the blog.
Tom, Mountain View

A: In terms of talent, I thought the offensive line was, or rather should have been, strong last year. It was as baffling as anything during that horrible 2007 season that the line was such a mess. Remember, the offensive line was something that Mike Martz immediately cited when he first joined the 49ers. If Jennings remains healthy, I think it's a great line. Of course, that's a big "if". Now that Sims is in the mix, the 49ers have Jennings insurance so to speak. If he's hurt, the talent level drops, but only slightly.
- Matt

Question: Matt -- In my mind, the Sims signing is probably more important for how it impacts the long-term future of Rachal than the additional depth it provides at tackle this year (although, it's nice to have given the lack of depth there). My real question is this, however: If Rachal shines in camp, what are the odds Baas moves to center and starts over an aging Heitmann? Baas played like a star there in college. A stud line of Staley, Snyder, Baas, Rachal and (even) Jennings is young enough to really gel and play together for years.
Mike, Montclair

A: Heitmann aging? Dude's only 28! I would never bet against Heitmann. Remember, Heitmann was drafted with little fanfare, started 12 games his rookie season, many of them with a broken hand. He's been a starter ever since. That's a much better start than Baas has had. Now having said that, Heitmann is entering the final year of his contract. It's entirely possible that the 49ers' brain trust will want to go in a new direction with an interior line of Adam Snyder, Eric Heitmann and Chilo Rachal, all guys that the current regime has drafted. But ousting Heitmann in favor of Baas, IMHO, would be a big mistake.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, I am California dreaming I know but is there ANY chance that our 49ers would ever get Eddie back? He sounds like he would like to get back into owning a team and the 49ers are going nowhere with the Yorks at the helm. We only have to look across the bay to see how a bad owner translates into a bad team. I would love to see us do well this year but I am not very optimistic right now. Hopefully I will change my outlook after training camp.
Paul, Lodi

A: When we asked Eddie D about possibly owning another team a few months ago, he was iffy on the subject, saying that he didn't know if he had the energy to run a team. In that regard, a union between Eddie D and nephew Jed York - the definite heir apparent to the 49ers' kingdom - makes a lot of sense. Eddie D would provide guidance; Jed York, who loves Eddie D., would provide the energy. The hiccup in that arrangement is John York. I doubt he would step aside to allow his brother in law to step in. Is there any chance? I'm reminded of a scene from Dumb & Dumber:

Question: Hey, Matt! I just discovered your Blogs and I LUV 'em! Keep it up! As we rev up towards the season, my optimism is growing. I feel that our Niners have a great attitude and LOTS of talent both in players and coaches. How does the overall feeling of this offseason compare with last year when everyone had such high expectations? I can now honestly say I believe making the playoffs is a very real possibility. Your thoughts on this from your insider's POV? Thanks! Go NINERS! Go CAVS!
- John, Tucson

A: Wahoowa. Well, Nolan is doing his best to tamp down expectations, starting with removing that absurd "Win the West" banner he hung in 2005. But if you read what Mike "Wow!" Martz has been saying, you'd think the 49ers were planning to re-write the offensive record book. To say he is excited about his offensive weapons - Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore - would be an understatement. I've been thinking a lot lately about expectations and optimism. One of the beauties of the NFL is that the long offseason breeds optimism. Teams hire a few coaches, add a few free-agents, bring in a draft class, have months of intra-squad scrimmages and suddenly everyone is saying, 'You know, I think these guys could make the playoffs.' I think the fans of just about every team (except maybe Chicago) naturally become optimistic in the offseason. In terms of ticket sales, it's rather ingenious.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt. This blog is of the hook. Im a die hard everyday niner fan. Keep up the awsom work. my question to you is; Is this team ever goin to get that fire that i know they have on the feild, it just seems to me that they have the talent but the spend a whole lot of time second quessing themselfs. i would love to see more aggression on the feild. I know that they work hard and I will always be a Niner Fan. thank you and big shot out to you.
Leebob, Sacramento

A: Thanks for the shot out. It's actually a good question. The 49ers have plenty of high-character players but I would question whether they have enough fiery players. I think Joe Staley and Vernon Davis fit that category. But if I were a fan, I'd like to see more. I'll have more on this topic at a later date ...
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, love the Blog. You and Matt M do a great job. Since you got this great new camera, and I know your dieing to use it, how about a tour of the 49ers facilities and headquarters?
Josh, Merced

A: OK, but per NFL rules, it would have to be a 90-second tour.
- Matt

Question: With all these blurry pictures and all these allusions to Manet and the impressionist painters, are you getting artsy on us or are you lobbying the Bee for a camera with a faster shutter speed?
Bob, Pacifica?

Answer: Artsy? Don't worry. I'm not at the point where I'll be mailing anyone my left ear ... yet.
- Matt

June 27, 2008
Martz interview, the director's cut

Phew! Here is the full transcript of the Mike Martz interview I have been s ... t ... r ... e ... t ... c ... h ... i ... n ... g out over the past week. As you'll notice, Martz has a cover-your-eyes-he's so-beaming assessment of every offensive group except the wide receivers. That's because I never ask about the wide receivers. But you'll also see he is conscious of how glowing he sounds. Is he trying to build up his players? Is he trying to pump up expectations? Or does he genuinely believe he has something in San Francisco? Check back in three months ...

Q: You obviously were familiar with the 49ers upon being hired, but after a month of practices with the team, was there anything new you saw? Any surprises?
MM: "There were a lot of surprises, actually. There's a real inherent toughness to the offensive line that is part of who they are and also how they coach them, which is really outstanding. The other part of it is that as a football team and on offense, there is a great deal of character here. This league's full of talent, as you know. Everybody's talented. But when you have a team with this much character, they're going to do the right thing. They'll work harder. They'll always be trying to do the right thing. Winning's very important to them. That's who these guys are. They just kind of need to be lined up right and shown what to do. They're like sponges. So this has been as much fun as I've had in coaching, really to be honest with you. So I'm thrilled about who we have here in players and in coaches. I'm just excited to get going.

Q: You said the word "sponge." How much have Shaun Hill and Alex Smith been able to absorb so far?
MM: "There's no question about that. Because they both have shared snaps. That's a tough thing to do and still learn the system and make terrific progress because you're always throwing to different receivers. It's my first experience with it. So going through this, it's been much better than I would have anticipated. And of course, they've handled it really well."

Q: This was your first experience splitting quarterback snaps in the offseason?
MM: "Yeah, it definitely was. Usually when you go into the season, you have an idea of who your starter is and you go. But this has been very good. And they've handled it well and so has the team. It's been very healthy and we got much done here from a personnel standpoint. Because I know where this team was three years ago. I really do. And what they've done here - the personnel people and Mike (Nolan) through his leadership - the kind of players that he's brought in here, on both sides of the ball and special teams, is why you win. Those are winners."

Q: Do you have more of the offense installed than you would have predicted heading into the spring?
MM: "Oh, there's no question about that. There's no question. Like I said, these guys are so much more professional than I suspected they would have been. They didn't fight it. They have to un-learn old systems and all those sorts of things. And they were really able to do that in short order. They picked it up very quickly. Young players in this league will always struggle with this information. That's expected. But the guys who have been around a year or two on up have really dealt with this very well."

Q: Where do you go from here? Do you sit down with Mike Nolan and try to hammer out a pecking order for training camp?
MM: "Yeah, I think that's the next order of business. We haven't discussed it really .... But we have plenty of time with that. That will come in short order. But we're good there, though. We're fine with that."

Q: Do you have enough information to make that decision?

MM: "I think so, yeah. I think so, sure."

Q: Did anything surprise you about Frank Gore during minicamp and OTAs?
MM: "He's a one-time guy. You tell him once and he has it. That's really a remarkable quality. He really learns fast. He's a very sharp guy. So that means you can use him in a variety of ways if you will. So, no, he's been outstanding with that. Usually guys who have been featured runners with a limited exposure, it's hard for them. He's not been that way at all. We've been able to put him out there has a wideout, we've motioned him outside, we've used him in a variety of ways. He's retained it, done an exceptional job with it and just really learns quick. The other thing I didn't realize until I saw him in person is how explosive he is when he runs the football. He has a gear he gets to - you blink and he's in it. He's a special player, there's no question about it. He's an elite player in this league. I'm just so excited to have him."

Q: A lot of people think he's going to be Marshall Faulk. Is that accurate?
MM: "I don't think that's right to say. I think Marshall's Marshall, Frank is Frank. Frank has his own skill set. Frank is Frank. There are things that we'll play to that are really strengths of his."

Q: Running between the tackles?
MM: "Well, anywhere. He's got that speed and explosiveness. He does it all. He really does. He's a physical guy that you can hammer or you can use him as a perimeter guy. So, I don't think I'd put a limitation on what he can do, really. It will be kind of fun to see."

Q: Did you know much about Michael Robinson coming in?
MM: "No, I really didn't. I really didn't know. All the coaches were so high on him and he has such little experience as a runner. I looked at him on tape and he looked so natural at it. We got out here and he's another of those high-character, learns-quickly guys. You can ask him to do multiple things. Those guys are the hearts and soul of your football team."

Q: Will he be in the backfield with Frank at times?
MM: "Sure. Absolutely. There's no question about it. We'll use them together - absolutely."

Q: Because they're both adept at catching passes out of the backfield?
MM: "No question. And defensively ... one can block for the other or use them both as receivers. There's all kinds of things that can happen out of that, you know?"

Q: Is Delanie Walker another guy you didn't know much about?
MM: ""Wow. That's how I would say it. Wow. He has some real wow factor to him. He is such a professional and he works so hard at it. He's such a stickler for detail. You talk about some jets and some ability to run and eat up the field. Holy cow. I didn't know anything about Delanie until I got here. The last week or two, we put some things in just for him and he just really excelled."

Q: Do you now go back and add plays after seeing certain offensive players in action over the last three weeks?
MM: "No question. That final (offensive group) we get down to ... each one of those guys will have stuff for him in every game plan and certainly Delanie is a guy that you have to make sure you get him in there and put him in an environment where he can get a step on a safety or linebacker because he can win those battles."

Q: Does he play the same position as Vernon Davis?
MM: "Sometimes. He plays several positions. Sp you can either put him where Vernon is and take Vernon out or put him in different positions. He's capable of several positions."

Q: Will Vernon Davis be used the way Al Saunders has used Tony Gonzales in KC and Chris Cooley in DC?
MM: "No. He's a different guy than that. I don't know if anybody in the league can run like he can at that position. I mean, he gets down the field so fast. I don't know who beats him in a foot race. So, no, he's unusual. Like we talked about Frank. He's Vernon. He's not like anybody else. He's such a violent, physical blocker. So many of the tight ends these days are more finesse, just kind of trying-and-hold-them-off kind of deal. Vernon will try to knock you out. He's such a pleasant blend of power and physical with speed and ability. He's such an unusual player in that respect."

