49ers Blog and Q&A

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

August 31, 2008
49ers claim Ahmad Brooks, release linebacker Thomas

The 49ers took a long look at Ahmad Brooks prior to the supplemental draft two years ago but didn't pull the trigger. This time, they did. Brooks, who was released by the Bengals yesterday, was plucked off of waivers by the 49ers. To make room, they cut linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, a free-agent acquisition during the offseason. Brooks played inside linebacker for the Bengals, and it's likely that he will play behind Patrick Willis at "Mike" linebacker in San Francisco.

General manager Scot McCloughan has said in the past that he believes Brooks has the talent of a first-round draft pick. The 49ers paid close attention to him prior to the supplemental draft in 2006, bringing him in for a medical examiniation in July of that year. McCloughan and coach Mike Nolan also traveled to Charlottesville, Va. that June to watch the former UVA standout work out.

The Bengals chose Brooks in the third round of the supplemental draft. The 49ers likely would have taken him with the first pick in the fourth round. Brooks certainly had plenty of baggage while at UVA. He was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2003, and frequently ran afoul of coach Al Groh in three seasons with the Cavaliers. He missed most of the 2005 with injuries and was dismissed from the team at the end of the season.

As a rookie in 2006, Brooks played in 11 games, finishing with 46 tackles, a sack and two passes defensed. The next season, he started the opener and had six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He tore a groin muscle the following week and was placed on IR, thus ending his season.

The 49ers also began building their practice squad, signing RB Thomas Clayton, DT Atiyyah Ellison, TE J.J. Finley, LB Larry Grant, DE Louis Holmes and WR Dominique Zeigler. Guard Brian de la Puente was picked up by the Chiefs.The 49ers have two practice squad positions that still need to be filled and likely will do so tomorrow.

-- Matt Barrows

August 31, 2008
Q&A: McCloughan drafts praised, panned

Question: How is that, yet again, we have no starters from any of our 1-3 draft picks this year? Take a cold, hard analytical look at the drafts of McNolan and I think maybe Scot M is also over-rated. Why do we draft players only to move them to a position they have not played since high school (Robinson, Staley, Walker and others that are no longer with the team)? For such a poor team the lack of immediate help with their 1-3 round picks for the last three years is a disaster and thus leading to a dependence on free agency.
Chris, San Jose

Answer: It's hard to torch McCloughan's picks when you consider that Patrick Willis and Joe Staley were two of only three rookies league wide to play every snap this past season. I do agree that the 49ers have relied more on free agency than they claim to. On defense, Willis, Ray McDonald and Manny Lawson are the only starters drafted by the current regime. And your point about switching positions (Staley?) is well-taken, too. The only player who has made a successful switch is Delanie Walker, and even his successes have been modest.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt. Is it fair to say one big winner in this training camp is Scot McCloughan? I know he would have preferred Alex to win the QB race, but for the first time his late-round draft choices (Morgan, McDonald, Goldson, Keasey) are looking good. I've always felt they previously looked good only in comparison to other Niners, but now they are looking like they can outplay good teams. It looks like McCloughan has built a team with good depth. Take care.
Peter, Halifax, N.S.

Answer: I think it's hard to look too good when the player you drafted No. 1 overall is barely hanging on to a second-string position. I do agree, though, that Morgan, McDonald and Goldson are looking good, though I wish the coaching staff would allow Goldson to show off his play-making skills. Keasey was a FA pickup, not a draft pick but still can be credited to McCloughan.
- Matt

Question: Greetings, Matt. I'm a little concerned (okay, very concerned) about our O line. We all knew sooner than later Jennings was going to stub a toe and finish the season on IR. Sims might be able to fill the void when need be, but now Snyder is out due to a high ankle sprain, who knows how effective he'll be when he comes back, he sure wasn't too impressive when 100% healthy. Can Brain De-La-Puente be the future there (he looked good in the 3rd preseason game) or will they have to move Wragge and Bass around a little?
Marc, Tempe, Ariz.

Answer: I think the opening-day line will look like this: RT Jennings, RG Wragge, C Heitmann, LG Baas, LT Staley. Maybe I'm wrong and Snyder plays LG. Or maybe Wragge moves to LG and Baas goes to RG. Whichever way, I think Wragge is a starter ...
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt- Why is it so controversial among you media types when Nolan said O'Sullivan's play was better than any QB play the last 3 years (Nolan's infantile backtracking on that statement is another story)? I guess as journalists you probably never caught on to the transitive property in elementary school. Let's review - Smith has been the starter the last 3 years - he lost his job because O'Sullivan played better. Thus, O'Sullivan's play is better than the QB play the last 3 years. Nolan was stating the obvious, not taking a jab at Smith. Why is that controversial?
Erik, San Francisco

Answer: It's controversial because it's entirely different than what Nolan's been saying for the past 25 days or so. We media types tend to pick up on contradictions like that.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt this is a two parter. It seems that Nolan has taken another shot/swipe at Alex Smith again do you think he'll be back for his final season next year even if the team improves? And since all indications are that A.Smith might be gone next year will we address the QB situation via the draft and who do you think we may target?
Adrian, Oviedo, FL

Answer: If the 49ers do poorly, Nolan's gone. And if they do well, I believe the Yorks will be in a real pickle. Their improvement certainly will be due to the offense, and if Mike Martz can work a miracle in San Francisco he'll be considered for a head coaching job. The Yorks will have to ask themselves, do we promote Martz over Nolan (which, you have to admit, would be a tough call) or do we risk having a SEVENTH offensive coordinator in SEVEN years? ... If Martz sticks around, I don't see the team using a high pick on a QB. That's not Martz's m.o. ...
- Matt

Question: Matt -- A question about the O'Sullivan / Smith decision: During your time covering the 49ers, can you ever remember this amount of venom being spewed by fans -- even at one another? The feelings towards Nolan right now appear to be bordering on pathological... (It's almost to the point where you're safer at a Raiders' game than on a Niner blog or board these days.) A lot of heat around this, to be sure.
Mike, Montclair

Answer: I hear you, and it sort of makes me throw up in my mouth. Why should NinerLover411 care what Willis4Prez! thinks about his opinion? Why would you attack someone who doesn't exist! These aliases also allow people to be more vicious than they'd be if they put their real names behind their comments.
- Mudslinger49

Question: Tucson John again! Matt, I read anything and everything I can about our boys during the off-season, and am glued to my computer during the pre-season looking for every bit of info I can get. Thus, I'm super happy I found your blog! Now, from everything I've read, I sense a totally different vibe surrounding the team this year than from the previous 5 or 6. A certain swagger that's been missing. Is it visible in the players actions, both on and off the field, and by the tone of their voices when they talk? How so? Give us hope!
John, Tucson

Answer: John, it's the mirror opposite of last season when the swagger from May, June, July and August started to disappear when the 49ers struggled mightily in the preseason. This year, the team was unsure of itself until it started to see what the offense was capable of in that Green Bay game. A good sign, in my opinion.
- Matt

Question: Matt -- I was reading back on the last week's blogs, and I ran across this from you: "I made this analogy yesterday: Alex Smith is like the Democratic party. You think they're right, you root for them, but they frustrate the hell out of you by being too mild mannered ... " I enjoy your stuff, but it's best to keep politics out of sports. First, half the country doesn't share your views, and yeah, that mild-mannered Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton are real peaches. Please spare us!
Mike, Vacaville

Answer: Sorry to bring up politics, but it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the Democratic party. My political stance is so straight down the center that you could balance on egg on it and it wouldn't fall either way. If there was a "Center Party," I would be president of the San Jose chapter. My favorite non-49er? Larry Centers. But the way things stand now I think there needs to be a couple of hard tugs to the left to get back to the center ...
- Matt

Question: Are there sports bars or lounges in Sacramento that cater especially to 49er fans for watching 49er games on TV?
Charles, Sacramento

Answer: I used to watch games at a bar on Arden, but dunno if it still exists. (I've lived in the San Jose area since 2003). Anyone have a suggestion for Charles?
- Matt

Question: Can someone please tell me what the J T stands for in O'Sullivan's name...?
Joe, Sacramento

Answer: John Thomas.
- Matt

August 30, 2008
Nolan: Lelie was a durability issue

Perhaps the most surprising cut for the 49ers today was Ashley Lelie, a prolific receiver early in his career, who at 28, still seems to have something to offer. Here's what Mike Nolan had to say about that and other cuts today.

On Lelie: "When it comes down to it, it really just became a durability issue. If you can't count on someone for whatever the reason ... It's a tough call. But we made the decision we did."

The decison to cut Lelie leaves the team with five receivers. Nolan said if the 49ers had their druthers, they would have at least six. It doesn't look like they will add anyone off of waivers because whomever they add would face a steep learning curve in the offense ... unless he had already played for Mike Martz. Nolan also said it was likely the team would keep two receivers on the practice squad because of the demands Martz's offense places on wideouts. Those two receivers would appear to be Dominique Zeigler and Cam Colvin. ... Any old Martz wideouts out there? Devale Ellis, a third-year-guy out of Hofstra, was released by Detroit today. He started two games last year and caught four passes for 41 yards.

On Larry Grant: Early on, the team thought Grant could compete with Jeff Ulbrich for the starting "Ted" spot. As training camp got underway, it was clear the rookie would not. When the 49ers signed Takeo Spikes, the handwriting was on the wall for Grant. "He was still inexperienced to the point where we didn't see him pushing for the job like we had hoped." Grant seems like a lock for the practice squad. It should be noted that Spikes hasn't edged Ulbrich out yet, either and that it seems as if Ulbrich will be the "Ted" starter on Sept. 7.

On Thomas Clayton: The question was put to Nolan about the relative strengths of Michael Robinson and Clayton. Nolan said that Robinson offered an array of skills. he was good out of the backfield, excellent on special teams and a locker room leader. "A master of none but a jack of all trades," Nolan said, which is why he landed a spot on the 53-man roster and Clayton, who is perhaps a better pure running back, did not. When I spoke to Clayton this morning he sounded optimistic that another team would see his game film from this summer and take a chance. The Lions, for example, are light on running backs at the moment. If not, he is a lock for the practice squad.

On keeping 12 defensive backs (including Allen Rossum), which is a whopper of a number, Nolan noted that DBs are valuable on special teams. He also suggested that the team is looking for Walt Harris' eventual replacement and hasn't identified who that is. He also said that all those DBs makes it unlikley the team will keep a cornerback or safety on the practice squad. That's bad news for D.J. Parker.

On Moran Norris: Nolan said that Norris was one of the most difficult cuts of the day because it's not as if his play had deteriorated since last year. Norris simply is not the right kind of fullback for Martz's offense. Nolan hinted that he had tried to trade Norris over the summer ...

So who makes the practice squad? Assuming that they all make it through waivers, look for the following:

1. Clayton
2. Zeigler
3. Colvin
4. Grant
5. Louis Holmes
6. Brian de la Puente
7. Ramiro Pruneda (int'l exemption)
8. Atiyyah Ellison
9. ?

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It was a bad day for Brandons. Former 49ers Brandon Moore and Brandon Williams were released by the Cardinals and Rams respectively.

-- Matt Barrows

August 30, 2008
Ugly Saturday: The 49ers drop down to 53; Moore on IR

The 49ers reached the 53-man limit by releasing 21 players and placing one, Jay Moore, on injured reserve. Here are the some of the notable released players I talked to today:

Thomas Clayton: The running back looked far and away better than he did last season, but there simply was no room on the roster. Clayton said he believes there will be some interest from other teams when he goes on the waiver wire. If not, he has been assured of a practice-squad spot. "I just feel like I'm better than the practice squad right now," he said. "But my spirits are good. I feel good inside. I'm just ready to play." Clayton certainly has some good game film, especially from preseason Game No. 3 in Chicago. In fact, the Bears might want to take a look ...

Larry Grant. Grant said he was surprised to have been cut, especially since he had a good game last night. He figured at the very least he would be an asset on special teams. "They might be bringing me back for the practice squad," he said. "You have to start somewhere. I've always wanted to be a 49er. I've been a fan all my life."

Atiyyah Ellison: Ellison played a lot of nose tackle Saturday night. The difficult part - it was the first time all offseason he had played there. Both Aubrayo Franklin and Ronald Fields got nicked in the game. And the 49ers' No. 3 NT, Joe Cohen, had been released the week prior. Ellison said he figures he will be picked up on the practice squad. He says his versatility gives him an advantage. "That's the good thing for me - I can play both end and nose."

Louis Holmes: The undrafted rookie also has been earmarked for the practice squad. Holmes was limited to playing defensive ends on third downs last night. He told me that coaches said he was uncomfortable playing linebacker. But Holmes said he felt plenty comfortable there. He said he thought he was playing the best football of his life this summer, which is a testament to good coaching.

The other who were cut are headlined by receiver Ashley Lelie, who missed nearly all of training camp and who was held without a catch last night. Here's the rest of the released list: LB Dennis Haley, FB Moran Norris, DT LaJuan Ramsey, T Alan Reuber, T Joe Toledo, CB Markus Curry, DT Walter Curry, WR Robert Ortiz, T Chris Patrick, WR Jerard Rabb, P Ricky Schmitt, WR Dominique Zeigler, WR Cam Colvin, G Brian de la Puente, TE J.J. Finley,and S D.J. Parker.

Obviously, the 49ers decided to load up on defensive backs. Keith Lewis and Marcus Hudson were both on the bubble throughout training camp, but both made the team. Still, more changes could come tomorrow after Scot McC,loughan and his staff scours the waiver wire.