Q: Do you teach him how to run routes like a wide receiver?
MM: "Yes. And that's something that was new for him. Instead of breaking down and head faking and doing all these things, we're going to use his speed. And I think he understands that really well at this point. I don't know if anyone worked any harder this spring than he did. He was out here before and after doing extra things, trying to improve his skill set, really trying to take what we're asking him to do and polish it, get better each day at it. He's been truly remarkable in that respect. He really has."

Q: He seems like a guy who's really hungry to be great.
MM: Oh, boy, there's no question. He's hungry to help this team win, too. Everybody you've asked about - it's just glowing - that's the way it is. I wish I could say, 'Yeah, I think we'll be okay there.' I wish I could say that in some respects just to kind of temper, but I can't hold down my enthusiasm. These guys are pretty special."

Q: Last question. Were you as surprised as everyone else was that 'hot reads' hadn't been used here in the recent past?
MM: "Well, I think with Norv they probably did do it but with a new quarterback, a rookie quarterback*, you have to be very careful. He's just happy to find the center at the line of scrimmage. There's so much going on with the rookie it's just unfair ..."
*(Alex Smith was rookie in 2005. Norv Turner was OC in 2006

Q: You put that onus on the offensive line when you have a young QB?
MM: "Right. You do. You really do. Then as time goes on, you can teach them those things. Last year, I don't think Hos, he's from a different background, so they don't use those as much. So, now that we're involved with all these hot throws and quick throws, he's excelled. It was hard far them. Both of them. It was hard for them. But they began to really excel at it. The last week or so, they really made huge strides in that area."

-- Matt Barrows

June 26, 2008
Martz: Gore quick on the field and in the classroom

Here is more of the Mike Martz interview I have been s ... t ... r ... e ... t ... c ... h ... i ... n ... g out over the past week. And yes, I've noticed that when Martz talks about his new offensive players he sounds like a proud papa reaching for his wallet to show you his beautiful babies. And yes, Martz had many gushing things to say two years ago about his offensive weapons on the Detroit Lions. But I think the bottom line is that over spring practices Martz was pleasantly and genuinely surprised by what he has to work with in San Francisco. The talent level here certainly is better than No. 32, which is where the offense ranked last season.

The key in this segment is what Martz says about Frank Gore's ability to learn his system. Remember, Gore had a low-low Wonderlic score entering the draft, and teams worried about his dyslexia almost as much as they did his surgically repaired knees. Learning the playbook, however, never has been an issue for Gore since joining the 49ers.

Q: Did anything surprise you about Frank Gore during minicamp and OTAs?
MM: "He's a one-time guy. You tell him once and he has it. That's really a remarkable quality. He really learns fast. He's a very sharp guy. So that means you can use him in a variety of ways, if you will. So, no, he's been outstanding with that. Usually guys who have been featured runners with a limited exposure, it's hard for them. He's not been that way at all. We've been able to put him out there has a wideout, we've motioned him outside, we've used him in a variety of ways. He's retained it, done an exceptional job with it and just really learns quick. The other thing I didn't realize until I saw him in person is how explosive he is when he runs the football. He has a gear he gets to - you blink and he's in it. He's a special player, there's no question about it. He's an elite player in this league. I'm just so excited to have him."

Thumbnail image for gore uni.jpg mrob.jpg

Q: A lot of people think he's going to be Marshall Faulk. Is that accurate?
MM: "I don't think that's right to say. I think Marshall's Marshall, Frank is Frank. Frank has his own skill set. Frank is Frank. There are things that we'll play to that are really strengths of his."

Q: Running between the tackles?
MM: "Well, anywhere. He's got that speed and explosiveness. He does it all. He really does. He's a physical guy that you can hammer or you can use him as a perimeter guy. So, I don't think I'd put a limitation on what he can do, really. It will be kind of fun to see."

Q: Did you know much about Michael Robinson coming in?
MM: "No, I really didn't. I really didn't know. All the coaches were so high on him and he had such little experience as a runner. I looked at him on tape and he looked so natural at it. We got out here and he's another of those high-character, learns-quickly guys. You can ask him to do multiple things. Those guys are the heart and soul of your football team."

Q: Will he be in the backfield with Frank at times?
MM: "Sure. Absolutely. There's no question about it. We'll use them together - absolutely."

Q: Because they're both adept at catching passes out of the backfield?
MM: "No question. And defensively ... one can block for the other or use them both as receivers. There's all kinds of things that can happen out of that, you know?"

-- Matt Barrows

June 25, 2008
Stadium update: A tale of two parking lots

I thought some of you non-South Bay, non-California 49ers fans might be interested in seeing exactly where the 49ers intend to build their new stadium in Santa Clara. But first a little prefacing. The following high-quality, professionally made, Spielberg-like video shows two parking lots. The first, smaller lot is known as the auxiliary lot. The second lot in the video is much bigger. The 49ers would prefer to build the stadium on that bigger lot but they are getting resistance from Cedar Fair, owner of Great America amusement park, about building it there. They are currently negotiating with Cedar Fair about that issue and one of the resolutions may be that the 49ers end up purchasing Great America. If no solution can be reached, the 49ers could still build the stadium on the smaller lot. An environmental impact report - a major hurdle in the whole process - is currently being conducted on both lots. So now that you have the background, please enjoy this Matt Barrows joint, which I call "Two Parking Lots":



06192008044-001 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

Attention aspiring bloggers of Northern California: Want an opportunity to be the next Matt Maiocco? Kirk Berridge, a former 49ers and Sharks executive, is launching open auditions for fans to run their own blogs through his company Fan Media Network. One blogger will be picked for each prominent sports team in NorCal. KTTU sports caster Mark Ibanez (A real celebrity!) and former 49er J.J. Stokes will judge the videos and determine a winner. If interested, go here ...www.fanmedianetwork.com.

-- Matt Barrows

June 24, 2008
Four to watch in training camp

I pride myself on having the 49ers' numerical roster etched in my brain. No. 20? That's Allen Rossum. No. 14? Easy -- J.T. O'Sullivan. No. 63? Damane Duckett -- don't waste my time. However, there were a few eye-catching players this spring who had me shamefully searching my pockets for a roster. Here are four guys you probably had never heard about in April who are in a nice position to fight for a spot on the final roster - albeit some for the practice squad - come late August.

Lewis Baker, safety, No. 43. The 49ers love size at the safety position - really, they love it all positions - and at 6-3, 203 pounds Baker is as tall and as rangy as they come. The former Oklahoma Sooner linebacker did not time very well in the 40-yard dash and that's probably the reason he went undrafted. But Baker was a quick learner during the recent OTAs who benefited from the absence of starting FS Mark Roman, who was recovering from a shoulder injury. The 49ers have very good depth at safety beyond Roman and fellow starter Michael Lewis. Dashon Goldson had as good a spring as anyone and Keith Lewis made a number of plays as well. Another undrafted free agent, D.J. Parker, also looked good at times but does not have Baker's size. Practice-squad eligible: Yes.

walter curry.jpg Lewis Baker.jpg

Walter Curry, DL, No. 60. Curry was the dark horse of OTAs. It's hard to evaluate linemen in the spring when no one's wearing pads, but coaches and scouts are high on Curry, who mostly played right defensive end. The first team that ever looked at him was Baltimore - always a huge plus on a Mike Nolan-led team - which signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Albany State (It's in Southwest Georgia, not upstate New York) in 2005. Curry spent the 2006 season on the Jaguars practice squad, which is an achievement in itself considering Jacksonville's defensive tackles at the time. Perhaps most important, Curry won over defensive line coach Jim Tomsula when he played for Tomsula's Rhein Fire in 2006. If newcomer Justin Smith stands up and plays linebacker a lot this season, the 49ers will need someone to hold the edge, like Marques Douglas did so well last season, at right defensive end. Curry is bigger - 6-4, 309 -- and stronger than Douglas. Whether he has Douglas' tenacity will be determined this summer. Practice-squad eligible: Yes.

Louis Holmes, DE, No. 62. Holmes looks like he's straight out of central casting for an NFL defensive end. He's a muscular 6-6, 270-pounds and has a very quick first step. He's exactly what a prototypical 4-3 defensive end should look like. And in the team's non-contact drills this spring, Holmes regularly showed that potent size-speed combination. The question is whether Holmes will continue to look as flashy when the 49ers put the pads on July 25. He arrived at Arizona in 2006 as the top JUCO player in the nations, but his production in Tucson was only mediocre (two sacks last year). Holmes certainly has the frame to become a fearsome pass rusher. What he needs to develop is discipline and consistency. He'll have the perfect teacher in San Francisco in Tomsula, which is why Holmes is a good candidate for the practice squad. Practice-squad eligible: Yes.

Josh Morgan, WR, No. 84. I watched a lot of Virginia Tech football over the past couple of years. And from what I could tell, the Hokies had a dilemma on offense. They had three very good receivers - Morgan, Justin Harper and Eddie Royal - but a fairly plain Jane system and a so-so quarterback. Which is to say that perhaps Morgan would have had more opportunities had he played for another team. (Hint, hint: UVA has been dying for good wideouts in recent years). And all of that is a long way of saying that Morgan has the potential to be real steal in the sixth round. He always has showed big-play ability in Blacksburg but what surprises you when you see him up close is how big he is. At close to 220 pounds, he is precisely the thick, strong receiver the 49ers love. He's built a lot like Jason Hill but he may be a better leaper. Morgan got a lot of work in minicamps and OTAs and seemed to fit right into the mix as if he'd been here for years. Practice-squad eligible: Yes.

******
Here's the story I wrote in today's Bee about Mike Martz and how smitten he has become with tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

-- Matt Barrows

June 23, 2008
Nolan taking time off ... in Afghanistan

After the final open OTA practice last week, Mike Nolan was talking about his quarterback competition. He said he eventually would sit down with offensive coordinator Mike Martz and quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner to discuss the situation, but first he was scheduled for a week-long trip. I figured he was taking the family to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon or Cape Cod. Instead, Nolan is in ..... Afghanistan! The coach left Friday along with radio host Ron Barr and former NFL defensive back Eric Davis. They are visiting the troops at Camp Blackhorse, home to all four branches of the military, in Kabul, according to a military release.

"We all know that teamwork is important in any sport, but here the importance of teamwork goes without saying," Nolan said in the release.

For images of the visit, click here ...

Apparently, Nolan tried to visit the troops in Iraq in February. Nolan had to scuttle the trip when he learned he would miss the scouting combine. We should be able to get the coach on a conference call following his return on Friday.

-- Matt Barrows

June 23, 2008
Sims agrees to two-year deal with 49ers

It came down to the Rams and 49ers, but in the end Barry Sims opted for the team that offered the most money, and in his opinion, the best opportunity to get onto the field.

Sims accepted a two-year deal from the 49ers, who were the most persistent of his four pursuers, which also included the Ravens and Patriots. Sims, who has been working out at Athletes Performance in Tempe, Ariz., is expected to sign the deal tomorrow, said his agent Ken Vierra. The 49ers typically don't announce a signing until the deal is officially completed.