Here are the injury updates:

As expected, Jay Moore will go on injured reserve after tearing his biceps in the first quarter yesterday. Moore said the injured happened on kickoff coverage when he extended his arm to make a tackle. He said it was like deja vu -- he suffered a severe ankle injury in the preseason finale last year. The difference is that last season he had to wait to see how bad the injury was. This year, he knew immediately that he would go on IR. He'll have surgery Tuesday ...

I wasn't able to catch Aubrayo Franklin, who injured his knee on the first series yesterday. However, i can tell you he walked to a waiting SUV without crutches, without a limp and without anything wrapped on the knee. He seems ok ...

I'm told that Parys Haralson's shoulder is nothing to worry about and that he ought to be able to play in the opener against Ariz. ... Just talked with Haralson. His left arm was in a sling but said he thought he'd be good to go for the opener.

-- Matt Barrows

August 29, 2008
The final cut: Who was helped, who was hurt, who got hurt


Who says the last preseason game is useless? Mike Nolan insists there was some true jockeying for position on the field Thursday night. "It's not going to stay as I thought going into the game," he said of the looming cuts.

So who helped and who hurt themselves? First, let's look at who got hurt.

Jay Moore tore his right biceps and almost certainly will be placed on injured reserve, thus ending his season. This could be a blessing in disguise. Moore did not figure to make the final roster and the 49ers were eyeing him for the practice squad. There was also a chance he would be snagged off of waivers by a team in need of a defensive end. Now Moore likely will spend the year with the 49ers. It's also a case of lightning striking twice. Moore suffered a bad high-ankle sprain in last season's preseason finale against San Diego, an injury that landed him on IR.

Parys Haralson gets the bad-luck award, too. He was minutes away from going into the regular season healthy when he sprained his left shoulder. He was given an X-ray but the results are pending. If the news is bad, Rod Green and Tully Banta-Cain are shoe-ins to make the final roster. I think those two make it anyway, but depth suddenly looks like an issue in what was previously a crowded position.

Ashley Lelie played the whole game. He had nary a catch, which is an accomplishment considering that 10 other 49ers had at least one grab. But that may be secondary to Lelie finishing the game healthy. He said he felt good on the field and that he wasn't slowed by his calf injury.

Larry Grant could have sealed the win with an interception on the Chargers' final drive. He dropped the would-be pick (and what would have been a glorious TD) but he and Dennis Haley played like they were possessed during the series. Mike Nolan said Grant not only caught his eye on that series but on an earlier one as well. Grant was definitely on the bubble heading into the game. Did he salvage a spot? Tune in tomorrow ...

Marcus Hudson had a few nice hits in the secondary. But he was covering Eldra Buckley when Buckley made the game-winning TD catch on fourth down. Not only that but Hudson committed a flagrant pass-interference penalty and still Buckley caught the pass. That will stand out in film review tomorrow morning.

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In addition to Haralson and Moore, Aubrayo Franklin sprained his knee and did not return; Ronald Fields sprained his elbow and did return. If Franklin's injury is serious, it could mean Walter Curry, LaJuan Ramsey or Atiyyah Ellison is back in the running for a roster spot.

******************
David Baas played well at left guard. Baas admitted he was tentative at first, but once he got over the mental hurdle of playing again, he got comfortable and settled down. Baas spent the offseason of 2006 at left guard. It will be interesting to see whether he or Adam Snyder starts there Sept. 7 against the Cardinals. As I wrote earlier, Snyder was out of his plastic boot and running sprints before the game.

**************
Why didn't JTO, who has all of four preseason starts to his name, play? I'm not sure I quite understand this explanation but this is what Nolan said. Because the 49ers' first-team offense practiced all week against the 49ers' first-team defense ... and because the 49ers' defense is similar to the Chargers defense, Nolan figured it was as good as a game. "He got more than a game," Nolan said of the practice reps. "He got basically 2 ½ games this week."
The others who were healthy scratches for the game: defenders Nate Clements, Walt Harris, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis; and Frank Gore and Isaac Bruce on offense.

**************
Greatest offensive decision of Mike Nolan's coaching career? Not going for the 51-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Why risk more injuries (See: Haralson; Parys)? It also would have crimped my deadline. Nolan for coach of the year, I say ...

************
Mark Roman and Dashon Goldson wore the radio receivers for the defense.

-- Matt Barrows

August 29, 2008
Game day blog: Larry Allen to retire as a Cowboy; O'Sullivan not playing

About five months ago, I called the Cowboys PR director to see if the team was planning to sign Larry Allen to a ceremonial contract so he could retire a Cowboy. Turns out my instincts were right, although my timing was way off. Allen indeed has decided to hang up the cleats after 14 years in the league, the last two in San Francisco. Here are the latest details from the Cowboys blog ...

The 49ers never ruled out re-signing Allen in the offseason, but it always seemed like a longshot. The team liked how David Baas played at the end of the season, and they had plans to finally allow Adam Snyder to concentrate on one spot, left guard. Tony Wragge also has been impressive, and, of course, the team used its second-round pick on Chilo Rachal ....

**********
There's been a lot of news in recent months about L.A. developer Ed Roski and his plan to lure a team -- or two -- to a new stadium in L.A. Today, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune has a story that quotes Roski's business partner as saying there was "no doubt" a team would be playing in the L.A. area next year. In April, Roski listed the Saints, Bills, Vikings, Jaguars, Chargers, Raiders and 49ers as teams that might make the move. Jed York today told me that the 49ers have had no contact with Roski's group. The Yorks, of course, are in the midst of a stadium project of their own -- in Santa Clara.

**********
5:02 p.m. -- Looking through my binocs I see a group of five 49ers running sprints on the field. they are: J.T. O'Sullivan, Nate Clements, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Adam Snyder. Snyder (ankle) obviously is out of his plastic boot and seems to be running fine. Of course, he comes in last each time they sprint ...

5:11 p.m. -- Alex Smith, Shaun Hill and Philip Rivers are chatting at the 50-yard line. Here's how I imagine the conversation:

AS: So, how's the old knee?
PR: Great.
AS: Darn.

*********************
Just received the lineup changes for tonight's game. Basically, the entire San Diego first string has been scratched from the game. That's Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, Jamal Williams ...etc., etc. For the 49ers, Snyder, Allen Rossum, Keith Lewis, Jonas Jennings and Josh Morgan are scratches. David Baas will start for Snyder at LG; Barry Sims will start for Jennings at RT ...

*****************
Apparently, the 49ers have seen enough of J.T. O'Sullivan. He's wearing a baseball cap while Alex Smith is warming up ... I'm told it's not a health issue ... It looks like Patrick Willis, Walt Harris and Nate Clements also are getting the VIP treatment. Dontarrious Thomas, Shawntae Spencer and Donald Strickland are substituting. ... It doesn't look like Frank Gore is playing, either ...

****************
NT Aubrayo Franklin has just left the game with what looks like a right knee injury .... Now it looks like Ronald Fields, Franklin's backup, also is nicked. Trainers appear to be working on Fields' left elbow ...Atiyyah Ellison is now in the game at NT

**************
Fields is back out for the second series. He's wearing a rubber sleeve over his elbow ...

**************
Now you know why Mike Martz is so gaga about Delanie Walker -- a 101-yard kickoff return. Somone call STATS and see if a tight end has ever returned a kickoff for a TD ...

************
Jay Moore has a right torn biceps. That's an injury that will land him on IR. The 49ers were planning to release Moore and then add him to their practice squad. That won't happen now, but at least there's no risk of losing him.

August 28, 2008
Final 53: Defensive lineman

As far as the final numbers go, this unit takes it on the chin for four reasons: One, the 49ers consider themselves a 3-4 team (hybrid 3-4) and one of the beauties of running the 3-4 is that you don't need to carry as many lineman. Two, there are several linebackers - Rod Green, Parys Haralson, TBC, etc. - who can play with their hand in the dirt if need be. Three, just about every lineman can play multiple positions on the line, making depth less of a concern. Four, backup linebackers are better on special teams than backup linemen.


#60 Walter Curry. This one's going to hurt defensive line coach Jim Tomsula who's fond of Curry after their days together in NFL Europe. Curry is one of the strongest players on the team, and he holds his ground well, which is something the 49ers want from their defensive ends. But Curry is not as versatile as some other players and there's a sense that in Isaac Sopoaga and Ronald Fields, the team has virtually the same player with a little more play-making ability. He is not practice-squad eligible.
Final 53: No.

#61 LaJuan Ramsey. Ramsey is this year's version of Sam Rayburn - a former Eagles lineman who is a solid lineman that is just not going to make the final cut. Ramsey certainly hasn't floundered since arriving here. But his size is just OK, he's not all that versatile and he's not a pass-rush threat.
Final 53: No

#62 Louis Holmes. A very intriguing guy. If Holmes had had his head screwed on right in college, he would have been a first-day draft pick. As it was, he went undrafted. But he has excellent size and quickness and he's responded well to Tomsula's coaching. He easily could have been listed in the "linebacker" post because he's been playing quite a bit there late in training camp. Holmes' most natural position is probably as a 4-3 defensive end, but he's more athletic than Jay Moore and the 49ers envision him as a pass-rush linebacker. Practice squad is a definite possibility.
Final 53: No.

#78 Atiyyah Ellison. The 49ers snagged Ellison off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad early last season. And why not? Ellison is huge, quick and smart - just what the 49ers were looking for on their defensive line. But the team seems to be reaching the same conclusion the Ravens had: That while Ellison is bursting with ability, he's too inconsistent for a spot on the regular roster. He was inactive for every game last season - a wasted roster spot - and it doesn't look as if the 49ers will make the same mistake twice.
Final 53: No.

#90 Isaac Sopoaga. He's much happier at left defensive end after playing nose tackle for most of 2007. Sopoaga was paid handsomely in the offseason and it will be interesting to see if there's any drop-off in his play. Of course, he still has plenty of pressure: He's taking over for the incomparable Bryant Young and he has a first-round draft choice playing behind him.
Final 53: Yes

#91 Ray McDonald. Last year, the coaching staff predicted big things from Ray McDonald in his second season, and McDonald is in a position to make them look smart. He admits to having a tough time his rookie season because he was relying mostly on instincts and quickness. He has a better understanding of the defense - and his role - this season, and he's looked very good in the preseason. Along with Justin Smith, McDonald is the team's best pass-rushing lineman, and the 49ers often will pair the two on stunts. The duo is being counted on to jump-start the pass rush this season.
Final 53: Yes.

#92 Aubrayo Franklin. The 49ers see Franklin as a placeholder until they can find somebody better to play nose tackle. Franklin gets moved around too easily and last year spent too many plays on the ground. Still, his play picked up toward the tail end of 2007 and he couldn't have been too bad considering Patrick Willis' tackle total. Still, look for the team to try to upgrade the position in the offseason.
Final 53: Yes

#93 Ronald Fields. The 49ers like Fields for two reasons - he's versatile and he has a certain on-the-field meanness that coaches desire in a defensive lineman. Fields had one of the 49ers' top plays last year when he forced a Kurt Warner fumble in an overtime win in Arizona. He was rushing from the left defensive end spot that game but has been switched to nose tackle, his college position, this year. The 49ers would love it if he displaced Franklin, but it looks as if Fields will begin the season as a reliever.
Final 53: Yes

#94 Justin Smith. I could have included him in yesterday's post but I just got too tired of writing about linebackers. Smith - as you've no doubt heard by now - is going to play multiple positions this year. Smith's been everything the 49ers hoped for so far, and has been a valuable teacher for younger defensive linemen and offensive linemen alike. He's a very hard guy for offensive linemen to handle one on one, which is why the team's pass rush will revolve around Smith. In other words, Smith's value shouldn't be measured in how many sacks he has this year but in how many sacks the team has.
Final 53: Yes

#96 Kentwan Balmer. Get down from the roof, 49ers fans. The team's first rounder is not a bust. He's simply a far from polished defensive lineman, as most rookies who play his position are (See: Williams, Mario; McDonald, Ray). Early on, he's reminded me a lot of former 49ers defensive lineman Anthony Adams as far as his energy level and work ethic. The difference is that Balmer is much bigger and has a more powerful lower body. A year under Tomsula will pay dividends but don't expect much this season.
Final 53: Yes.

-- Matt Barrows

August 27, 2008
More from the Martz Q&A ...

Here's a little bit more of the Mike Martz media session from earlier today. Transcription courtesy of the 49ers PR staff ...

RE: How big is it to get the receivers out here and work with J.T. [O'Sullivan] and guys like Bryant Johnson and Ashley Lelie. Is that necessary?
"It's very necessary. We've been behind the eight ball there [and] that's hurt us. We need that desperately. That will affect us. I'm concerned about it having my head in my hands a few days. [Bryant Johnson's] been real good. We need to get them in that environment as much as we can. We're behind the eight ball. But to their credit, they've stayed with it, they don't make [any] errors when they've been out there. They have not made mistakes so I feel good about that. But just the connection between the quarterback and the receivers ..."

RE: J.T. [O'Sullivan] was asked the same question and he takes it from the mindset of it's doesn't matter who the receiver is I need to throw it in certain spot, the receiver needs to be there no matter who the receiver is. Where does the quarterback [and wider receiver] chemistry become important?
"It's not so much of a chemistry [issue] as it is a trust issue. If the receivers are all supposed to be twenty yards and they're all twenty yards that makes the difference whether he runs [the play]. Just developing that trust and knowing that that guy is going to do what he's supposed to and that doesn't always happen that way so that's why some of those guys are out there in front and some of them aren't because those guys who are not consistent you can't trust, they just don't make it. So were trying to get that group of guys that we can trust and be consistent and that the mindset that he's at. My mindset is a little different from that because I need to see. When you do the game plan you create things for these guys. You want to see who can make a play, make the most out of something and that's not where J.T. [O'Sullivan] is. He's just going to play his game. My deal is 'alright Arnaz [Battle], what can you do with this' or 'ok [Bryant Johnson] here you go, what are you going to do with that' kind of thing."