Sims' biggest criteria was the opportunity for playing time. Both the Rams and 49ers offered him the chance to compete for a starting job, but he got the sense the Rams were slightly more settled with Orlando Pace on the left side and Alex Barron on the right. Sims' chance in San Francisco will come at right tackle, where the incumbent, Jonas Jennings, has had a history of injury problems. Vierra said the 49ers assured Sims that he would have a fair chance to win that job. Jennings recently recovered from ankle surgery but was able enough to play with the starting offensive line throughout OTAs.

With Sims working at right tackle, rookie Chilo Rachal likely will be switched back to guard, his college position. He played right guard during the team's May minicamp before being switched to back-up right tackle for the June OTAs.

Vierra said it didn't hurt that the 49ers offered slightly more money and that Sims, a long-time Raider, had a home in the Bay Area. He also got a good vibe from the 49ers after meeting with them earlier this month. Vierra described it as a "comfortable feel."

"He just had a great meeting with Mike (Nolan) and Mike (Martz)," Vierra said.

-- Matt Barrows

June 21, 2008
5Q: So how's the pass rush looking?

Question: Matt, so what is your overall impression of the team so far? With the new defensive additions, do you feel overall that the Niners have what it takes to be a top-tier defense? It seems like all that was missing last year was a pass-rush; do you think it will be much improved? I know the logistics of the additions but I am wondering, since you are there to witness it, if you have an overall feeling if the best has yet to come with their defense?
Glenn, Sacramento

Answer: I keep using the word "chameleon" because the defense is predicated on giving offenses lots of different looks. I think the return of Manny Lawson, the biggest chameleon of them all, is a big help. And the acquisition of Justin Smith, who has been playing both defensive end and linebacker, will be an additional bonus. But I also can't help but wonder if all of this movement and switching of positions is little more than a cheap parlor trick. The 49ers still don't have anyone who can consistently pressure the quarterback on his own. Lawson, Smith and Tully Banta-Cain are not elite pass rushers by themselves. Instead, the 49ers are trying to engineer their pass rush. Having all three of those players on the field certainly will be an improvement over 2007. But I'm not convinced it will be a dramatic improvement.
- Matt

Question: That is all very well and good about Kentwan Balmer looking like a quality defensive end early, but when are the Niners going to get serious about getting a one-gap mountain of a man-mover at defensive tackle? You know, the kind that occupies two blockers inside, collapses the pocket on passing downs, and gets penetration on running plays? When do they finally get that guy? That is the key to making the 3-4 work. I get tired of hearing that a Shaun Rodgers is available and the Niners are never in the running for this kind of player.
David, Antelope

Answer: Well, I thought that Mike Nolan's comments on draft day were very telling. In discussing Balmer and the possibility that he'll play NT, he essentially said that current starter Aubrayo Franklin wasn't a top-tier NT and that the team wanted to upgrade the position. If Balmer ends up as a defensive end, it seems like the 49ers will keep shopping. But don't look for them to acquire a 375-pound Jabba the Hutt who can't be displaced. The 49ers prefer linemen, including NTs, who can move.
- Matt

Question: The mystery receiver is Antonio Bryant!!! You can see his orange Ferrari double parked in the back lot.
Ray, Davis

Answer: Upon closer inspection, the mystery receiver was No. 89, Jason Hill. And Bryant drove an orange Lamborghini.
- Matt

Question: Matt, a non-football question. How are you holding up with the expected cuts from parent company McClatchy? Keep up the good work.
Jeff, Asheville, N.C.

Answer: Sometimes I feel like I'm selling horse and buggies ten years after the automobile has been invented.
- Matt

Question: Regarding Pruneda, it's said they can keep 9 players on the practice squad this year. Is that contingent on Pruneda being one of them? If he performs well enough to be promoted to the active roster (or if injuries force it), are the 49ers allowed to replace him to keep 9 on the squad?
Joel, St. Louis

Answer: Yes, the 49ers can have a nine-man practice squad as long as one of them is an international player. I assume that means that if he's boosted to the active roster, they have to drop back down to an eight-man squad. (If that's wrong, I'll let you know). It should be noted that Pruneda would be practice squad-worthy even if he wasn't an international player. He spent time last season on both the Eagles' and Chiefs' practice squads last season.
- Matt

June 20, 2008
For Sims, it's the Rams or 49ers

Barry Sims will use the weekend to decide where he will play next season, and as predicted, his top choices are the 49ers and Rams. The Patriots, who are relatively rich at the tackle position, have dropped out of the running for Sims' services while the Ravens are in third place.

For Sims, the most important factor is playing time. He wants a chance to be able to compete for a starting job. Both the Rams and the 49ers have little depth at tackle. What may give the Rams a slight advantage is that their issue is at left tackle, which is Sims' natural position. Orlando Pace missed nearly all of last season and is now coming back from rotator cuff surgery. He's played in only nine games in the last two seasons.

San Francisco's issue - as any 49ers fan knows all too well - is the reliability of Jonas Jennings, who has yet to make it through a full season without missing a game due to injury. Jennings only recently recovered from offseason ankle surgery. Jennings, however, plays right tackle and Sims would rather play the left.

The Ravens also have depth issues, but they have two young tackles, Jared Gaither and Adam Terry, slated for the starting tackle positions.

Both the Rams and 49ers have made "solid" offers, according to Sims' agent. They are structured differently, but the total value is about the same. The decision, which is expected to come Monday, will boil down to where Sims feels he is needed the most.

-- Matt Barrows

June 20, 2008
Martz: Splitting snaps was new to me

The 49ers' OTA practices ended with a three-way tie for the starting quarterback job. Don't expect the same equality when training camp begins July 24. I say that for two reasons. 1.) Because Mike Martz's system is so complex and so reliant on timing between quarterbacks and receivers, the 49ers can't afford to split snaps in training camp and expect one of their quarterbacks to have a total grasp of the offense. 2.) Until this year Martz had never split snaps with his QBs. That arrangement turned out to be much better than he anticipated (read below) but it's was a major departure from Martz's normal operating procedure.

Were you impressed with how much information Shaun Hill and Alex Smith were able to absorb in OTAs?
Martz: "There's no question about that. Because they both have shared snaps. That's a tough thing to do and still learn the system and make terrific progress because you're always throwing to different receivers. It's my first experience with it. So going through this, it's been much better than I would have anticipated. And of course, they've handled it really well."

This was your first experience splitting quarterback snaps in the offseason?
"Yeah, it definitely was. Usually when you go into the season, you have an idea of who your starter is and you go. But this has been very good. And they've handled it well and so has the team. It's been very healthy and we got much done here from a personnel standpoint. Because I know where this team was three years ago. I really do. And what they've done here - the personnel people and Mike (Nolan) through his leadership - the kind of players that he's brought in here, on both sides of the ball and special teams, is why you win. Those are winners."

Do you have more of the offense installed than you would have predicted heading into the spring?
"Oh, there's no question about that. There's no question. Like I said, these guys are so much more professional than I suspected they would have been. They didn't fight it. They have to un-learn old systems and all those sorts of things. And they were really able to do that in short order. They picked it up very quickly. Young players in this league will always struggle with this information. That's expected. But the guys who have been around a year or two on up have really dealt with this very well."

Where do you go from here? Do you sit down with Mike Nolan and try to hammer out a pecking order for training camp?
"Yeah, I think that's the next order of business. We haven't discussed it really .... But we have plenty of time with that. That will come in short order. But we're good there, though. We're fine with that."

Do you have enough information to make that decision?
"I think so, yeah. I think so, sure."

I also asked Martz if he was as surprised as everyone else that the offense had done little - if any - work with "hot reads" in the past. Martz started installing hot reads during the last two weeks of OTAs.

"Well, I think with Norv they probably did do it but with a new quarterback, a rookie quarterback*, you have to be very careful. He's just happy to find the center at the line of scrimmage. There's so much going on with the rookie it's just unfair ....
*(Alex Smith was rookie in 2005. Norv Turner was OC in 2006)

So you put the blitz pick-up onus on the offensive line?
"Right. You really do. Then as time goes on, you teach him those things. Last year, I don't think Hos (Jim Hostler) - he's from a different background and they don't use those. So now that we're involved with all these hot throws and quick throws ... it was hard for them. It was hard for both of them. But they began to really excel at it. The last week or so, they really made huge strides in that area."

*******
Here's an Impressionist video example of a hot read. The QB is Shaun Hill. Can you figure out who the receiver is? (spoiler alert: I don't know the answer)



06172008041-001 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

-- Matt Barrows

June 19, 2008
Morgan becomes first 49er pick to sign

The 49ers didn't allow receiver Josh Morgan to leave town without signing a contract. The sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech signed a four-year deal this afternoon following the final day of OTA practices. With the exception of first-round pick Kentwan Balmer, all of the 49ers' draft picks are expected to sign four-year deals.

As I wrote before, Morgan looked good in the May minicamp and in recent practices, showing a nice combination of size and athleticism. As a senior with the Hokies, Morgan led the team with 46 receptions while averaging 12 yards per catch with five touchdowns. Arnaz Battle's absence early in OTAs and Isaac Bruce's absence late in OTAs allowed Morgan to get plenty of reptitions and he caught Mike Nolan's eye on multiple occassions.

-- Matt Barrows

June 19, 2008
Walker "wows" Martz in practice

I had an interesting interview with Mike Martz today, which I will be s ...t ...r ... e ....t ...c ...h ...i ...n ...g out over the next five weeks until training camp begins. I got a nice reaction out of Martz when I asked him about tight end Delanie Walker. Martz certainly was familiar with the team's main offensive weapons - Frank Gore, Isaac Bruce, Vernon Davis -- upon arriving in San Francisco. But he admits he knew little about Walker, a sixth-round pick in 2006. Here's what he had to say when asked about Walker:

"Wow. That's how I would say it. Wow. He has some real wow factor to him. He is such a professional and he works so hard at it. He's such a stickler for detail. You talk about some jets and some ability to run and eat up the field. Holy cow. I didn't know anything about Delanie until I got here. The last week or two, we put some things in just for him and he just really excelled."

Do you now go back and add plays after seeing certain offensive players in action over the last three weeks?

"No question. That final (offensive group) we get down to ... each one of those guys will have stuff for him in every game plan and certainly Delanie is a guy that you have to make sure you get him in there and put him in an environment where he can get a step on a safety or linebacker because he can win those battles."

Does he play the same position as Vernon Davis?

"Sometimes. He plays several positions. You can either put him where Vernon is and take Vernon out or put him in different positions. He's capable of several positions."

Of course, the team's previous offensive coordinators also have seen Walker's potential but have had mixed results as far as working him into the offense. Last year, Walker caught 21 passes for 174 yards. Twelve of those receptions and 116 of those yards came in the final four games of the season.

If there was an overall theme from Martz today it was that the 49ers have an abundance of offensive talent - they just need someone to put them in the right position to use that talent. The season depends on whether Martz can do that. It should be fun to watch....

-- Matt Barrows

June 18, 2008
Rams have plenty to offer in Sims sweepstakes

Look for the four-way competition to land offensive tackle Barry Sims to come down to a intra-division battle between the 49ers and Rams. All four teams - the Patriots and the Ravens are the other two - could stand to boost their depth along the offensive line, but the Rams and 49ers appear to offer Sims the best chance at seeing playing time.

The Rams certainly have one of the greatest left tackles of all time in Orlando Pace. But Pace has played in only nine games in the last two seasons and suffered a season-ending injury in Week One last year. That injury proved to be a nasty harbinger for the Rams' offensive line, which lost one lineman after another in 2007. Pace is now recovering from off-season rotator cuff surgery, a tough injury for a tackle. On the other side of the line, the Rams have Alex Barron, but there is little depth beyond that. It should be noted that Sims can play on both the left and right side, but that he primarily was a left tackle while with the Raiders

The 49ers, meanwhile, have concerns on the right side of the line where oft-injured Jonas Jennings is the starter. Rookie Chilo Rachal is second on the depth chart there, but there is a belief inside the organization that his true position is guard and that he should be developed there. At this point, it is hard to imagine that Rachal, who last played tackle the summer before his freshman year at USC, would start there if Jennings became injured.

In Baltimore, Jonathan Ogden retired last week. But his heir apparent appears to be massive second-year player Jared Gaither, a supplemental draft acquisition last year. Adam Terry is manning the right side.

Aside from the Super Bowl, New England's offensive line held up well last year. Matt Light is on the left side while Nick Kaczur, Ryan O'Callaghan and Oliver Ross can play on the right side.

******
Thanks to Cecil Lammey and Sigmund Bloom for having me on their radio show yesterday. To listen to the podcast, click here.

******
Athletes Against Autism is holding its annual golf tournament this weekend in Santa Barbara and several current and former NFLers with Bay Area ties will be taking part including Tom Flores, Ryan Nece (current Tampa Bay lb; Ronnie Lott's son), and former 49ers Chris Hetherington and Travis Hall. My money's on Hetherington, whose father owns a golf course in Connecticut.

-- Matt Barrows.

June 17, 2008
OTAs: 49ers practice two-minute drill

Both Alex Smith and Shaun Hill ran the two-minute offense today in practice and the outcome was, well, what you'd expect from two passers still learning Mike Martz's complex offense. Working with the first unit, Smith's passes were invariably nice, tight spirals and he attempted several passes deep downfield. But some of the passes were thrown too late and were behind his receivers. Smith's main target was receiver Bryant Johnson. He connected with Johnson on his first two attempts. But his final attempt to Johnson in the end zone was picked off by safety Keith Lewis. The following clip is of Smith in the two-minute drill. It's hard to see, but his pass actually gets picked off by secondary coach Johnnie Lynn, who, after all, is a former safety. Mental note: Full zoom makes the images look like they're something out of an Impressionist painting. That's Manet-to-Manet coverage they're using



06172008042-001 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

Hill, meanwhile, looked just like he does when he enters games. Working with second- and third-team players, the offenses seemed to be more in-sync. But his passes didn't have Smith's zip and he often settled on dump-offs to running back Michael Robinson. Hill's first three attempts, in fact, were to Robinson (two completions; one dropped pass.). Hill did hit receiver Robert Jordan on a pass across the middle, but his floater in the end zone to receiver Dominique Zeigler was intercepted by rookie safety D.J. Parker (who has looked good, by the way).

As far as deciding which of these players will have the edge in training camp ... well, the 49ers are still deciding. Mike Nolan said that he will get together with Martz and Ted Tollner after OTAs end on Thursday and begin laying the groundwork for training camp. "I wouldn't even go there now," Nolan said when asked who was winning the quarterback competition. In discussing Smith, for instance, Nolan said that Martz's offense forced Smith to pick up blitzes more quickly and to throw to the hot receiver. Hot reads were a big topic of conversation today and it's an area where Nolan's seen progress since last month's minicamp.

Will J.T. O'Sullivan get worked into the starting quarterback competition? O'Sullivan received scant work in team drills throughout OTAs, but Nolan continues to say good things about him. Nolan said that he was convinced he has three quarterbacks on the roster "who can win a game for us." He also said O'Sullivan was "probably as competitive as anyone we've had around here from an individual personality standpoint." Still, it's hard to see O'Sullivan getting more reps when training camp begins. The bottom line is that Martz's offense is so complicated and so dependent on synchronization between the quarterback and the receivers that can't be a split competition for too long.

********
Right tackle Chilo Rachal and Kentwan Balmer were matched against each other during much of the two-minute drills. It's hard to give an accurate evaluation when linemen don't have their pads on, but Balmer seemed to get around the outside of Rachal with ease on a couple of plays.

*****UPDATE*******
The 49ers claimed former USC defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey off of waivers today. The Eagles drafted Ramsay in the sixth round in 2006 but cut him last week. He played in six games as a rookie and nine games last season.

*******
Tackle Ramiro Pruneda will join the team in training camp as part of the league's international practice squad program. Pruneda (6-6, 317) led Monterrey Tech to four Mexican national championships and merits consideration despite his international roots. He went to training camp with the Chiefs last year and spent the season on the Chiefs' and Eagles' practice squads. With Pruneda, the 49ers will be allowed to keep nine players on their practice squad this year.

-- Matt Barrows

June 16, 2008
Waiting for Nemo and finding Willig ....

Sorry about the brief absence. I flew down to L.A. Sunday to celebrate my soon-to-be 5-year-old nephew's birthday at Disneyland. Love the little guy, and his infatuation with Star Wars brings a tear to my eye. But I wish he had been born in, oh, February. Mid June isn't the best month to battle mouse-eared crowds for a spot on the Nemo ride. Very hot and wall-to-wall kids. In fact, the experience prompted me to schedule an emergency vasectomy for the morning ...

On the plane ride down I bumped into former 49er, Matt Willig. After chatting for a while, Willig handed me a business card with his likeness on it. It says, "Matthew Willig, Overall Badass." Ah, but he's a badass with a brain. Willig has parlayed a mean-looking exterior into a nice acting career. He started out in commercials (You may remember him from the Capital One commercials w/ David Spade) has done some TV and recently wrapped up a feature film called "Year One." It stars Jack Black, is set in biblical times and, of course, is a comedy. The fact that Judd Apatow ("40-year-old Virgin," "Knocked Up") is involved makes me think it just might make some money when it's released.

*******
Here's my Sunday story on first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer. The great thing about blogs is that you can include details that didn't make it into the story. As far as the Balmer piece, the one striking think I had to omit was his dad's obsession with the 49ers. You may have read that Charles Balmer was wearing a 49ers hat on the day his son was drafted. You may have also read he was a big fan of Joe Montana. But Charles Balmer was a fan of Montana when Montana first joined the 49ers in 1979 (they were 2-14) not when the 49ers won their first Super Bowl in January 1982. Which means that Charles Balmer is no fair-weather follower. The part of North Carolina where the Balmers live is die-hard Redskins country, so Charles Balmer received plenty of flak for his allegiance. When the 49ers ended up drafting his son, Charles said it was almost spooky, as if he's had a premonition way back when. Said his nephew Shaun Stevenson: "The look on his dad's face was more priceless than the look on Kentwan's."

*******
I'm not going to pretend I did a lot (or any) legwork on the Barry Sims front today. I do know, however, that the 49ers are still battling three other teams - The Patriots, Rams and Ravens - for his services.

******
Check in tomorrow for news and notes from the 49ers' final open-to-the-media OTA ....
-- Matt Barrows

June 14, 2008
5Q: Is Davis a Cooley clone?

Question 1: The difference between Marshall Faulk and Frank Gore is, in the passing game, linebackers were overmatched by Faulk, forcing the defense to either play zone, or to try to cover him with a safety, leaving the corners exposed. I'm not certain Gore can create such mismatches; however, if used creatively, Vernon Davis has Faulk-like potential to cause headaches for defenses. With a power RB, average WRs, and a versatile TE, will the '08 Niners look more like the Al Saunders coordinated Chiefs and Redskins (similar system and personnel) than the Martz led Rams? Is another comparison more suitable?
Terry, Davis

Answer: Interesting point, Terry, and one bolstered by the fact that Faulk talked up Davis almost as much as he did Gore this week. Perhaps he spent some time with Martz and came away with thinking that Davis could be the x-factor in the offense. And, yes, the Chiefs and Redskins offenses are interesting to look at considering how they use their tight ends. Everyone knows how prolific Tony Gonzales has been. But Washington's Chris Cooley could be the better comparison as far as what Martz has in store for Davis. The Skins' move Cooley all over the field, and he comes out of the backfield quite a bit. Last year, Cooley had 66 catches for 786 yards and eight TDs. He's probably a better pass catcher and route runner than Davis. But Davis is bigger, faster and a much, much better blocker.
- Matt

Question 2: Any word on the QB competition? Can you use your sixth sense to determine who the receivers and VD favor? Last year it seemed that Vernon favored Hill given his quick release and the fact that he had TDs from him. Furthermore, he has always seemed a little frustrated with A. Smith.
Stephen, Portland, Or

Answer: I think your instincts are right on, Stephen. Davis certainly was happier when Hill was at the helm last year. But Davis isn't a complicated guy. He won't care who the quarterback is as long as there are a lot of passes thrown his way. From the practices I've seen, Smith has been the sharper quarterback. I can only assume that the receivers will favor the QB who most often hits his targets.
- Matt

Question 3: Hey Matt: How long is Mike Martz's contract with the 49ers for? If there is considerable improvement with the offense this year, (can only get better) will they sign him to a long-term deal? Or will we have another Norv come & go?
Jason, Las Vegas

Answer: Martz signed a two-year deal. Remember, though, the 49ers lost two of their last three OCs because they were offered head-coaching gigs. If Martz gets the same offer, it won't matter how long his contract is and probably won't matter how much it is for.
- Matt

Question 4: BARRY SIMS!! The king of false starts? And when he wasn't committing a false start or holding, he was giving up a sack! During a game last year after Barry had false started for the 4th time, the exasperated announcer said "when is enough enough". Better we should sign a statue. Hopefully, the Rams sign him.
James, Lincoln

Answer: Sounds like the 49ers and Raiders might be exchanging false starters. I guarantee you the Raiders pay more for theirs, though.
- Matt

Question 5: Well, if fans can get live analysis AND live play-by-play on beat writers' blogs, why would they ever go to NFL.com? Oh, and my theory on the closed practices is that Nolan blames the media for a number of things, including his tenuous job security, his tenuous relationship with Alex Smith, and Smith's fading career. He probably thinks by controlling how much day-to-day coverage there is, he can keep the media from screwing up whatever he thinks they've screwed up in the past. Ridiculous, of course. But I'm guessing that's where this is coming from.
James, Modesto

Answer: The feedback I've received is that Nolan wants to keep these OTAs as distraction-free as possible. And for good reason. Just last year, Crumpacker disrupted seven-on-seven drills when he ran onto the field with "Free Tibet!" written across his naked body. Maiocco is always calling attention to himself by screaming at his stockbroker - "Dammit, I said ten thousand shares of Yingli Green Energy!" - via his satellite phone. And who can forget the stir I caused when I brought my girlfriend to OTAs last June. This year, Beyonce stays home.
- Matt

June 13, 2008
Is Hall too full for BY?