RE: How do you go about arranging your starting line up for the regular season when you haven't seen these guys [play] all that much?
"It's hard. It'll be hard, that's what's scary. But we'll move on with it. It's hard with Josh [Morgan] because he's a rookie. The tempo of a regular season and preseason game is substantially different [especially] to play under that pressure all of a sudden if you're a rookie that's assured. The timing not really like it was in the preseason because you're panicky. There's that growth process for those guys that you've kind of got to fight through so to say that Josh is the guy that's going to start excelling at stuff, he's in obviously but we're really kind of depending on [Bryant Johnson] to step up now and be healthy and ready to go."

RE: Is it fair to say that this is a high risk, high reward offense that leaves your quarterback vunerable [to get sacked]?
'I think that my one stay in Detroit was pretty much like that. It was kind of by design. When I went in there they wanted to throw the ball a lot with what they had. We had some personnel issues up front. We had a guy rotate through at tackle. We really didn't have a group in the offensive line that had been together. We had a lot of injuries and lot of different guys come in that we thought were [okay] to play and that will affect you. But other than that, no. Shouldn't be different than any other."

RE: You don't think it exposes the quarterback any more than any other offense?
"I think when you go back and look at years prior that it doesn't."

RE: Do you have a sense of...I remember when you took this job you said, 'Frank Gore is going to be the central figure of this offense, the focal point.' Having seen him now through the couple months in the offseason and training camp, do you have a pretty good grasp of what this guy can and can't do and what's your feeling now on how's he going to be used?
"I don't think there's anything that he can't do. I haven't seen anything that he can't do. I would say that we're very pleased and he's kind of what we thought he would be and more. His work habits have been really good. He's tied into what we're doing. He does not make mental errors. He's in good shape. If you look at the preseason game last week, although it was a preseason game, I'm really pleased with his run, his vision, his cuts and all that stuff. So he's really ready to play. He's ready to go. He's that kind of a player to build an offense around."

RE: How would you compare him to Marshall Faulk?
"They're different players. It's unfair to anybody of his stature...he's an elite player and so is Marshall. It's just unfair to both of them to compare each other. They're dissimilar in a lot of respects. They can catch the ball, they're both outstanding runners...all those things. But they're just different, you know what I mean? Frank has a little bit more of a physical, powerful back inside and yet Marshall is very elusive. So, they're very elite players that can accomplish a great deal in all areas of their game. They just go about it a little bit differently I guess."

RE: What about Vernon Davis, Coach? Would you like to see him get a little bit more involved?
"Well, he will. I think that the numbers for Vernon, in terms of receptions, may or may not be there this year. It may fluctuate during the season. But what we expect from Vernon are big plays. He's a very, very substantial blocker, which really allows us to a lot of good things in the running game. There's no question about that. But, when we get him the ball we'd like to get him the ball down the field or get him the ball in the shallow routes and let him take off with it, so to speak. Sometimes the defenses will dictate how much you get the ball to him. He's done a very good job out here in practice and we haven't done a whole lot with him in the preseason games but we certainly practice him a lot."

RE: Is he the guy you might move out into the slot if the receiver injuries dictate it?
"Sure. We've already done that in practice. We've moved him around a little bit. But it takes away from some of the other things that he does really well. The hard thing about Vernon is that he's a very talented guy. The more you do with him, then you have to be careful about not doing anything really well. And there's some things that he really does exceptionally well and we want to keep him grounded to that."

RE: What about Delanie Walker? Is there any thought about moving him into a wide receiver position?
"No, Delanie is a very physical guy that can play at the point on the line of scrimmage, which is really unusual for a guy of his size. And yet, he can be in the backfield. He can carry the ball. He's a receiver. He could be a lead blocker. He does that well. That's the guy we put a lot hats on and move him around. He affords us the ability to do a lot of different things and the combination between he and Vernon is pretty good."

August 27, 2008
Martz, O'Sullivan kindred spirits

It's suddenly clear why J.T. O'Sullivan is excelling in Mike Martz's offense. The two men are cut from the same cloth. They're both precise and hyper-demanding - of themselves and of others. Things got a wee bit testy today between Martz and a member of the media (not a newspaper guy) when Alex Smith's progress was raised during a group interview. Here's the exchange:

Q: ... It's supposed to be a fair competition and you almost feel like Alex should have been able to play a half with the starters ...

MM: First of all, let me tell you this ... and let's get this straight: There's nothing fair about this league. Alright? If you establish yourself as an incredible player within a quarter of the game, then that's just the way it is. There's nothing fair about this game. Understand that first of all, OK?

Q: I played the game. I understand it.

MM: Good. Then you know it's not the ...

Q: I also known that in preseason you can do real well, but that might not translate to the regular season ...

MM: There's no question. But we'll find out now won't we?

O'Sullivan certainly hasn't been confrontational with the media. But reporters quickly have found out that their questions have to be precise or else O'Sullivan will ask them to repeat or rephrase them in a way that he can understand them. I thought it was also interesting that at different times today they answered the same question in nearly the exact same way. The question was whether it was important for O'Sullivan to develop chemistry with receivers Bryant Johnson and Ashley Lelie, both of whom have been injured for most of August.

First, O'Sullivan: "It's a trust thing where they trust me to put the ball where I'm supposed to and I trust them to be where they need to be."

Now Martz: "It's not so much chemistry as it is a trust issue."

Obviously, Martz has preached trust all offseason to his offensive players and it's been a buzzword in the meeting room. But I can't shake the fact that in back-to-back group interviews with O'Sullivan and then Martz, we were talking to two remarkably similar men. It's also clear that Martz has become very fond of his new quarterback: "What he's done so far is taken an opportunity and made the most of it," Martz said. "To say that I expected him to be this good -- I'd be lying to you."

********************
Five players won't suit up Friday. They are Josh Morgan and Keith Lewis (illness), Adam Snyder (ankle), Jonas Jennings (hand) and Allen Rossum, who took a hard shot in his back Thursday that affected his breathing (lungs). Rossum has been practicing by himself all week and he seemed fine in an interview today. He said there's no way he'll miss the opener on Sept. 7. Lewis was at practice but did not participate. Morgan was told to stay home.

*******************
The big question is who will start at split end. Mike Nolan said the position would be split between Johnson and Lelie, both of whom practiced yesterday and today. Lelie is definitely on the proverbial bubble. He's had little impact since arriving in San Francisco last year. Yet he still offers something -- straight-line speed -- that no other player on the team has. He could save his job with a solid performance Friday. Nolan said both receivers could play the entire first half.

******************
Nolan doesn't use the passive voice very often. But in discussing how much the starters will play, he said, "I've been told the first series to the first quarter." Who told him? Martz. O'Sullivan certainly needs and wants to get as much work as he can given that he's only started four NFL games in his career. But Nolan noted that the bulk of the practices this week have come against the 49ers' first-team defense. Why not the scout team? Because the 49ers and Chargers run very similar defenses.

*****************
David Baas was at left guard again. He has been penciled in at the starter at right guard, but because Tony Wragge has played so well on the right side, the thought was that there'd be less suffling if Baas re-entered the lineup on the left.

***************
Funny exchange. Nolan was saying that he'll continue to wear his business suit for home games. For away games, he can wear everything but the suit jacket, which he has to replace with a Reebok product such as a windbreaker.

Maiocco: Like Mr. Rogers?
Nolan: The Mr. Rogers look. ... That's good. You just talked me out of it.

-- Matt Barrows

August 27, 2008
Final 53: A look at the linebackers

# 51 Takeo Spikes. There's a chance Spikes won't be in the starting lineup on opening day. It's not that coaches don't like how the veteran's playing, it's that he is still learning the team's defense. Spikes certainly is in the long-term plans this season, and it might be a case where early on he plays in some packages while Jeff Ulbrich plays in others.
Final 53: Yes

#52 Patrick Willis. Mike Nolan feels as if Willis is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2008. The irony, however, is that he may be better than he was as a rookie but still finish with fewer tackles. Spikes and Justin Smith are expected - hopefully - to eat into Willis' gaudy tackle numbers from a year ago. For Willis to capture the national award, he needs more interceptions, more turnovers and at least one highlight-reel play in which he winds up in the end zone with the ball. That is, he needs something to balance the east-coast bias and compensate for the 49ers' lack of nationally televised games.
Final 53: Yes

#53 Jeff Ulbrich. Ulbrich wasn't a happy man the day Spikes was signed. He's a guy who wants to be on the field as much as he can, and Spikes was there to take away his starting spot. The coaches, however, were worried that Ulbrich was on the field too much. He was the starter at "Ted" linebacker, played a big role in the team's third-down or "sub" packages, and is a member of just about every special teams unit. The concern was that at age 31, Ulbrich would break down under that workload. He bristles at that notion, too, noting that he played through a number of injuries last season. But even with Spikes on the roster, Ulbrich will have plenty of time on the field. It also should be noted that at 31, Spikes is no spring chicken, either and that his 2007 season ended prematurely with a shoulder injury.
Final 53: Yes

#54 Roderick Green. Green has been a human yoyo the last two seasons - let go at the beginning of the year only to be brought back when the team needed pass-rush help. This year, it seems as if the 49ers have learned from their mistakes. Green is one of the few players on the team with legitimate pass-rush skills, and he has been a big part of their third-down defense. In obvious passing situations, Green enters the game as a defensive end, essentially the same role Brandon Moore had last season. The one thing going against Green: the 49ers know if they cut him, they can always get him back.
Final 53: Yes

#55 Dennis Haley. Man, Haley would be a great candidate for the practice squad. He's been productive late in preseason games, he's been healthy, and best of all, he's a former Wahoo. Every NFL team needs at least one former University of Virginia player on it. Alas, Haley played nine games in 2006, making him ineligible for the practice squad. His best bet is that he played well enough to be picked up by some lucky team on Aug. 31.
Final 53: No.

#56 Dontarrious Thomas. Thomas has been everything the 49ers expected he'd be after signing him as a free-agent in March. Thomas' reputation with the Vikings was that of a big, athletic linebacker who could make plays all over the field but who wasn't necessarily great at plowing into blockers to reach the ball carrier. That description seemed to rule him out of the "Ted" competition, and indeed Thomas has found his niche at "Mike," the spot Patrick Willis plays. Thomas, however, is versatile enough to play any of the team's linebacker spots and will be used as a reliever of sorts during the regular season. Don't count on him playing much "Mike," however. Willis was on the field for every snap as a rookie last season.
Final 53: Yes

#57 Larry Grant. The former Sacramento resident obviously has fallen out of the race to start at "Ted" this season. Grant indeed has been playing "Ted" but he hasn't been getting into preseason games until well into the second half. Still, with both Ulbrich and Spikes in their 30s, Grant has a chance of being the "Ted" of the future. He's been aggressive and productive while in the game. He must master the mental part of the position, however, which is typical for rookies. Grant's role this season likely will be limited to special teams.
Final 53: Yes.

#58 Jay Moore. It's never a good sign when a reporter says, "So and so looked like he played well ..." and the head coach responds, "Eh, he was playing against third stringers." Moore was the subject of such an exchange earlier this summer. After missing his rookie season with a wicked high-ankle sprain, Moore has been merely "meh" this offseason. He doesn't pose much of a pass-rush threat as a linebacker, he's doesn't cover a lot of ground on pass plays and he hasn't been instinctual. The 49ers would like to continue to develop him on the practice squad. However, there's a healthy chance a 4-3 team in need of a defensive end with pluck Moore off the waiver wire.
Final 53: No.

#95 Tully Banta-Cain. Perhaps TBC was the victim of too lofty expectations last year. Mike Singletary predicted at least 10 sacks from Banta-Cain while Banta-Cain himself was aiming for one a game. He didn't come close, and it quickly became apparent that Banta-Cain wasn't an every-down pass rusher. But that doesn't mean he's not valuable. I still think Banta-Cain makes the team for the mere fact that he does have pass-rush skills and those skills are rare in the NFL. How he'll be used this season remains to be seen as most of Banta-Cain's playing time has been in the second half of games.
Final 53: Yes, barely.

#98 Parys Haralson. A pass-rush linebacker last season, Haralson has been playing behind Manny Lawson at the SAM outside linebacker position and as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. The 49ers want to make him into a capable and versatile backup, a la the New England Patriots, who for years have seemed to have had a bottomless roster when it comes to linebackers.
Final 53: Yes

#99 Manny Lawson. You wonder if Patrick Willis would have received as much attention last year if Manny Lawson hadn't torn his ACL. Lawson looked excellent early in the season and was playing up to his first-round status when the injury occurred during practice. Lawson made a furious recovery and has been healthy ever since training-camp opened. And yet ... Maybe the 49ers are being cautious with the linebacker, but Lawson hasn't caught my eye this summer the way he did a year ago. It's quite possible the real Manny Lawson won't return until 2009.
Final 53: Yes.

-- Matt Barrows

August 26, 2008
Injury update: Bryant Johnson back at practice

Yesterday Mike Nolan says his toughest opening-day decision might be whether to start Josh Morgan or Bryant Johnson at split end. Today Johnson was back at practice for the first time since Aug. 4. Coincidence? ... Whatever the motivation, Johnson (hamstring) was indeed back on the field today. He took part in individual drills as well as some of the team session. David Baas also was in the lineup, playing left, not right, guard. Is that a signal that Tony Wragge could be the opening-day right guard? It's looking that way ....

In other OL news, Brian de la Puente was back at practice after suffering an arm injury yesterday. Adam Snyder still isn't practicing but he's out of his boot. The hard cast on Jonas Jennings' right hand has been upgraded to a soft cast. Nolan said the hope is for Baas to get 15 to 20 snaps Friday against the Chargers.

  • * LB Dontarrious Thomas sprained his shoulder but should be back by tomorrow.
  • * If the season started today, Jeff Ulbrich would be the starter at "Ted" linebacker. Takeo Spikes has a little more to learn before he can master the defense.
  • * Plans to move Alex Smith during the season? Nolan says there are no plans."We've had zero discussions about Alex not being on the football team," he said.

-- Matt Barrows

August 26, 2008
Alex Smith: I trust what Nolan's telling me ...

Alex Smith didn't read yesterday's Peter King item in which Mike Nolan seemed to imply that J.T. O'Sullivan's preseason has been better than two and half regular seasons of work by Smith. But he heard about it. And he and Nolan discussed it. And he's not angry. And he and agent Tom Condon aren't fashioning an escape plan. (That'll come after the season...)

"Coach Nolan and I are beyond that," Smith said when asked about the comments. "I think we've been through enough with the media and different things. But I trust in what he's telling me, so ..."

Smith had a long conversation with Tim Kawakami and me. Here are some of the exerpts:.

About whether his shoulder has played a role in his accuracy issues this offseason:

AS: I think if there's anything, it's just getting back the length of throws. I think when you're talking about really letting it go downfield, I think there are some lasting effects as far as not having the strength that I used to maybe.

Does it come into your mind before the throw?

AS: It's not as easy as it was. It used to be pretty effortless to get the ball downfield. I think the last little thing is just building that back up

Are you confident the long ball eventually will return?

AS: Absolutely. It's the throwing progression as far as coming back.

Was that discussed when you had the surgery?

AS: Never talked about it. But ... It will be something I have to continue to work on. Even working on in the offseason, throwing some long balls and different things.

What about the short and intermediate throws?

AS: I don't feel a difference, at all. It's sort of a minute game. But the other thing, that's where I notice a difference.

Is the accuracy ever shoulder-related?

AS: There's a lot that goes into accuracy, I think, and a lot of it having to do with making sure you know you're going with the football. I think there are times when I do feel good that I know where I'm going with the ball and the ball comes out accurately. I think that happens to every quarterback. When you do second guess and things, like that. That's when the ball tends to not go where you want it to.

Would an 'Angry Alex' be a more effective Alex?

AS: I think I get angry just as much as the next person. I think I really thought about it and (concluded) what good is it going to do? You know, it's not going to do anything for me and it's not going to do anything for this team.

At some point do you have to think, 'This coaching staff may not want me to be the qaurterback?'

AS: Yeah, that's definitely a possibility. But I'm not thinking about that right now. When the time comes, in the offseason or something like that, we'll deal with it. But right now, I'm taking on this new role, and it is what it is.

**************************

Still no sign of Keith Lewis and Josh Morgan. I think they're being quarantined so they don't infect the rest of the squad. You've seen the movie "Outbreak," right?

-- Matt Barrows

August 26, 2008
Final 53: Player-by-player look at the O-line

#59. Cody Wallace. The team's fourth-round pick hasn't won many one-on-one blocking battles in practice, and early on he was being rag-dolled in just about every match-up. And that's what's so puzzling about Wallace's selection. He doesn't fit the mold of the big, 300-plus-pound mauler that Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan have been accumulating since they arrived on scene. Still, Wallace has improved over the last month, and his technique is solid. Coaches like him because he's a quick learner. He just needs to get stronger.
Final 53: Yes

#60. Brian de la Puente. He's been one of the most pleasant surprises of camp. Like Wallace, he's not a very big guy, but he held his own in one-on-one drills all summer where he mostly went against LaJuan Ramsey and Walter Curry, who is one of the more powerful players on the team. Coaches trusted de la Puente enough to allow him to start Thursday's game in Chicago and it looks like he'll do the same Friday against the Chargers. A spot on the final roster might be a bit too ambitious, but the practice squad seems likely.
Final 53: No.

#61. Joe Toledo. Training camp has been a roaring sucecss for Toledo for the mere fact that he made it through without injury. Toldeo suffered a knee injury when he was a rookie two years ago. He spent 2006 on injured reserve and 2007 on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Toledo has looked good at times, bad at other times. He's not terribly mobile. He won't make the final roster, and the question is whether the 6-5, 330-pounder who showed potential in college can develop on the practice squad.
Final 53: No.

#62. Chilo Rachal. I'm probably going to write the same exact sentence later in the week in regard to Kentwan Balmer: He's got potential, but he needs refinement. And that's why the 49ers used a second-round pick on Rachal. They believe he has the potential to be excellent, and that's not something you say about most second-rounders. For this year, however, Rachal will remain on the bench, at least early on. I figure the top three guards will be David Baas, Adam Snyder and Tony Wragge in some order. Rachal will be No. 4, which means he likely won't suit up on game days.
Final 53: Yes.

#63 Damane Duckett. The 49ers love to recast players at different positions. Duckett, of course, was a defensive lineman until the 49ers switched him to the opposite side of the ball last year. He made excellent progress, and the 49ers had great hopes that the tall and long-limbed Duckett would make a successful switch. Those hopes, however, may have dimmed a bit this offseason. Duckett's progress seemed to plateau, and he struggled mightily in that Aug. 4 "practimmage" against the Raiders. A knee injury landed him on injured reserve.
Final 53: No.

#64. David Baas. For the first time in his career, Baas saw significant playing time when Justin Smiley injured his shoulder last season. Baas' insertion into the starting lineup coincided with a late-season resurgence for the starting line. The 49ers naturally had high hopes for him ... and then he tore his pectoral muscle. Baas is looking at it as a blessing in disguise. He worked tirelessly to rehabilitate from the injury, and he says his body may be in better shape -- stamina, flexibility, etc. -- than it's ever been. Baas is back a couple of weeks earlier than his projected return date. The question is whether his power, which is his forte, will return in time for the regular season.
Final 53: Yes

#65. Barry Sims. Sims was an essential addition this offseason, considering how much pressure Mike Martz's offense puts on offensive tackles. If they play well, the offense operates like the 1999 Rams. If they don't, the offense surrenders 63 sacks (see: Lions, Detroit). Sims is integral, of course, considering Jonas Jennings' injury history. And he's already been called upon after Jennings broke a knuckle on his right hand Aug. 16. Sims started at right tackle and played well the next week against the Bears. He'll get his second start Friday against San Diego. Make no mistake: Jennings is the more talented tackle. But with Sims, the 49ers don't have to reshuffle the rest of their line or readjust their offense should Jennings go down in the regular season.
Final 53: Yes.

#66. Eric Heitmann. A year ago at this time, Heitmann had made a Herculean effort to return to the field following a broken leg late in the 2006 season. Largely because of that effort, he won the team's Bobb McKittrick award (voted on by the offensive line) as well as the Ed Block Courage award. Heitmann, however, wasn't himself early in the season, and he and the rest of the interior of the offensive line struggled mightily. (Search: Smith, Alex + Bernard, Rocky). Heitmann's play improved by the end of the season, and so far this summer he and Jennings have been the most impressive linemen. It's a good time to be playing well; Heitmann is in the final year of his contract. Last year, only one starting center was paid less. Heitmann should be rewarded. The question is whether the 49ers or one of the 31 other teams in the league will do the rewarding.
Final 53: Yes

#67. Alan Reuber. With Jennings out, Reuber has been the backup right tackle, and actually had a couple of plays with the first-team unit when Sims had an equipment malfunction Thursday. Still, it's hard to see Reuber as anything but a camp body.
Final 53: No.

#68 Adam Snyder. The most dubious surprise of training camp might be Snyder. Since being drafted in the third round in 2005, Snyder's been the most versatile and dependable offensive lineman, playing games at every position save center. The expectation was that once he settled in at one spot -- left guard -- he would excel. He still might. But Snyder struggled early in training camp, especially when pitted against Justin Smith. Snyder would hold his own every now and then. But he also was thrown to the ground too many times. Now Snyder's out with a high-ankle sprain, and there's been talk of moving Tony Wragge from right to left guard for the season opener.
Final 53: Yes.

#69 Tony Wragge. Tony Wragge is a like a gray sweatshirt. Sure, there are fancier things in your closet, but old gray is the first thing you reach for when it gets cold. Wragge has been solid while filling in for Baas at right guard. So solid, in fact, that there's a chance Wragge will be the starting left guard on opening day.
Final 53: Yes

#74 Joe Staley. Staley missed the first week of training camp with a foot infection, and then looked shaky in the opener against the Raiders. He's settled down in recent weeks, however, and is expected to be the team's left tackle for the next decade or so. Indeed, Staley was one of the players Martz initially cited when he was hired.
Final 53: Yes.

#75 Jonas Jennings. Ok, let's get this out of the way. Jennings is injured. Again. He has a hard cast on his right hand after it was stepped on against Green Bay resulting in a broken knuckle. He missed the Chicago game, and he'll miss the game against San Diego. But the injury seems more serious than what initially was reported. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Jennings had three screws inserted into the hand. Because of his injury history, it's notable whenever Jennings misses a game. However, he made the switch from left tackle to right tackle with aplomb, has been the team's best linemen this offseason and really doesn't need to play these final two games.
Final 53: Yes

#76 Ramiro Pruneda. Given his international status, Pruneda is the only player on the team guaranteed a spot on the roster, albeit the practice squad roster. And the big-bodied guard isn't just taking up space. He's got some skills and will be a nice addition to the practice squad. The question is whether his presence means the 49ers will be less inclined to keep another offense livemen they otherwise would have liked to develop.
Final 53: No

#77 Chris Patrick. Patrick was signed when Duckett was placed on injured reserve. A former guard, he's been playing backup left tackle since joining the 49ers. That he's done so on the fly is impressive. Practice squad is a slight possibility.
Final 53: No.

Next: Linebackers

August 25, 2008
Nolan: Biggest decision might be at wide receiver

Now that the quarterback situation has been settled, Mike Nolan was asked today what his biggest conundrum was heading into the regular season. His answer: Who he's going to play at split end. Early on, of course, the answer was easy. The team acquired Bryant Johnson in free agency and Johnson was the most prolific receiver during minicamp and OTAs. But rookie Josh Morgan has made a push in training camp, especially after Johnson went down with an hamstring injury on Aug. 4.

Johnson gives the team more experience. Morgan, however, is more of a downfield threat and has had more work with J.T. O'Sullivan. As it happened, both players were out today, Johnson with a hamstring injury; Morgan was under the weather.

Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) were back at practice. Both are expected to play Friday against San Diego. Asked if he would keep five or six receivers this season, Nolan said, "I'm on the fence on that." If he keeps five, it's very unlikely that Lelie makes the team.

*********
Nolan's been consistent all offseason in praising all three of his quarterbacks. His stock answer during the quarterback competition has been, "I think we can win with all three." That's why the quote today in Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" was so eye-catching. Referring to the 49ers' quarterbacks, Nolan said, "Thus far, J.T.'s been better than the other two, and there hasn't really been much of a gray area. His play's been better at the position than what we've had at any point in the last three years.''

That appears to be a slam of Alex Smith, and is remeniscent of his remark last year in which he called Trent Dilfer's game against the Rams the best quarterback performance he's seen since he's been in San Francisco.

Nolan, however, insisted that the idea he was trying to convey to King was that the quarterback play as a whole was better this year than it's been in the past. "These conversations, especially on the phone, they go all around in different directions," Nolan said. Later he said. "I can't answer for (King). But I know what I said and I know what I was thinking." Asked if he had explained that to Smith, Nolan said he had the team spokesman explain his intent to the quarterback. He said he would speak face-to-face with Smith later.

************
Speaking of quarterbacks, Nolan said the plan is for J.T. O'Sullivan and the first-team offense to play one series ... or more. "Depends on how long that first series is -- we'll see," Nolan said.

************
With Adam Snyder out with a high-ankle sprain, Tony Wragge was playing left guard today. Nolan, however, said that was mainly because Brian de la Puente had an ailing arm. When de la Puente returns, Wragge could move back to right guard.

***********
Allen Rossum (chest contusion) won't play. it looks like Robert Ortiz will return punts while Delanie Walker and Michael Robinson will return kicks.

**********
Jeff Ulbrich (back) was back at practice while David Baas (pectoral) practiced for the first time all offseason. Nolan said he hoped Baas could play in Friday's game.

-- Matt Barrows

August 25, 2008
Gore light-hearted, light on his feet


Every now and then Frank Gore likes to switch roles with the media. If reporters are standing around the locker room, he'll come up and canvass us about what we think of how he played or how the offense is looking. He's interested in outside opinions. Sometimes, he'll stop me in the locker room and ask how he looks. By that, he wants me to say whether I think he looks lighter or heavier than last season. (Answer: lighter). This happened today when Gore walked up to me and Maiocco.

"What do you think?" he said.
"About Frank Gore?" I said.
"No, about the offense."

I told him that the first half against the Bears is just about as well as I've seen the offense play since I've been covering the team.
Gore asked me how long I've been covering the team and I said since 2003. In hindsight, there was a game in 2003 in which Jeff Garcia and the 49ers beat Arizona 50-14. And last year's game in Arizona was a pretty decent offensive showing, too. But I could tell that Gore agreed with my assessment. He's said in the past that he felt as if a "black cloud" was hanging over him and the 49ers last season. This summer - and today in particularly - he seemed carefree and bouyant, chatting with everyone he passed in the locker room. It sort of symbolized how the team as a whole is feeling right now -- relieved that the offense finally has come together and eager to show it off in the regular season.