Holy smokes - the Hall of Fame class for 2013 is shaping up to be one of the best ever. Brett Favre is a can't-miss first ballot guy as is Jonathan Ogden. You have to think that Michael Strahan, who is fifth on the all-time sack list and holds the season-single record in that category won't have to wait beyond 2013. (Given their dive-and-sack routine in 2001, maybe Favre should be Strahan's presenter. Buzz-zing!). In addition, Warren Sapp, Junior Seau and Orlando Pace (if he retires) are all strong possibilities. The question is whether two 49ers - Bryant Young and Larry Allen - will go into the Hall at the same time.

by.jpg la.jpg

BY has three things going against him.

First, he played on a lot of crappy teams. Sure, his 49ers career began with a Super Bowl title, and from 1994 to 2002 Young and the 49ers made the playoffs seven times. But during the last five years of his career, the time when players like Young finally get the recognition and national attention they deserve, he was playing in meaningless games on dreadful teams.

Second, his statistics are rock-solid but not mind-blowing. I know, I know. Young mostly played a position that called for him to do a lot of dirty work and to make sacrifices so that others could get the glory. And while teammates and opponents respect that, HOF voters will look to stats. BY's 89.5 career sacks are outstanding, but they're not as good as Strahan's (141.5) or Sapp's (96.5).

And finally, Young never called attention to himself. That modest business-like demeanor won him the admiration of coaches, teammates, opponents, the local fans and local media. But the ugly reality is that self-aggrandizement attracts attention and that attention sometimes gets you into the Hall. Just look at the Michael Irvin-vs.-Art Monk dynamic. Monk had better numbers than Irvin yet the flamboyant Irvin beat him into the Hall. As disgusting as this sounds, if Young had had some silly sack dance and had made outrageous comments, I bet he'd have a better chance of being a first-ballot guy. Then again, sometimes respect and dignity are more important than a yellow blazer.

And now Allen. There is no question he's a first-ballot selection. He's perhaps the greatest interior lineman to ever play the game. The question is whether he's retiring. The taciturn guard hasn't said a word to 49ers coaches and the many attempts to reach Allen's agent have gone nowhere. I spoke to a few 49ers who have chatted with Allen, but they don't have much insight either. Michael Robinson, for example, text messages Allen every now and then. "He doesn't speak much," Robinson said, "so every text is like a one-word answer."

Allen went to school in the Bay Area and has built a home here. After he left the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, both the 49ers and Raiders desperately tried to snag him. (Even after Allen agreed to play in San Francisco, the 49ers feared he would be ambushed at the airport by Raiders officials). The Raiders, however, don't appear to be interested anymore. My guy Jason Jones floated the possibility of Allen playing in Oakland but the Raiders said there was no interest. My guess - and this is just a guess: The Cowboys convince him to sign a symbolic contract so that he retires with a star on his helmet.

******
Rookie Chilo Rachal was back at practice today after flying home to the L.A. area earlier this week to attend to his mother. His mother has been suffering with a stomach tumor but reportedly is feeling better.

-- Matt Barrows

June 12, 2008
The league taketh and giveth away

Mixed news from the league today about reporter access. The 45 seconds of video we can use of team practices, interviews, press conferences, etc. has been bumped up to 90 seconds. That's good progress. But in the same announcement, the league said there can be no live blogging during games. Apparently this is not a new rule, but it's one that wasn't known or enforced. I blogged live last season and Maiocco's live blogging certainly was popular. ***clarification**** The league is banning live play-by-play blogging. I'm told that reporters will still be permitted to analyze the game via live blogs. That is, comments about the effectiveness of a certain defense, whether to go for it on fourth down, etc. are permissable.

Once again, I'm not sure I understand the logic. The live blogging enhances and augments the broadcast of the game. It doesn't replace it. I liken it to a bunch of guys watching a game in a bar. If you can't make it to the bar, at least you can enjoy some camaraderie - celebrating a play, lamenting a turnover, trading opinions - in the on-line world. Does the league really believe a few pithy observations on someone's blog threaten the television and radio broadcasts? I would argue that it only improves the experience and that blogging in general has been a tremendous boon for the league. The amount of information about a team we are able to supply via blogs only increases a fan's appetite for the sport. Limiting that information makes it seem like the league is cutting its blog to spite its face.

More on the access front. On Tuesday - the only day this week the media was allowed to watch practice - Mike Nolan was asked why he decided to limit OTA access this season when there had been no limit in years' past. Here's the exchange

Reporter One: Last year OTAs were open to the media all the way through. This year four are open. Why limit the media access?

Nolan: We're following the rules more closely.

Reporter Two: Well, the rules are a minimum of four, right?

Nolan: You've got to start some place.

Reporter Two: Well, you started with all open practices. You've reduced ...

Nolan: ... That was another year. This is a new year. In January you go to 2008.

Reporter Two: What's the rationale behind it?

Nolan: I figured that's what we'd do.

Reporter One: So no real reason?

Nolan: Oh, yeah. There was a reason - start at the minimum and stop. That's it. We did.

Reporter One: (laughing) You don't like us? You don't want to see us around?

Nolan: Oh, you guys are good. You guys are good. If I give anybody better treatment it'll be the beats (beatwriters). The beats always get better ...

It should be noted that during the practice, Marshall Faulk and the NFL Network had far, far better access of the practice field and that Faulk was chatting up players and coaches during practice, which is something that's strictly verboten for beatwriters.

But it also should be noted that even with this reduction, the 49ers still provide reporters with better access than most teams. Even with practices closed, we can still request to talk to players and coaches after practice ...

*******
This just in: Receiver Darrell Jackson did not enjoy his one-year sojourn in San Francisco. Now a Bronco, Jackson tells the Denver Post that he was miserable here last year. He said the low-point came Nov. 18 when the 49ers lost to the Rams, their eighth-straight defeat. I think he hit rock bottom the week prior when the 49ers were crushed/embarrassed in a Monday night game in Seattle.

I remember walking into the 49ers' locker room after that game and seeing Jackson sitting in front of his locker. By the time reporters get into the locker room, most players are out of their uniforms, showered and dressing in street clothes. Jackson was still in uniform, staring straight ahead like he had seen a ghost. The look was the same one Stephen Baldwin has on his face in "The Usual Suspects" after he had been stabbed in the back by Keyser Soze. "Strangest thing ..."

-- Matt Barrows

June 11, 2008
Faulk: It was all on me

Here's the full transcript of the interview CoCo Times columnist Cam Inman and I did with Marshall Faulk yesterday. The most revealing answer, for me at least, involves Faulk's role early in his Rams career when the St. Louis quarterbacks were just learning Martz's system. He says Martz leaned heavily on him almost as if he was the quarterback. The implication, of course, is that Frank Gore will have a similar responsibility this season. Everyone knew Gore would have a big role this year, but it's likely going to be bigger than we imagined.

Faulk was in town with his role as an analyst with NFL Network. He spent time with Gore, with Martz and with tight end Vernon Davis. (Davis said that Faulk predicted he would have a big season in Martz's offense). As of now, the plan is for those clips to appear sporadically during the offseason. If I find out specific air times, I'll let you know. ****UPDATE***** It looks as if NFL.com has a brief segment from Faulk's visit that can be found here. I'm told there will be more from the visit that will apear on NFL Network in coming weeks. By the way, remember that collison between Keith Lewis and Patrick Willis I wrote about yesterday? That happens on the Shaun Hill-to-Davis pass in this clip.

On the similarities between Martz's current and previous offenses:
It's a little different from when I got Mike. I was in an offense that featured me catching the ball with the Colts, coming out of the backfield. Mike ventured out with putting me at receiver.

On Gore's potential as a pass catcher:
He'll slowly bring Frank along in that aspect. I know a lot of people, including myself, wondering how does that match up, how is that going to work? Because Frank seems like a one-dimensional back. But I think he hasn't been used in that way and Mike is going to bring him along slowly. I think Frank is going to be an every-down back and has the capabilities to be an every down back.

On whether Gore is "fighting the ball" when it's thrown his way:
It happens. It's natural. When you don't catch the ball often, and when the ball's thrown to you and you need to catch it, you try to make sure you catch it instead of just accepting it. Guys that catch that ball, they catch the ball effortless(ly). You guys saw Jerry (Rice) catch the ball around here. You never saw him push the ball, you saw him absorb it. I watched Frank fight the ball in that aspect. He can catch the ball. I've watched him at the Pro Bowl and he catches the ball pretty well.

On role of the RB in Martz's offense:
The running back in this offense is the problem solver. He's the key ingredient. If you have a running back that can move around and do multiple things, it puts the stress on the defense. Most of the times you see a running back in the I (formation), you know he's going to do this. When you see the running back come in the game, you know what he's going to do. Well, when the running back moves around and he's able to catch the ball, your offense becomes more of an enigma to people, and they wonder what is he going to do. What do I put in? Are they going to put in the power game? Are they going to move Frank out?

On additional problems for the defense:
You throw Vernon in that. They can go two receivers with Vernon and Frank and flex Vernon out, it causes mismatches. They have to decide if they want to play the run or the pass.

On Gore's most important role in the offense:
Frank's doing a lot of things, and I told him the No. 1 thing is protecting the quarterback. That's what becomes hard for backs who haven't sat back there and watched people walk around, and decide which guy they have. When one of the lineman takes a guy, you know which guy to take to fix it.

On Gore's ability as a pass blocker:
We don't know (if protects well). I have not seen him in that aspect like he's going to be in this system. Maybe he had been, but whether it was his fault or not, you wouldn't know. In this offense, you're going to know when Frank's guy is the guy and he missed him. You're going to know.

On Faulk's role when the Rams quarterbacks were still learning the system:
It was all on me. The onus was on me to control a lot of things within our offense. Frank is going to be in that same way. He's the core. It's all going to be built around him.
In a sense, it asks a lot of you, and you've got to ask more of yourself, because you've got to be out there on the field. I can remember a time when Mike would call timeouts and say, 'Catch your breath. We've got to get you back in the game.'

On whether Faulk's blocking skills were overlooked:
It not only gets overlooked by people, but sometimes by running backs. It's the hardest thing to practice. You tell a defensive end or outside linebacker to just rush you, and now you have to fight this man. It's like telling somebody to hit you in the face. But you just get better at it. First you have to know who to get before you get them. It's who to get, and then how to get them.

On whether he feels like he's venturing into enemy territory:
I'm behind enemy lines right now, without a doubt. Other than coach Nolan, the only thing that would get me here is my job.

On mentoring Gore:
I don't call it tutoring. We just talk football. Frank's a polished athlete. We talk football and I try to have conversations with him just about the game in general.

-- Matt Barrows

June 10, 2008
Faulk ventures behind enemy lines

What was perhaps most notable about today's practice was who was watching it. Marshall Faulk, along with an NFL Network crew, was on hand, and I noticed several players and coaches sidling up to Faulk during practice. The long-time Ram admitted that the visit was like venturing behind enemy lines. (Actually, not many current 49ers ever played against Faulk.). I'll have more on what Faulk had to say later. One thing that struck me was just how reliant the offense will be on Frank Gore. Everyone knows that Gore will be the centerpiece of Martz's system. But Faulk stressed that Gore's role will be even more important considering the inexperience of the 49ers' quarterbacks. He likened it to his early years in St. Louis. "It was all on me," Faulk said. "Frank is going to be the guy, the core. It's all going to be built around him."

*****
The 49ers signed OL Joe Toledo, a fourth rounder of the Dolphins in 2006, to replace recently released Qasim Mitchell. Mike Nolan said he wasn't sure where Toledo, who played at Washington, would play on a still shuffling offensive line. Toledo practiced at both guard and tackle with the Dolphins. Toledo struggled with injuries while in Miami and was released in February. Nolan said that Toledo's signing won't affect the team's interest in Barry Sims, who had a good visit with the team yesterday. Sims also is visiting the Patriots, Ravens and Rams and will decide next week where he wants to end up. Nolan said that if Sims were signed, Chilo Rachal could be moved back to guard.

******
Cornerback Shawntae Spencer has a hip flexor injury and did not practice. In fact, Spencer may be finished with OTAs altogether. Nolan said he plans on getting married and taking off on his honeymoon. Another injured defensive back, Mark Roman (shoulder), said he was close to returning. It's a good thing. Challenger Dashon Goldson has been looking very good at free safety. Asked about Goldson, Nolan said: "He probably has the most range in our secondary. I think in the long run he's going to be a very good safety." Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I think the words "in the long run" signal that Goldson will still be on the bench when the season starts. As I've written before, Nolan loves/trusts veterans and I believe Roman will be his guy at free safety.

******
Nolan also had nice things to say about rookie receiver Josh Morgan. "Josh is very athletic. He's got a lot of ability and a lot of size for a position where size is a real advantage." Nolan said Morgan followed up a strong Monday practice with another solid effort today. Morgan had perhaps the catch of the day, a leaping corner-of-the-end-zone grab on a pass from Alex Smith. Smith threw another pinpoint end-zone pass to Robert Jordan later in the practice.

*****
Practices are non-contact, but that doesn't mean players can't get hurt. The franchise took a collective gasp Tuesday when linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Keith Lewis - two of the biggest hitters on the team - converged on a pass attempt and ended up colliding with each other. Both got up a bit gingerly, but both did get up and continued to practice.

-- Matt Barrows

June 10, 2008
Almost-full house at OTAs

Practice just began on this the sixth day of 49ers' OTAs, and the team has a nearly full house. As reported yesterday, veteran receiver Isaac Bruce is not going to take part in any more practices. The team also released tackle Qasim Mitchell. The 49ers likely will sign a replacement shortly, possibly today. it will not be Barry Sims, who probably will decide between four teams -- the 49ers, Patriots, Ravens and Rams -- next week. Also, cornerback Shawntae Spencer is not practicing due to an injury. I don't know exactly what the injury is or the severity of it, so stay tuned ...

-- Matt Barrows

June 9, 2008
Sims also visiting Pats, Ravens, Rams

Barry Sims is currently meeting with 49ers' coaches and personnel officials, but don't expect the ex-Raiders tackle to sign this week. According to Sims' agent, Ken Vierra, Sims has a busy travel schedule this week. He'll work out for the Patriots on Wednesday and for the Ravens on Thursday. Then he'll fly to St. Louis for a meeting with the Rams. Vierra said he thought Sims, who was released by the Raiders earlier this year, would make a decision some time next week.

My guy Jason Jones, who covers the Raiders for The Bee, liked covering Sims. After all, this is a guy who went undrafted out of Utah (Alex Smith would be happy with him!) in 1999, then proceeded to hold off a number of highly touted challengers - Mo Collins, Matt Stinchcomb, Robert Gallery - at left tackle. Sure, Sims was part of the group that allowed a spine-jarring 72 sacks in 2006. But Jones notes that the Raiders had Sims playing out of position - at left guard - for much of the season. Sims started 119 of 136 games during a nine-year career in Oakland.

Sims' natural position is left tackle. However, if he were to join the 49ers he might see the most action at right tackle -- and not just because Jonas Jennings has been injury prone. If something were to happen to left tackle Joe Staley, Jennings could be asked to switch back to the left side. It also will be interesting to see how a Sims' signing would affect Chilo Rachal, the former USC guard who was moved to right tackle last week during OTAs. There is some disagreement inside team headquarters as to whether Rachal should have been moved. Sims played right tackle in college and earlier during his playing career in Oakland.

-- Matt Barrows

June 9, 2008
Arnaz Battle: miscommunication with team is on my shoulders

Arnaz Battle, absent from the first week of OTAs, was back in action for today's practice. After lifting weights, he got on a brief conference call with reporters. (Practice was closed to reporters). Battle said that he has been working with a trainer in the Dallas area and had not taken part in the optional offseason conditioning program and the optional OTAs due to personal reasons.

He seemed surprised that his absence was causing a stir and only realized it was a hot topic when a reporter contacted him about the absence. "It's just a lack of communication," Battle said. "This is not a mandatory camp and I felt there were some personal things I needed to take care of. I put it on my shoulders. I didn't communicate it, and that's that."

Battle said he contacted coach Mike Nolan, who hadn't heard from Battle when OTAs began, late last week and arrived in Santa Clara on Friday. He said he planned to participate in the last two weeks of OTAs. He said there were no hard feelings between him and the coaching staff.

Because he's been absent, Battle said he spent today's practice working himself back into the system. He said he played both at the "X" and "Z" positions today. The big question regarding his absence is that with a new offense being installed, why he wouldn't take every opportunity to learn that offense.

Battle agreed that Martz's offense presented a great opportunity for a receiver, but he also said he wasn't worried about picking it up. "I played quarterback," he said. "I feel I have the intelligence to (be able to) come in and learn the position and get out there and make plays and make things happen"

*****
Battle should have plenty of opportunities. Veteran receiver Isaac Bruce, who of course already is familiar with Martz's offense, won't be taking part in any more OTAs. Nolan asked Bruce to take part in one week, which he did with last week's session. Battle is playing behind Bruce at "Z" receiver.

Tackle Jonas Jennings is back in action, as is rookie linebacker Larry Grant, who was back for Friday's session. Receiver Cam Colvin is the only rookie not yet eligible to join the team.

The team has been holding OTAs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. For the last week, that schedule will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

-- Matt Barrows

June 8, 2008
New uniforms .... in 2010

Well, there's good news and bad news on the uniform front. The good news is that the team plans on holding a number of focus groups this summer to determine if the 49ers' current duds should be changed and, if so, what the new ones should look like. The tentative plan is to ask fans their opinions during public practices at training camp. The team typically opens 10 sessions every training camp.

unisRonnie.jpg gore uni.jpg

The bad news is that if the team decides on new unis, they won't hit the field until 2010. I got this reply from the league when I inquired about the procedure for changing uniforms:

"A club must give written notice and details thereof to the League by March 1 of the year prior to the year in which it wishes to change and must submit the final design and physical samples of the uniforms to the League office for approval by November 1 of that same year."

The 49ers certainly could have a final design and physical samples by Nov. 1. but they haven't given the written notice. Instead the team has been preoccupied with other matters (something about an $800-plus million stadium). And while a lot of fans (and me) are in favor of returning to the Ronnie Lott-, Joe Montana-era cherry red duds, there's no guarantee that will happen. When I've spoken with Jed York on the matter in the past, he's said that previous focus groups have been split 50-50 between the old duds and the current ones. This seems like one of those red state-blue state, tastes great-less filling, Alex Smith-Shaun Hill type matters. Let the debate begin ...

-- Matt Barrows

June 8, 2008
Singletary searching for Ted

Since the 2007 season ended, a big chunk of 49ers storylines have revolved around the "Ted" linebacker position. So I wrote a story in today's Bee describing what exactly Ted does, why it's so critical in the 49ers' defense (ans: bodyguard for Patrick Willis) and why the team has had trouble filling the role. Here's a little bit more on the subject from linebacker coach Mike Singletary ...

Question: Can you give me a general description of what the Ted does in this defense?

Mike Singletary: I would put it this way. The Mike in this defense is the playmaker, very much like Ray Lewis, (Brian) Urlacher and those guys. Ted is the guy that a lot of people don't appreciate as much. But Ted is going to clean things up. Ted is going to pave the way for the Mike. I would say Ted is the big brother. If you're going to touch Mike, you've got to come through me first. That's Ted in this defense. I'm going to go attack it. Mike, I've got your back. Anything that's coming at you has got to go through me.

Q: What are Ted's responsibilities?

MS: Let's say there's a blitz. Well, the Ted may go get it first. The Ted will knock it out first. If there's a big fullback I need to hit. If there's a tackle I need to go get, if there's a guard I need to go get, Ted will go hit it and Mike will go clean it up. Mike is the clean-up guy. Mike is ... it's thunder and lightning. Ted would be thunder; Mike would be lightning.

Q: Is that a hard person to find - someone who's willing to do all the dirty work so that someone else can get the glory?

MS: Ted gets his chance, too now. Ted and Mike ... depending on how good the Ted is ... Ted can make just as many plays as Mike. Ted can show up and blow it up. Ted's going to get his share of the glory, too. So it's not like the (offensive) guy who never touches the ball. Ted will get his chances.

Q: Because he takes on so many blocks, do you ideally want a big, stout guy playing that position?

MS: Well, I would put it this way; you want a guy that's mean enough, thick enough, that has the ability to last a little bit, has durability but yet at the same time can run with the tight end down the field. He's got to be able to hold his own in pass defense as well.

Q: When you were with the Bears, was there someone next to you who was in that ted role?

MS: I had three guys and we were basically all Mikes. They were all pretty special. None of them were Teds. It just so happened that we had an unusual groupe of guys. And it worked out where we just all made plays and we looked out for each other and we made sure the nature of the defense was to do that.

Q: Who's sort of a prototypical Ted in the league right now?

MS: I would say ... Well, Derek Smith was a good Ted. I think he was a good Ted. I think Brandon a couple of years ago, he was a good Ted. May still be. We just have to keep working and find the right guy and the right fit to make it work. Journalism 101: I should have followed up on this line of questioning. The interview was done in a noisy lockerroom and when Singletary said the word "Brandon" I didn't pick it up. I only realized what he said when I went back and listened to the tape.

Q: Jeff Ulbrich is obviously willing to do anything for this team. Is there a concern with him that he couldn't withstand the pounding at the position?

MS: Jeff is very important to what we're doing on this team in leadership and all those things. I think what you're saying is certainly an idea, a thought process. When you've got a guy like Jeff, you want to make sure he's going to last a whole season. You don't want him banged up all the time.