I asked Gore whether he was excited about playing the Dolphins this year in his home town. He said he wasn't even thinking about that. I pressed him a little - "Come on, you have to have at least thought about it..." - but he insisted he's not looking ahead this season, a mistake he may have made before the 2007 campaign. Gore said he thought he might play a little Friday against San Diego. Mike Nolan might have another idea. Nolan speaks at 3:45 p.m. today ...

**************
David Baas has been cleared by team doctors to take part in practice. Baas will go through individual drills today and the plan is to gradually work his way into team scenarios over the next week and a half.

**************
Keith Lewis is under the weather. He will not take part in the afternoon practice.

-- Matt Barrows

August 24, 2008
Q&A: Nice guys -- like Alex Smith -- finish second

Before we get to the questions, it's time for international hour. Today we have questions from Greg in Beijing and from Anders in Denmark, who informs me that Finland isn't really considered part of Scandinavia. Who knew? Also Bob, a Chico native, is working in the city formerly known as Saigon and asks whether Vietnam is a more obscure country for a 49ers question than Finland. I still say it's Finland because it seems more unfamiliar to Americans. I mean, some people even think it's part of Scandinavia.

Question: First off, Matt, Congrats on the "Best Question"! I knew you had it in you! Secondly, in regards to the QB competition, has Alex shown any personal changes over the past few weeks in his attitude and aggressiveness both on and off the field? It seems to me, he is still very young in terms of development, and could probably use this time on the sidelines to learn the system better and regain some confidence. Is there still hope for him to be a good/great QB for the Niners? He is only 24, for cryin' out loud!
John, Tucson

Answer: I made this analogy yesterday: Alex Smith is like the Democratic party. You think they're right, you root for them, but they frustrate the hell out of you by being too mild mannered ... Will this episode harden Smith and make him a better QB in the long run? It should, but I also thought last year's shouldergate would have done the same thing. The irony in all this is that Smith could learn a valuable lesson from J.T. O'Sullivan as far as grit, determination and being a jerk (I want to use another four-letter word that ends in "k") when the time calls for it.
- Matt

Question: I just heard Trent Dilfer on ESPN say Alex Smith would be the starter for the niners at some point in this season. Could the niners have a plan to let JTO start till Alex gets 'up to speed'?
DennyPat, West Sac

Answer: That scenario could very well happen due to injury or poor play, but I don't think it's the plan. Mike Martz isn't one to give QBs a quick hook and he seems enamored of O'Sullivan.
- Matt

Question: Hey matt, love the blog. i was just wandering since j.t. osullivan is winning the qb race is there any chance that we could trade alex smith or shaun hill?
Sam, McAlester, OK

Answer: The only scenario I see - and even this one is wafer thin - is if Philip Rivers goes down in San Diego and Norv Turner grows desperate. The bottom line is that Smith's salary is way too huge for any team to pick him up now when they know he'll be released after the season. Don't see anyone wanting to trade for the 49ers' No. 3 QB, either.
- Matt

Question: Matt, One thing we haven't heard much about is the effects of Smith's shoulder injury on his accuracy and/or long ball. Any thoughts?
Stephen, Portland Or

Answer: That question has been put to Smith a number of times. He's said that there are some minor things he's still working out but overall the shoulder is fine.
- Matt

Question: Matt, I have two questions. 1.How do the York's feel about Alex's situation? 2.If the 49ers' offense is successful and Martz becomes an in demand head coaching candidate, would the York's and/or McClougan risk losing him and subsequently need yet another offensive coordinator, or would they fire Nolan and hire Martz as head coach, even if the 49er's have a "successful" season? Thank you for the blog, Ron, Sacramento

Answer: I'm sure the Yorks aren't happy about paying a truck-load of money to a player who will start the season on the bench and who likely will be gone next season. To their credit, however, they've stayed out of the decision-making process. ... Your second question is a good one. Given this team's recent history with offensive coordinators, there simply HAS to be a plan to maintain offensive continuity after the season. That is, if the offense is indeed as good as it has hinted in the preseason.
- Matt

Question: We all see Alex Smith holding the ball too long in games, but from you're 'up close and personal' view, does he EVER throw it timely in practices? Or in 'do-overs'?? Or ever, period!!? This ingrained hesitancy of Smith to let'er rip makes me absolutely crazy, is it wearing thin yet with Martz also?
And where, pray tell, is all this monumental intelligence he's purported to have? So far he hasn't shown that he's bright enough to note and correct his most obvious weakness.
Sammy, Sacramento

Answer: Yes, Smith often was slow to throw and threw behind his receivers in practice, and, yes, I believe that's what sunk him in the quarterback competition. But that doesn't mean he's not smart and it doesn't mean he wouldn't ultimately have "caught up" to the offense and become very good in it. Smith's mastery of Urban Meyer's system at Utah is a case in point.
- Matt

Question: What has happened to Keith Lewis? He was awful against the Bears...missing tackles and responsible for a blocked punt by Brandon Lloyd, of all people. When he first came to the 49ers I thought he was going to be a dynamite special team player and potentially a starting safety. Now, I don't see him making the team.
James, Lincoln

Answer: I fear the worst, too. He's going to need a monster game against San Diego to save his job.
- Matt

Question: In Martz's system, the slot receiver catches a lot of balls. Who is in the lead for that position right now? Morgan?
Chris, Clovis, NM

Answer: No, Morgan plays a different position. Arnaz Battle is in the lead right now.
- Matt

Question: How is Walt Harris looking out there? I a few games last year he seemed to have lost a step and he isn't a young man anymore. And how is Spencer looking? He usually gets hurt a lot, but no injuries this year yet?
Anders, Copenhagen, Denmark

Answer: Harris has looked very sharp. The 49ers are careful not to wear him down in the offseason and he seems to have responded to the so-called "old man's practices" by looking spry during games. Spencer has been the third-best cornerback. He's looked good, too.
- Matt

Question: Is jonas jennings the softest offensive lineman you have ever seen? the guy is always hurt. now he is not going to play because of a knuckle? are you kidding me? put on a soft cast and strap it up. he is making way too much money not to play because of a knuckle.
Tyler, Sacramento

Answer: I think the wolves will start circling Jennings if the injury causes him to miss any time in the regular season. He's been the best offensive lineman so far in the preseason and really doesn't need to play.
- Matt

Question: I live in China where we don't get preseason games on TV, just like in Oakland. Can you please tell me what's been happening with the 49ers for the last two weeks? Who's going to be the starting quarterback? And how do you think Brandon Moore will play this year? Oh, and do you think Coach Nolan is going to be fired after the season? Thanks for the help, or as we say in Beijing, xie xie!
Greg, Beijing

Answer: Wow, I hope you're sitting down for this, Greg. The starting quarterback is J.T. O'Sullivan and Brandon Moore now plays for the Cardinals. This probably seems like one of those "Twilight Zone" episodes where the guy wakes up one morning and everything around him is different. Please don't go all "Bourne Identity" on me. Also, there's this device called "The Internet" that can keep you up to date on your Niners. The Chinese government isn't blocking out "49ers Blog and Q&A" is it?!?!?!
- Matt

August 23, 2008
Injury updates ...
  • Mike Nolan said he expects all his players to be ready for practice when the 49ers begin preparing for the regular-season opener next Monday. A couple of players, however, appear to be bigger longshots than others.
  • Adam Snyder has a high-ankle sprain, an injury that usually takes weeks to heal. If he is slow to recover, the 49ers might be tempted to move Tony Wragge to left guard.
  • Bryant Johnson also is making a slow recovery from his Aug. 4 hamstring pull. Ashley Lelie (calf) and Arnaz Battle (hamstring) participated in some individual drills today but Johnson remained out. There's a possibility that Lelie and Battle could play in the preseason finale Friday. Nolan said there might have to be a bit of a rotation at receiver, especially early in the season. That's not ideal, but it's not as big a deal in Mike Martz's system where the routes are so precise. That is, there is less room for individual differences from one receiver to the next.
  • Johnson joins Snyder, Jonas Jennings (knuckle) and Allen Rossum (back) as players who are definitely out Friday. With Rossum out, it raises the question as to who will return kicks and punts. Robert Ortiz has been the back-up punt returner but Nolan said that if Battle is healthy, he could get a couple of opportunities. At kick returner, Delanie Walker has done it in the past, and Josh Morgan has done it in practice.

-- Matt Barrows

August 23, 2008
O'Sullivan turns "scratch and claw" mentality into starting job

J.T. O'Sullivan has been guarded in his comments all summer. Today - one day after he was named the 49ers' starting quarterback - he opened up a bit. Perhaps the most revealing thing O'Sullivan said was his realization early on that disappointment was going to be part of the job. "I looked at other people's careers in the league. When you're sitting at home, you have no other choice. You look at other people's paths in this league and in this position and there's not a whole lot of smooth stories. There just isn't." At that point O'Sullivan said he became resolved to "claw and scratch" to stay in the league. Ironically, Alex Smith is now learning the same lesson. "You have to take all this and use it all as motivation, as a tool," Smith said. "In some way, I'm going to benefit from this and come out the other end. That's the way I'm looking at it." Lots more on this topic in tomorrow's paper...

*******************
Speaking of tough interview subjects (O'Sullivan), today I was paid perhaps the greatest compliment of my life. I'm beaming, walking on cloud 9, got a spring in my step. What prompted this happy feeling and all these awful cliches? I got Isaac Bruce, who has been, shall we say, "curt" with the media since arriving here, to utter this sentence: "That's the best question I've had since I've been here." Yes! Nailed it!


Here's the exchange:

MB: Does JT O'Sullivan compare well to the quarterbacks that you've played with in Martz's system?
IB: In what way?
MB: In accuracy. In letting go of the ball early, before you guys make your final moves.
IB: (long pause). That's the best question I've had since I've been here. He does have really good accuracy and he fits well into the scheme of things. (long pause) He's got to be doing things really good to be the leader of a Mike Martz offense."

O'Sullivan ought to be beaming as well.

****************
David Baas is hoping to be cleared for practice on Monday. Wait, scratch that. "Not hoping. I'm expecting it," Baas said. The team's presumptive starter at right guard is ahead of schedule on his recovery from a torn pectoral muscle. If all goes according to plan, Baas will see some action in Friday's preseason finale and will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Baas said he actually feels better now than he did pre-injury. Trainers have been working hard on building his stamina, flexibility and core strength. He's also slimmed down to 327 pounds. What was he before? "I don't want to say. A lot more. I ballooned after the injury." If Baas indeed comes back for the Sept. 7 opener, it raises questions about left guard. Tony Wragge has been having a better preseason than Adam Snyder and could be switched from right guard to Snyder's left guard spot. Snyder was walking around with a plastic boot on his right foot, covering what might be a high-ankle sprain. We'll know more on the condition after Mike Nolan speaks at 3:45 p.m.

*************
Michael Robinson (knee) said he would take part in individual drills today with the hope of gradually working his way to a full practice as the week goes on. There's an outside chance he could play against the Chargers.

*************
It should be noted that undrafted rookie Brian de la Puente played well against Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams in the Bears game. Was it enough to win him a spot on the 53-man? That might be a bit ambitious, but practice squad definitely is a possibility.

-- Matt Barrows

August 23, 2008
49ers cut Cohen, four others

The 49ers made their first round of cuts today in order to get to 75-man limit. The deadline to do so is Tuesday. Remember, because he is an international players, Ramiro Pruneda doesn't count toward the final roster number

They are:

DT Joe Cohen. The former fourth-round pick started to look better later in camp, but he was starting well behind after a grisly knee injury last year. At one point, I thought he was a possibility for the practice squad. Now I wonder whether even that is a possibility.

TE Cooper Wallace. Not particularly big and not particularly fast. Evidently, the 49ers feel that 6-6 TE J.J. Finley has more potential.

S Lewis Baker. The 49ers liked the former linebacker's potential but he suffered a deep thigh bruise early in camp during a collision in the end zone and he has not been able to return. A spot on the practice squad still is possible.

QB Kyle Wright. The former Miami quarterback is the type of player who would have benefitted from a season in NFL Europa. Nowadays, however, teams have few options for players who need plenty of development. Wright may have had the best arm on the team.

G John Booker. Former San Jose State Spartan was brought in after camp started when Jeb Terry went down with an injury. Brian de la Puente's surprisingly good play left little room for Booker.

-- Matt Barrows

August 22, 2008
Transcript: Mike Nolan talks about JTO, QBs

This is what's known in the business as a "lazy man's blog." But some of you really ardent (read: nutty) 49ers fans are bound to find it interesting. Enjoy ...

RE: What was the determining factor [on starting J.T. O'Sullivan] and why announce it now?

"I announced it now because we've made our decision. The determining factor was, like I said, he's probably got the better command between the three [quarterbacks] right now. He played with consistency and we moved the ball well as a unit. We scored points, we did the things that I think our really important playing that position. I don't want to take away anything from Shaun and Alex though. I still have a lot of confidence in them and I mean what I said all along and that is that we do have three guys that can win games for us and I'm very confident that J.T. [O'Sullivan] is at the point where he's our best man for the job right now."

RE: On Mike Martz talking to you about the importance of accuracy for the quarterback:

"We don't actually say accuracy. Obviously when you're seven-of-eight [passing] that means you're pretty accurate. So we kind of go by it from a statistical standpoint to answer that question that you asked me Matt [Barrows]. Does that make sense?"

RE: It does.

"We don't say 'well he's accurate today or he wasn't'. We kind of look at the numbers and say' we've got to do a better job or something.' That is very important, you'll hear a lot of quarterback coaches and very successful coordinators talk a lot about accuracy and it's very true. Accuracy also has to do with the ability to throw the ball. Because sometimes, your lack of accuracy is due to [your strength or motion]. But anyhow, that's an important thing"

RE: Are there any thoughts of parting ways with Alex Smith now than to have a number one overall pick on the team and not playing this season?

"No, and we have not even had that discussion, nor Scot [McCloughan] nor myself. And by the way this discussion was one that Scot and I, Mike Martz and Ted Tollner all had a lot of input in, but we have not had that discussion.

RE: What did you tell J.T. [O'Sullivan] and what was his reaction?

"I spoke with all three quarterbacks about an hour ago and I spoke with them individually. J.T. was quite as he normally is, just listening to what I had to say. I could tell that obviously he was pleased with the decision. But he's a hard man to read, as you guys well know. I wasn't trying to read him either. I was trying to let him know that he was our starter and we have a lot of confidence in him, that he'll do a great job and that we're behind him all the way. Everything's good. I thought that both Alex [Smith] and Shaun [Hill] handled it as well as you would hope to or as well as you could. That's a tough situation, all three wanted to be the starter, but only one could be. But I do believe that in stressing the importance of the two guys and their importance to our football team in going forward they both recognized how important it was, in their role, for us to be a good football team. That's real important."

RE: Was the decision unanimous, coach?

"Yes, it was."


RE: Does J.T. [O'Sullivan] still need more time with the first team?

"The one dynamic that changes this week going into it...well, I guess you could say two. The first one is that hopefully were going to have a few receivers for this game that we have not had up to this day. [Arnaz] Battle, [Bryant Johnson] and Ashley [Lelie]. We may not have all three, maybe two of the three. But anyhow, that changes one dynamic because you want them to work with the first unit if you can. The second thing is that we still want to make sure that the first unit continues to work together. They'll work in practice, that's extremely important also but getting into a game situation we'll want to get them in a little bit of work. We have not decided right now how extensive that will be. It certainly will not be anything expected to be anything more than the first quarter, if that long, but there will be some work in there. We do want to get the other two quarterbacks in some work in this game because it will really important. You know like most games, we'll use it for that factor."

RE: What is the status of the offensive linemen going into the last [preseason] game?

"Nothing is for sure definite. Just like David [Baas]. I believe that Baas will practice this week, but don't know exactly what that means by weeks end whether he can play or not. But if he does practice well [We'll see]. We've got Adam Snyder I'm not sure what his status will be quite yet or if he needs another week because of that ankle he twisted the other day. Most of those questions I wouldn't be able to answer right now by Saturday or Sunday. But I'll tell you this, I'm hopeful; thinking 60/ 40 thinking that we'll have those guys back. Snyder may be little bigger question but the other guys, including Michael Robinson, would have a better chance to work in practice this week.


RE: Are you absolute sure that David Baas will return to practice tomorrow?

"It's my expectation that he will unless something changes. I have not met with the [trainers] yet today but I did meet with Scott [McCloughan] for quite sometime. He eluded to me because he has spoken the [physician's]. Naturally I have some other meetings that I'm always in so I don't get a chance to see everyone at this time but I'll see him before the day is [over].

RE: Mike, are you concerned at all that Alex [Smith] will now be considered a bust because he's not starting for you this year?

"Well, the perception will be wrong if that is the perception. That's all I can say. It's wrong."

RE: Why is that wrong?

"Well, because I think he is getting better and better right now. He needs consistency and continuity which we all do and he's getting that right now. He's getting a very detailed offense from a detailed coach and I think he performs very well in that environment. I believe it's just not accurate to say that about Alex. I've got a lot of confidence in Alex I think he's matured a lot this year and I'm encouraged by the things he's done. He was very upbeat and positive in our meeting today amidst the bad news, but he's optimistic about his possibilities of really being a good quarterback."

RE: Following up that question and answer coach, you and the organization were so tied up with Alex as the top pick in 2005. You think, at this point, it's any kind of a problem for you that he's not the guy now? I just mean in terms of drafting skill.

"I don't see it as a problem. We want to play our best players that give us the best chance to win, but that doesn't mean if you are not at that point, at this point in your career that you are a bust. That's not true at all. Alex has a lot ability a lot potential and I think he is going to be a very good quarterback in this league. He's just not there at this point. I would say that this hadn't been a case of Shaun [Hill] and Alex [Smith] not performing well. This has been a case of J.T. O'Sullivan performing very well and that's where we are."

RE: Is this a load of your mind to have this situation settled at least for the start of the regular season?

"Well I know the questions the next time we get together guys won't be about who's starting quarterback. That's a load, yeah. For our football team's sake, as I said awhile ago, it's time to get ready for the season and in particular our opening game. We've got Arizona and that is the only game we have--so it puts more focus on where it should be going forward."

RE: When was the decision actually made? Did you and Mike [Martz], Ted [Tollner] and Scot [McCloughan] get together on the plane home? I'm just wondering when the decision was actually made.

"As you know in all decisions, as you go through the process--I don't know how to say it better, you just kind of go through a process. Who did better here. Who there and who is getting the string of days together that are better than somebody else. Who gives us the best chance to win. I would say yesterday coming back from the flight was probably where we solidified what we are doing, but all of us were confident in the decision."

RE: I was just wondering if any of the quarterbacks asked or if it was communicated to them about sticking with one quarterback throughout the season or not or just giving them a quick hook if things go poorly early on?

"I spoke to each quarterback and I said the same thing to all of them and that was I am backing our quarterback 100 percent. J.T. O'Sullivan is our quarterback and I'm expecting him to succeed, but we all know we can't control everything in this league and whether he's getting his shoe lace fixed and he's out of the game or someone happens to get nicked, whatever it be, we all have to stay ready to do this job at our very best. So, they know that I will back J.T. Again, that's kind of how I told him to them and I think they respect that because when you become the quarterback you want to know that they are behind you and they believe in you."

RE: Mike, was this a decision that the ownership was involved in at all? They've invested a lot of money in two quarterbacks and those quarterbacks are the second and third choices right now. Is this something that you've had to explain to John York?

"In fairness to John and Jed [York] both, Scot and I have kept them abreast of all our discussions in our meetings. So, they are aware of what's being said and they ask questions when we would talk to them about, 'Why do you see it this way,' this and that. So they have been kept abreast, but have they said, 'You have to play this one or that one,' and put pressure on the situation? Not at all. They have been very open. They just wanted to know how it was going and that was about it. They have been fully aware of what has been taking place."


RE: Mike, how is Allen Rossum?

"Allen is sore today. Outside of that I'm not really sure what he's doing. If he we're playing today he would be out. He's sore. I think he's okay from a severity standpoint but he's pretty darn sore. He took a pretty good shot. That guy outweighed him by about three times."


RE: You don't know how long he would be out?

"I don't at this time, but like I said I haven't had a chance to talk directly with [Jeff Ferguson], but Scot said in passing to me when we quickly went through a couple of the injuries, I don't know exactly what he said, but my gut feeling right now is he said he's pretty sore today and we'll see how he is tomorrow and the next day. I would expect him to play this week. I don't think it was that severe, but he may miss a practice or two. By the way do you guys know the schedule? If you don't I'll just give it to you quick. We are going to practice on Saturday. Sunday we'll be off. The practice on Saturday will be at about 1:00. They'll be here in the morning, they'll be here from 8:00 on. It will be similar to an in-season Wednesday or Thursday on Saturday and then Sunday's off. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday will be similar schedules or the same schedules or the same schedules as in season on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. We'll give them the day off Thursday, the day before the game. We'll meet and all that, and then we'll play San Diego on Friday. So it will be as close to a normal week as you can get from a time standpoint."

RE: Will Frank Gore and Issac [Bruce] play in this next game?

"Tom, that's a great question. We briefly just went over those two names and one other, Patrick [Willis]. Anyway, right now it was just in passing. We kind of said, well what about these guys. Let's revisit it because there's a lot going on right now as far as meetings. It's on hold right now because no final decision has been made, but you are on target for the guys we are talking about."

RE: When Brandon Moore was released you said that you were doing so to give him a chance to hopefully latch on with somebody else before the rosters were set and that indeed was the case for him. I'm just wondering if you'd consider letting any other veterans go now rather than wait?

"No. Right now, no."

RE: Mike, I just had one more question. I know Mike [Martz] has been on the sideline the last two games. How has that been working out, and has it just been he wanted to have more communication with the players on the field?

"That would be a good question to ask Mike. Why don't you ask him that. From my standpoint watching it, I like there to be a commander-and-chief on the field on a particular side of the ball. Sometimes when I was a coordinator I was up because I felt I had a good second lieutenant whatever you call those guys, if I had a good one on the field. Not that Mike doesn't have one on the field, but it is a new offense and I believe he feels it's better for him to be down there communicating with the guys, but I think you would get a much more accurate answer if you ask Mike."

RE: When Zak Keasey caught Devin Hester in the endzone, should that have been a safety?

"I have not had the chance to look at tape, but everyone that has come in has said that it was ruled wrong and I can't remember exactly what they said. I know at the time, my point to them was that if he had caught that in bounds and then gone into the endzone, then if he was tackled into the endzone then it would not have been a safety, but the ball should have been placed at the two [yard line]. Now I've gotten conflicting things back here today, but I haven't really--I'll get the final answer before the day is out, because I'll have our people research it and give it to me. It hasn't been one of my priorities right now, so I can't answer it truthfully. I don't believe it was accurately done. I don't know if that means we got a safety or the ball at the two. That's where I'm led to believe right now, but I have not had Mike Pereira tell me that."

August 22, 2008
It's official: 49ers riding JTO into regular season

Mike Nolan just made the announcement during a conference call. Nolan said he met with all three quarterbacks about an hour ago and explained them the situation. O'Sullivan is the starter and he is backing him "100 percent." Alex Smith is the No. 2 quarterback and Shaun Hill is third. Said Nolan of O'Sullivan: "He had better command among the three. He played with consistency, and we've played well as a unit."

Nolan said that Smith and Hill took the news well. Asked if this meant that Smith, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, was a bust, Nolan disagreed. "The perception will be wrong if that is the perception." He said that Smith is continuing to improve and that Nolan, who selected Smith, still feels he will be a good quarterback. "I believe it's not accurate to say that," Nolan said of the "bust" label. "... He was very upbeat and positive in our meeting today."

The quarterback battle began with the team's first minicamp in early May. Back then the competition was between Smith and Hill, and the two alternated repetitions throughout the June OTAs. O'Sullivan only entered the fray on July 30. But he quickly showed a mastery of the offense the other two players did not yet have as well as the accuracy that offensive coordinator Mike Martz holds above all else. O'Sullivan only reinforced those attributes Thursday night in Chicago by going 7 of 8 in a little over a quarter of play, and throwing a 37-yard touchdown to receiver Jason Hill. Through three exhibition games, O'Sullivan is 20 of 33 with a 60.6 percent completion average. Hill is 18 of 32 for 56.3 percent. Smith, who has often thrown behind receivers, is 16 of 38 and 42.1 percent.

Nolan said that O'Sullivan and the starting offense likely would play a little longer Friday against San Diego than the starters usually do in the preseason finale. For one, O'Sullivan still needs repetitions. Friday's game only will be the fifth NFL game he's ever started. Second, Nolan said he hoped to have one or two of his injured receivers -- Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson and Ashley Lelie -- back for the game. He said there was a possibility of getting some offensive linemen back as well. Guard David Baas is expected to start practicing this week after tearing his pectoral muscle in April. Jonas Jennings also could return after breaking a knuckle on his right hand on Saturday. Nolan said that Adam Snyder (ankle) might need more time to recover. There also is a chance that running back Michael Robinson (knee) might return this week.

Nolan said the team was considering not playing Frank Gore, Isaac Bruce and Patrick Willis in the finale.

-- Matt Barrows

August 21, 2008
Nolan still mum on QB, but .....
  • OK, first things first. Nolan did not annouce the regular-season starter despite JTO's near-perfect performance in the first quarter. Nolan said he'd need to review game film and talk to players before making that announcement. "Naturally, J.T. started out 7 of 8 or whatever - did a nice job," Nolan said. "Outside of that, like I said, I'd like to do everything the right way." To me, that sounds like our long, hard wait is almost over.
  • The overriding feeling in the locker room after this one: confidence. Two weeks ago, there was no confidence. The 49ers looked ragged in practice, the players were dog tired. Now they're exhibiting all the signs of a Martz offense. Sure, the Bears defense isn't what it was two years ago. But they still have Urlacher, Briggs and Vasher, and the 49ers were pushing them around early on.
  • As I noted before, there were three injuries. Jeff Ulbrich and Allen Rossum injured their backs, but neither seems serious at this point. Dashon Goldson left the game with cramps.
  • Man, Keith Lewis had a rough night. Sacramento's own recovered a fumble on special teams. But he also blew a tackle on the Bears' first long kick return and dropped an easy interception. Then he allowed Brandon Lloyd -- Brandon Lloyd! -- to beat him for a blocked punt. Keith Lewis is one of the toughest guys in the NFL. Lloyd is, shall we say, not as tough. A play like that has got to sting.
  • Now I'm going to see about getting three or four hours of sack time before my flight back to San Jose (Whaaa!). Remember, Nolan's presser is at 3 p.m. So check in shortly thereafetr to see if "The Decision" finally has been made.

-- Matt Barrows

August 21, 2008
O'Sullivan's passer rating? 158.3 ... Injury updates

It doesn't get any higher than that, folks. Case closed? Like O'Sullivan, Alex Smith threw a touchdown in this game. he finished the game with a 71.4 rating.

Here's an injury update ...