Q: And he's valuable in other areas.

MS: Oh yeah. Very much so. Nickel, big sub - all that kind of stuff.

Q: And what about the other two guys, Dontarrious Thomas and Larry Grant?

MS: You know what - I haven't seen enough. You never can tell about a linebacker until you put the pads on. Right now, they all look pretty. But when you put the pads on, it's something else.
Barrows note: Grant hasn't taken part in OTAs because classes at Ohio State are still in session. He is scheduled to join the team tomorrow.

-- Matt Barrows

June 7, 2008
Q&A: Locked out of OTAs

Question: Has it been standard practice to keep the media away from the OTAs? I don't recall this from previous years and I really don't see the point. The team needs all of the good press it can get. At least you guys don't have to schlep down to Santa Clara on an almost daily basis.
Matt, Modesto

Answer: No, it's definitely not standard practice. In fact, I've been covering the team since 2003 and these are the first practices that have been closed to reporters. Practices were even open in the wake of Thomas Herrion's death in 2005. League rules state that only a portion of OTA practices need to be open to the media. But the 49ers, in the last quarter century at least, never have done the bare minimum when it comes to access (in stark contrast to the Raiders). Their philosophy always has been that media attention is good for the team. They have been one of the best - if not the best - teams as far as providing access. And you're right, this is a team that can use all the good press it can get. You have to wonder how ticket sales are going when the economy is as bad as it is and when the 49ers haven't had a winning season since 2002.

The 49ers will argue that OTAs historically haven't had a lot (or any) coverage anyway. That might be true, but nowadays no bit of minutia is too small for blogs and on-line forums. I covered every OTA last year and I can attest that readers, hungry for their 49ers news in the offseason, ate it up with vigor. I would also argue that the 49ers have replaced minicamps with OTAs and that they are basically the same thing. If you grant access to one, why not grant access to the other?

P.S. The 49ers will undoubtedly suspect that I've planted this question, especially since your name is Matt. As God is my witness, this is a legitimate question ... unless it was planted by Maiocco.
- Matt

Question: Dashon Goldson has apparently opened some eyes in the OTAs, and what I am wondering is if he has the chance to win the starting Free Safety job? Mark Roman isn't getting any younger...
John, Great Falls, MT.

Answer: Goldson certainly seems to have more play-making ability than Roman. (Heck, he seems to have at least two INTs every practice). But Roman is a trusted veteran and Nolan tends to go with the trusted veteran even if he's not as flashy as the challenger. I see the 49ers working Goldson into the defense in nickel packages, but I don't think he'll overtake Roman for the starting job (unless there's an injury).
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, why in heavens haven't the 49ers tried to go after former Patriots linebacker Roosevelt Colvin? He could be the pass rushing end opposite Manny Lawson that we have been dying for for the past million years! That would give Parys more time to develop and keep TBC fresh to attack the QB when called upon.
James, Mobile, Ala.

Answer: Dunno the answer to that. I only know that the 49ers say they are not interested. Maybe they think RC's on the down slope of his career. After all, he had only four sacks last season, which is no better than TBC.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, love the blog and keep up the good work. I was wondering how Deshaun Foster was doing? I haven't heard any news on him, but I've seen some great plays out of him in the past. Any updates would be greatly appreciated.
Xavier, Sacramento

Answer: Foster's looking good. Running plays will be hard to assess until the 49ers put on their pads, but Foster's been silky smooth catching passes out of the backfield. I think he was a great addition.
- Matt

Question: What video clips do I want to see? 45 seconds of a player throwing a ball or making plays in the OTA's, with a writeup to follow. Key people like Alex Smith, Justin Smith, Nate Clements, Frank Gore, ect... That would be cool. Or maybe one of the up and coming players like Jason Hill, Chilo Rachal, etc.
Russ, Santa Monica.

Answer: Ask and you shall receive ... as soon as I get into another practice.
- Matt

Question: Re: The QB Competion... Didn't Hill merely play mop-up vs. Minnesota when it was playing soft with a big lead? Did his other four quarters look better than Smith's against Seattle the year before on the road? Said differently, it was six quarters for Hill against weak D's. My take: this is already a clusterfudge. This team NEEDS to build up Smith NOW and pray he's the guy. Because if Hill is the guy, 6-10 is the best you can hope for. If Smith plays to potential (that dreaded word), 10-6 is possible. Isn't it time to stop fooling around?
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Slight quibble - Hill played the second half of the Minnesota game and all of the Cincinnati and Tampa Bay games. That's 10 quarters. Still, you have a good point. Which is that Hill's chance of earning the starting quarterback job shouldn't be equal to Smith's, who has played in far more games. I think Nolan's philosophy is that an all-out competition will reveal the best quarterback of the bunch and that there will be no argument and second-guessing when it is over. The question is whether the competition will be resolved so cleanly. My guess is that it will not, hence my clusterfudge concern.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, out of state Niners fan. Why not just tear down Candlestick and build a new one there? Couldn't they find a place to play temporarily? I mean with the way last season went they wouldn't need many seats.
Rick, Las Vegas

Answer: There needs to be some sort of funding mechanism to help build the stadium. The previous plan at Candlestick called for a mixed-use development to be built alongside the stadium. But the 49ers found that the development would eat into the amount of parking on the site. Candlestick also presents all sorts of transportation woes - horrible traffic, poor access to highways, little public transit.
- Matt

June 6, 2008
G whiz: The dirty details on a SF stadium

Proposition G passed by a healthy margin in San Francisco earlier this week, meaning that the city's plan for a 49ers stadium still has a heartbeat. But it's faint. Sure, a Hunter's Point facility might become a legitimate Plan B should the team's current deal with Santa Clara fall apart. But it's safe to say that Measure G hasn't prompted the Yorks to suddenly shift their attention back to San Francisco.

Remember, the Yorks abandoned San Francisco for Santa Clara in 2006 due to infrastructure concerns they considered deal breakers. The same concerns exist with the new proposal. Both Candlestick Point, the previous stadium site, and Hunter's Point, the site of the current proposed stadium, are essentially peninsulas separated from the highway by narrow neighborhood roads. Any new plan would require massive road improvements to connect the site to Highway 101. It might even require a bridge over the slough that connects Hunter's and Candlestick points. We're talking upwards of billions of dollars being spent on road improvements alone. There's also very little public transit. Meanwhile, the Santa Clara site abounds in transit options - highways, light rail, heavy rail.

Then there's timing. As it stands now, the Yorks want to open their new Santa Clara stadium for the 2012 season. Shifting their focus back to San Francisco would add several years to that timeframe. We're talking "Hillary in 2016!" territory. After all, the proposed stadium would be built on a toxic Superfund site that still must be cleaned up.

Most of all, the Hunter's Point plan is just a plan. The ballot measure was non-binding. The Lennar Corp, the developer in charge of the project, still must sit down with environmental groups, planners and supervisors. They still must come up with a financing plan. And as the plan begins to take a specific shape, it certainly will change. Is a mixed-used development even compatible with a football stadium and all the parking and infrastructure that would need to go with it? It wasn't with the Candlestick project. Why would it at Hunter's Point?

*****
There's been a Jonas sighting! Right tackle Jonas Jennings, whose arrival at OTAs was going to be Wednesday and then Thursday, actually showed up in time for Friday's practice, according to the team. The last two practices have been closed to the media. In fact, only two of the remaining eight OTA practices are open.

-- Matt Barrows

June 5, 2008
Would the real "ted" please stand up?

Quarterback isn't the only position where there's a three-way battle to be starter. There are also three guys - Jeff Ulbrich, Dontarrious Thomas and Larry Grant - competing for the "ted" inside linebacker spot. Ulbrich is getting the starting reps for now, but I get the impression the 49ers would be ecstatic if Thomas won the position.

I say that for two reasons. First, the ideal "ted" is a big guy who can withstand 16 (and ideally 19) games of pounding. Thomas looks the part. He's a thick, muscular guy who stands 6-2 and weighs about 245 pounds. He's one of those guys who looks like he's wearing shoulder pads under his t-shirt. In other words, his body seems custom made to take on guards and fullbacks.

The second is that Ulbrich is valuable in other places. He's excellent in nickel packages when the defense uses two linebackers (him and Patrick Willis). And he's a demon on special teams. Last year he finished a close second to Michael Robinson in the team's so-called "Top Gun" competition that goes to the best special teamer.

Of course, it won't be easy to unseat Ulbrich. Right now Thomas is catching up on the mental aspects of the position. He played all three linebacker positions in Minnesota's 4-3 scheme, including "sam" linebacker, which is similar to "ted." The 49ers' scheme, however, is more complicated. "Coming here I had to learn how to be patient and slow down," Thomas said. "In a 4-3 scheme, it was mostly gap responsibility. Here there's gap responsibility. But you also have to be able to read the linemen." On passing plays, Minnesota plays a Tampa 2 defense, meaning that Thomas was responsible for dropping back and covering a specific spot on the field. Here he's had to learn route progression and how to read a receiver's body language.

The learning process has been tough, Thomas said, but he's made steady progress since minicamp. He hopes to have the mental aspect of the position down by training camp. Then he'll have to convince coaches he also can master the physical part of the game. When will the competition be over? Last year, the 49ers promoted Willis to the starting lineup on Aug. 20, which gave him two preseason games to get used to playing alongside Derek Smith. I figure Thomas will have to convince the 49ers he has what it takes at "ted" before the team's third preseason game Aug. 21 in Chicago.

What exactly does "ted" do and why have the 49ers been so picky about who plays there? I'll attempt to answer those questions in a story scheduled to run Monday ...

-- Matt Barrows

June 4, 2008
Baby steps in the video age

And the Academy Award for best video clip of an NFL special teams drill goes to .... well, probably not me. I'm so technologically stunted that I left the protective film over the lens of my new Nokia n95 video phone, hence the Martha Stewart-like soft glow in this 30-second clip. It's taken me nearly a full day to figure out how to post the video to my blog.



06032008011-002 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

But I'm trying. And The Bee is trying too ... trying to move away from the tree-bark technology that has been used, oh, for the last 400 years or so, and into the Internet age. The paper is pumping money and resources into videos like this one, and now my bosses want me to join the movement.

I'm all for it. But you'll have to bear with me. I like the idea of becoming a cinematic artiste, but the technological hoops I have to jump through have me pulling my hair out. (Hey, no bald jokes!). The NFL also is an obstacle. The league limits blogs like this one to 45-second clips of things like practice, player interviews and press conferences. Go 46 seconds and they send Chuck Bednarik to your house. Kidding ... I hope. Away from the team facility, there is no time limit and I'm allowed to wax on about the 49ers for as long as I want.

Anyway, with those limitations in mind, I'm wondering what you readers ...er...viewers would like to see. Suggestions, critiques, examples are welcome ...

... As for this video, it shows assistant special teams coach Dave Fipp teaching his pupils how to down punts at the goal line. Not bad, but I'd like to see the players try it with something oblong like ... I don't know ... a football.