Jeff Ulbrich left the game after injuring his back on special teams. Ulbrich started the game at "Ted" linebacker, then gave way to Takeo Spikes. Spikes came into the game before Ulbrich was injured. Ulbrich is on the sideline now and the injury does not *appear* to be serious. Hopefully, I'll have more after the game.

Allen Rossum injured his back on a kick return. Dashon Goldson left the game with a cramp.

August 21, 2008
Windy City game blog

Welcome to Chicago .... The wind is out of the east at 7 mph., about 50 mph less than it was in 2005 ...

Here are the 49ers who won't be playing tonight: G Adam Snyder (ankle), T Jonas Jennings (knuckle), WR Bryant Johnson (hamstring), WR Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and RB Deshaun Foster. Foster's grandfather passed away and Foster is attending the services ... WR Ashley Lelie (calf), RB Michael Robinson (knee), S Lewis Baker (thigh) and G David Baas are not on the list but they're not playing either. CB Tarell Brown (hip) made the trip to Chicago but will not play.

Notable Bears who will be out: First-round draft pick Chris Williams (back), TE Desmond Clark (who killed the 49ers two years ago during a game in Chicago) and G Terrence Metcalf.

* Josh Morgan will start at receiver for Johnson; Brian de la Puente will start for Snyder.

* As was the case last week, safeties Mark Roman and Keith Lewis will wear the radio receiver for the 49ers' defense.

* Quarterback controversy? Who needs a quarterback? The 49ers just marched 59 yards on three runs by Frank Gore and one by Zak Keasey, who has double duty at fullback and tailback with Foster out ...

* The promising drive bogs down with a one-yard run on third and five. Joe Nedney kicks a 28-yard FG ...


August 21, 2008
49ers player-by-player analysis

Training camp officially ends tomorrow and the first cut-down day, although a small one, is next week. Thus, it's time for a player-by-player analysis beginning with the offensive skills players. BTW, I satisfied my Chicago deep-dish fix at Gino's last night. Feeling a tad guilty about what we were about to do to our digestive systems, Dan Brown and I ordered a spinach and cheese pizza, which, in hindsight, is a like pouring "light" syrup over the Denny's Grand Slam breakfast. The damage is already done, so you might as well go the whole nine yards ....

Quarterbacks:

#3 Kyle Wright. He's merely been a "camp arm" so far this summer. But that arm is a very good one. Wright seems like a guy worth developing.
Final 53: No.

#11 Alex Smith. Smith has many things going for him. He's bright. He's athletic. He has the best arm on the team. He's tough. And he's not the kind of quarterback who flings the ball around haphazardly. Indeed, that's a big reason why Mike Nolan drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005. But some of his shortcomings, while not as problematic in, say, a Norv Turner offense, are highlighted in Mike Martz's attack. For one, he has a long release, which is exacerbated by his tendency to hold onto the ball. The result in training camp has been throws that are too far behind the receiver or a tendency to pull the ball in and run with it. In Martz's system, none of those results will fly.
The question, of course, is whether the cerebral Smith would have been farther along had he been given the lion's share of the repetitions from Day 1. There is also a sense that while J.T. O'Sullivan may be the best quarterback on opening day, if Smith were the starter he'd be the better player by midseason.
Final 53: Yes.

#13 Shaun Hill. Hill had two things going against him this offseason. Like Smith, he was learning a new and ambitious offense. Unlike Smith, Martz tinkered heavily with his mechanics. A big component of Martz's offense this year is throwing the ball deep downfield. While Hill has excellent touch on short passes and has a knack for getting an offense in rhythm, he has struggled on long throws. That's not a problem that's easy to correct, which is why Hill likely will enter the season No. 3 on the depth chart.
Final 53: Yes

#14 J.T. O'Sullivan. This is playing out a like George W. Bush's VP search in 2000: W asks Dick Cheney to conduct the search and -- lo and behold! -- Cheney ends up picking Cheney. In this case Martz is in charge of picking a quarterback and - lo and behold! - he ends up picking the guy he brought over from Detroit.
And why not? O'Sullivan has the quick-release Martz wants. His passes are accurate. He knows the offense. And best of all, he has a steely and willful determination that Nolan loves. It should be noted that O'Sullivan also is very bright. There's been a lot of ink spilled on how much Smith and Hill have had to learn this offseason. Last year, O'Sullivan landed in Detroit just before training camp and still was able to digest Martz's offense in time to start the third preseason game. Who knows how long it will take for Nolan to name the regular-season starter. But as of right now, you have to believe it will be O'Sullivan.
The one thing that could derail the JT express is the Favre-like tendency to force plays and commit turnovers. Nolan made it very clear on Draft Day '05 that he didn't want a riverboat gambler, that he wanted the quarterback to be the extension of the head coach. And the head coach - in case you haven't noticed - likes control and tends to lean toward caution.
Final 53: Yes.

Running backs:

#21 Frank Gore. You know you're the star of the team when the offensive coaches give you the first two carries in a preseason game and then quickly whisk you safely to the sideline. Gore has been getting the LaDainian Tomlinson treatment this summer because, like Tomlinson, he is the centerpiece of the team's offense. Coaches want him healthy and they want him fresh when the season starts. Wanting to be a better receiver and outside runner, Gore lost weight in the offseason. But he'll still have plenty of opportunities between the tackles, too. Fantasy football owners should be heartened that, despite an intense quarterback competition, the team had more running plays (exactly one more) than passing plays last week against Green Bay.
Final 53: Yes

#24 Michael Robinson. The 49ers see Robinson having a bigger role on special teams than on offense. The former quarterback stood out on coverage units a year ago, and he was given the coveted "Top Gun" award from special teams coordinator Al Everest. Still, there's a good chance Robinson will usurp some of DeShaun Foster's touches. He's an excellent receiver out of the backfield and last year showed a knack for gaining yards after the catch.
Final 53: Yes.

#29 DeShaun Foster. Foster is a just-in-in-case acquisition. Because Martz's offense is built around Gore, the 49ers need a back-up plan should Gore get hurt. Foster is bigger than Gore, but historically has not been as tough an inside runner. He has shown very nice hands and is smooth and fluid out of the backfield. If Gore goes down, the offense should continue to tick with Foster and Robinson.
Final 53: Yes.

#33 Thomas Clayton. Clayton is smart, quick and has one of the best physiques in the locker room. He's also altered his form from last year, running with a lower pad level and a more forward-leaning style than last season. But he doesn't run with enough power and goes to the ground too easily. Another year on the practice squad is a possibility, but he doesn't make the 53-man unless someone else gets hurt.
Final 53: No

#44 Moran Norris. Norris is one of the strongest guys on the team and is a powerful short-range blocker. What he lacks, however, is the ability to get out in front of Gore on outside runs and to get through traffic to deliver blocks. He also isn't a nimble pass catcher. That combination seemed to spell doom for Norris, Gore's lead blocker the last two seasons, through much of the offseason. He only played with the second-team defense while Zak Keasey worked with the first. On Tuesday, however, Norris got a few repetitions with the first stringers, and tonight's game against the Bears will be telling.
Final 53: Iffy but chances improving

#45 Zak Keasey. Keasey is everything that Norris isn't. He can stay ahead of Gore on sweeps and he can deliver blocks downfield. He's also a better receiver out of the backfield, although he could stand to improve in that area. (Lots of practice drops). But he isn't a devastating blocker and you wonder if Norris might be needed for short-yardage and goal-line situations. Keasey's value on special teams helps his chances at making the final cut.
Final 53: Yes.

Wide Receivers:

#15 Robert Ortiz. Ortiz's greatest asset this summer: durability. He's not particular big, not particularly fast and he doesn't have particularly good hands. He was signed to be a camp body and he's performed that role admirably.
Final 53: No.

#17 Dominique Zeigler. It's a rare occasion when you see Zeigler drop a ball. He's one of the most natural pass catchers on the team and has long and lithe body that allows him to reach passes that are off-target. All of the receivers who have made it through camp uninjured, like Zeigler, deserve praise because of the demanding work load this summer. Tall and wiry, Zeigler is by no means powerful and he doesn't have a lot of speed. However, he's shown enough consistency that if the 49ers suffer a spate of WR injuries, he could come in and perform well. Practice squad is a possibility but the risk of cutting Zeigler and losing him to another team is minimal.
Final 53: No.

#18 Ashley Lelie. Lelie would give Martz something he doesn't have on the team: an experienced receiver who can put downfield pressure on defenses. When the 49ers dispatched Darrell Jackson but not Lelie in the offseason, it was a signal that they thought he had potential in the offense. But Lelie has not been able to stay healthy, and that usually is the kiss of death on a Nolan-led team.
Final 53: No.

#19 Jerard Rabb. He's built like Zeigler but doesn't have the hands or the consistency.
Final 53: No.

#81 Cam Colvin. Once Martz's offense started to click with Colvin, the rookie started to come on. He's the type of big-bodied receiver the 49ers love but he's not as natural a pass catcher as Zeigler. Still, the 49ers know what they have in Zeigler and might be curious to see how much Colvin could develop on the practice squad.
Final 53: No.

#80 Isaac Bruce. See #88.

#81 Bryant Johnson. Through Aug. 4, Johnson was one of the two most consistent receivers in camp. He suffered a hamstring injury in the practice against the Raiders and hasn't played or practiced since. In the meantime, rookie Josh Morgan has taken his spot in the starting lineup and has looked like the 2008 version of Marques Colston. Veterans like Johnson never lose their jobs to rookies on Nolan-led teams, but Morgan's potential may be too bright to ignore.
Final 53: Yes.

#83 Arnaz Battle. The team's best receiver last year, Battle has been lightly used this summer due to a chronic knee injury and, lately, with a pulled hamstring. No matter. Neither ailment is considered serious and the 49ers know that Battle is just about the most consistent player on the team. He'll see plenty of action as the "Z" receiver behind Isaac Bruce and in three-receiver sets.
Final 53: Yes.

#84 Josh Morgan. The most pleasant surprise of the offseason, Morgan has been playing like a first-round draft pick who's already been in the league for four years. He's big, fast and, perhaps most impressive, he has been undaunted by Martz's voluminous playbook. Morgan came out of Virginia Tech with a reputation for having an attitude and for dropping too many passes. There hasn't been a hint of either in 49ers' camp. Morgan is a lock to make the team. The question is whether he cracks the starting lineup Sept. 7.
Final 53: Yes

#88 Isaac Bruce. Like Battle, Bruce has played sparingly this summer, but no one is concerned. As expected, Bruce has pinpoint accuracy on his pass routes, a real asset when breaking in three new quarterbacks. He certainly doesn't have the downfield explosion he once had, and it remains to be seen how effective he'll be with most of his games are on grass instead of artificial surfaces. Still, he's an excellent role model (on the field) for young receivers and would be the perfect compliment for Morgan.
Final 53: Yes.

#89 Jason Hill. Poor Jason Hill has been eclipsed by Morgan. But that's not to say that Hill isn't having a good camp. He's playing the more crowded "Z" position but has seen plenty of repetitions due to injuries elsewhere. Hill's biggest achievement this summer has been staying healthy, a problem that hampered his development last season. Hill had a ridiculously fast 40-yard time at the 2007 combine, but he doesn't play as fast in pads. He's not a leaper and he seems to get tripped up too easily while running routes.
Final 53: Yes.

NEXT: Tight ends and O-line

-- Matt Barrows

August 20, 2008
De la Puente to start for Snyder

Brian de la Puente, an undrafted rookie from Cal, will start at left guard tomorrow night in place of Adam Snyder, who sprained his ankle in yesterday's practice. Snyder will be re-evaluated next week and could miss the Aug. 29 preseason finale against San Diego. He is not expected to miss the regular-season opener Sept. 7.

Why does de la Puente start when the team has a second-round pick in Chilo Rachal playing guard? Rachal has been playing on the right side behind Tony Wragge while de la Puente has been playing behind Snyder. The Packers tried shuffling their guards on a short week of preparation on Saturday and it resulted in all sorts of problems with the interior pass protection. The 49ers don't want similar breakdowns this week. Another reason: De la Puente has looked solid so far in training camp.

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CB Tarell Brown (hip) did some work today in practice and will make the trip to Chicago. Whether he plays or not will be a game-time decision. Out of action are WRs Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson, Ashley Lelie, G David Baas, RB Michael Robinson and S Lewis Baker.

*****************
Forgot to include this from yesterday: FB Moran Norris was getting some work with the first-team offense. It will be interesting to see how he's used tomorrow.

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Just landed in Chicago. Now to see about some deep-dish pizza ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 19, 2008
The Bears? Again?

For two teams that aren't in the same division, haven't met in the playoffs since 1994 and are nearly 2,000 miles apart, the 49ers and Bears are pretty intertwined.

For one, they've played each other every year - either in the regular season, preseason or both - since 2003. Put another way: Since 2003, the 49ers have played NFC West rival Seattle 10 times. After Thursday, they'll have played the Bears eight times over the same span.

Then there's the off-the-field stuff. The Bears leveled tampering charges against the 49ers last year over perceived overtures to Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs. The allegations led to the Bears and 49ers switching third-round picks and the 49ers losing their fifth rounder. The Bears selected Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett in the third round with what would have been the 49ers' pick.