-- Matt Barrows


June 4, 2008
Battle coming back; Thurman rumors false

Arnaz Battle, who has missed the last two voluntary OTAs, contacted the team today and said he would arrive in Santa Clara over the weekend. Battle, who has been working out in the Dallas area, presumably will be on the field for the Monday practice. Battle told coaches he has remained in Dallas because of personal reasons. He has not taken part in the offseason weight lifting and conditioning program, although he did attend the mandatory minicamp last month.

Battle has been working behind Isaac Bruce at the "Z" wideout position. He is in a good spot to win the role as No. 3 receiver in the offense. However, Jason Hill and Ashley Lelie have been working in that role during Battle's absence.

* Some of you have asked about a television report this morning that said that ex-Bengals linebacker Odell Thurman had skipped out on a scheduled interview with the 49ers. Both Thurman's agent and the 49ers say that there never was meeting. In fact, the latest news is that Thurman has been suspended indefinitely by the league. The 49ers also have shown no interest in free-agent linebacker Roosevelt Colvin.

* My guy Maiocco is reporting that the 49ers are interested in signing ex-Raider lineman Barry Sims. If the 49ers do sign Sims, it might mean that Chilo Rachal will return to playing guard. Rachal, a guard at USC, has been practicing this week at right tackle due to the lack of depth at the position. However, there is disagreement inside the 49ers' organization as to whether Rachal should have been moved to tackle in the first place.

* The 49ers today announced that former linebacker Keena Turner has been made VP of Football Affairs. What does that mean? Here's how Jed York described Turner's new role in an e-mail to the team:

"Keena will be in charge of all programs related to player well-being and success including counseling, faith-based and player development programs. As part of his role he will serve as an advisor to the coaching staff to help players reach their full potential. Reporting to Keena will be Guy McIntyre and Earl Smith.

Keena will also have responsibility for the 49ers Alumni Relations program working with marketing and community relations to further engage alumni players by involving them in game day activities and other team events throughout the year. In addition, Keena will serve as the gatekeeper and advisor for all current player involvement in marketing, foundation and community outreach activities. Responsibilities include acting as the approval authority for all player appearances for events."

* Don't forget that the 49ers are hosting Family Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Candlestick Park. Events include locker room tours as well as cheerleading and football clinics. Justin Smith and Nate Clements are scheduled to attend.

-- Matt Barrows

June 3, 2008
OTA Day 2: Battle's absence benefits Hill, Lelie

Arnaz Battle missed the second day of OTAs today and it's hard to say why. He hasn't spoken with Mike Nolan or general manager Scot McCloughan. His agent has declined to comment. Is it money? Battle has two years left on his contract and is scheduled to earn base salaries of $1.3 and $1.5 million each season. That's more - base salary-wise, at least - than any other 49ers receiver save Isaac Bruce, a future hall of famer.

While Battle works out in Dallas, other receivers are getting more practice repetitions than they normally would. "Like I said, we do have an offense going in and all the guys here are benefiting from that," Nolan said. "All those other guys that are here working are getting a chance." The two players benefiting the most are Jason Hill and Ashley Lelie, both of whom worked in the No. 3 receiver role today. Hill in particular seems to have a skill set that's similar to Battle's. He's looked good early in OTAs. The other beneficiaries are rookies Josh Morgan and Robert Jordan (Cal), who are getting a lot of playing time.

I spoke for a while with Isaac Sopoaga, who is very happy to be playing defensive end as opposed to nose tackle. At the nose, Sopoaga said, he had to contend with two and even three blockers on any given play. At left defensive end he mainly is dealing with one blocker, and he can make better use of his quickness. Sopoaga has been getting all of the first-team reps at left end while Kentwan Balmer has been working with the second team.

Speaking of defensive line ... Justin Smith continued to get a sizeable amount of work at linebacker, mostly rushing from the right side of the defensive line. Nolan said yesterday that he wants to put Smith in as many one-on-one matchups as possible this season. When the defense went to a four-man front today, for instance, Smith played defensive end while Ray McDonald slid inside at defensive tackle. That's the opposite of how the two lined up during minicamp.

Shaun Hill led the first-team offense today. His second pass was a perfectly thrown rainbow to Bryant Johnson over Walt Harris. Hill - who, it should be noted, is trying to learn new fundamentals - also had several mis-throws on the afternoon, none worse than a late throw to Vernon Davis that was picked off by Dashon Goldson. Goldson, who seems to specialize in practice pick offs, also victimized Alex Smith on an attempt to Michael Robinson. Should fans be concerned with all these May and June interceptions? No. Smith and Hill are trying to digest an awful lot of information and it's only natural that they are slow on their reads at this point. If this is still happening in late August, however, it might be time to squirm.

It seems that Allen Rossum and Jordan are the primary punt returners. You would think that Battle, if he was here, also would be part of the mix. Nate Clements also took a few reps today. Look for his punt-return role to be similar to what it was a year ago - they might put him back there every so often to keep the opposition on its toes.

Rookie Larry Grant, who is one of three players vying for the "Ted" linebacker position, has not been at practice because Ohio State is still having classes.

-- Matt Barrows

June 2, 2008
OTA Day 1: Smith looks good but where's Battle?

First things first ... the quarterback battle. As I wrote earlier, J.T. O'Sullivan was attending a funeral today so it was a two-man race between Alex Smith and Shaun Hill. Smith got the work with the first-team unit while Hill worked with the second-team. They'll switch tomorrow. As he did in minicamp, Smith looked sharp, hitting Vernon Davis on a long pass down the field early in practice.

* Both players talked about the daunting amount of information Mike Martz has them digesting. When I asked Smith what percentage of the offense he's learned so far, he said he hoped they had most of it down but that he had no clue. He said he's gotten the impression that it's a never-ending process. O'Sullivan told Smith that last year he was still coming into the Lions facility to learn the offense on Tuesday - the players' day off - in Week 17. Smith also has gotten a lot of feedback from Rams quarterback Marc Bulger. The two have the same agent and they met at the Super Bowl in February. "He didn't get into specifics on offense," Smith said. "But he definitely stressed (Martz's insistence) on accountability."

* As for Hill, he said Martz has been working him hard as far as fundamentals. Hill admitted it was difficult throwing with an essentially new motion during the minicamp (which is why he may have looked a bit off) but that he felt far more comfortable today. Part of the problem is that Hill had to throw with a broken index finger last year and essentially shoved the ball forward in order to reduce strain on the digit. Martz wants Hill throwing his body - legs and hip - into his throws. He also wants Hill snapping his wrist more, something that will give his throws a tighter spiral.

* In addition to O'Sullivan, Jonas Jennings and Arnaz Battle were not at OTAs, which are voluntary. Jennings had a private matter and is expected back Wednesday. Nolan, however, was surprised that Battle was not at practice. Although Battle has not taken part in the offseason conditioning program, he attended the mandatory minicamp, and last week Nolan said he was under the impression Battle would attend OTAs. Nolan said he didn't know why Battle was absent. "I have not spoken with him." Battle has been working behind Isaac Bruce at "Z" receiver. He also has been part of the team's three-receiver sets. Today, Jason Hill was in that role.

* Justin Smith got more work at linebacker, rushing from both the right and left sides. "He could be a number of things," Nolan said when asked where Smith primarily will line up. "You'll see him moving around." Nolan did say, however, that he wanted Smith to be a playmaker on the defense and wouldn't have him in many roles where he is asked to take on two blockers.

* With Jennings absent, rookie Chilo Rachal was the starter at right tackle. Rachal said after practice that he played two years of tackle in high school and that he practiced at tackle at USC before being moved to guard. He's never played in a college game at tackle.

* Both Manny Lawson and Joe Cohen took part in individual drills but not team drills. Nolan said he hoped they would be full go by next week. David Baas and Mark Roman sat out practice. Tony Wragge filled in for Baas; Dashon Goldson for Roman.

* Jeff Ulbrich continued to get the first-team reps at "Ted" linebacker. Nolan said the team is in the same holding pattern regarding Takeo Spikes that it was in last month.

* The NFL Films music is still being piped in during practice. Nolan, however, has assigned the team's resident music aficionado, Marcus Hudson, to come up with a new mix. Hudson's parameters: No cursing and nothing that puts you to sleep.

* By the way, Delanie Walker is still a tight end. The team web site had been listing him as a wide receiver but evidently that was a typo. Walker had a busy practice, at one point catching a short pass, bursting upfield and losing his shoe in the process. The catch of the day, however, went to Walker's position mate Billy Bajema (yes, Billy Bajema!) who made a leaping, sideline grab over Hudson.

* The 49ers signed a tackle -- Alan Reuber, a journeyman who has played for the Vikings, Cardinals, Bengals and Buccaneers. The 6-6, 310-pound Reuber played collegiately at Texas A&M.

-- Matt Barrows

June 1, 2008
49ers-Cardinals redux. Holy smokes!

Just finished watching the NFL Network replay of the 49ers-Cardinals game from Nov. 25. Now I know why the league has these non-playoff teams playing a Monday nighter this season. That was a great game. With everything that happened - Patrick Willis' tackle, TBC's fumble recovery -- I had forgotten that Neil Rackers actually nailed a 27-yard field goal in overtime but that the play clock had expired before the attempt. Wow. Anyway, a couple of observations ... and please feel free to add yours.

* You have to believe that Mike Martz has this game in his private collection. Frank Gore had his best outing of the season, rushing for 116 yards and two TDs, but perhaps more importantly, catching a game-high 11 passes for 98 yards. It was a Faulkin' awesome performance.The Cardinals knew the 49ers were going to give Gore the ball on the ground. They seemed ill prepared, however, for his role in the passing game. There's a notion out there that Gore has small hands. I can confirm that indeed he does. But they've never seemed to be much of a factor in the passing game (when he's been healthy). In fact, only one of Trent Dilfer's passes to Gore fell incomplete in the game.

* Anyone who saw the game probably noticed Gore split out at receiver at times. The 49ers also did this with Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and even Billy Bajema. Martz said he intends to use Davis all over the field, and there is even talk of moving Walker back to receiver, the position he played in college. The 49ers showed the offensive creativity in this game that was painfully absent for much of the 2007 season.

* Ashley Lelie did not catch a pass in the game. But if Antrel Rolle hadn't interfered with him in the overtime, he probably would have scored the game-winning touchdown. He was all alone after selling Rolle on a double move. Lelie was the team's only deep threat last season and he might be the only one this year, too.

* Here's an argument for not playing your rookies. First, rookie punter Mike Barr, who doubles as the Cardinals holder, lets the play clock expire on Rackers' overtime attempt. Later in the overtime, rookie return man Steve Breaston decides to return Andy Lee's punt at the five yard line. He gets away, but rookie tight end Ben Patrick commits a block-in-the-back penalty that brings the ball to the Arizona 3 yard line. On the next play, Ronald Fields hits Kurt Warner, the ball is jarred loose and TBC pounces on it for a win that may have saved Mike Nolan's job ...

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

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

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