There are also plenty of familiar faces in the Bears locker room. Chicago signed former 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd - he of the lovely braids and alligator arms - in the offseason. This will be the 49ers' first meeting with Lloyd since he departed San Francisco early in 2006. More mixed blood: Anthony Adams spent his first four seasons in San Francisco, Bears DE Dan Bazuin is good friends with Joe Staley from their days at Central Michigan, CB Tarell Brown was Nathan Vasher's understudy at Texas, CB Walt Harris is an ex-Bear and, of course, 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary used to play a little linebacker in the Windy City

blduck.gif

And there's one more tie. Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan was signed by the Bears in February 2007. At the time, however, O'Sullivan's agent made Chicago GM Jerry Angelo promise that if there was no room for O'Sullivan on the roster, they would release him by the start of training camp. Despite the fact that O'Sullivan was the offensive Co-MVP of NFL Europa that spring, Angelo and the Bears kept their word and released him on July 6. A week later, he was signed by the Lions and was introduced to Mike Martz. The rest is history ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 19, 2008
Snyder injures ankle in practice

Left Guard Adam Snyder had to leave practice today after injuring his ankle. Coach Mike Nolan said he didn't think that Snyder would be able to play in Thursday's preseason game in Chicago but that the ankle would be re-examined before he was ruled out. "Hopefully, it's not any more serious than this game. Right now I'm led to believe it won't be," Nolan said. One solution may be to move right guard Tony Wragge to the left side and put second-round draft pick Chilo Rachal on the right. Rachal has been Wragge's back-up during camp. "You know what, I can't answer that for sure right now," Nolan said when asked who would start at left guard against the Bears.

The 49ers, of course, lost one of their starting guards when David Baas tore a pectoral tendon in April. Baas has been making a steady recovery and there is an outside chance he may see some action in the preseason finale Aug. 29. While he has been recuperating, Wragge has been filling in nicely. In fact, Wragge's looked so good that there has been talk of moving him to the left side -- and pushing Snyder -- when Baas eventually returns. Wragge started two games at left guard in 2006 in place of Larry Allen.

***************
The 49ers had a couple of high-profile observers at practice today. Both John and Jed York were on the sideline through most of the session and were joined by chief contract negotiator Paraag Marathe midway through. The Yorks, of course, have plenty of money invested in two quarterbacks -- Alex Smith and Shaun Hill -- who appear destined to start the regular season on the sideline. After practice, Nolan was asked whether that investment figures into the team's decision on picking a quarterback.

Said Nolan: "This decision's going to be based on who we feel at this point gives us the best chance to win. That's what we'll do. But the other things ...." Later he was asked a similar question about concerns about salary-cap ramifications. "When you get into the long road, yes," he said. "But on the short term -- when you're just taking it one game at a time during the season -- no. But in the long haul, you do."

******************
Now for your daily dose of "Your eyes are deceiving you".... Nolan was asked whether Shaun Hill, who has run the scout team for the last two opponents, had fallen out of the running for the starting job. "There's been no decision made," he said. "All we're doing is keeping the same process we've been doing."

-- Matt Barrows

August 19, 2008
Smith trying to remain positive as he falls behind in QB race

Alex Smith put the best possible face on an ugly situation -- for him - during a group media session before the 49ers' practice. As expected, Smith was asked how he feels about not starting Thursday against Chicago and whether he's thought about starting the season on the bench. "I'm not thinking about that now," Smith said. "When the time comes, I'll deal with it. It's (sitting) is part of the game, too." Asked whether he still considers himself in the running for the starting job," Smith said, "They haven't said otherwise, so absolutely," he replied. Is that realistic? No. But what else can he say at this point?

J.T. O'Sullivan isn't presuming anything, either. "I'm just worried about this week," he said. "I'm really just trying to worry about the preparation for the game this week. It's a short week. We're kind of crunched for time and we're just trying to get ready for Chicago," O'Sullivan said. These answers, of course, aren't all that revealing and one sideline observer - ok, it was Maiocco - noted today it was as if we're in "Groundhog Day." But don't think that Nolan isn't interested in what his quarterbacks have to say. This lengthy competition is designed to see how his quarterbacks play on the field, sure, but also how they react to outside pressure. Declaring O'Sullivan the Day 1 starter certainly would relieve some of the tension surrounding the team right now. Nolan, however, is interested to see how players react when the tension level is high.

******************

As was the case yesterday, Nolan won't speak to the media until the afternoon practice is completed at 3:45 p.m.


***************
Back-up kickers don't usually get a lot of attention and they almost never get any locker room applause. But Ricky Schmitt got both after the team went over the film from Saturday's Green Bay game, particularly the play in which Schmitt blasted return man Jordy Nelson 10 yards out of bounds.

What did special teams coach Al Everest say?
"He was joking around, saying I was on steroids," Schmitt said.

Are you on steroids?

"Look at me..."

Conclusion: Schmitt is not on steroids.

-- Matt Barrows

August 18, 2008
It's JTO in Chicago; Nolan still mum on season starter

Mike Nolan named J.T. O'Sullivan the starter for Thursday's game against Chicago, explaining that he didn't want to reshuffle the quarterback rotation order due to the short practice week. That, of course, means that O'Sullivan will have started all three of the team's preseason games, including the third game, which most teams consider the most crucial tune-up for the season. With that in mind, Nolan was asked why fans shouldn't assume that O'Sullivan has already won the starting job? His response: "I'd say it's a short week and we're staying consistent with our plan."

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Jonas Jennings has a broken knuckle on his right hand. The team's starting right tackle had surgery today and will miss Thursday's game. Nolan said Jennings should be back for the finale against San Diego. "It's not serious enough to keep him out of anything further." Nolan said he wasn't sure if Jennings would wear a cast on the hand, something that would affect how he's able to engage pass rushers. "I'll be curious to see what it looks like because I'll certainly have some opinions on what it is," Nolan said. "Sometimes -- an offensive lineman, it's very restrictive if you can't use that hand very much. I believe -- I've been led to believe -- that what will be on there will be functional."

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Nolan said the first-team units will play the first half, just as they did against the Packers. Those who are out for the game include: WRs Bryant Johnson (hamstring), Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf); G Davis Baas (pectoral), RB Michael Robinson (knee) and S Lewis Baker (thigh).

Nolan said there was a chance that Baas, who is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, could be back for the fourth and final preseason game. However, Nolan also said it could be a case where Baas is back at practice but not yet ready to play in a game.

Robinson's and Lelie's rehabilitation included sprinting today, a sign that they are close to returning to practice. Fourth-string quarterback Kyle Wright injured his knee. How? Not sure. The team is hoping that CB Tarell Brown (hip) will be ready to play by Thursday.

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FYI: The Bears have announced their regular-season starter. Kyle Orton will start Thursday night and when the regular season begins. Man, it took them long enough to decide ....

-- Matt Barrows

August 18, 2008
Jennings to miss Bears game

We're still awaiting a diagnosis for RT Jonas Jennings, who injured a knuckle on one of his hands Saturday night. What we do know, however, is that Jennings will not play in Thursday's game against Chicago. Mike Nolan is expected to give us the details following the afternoon practice, which ends at 3:45 p.m. Barry Sims is expected to start at right tackle ...

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Ashley Lelie was wearing a sleeve over his left calf today in the lockerroom. Lelie said he has a small tear in the calf muscle, and the sleeve is designed to increase circulation and speed up the healing process. He's been doing some light running for the last week or so. Today, he said, the plan is to take it up a notch with the hope of playing in Thursday's game. Lelie is walking a very fine line. He's on the proverbial "bubble" and needs to give coaches a reason to keep him on the 53-man roster. Still, he said he rushed back too quickly on Aug. 4 and reinjured the calf.

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Ray McDonald was a popular guy in the locker room after recording 1 1/2 sacks in a little less than one half of play. McDonald admitted he had a rough rookie season. At Florida, the goal was to get up field as quickly as possible, and his quick release off the line was an asset in that regard. The 49ers' scheme, on the other hand, called for analysis over instinct, and required him to hold up offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage so the linebackers could make the play.

Judging from the Packers game, McDonald has adjusted nicely entering his second season. He showed a nice combination of quickness and power in the first half, slipping inside left guard Jason Spitz to force a sack early in the game and then bull rushing Spitz to get another sack later on.

-- Matt Barrows

August 17, 2008
No decision yet on QB ... the wait continues

Just got off a conference call with Mike Nolan. The first question, of course, was whether in looking over the game film from Saturday, Nolan and his assistants were ready to name a QB starter for the season. Nolan: "As soon as I do, I'll offer it. Now I don't."

Nolan said he though J.T. O'Sullivan made progress from last week when he was forcing too many plays, especially on third down. This week, O'Sullivan made one third-down blunder on the interception by Charles Woodson. But Nolan said he was happy with how O'Sullivan handled other third-down situations. "I thought his decision-making was very good," Nolan said.

Asked whether he was seeing enough of Alex Smith and Shaun Hill to properly evaluate them, Nolan said: "I feel good about what we're doing from a repetition standpoint." That seems to be an indication that O'Sullivan will start Thursday's game in Chicago, but Nolan would not commit to that, either.

More from Nolan:

* He heaped more praise onto Josh Morgan (5 catches, 114 yards) but said it was too early to name him as a starter. "There's still a lot of time left to make that assessment. Nothing to report on that." Morgan was left in the game in the third quarter so that Smith could throw to him. Smith missed Morgan on a deep pattern that likely would have been a touchdown. However, the two hooked up on a 27-yard pass play in which Smith released the ball before Morgan's final move. Nolan was pleased in the trust the two players had in one another.

* Nolan also is happy with Tony Wragge, who has played well enough to be considered for A.) the starting job when David Baas returns from his pectoral muscle injury or B.) To perhaps push Adam Snyder, who struggled early in camp, at left guard. Nolan (of course) would only say that he felt he had three starting-caliber players at guard. He did say, however, that Baas appears to be ahead of schedule as far as his return.

* It turns out the 49ers had one injury. Jonas Jennings injured the knuckle on one of his hands. We'll have a diagnosis tomorrow. Asked how Jennings played against Aaron Kampman, Nolan said, "Ok ... Just Ok."

Observations after re-watching Saturday's game:


  • I paid close attention to Marcus Hudson and Keith Lewis, who are competing for one roster spot. I thought Lewis had a particularly good game on special teams after whiffing on Johnnie Lee Higgins' punt return for a TD last week. In fact, Lewis was in the midst of tackling the Packers return man Will Blackmon when Blackmon flipped the ball backward to Atari Bigby at the last second. No matter: Lewis got up, and along with Shawntae Spencer, tackled Bigby farther downfield.
  • Hudson, meanwhile, was credited with one special teams tackle. On a 3rd and 19 play deep in their own territory, the packers threw a screen to Vernon Morency. Hudson did a nice job of avoiding the pulling guard on the play, but he whiffed on the tackle. Lewis finally tackled Morency after he had gained 20 yards.
  • Deep in 49ers territory, Ray McDonald absolutely bowled over the left guard on his way to sacking Aaron Rodgers. McDonald had used his quickness early in the game to slide past the guard, who was obviously off balance. McDonald's performance is an encouraging sign for the 49ers' pass rush, especially considering that he will be paired with Justin Smith throughout the season.
  • Joe Staley had some problems with Cullen Jenkins early on but later settled down and handled him well. The offensive line played well as a whole and the left side of the line in particular improved since last week. Right guard Tony Wragge got into the second level several times to deliver blocks.
  • Somewhere Joe Gibbs is wondering why the 49ers weren't penalized for calling two timeouts in a row.
  • After being questioned for not going for it on fourth down last week in Oakland, Mike Nolan went for it twice on fourth down deep in packers territory. The results: A touchdown and a first and goal.

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So how insanely fast was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt's 9.69-second finish in Saturday's 100-meter dash? Kings beatwriter Sam Amick helped me put it in football terms. If 100 meters were broken down into 40-yard segments - what players run at the combine and at days - Bolt's time translates to 3.54 seconds. Put another way: Vernon Davis' 40 time in 2006 was 4.38 seconds. Over 100 meters, that translates to 11.98 seconds.

vd td.jpg bolt.jpg

Of course, you have to keep in mind that the first half of the 100 meters is slower than the last half. And you have to also keep in mind that Davis is better at sealing off the defensive end than Bolt. I see Bolt as a kick returner, and of course, I see him in a Chargers uniform ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 16, 2008
49ers 34, Packers 6: Post-game notes

* First, the big question. Was JTO's performance tonight -- 8 of 17 for 154 yards, one awesome touchdown, one horrendous interception -- enough to win him the starting job? Mike Nolan said it was too early to say. He and his assistants have to look at the game film before making any conclusions. He also said he doesn't feel bound to make a decision by Thursday's third preseason game in Chicago. "We don't have a timetable on it," he said. "We want to make a good decision, and we will."

Alex Smith, meanwhile, said he was under the impression that the competition was still open. "They kind of talked about us going into that third preseason game and letting us battle it out until then," he said.

* Nolan didn't show Smith much sympathy last season when the quarterback separated his shoulder. This week, however, Nolan has taken every opportunity to praise Smith, whose best friend committed suicide six days ago. Smith was home in San Diego yesterday to attend his friend's service. Said Nolan: "He showed a lot of maturity. That's difficult for some guys when they're not playing in the game. But he did a nice job. I'm proud of him."

* How do you top a four-catch, 68-yard rookie debut? With a 5-catch, 114-yard follow up that includes a 59-yard touchdown. That's what Josh Morgan, the hardest working man on the team, did Saturday night. I say hardest working because Morgan played well into the third quarter while everyone else on the team played at most a half. Morgan was searching for the ball with which he scored after the game ...

* Joe Staley had some problems with beefy Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins early, but overall the pass protection was very good Saturday. No sacks allowed. The offensive line also opened some nice holes for Frank Gore, who rushed six times and had a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.

* Who led the team in tackles? His initials are TBC. Yes, Tully Banta-Cain had five stops, including back-to-back sacks of QB Matt Flynn. Both caused Flynn to fumble, the second of them was recovered by Atiyyah Ellison. What to make of TBC? He played special teams in the first half and didn't play defense until the seond half. Meanwhile, Roderick Green actually started the game at right defensive end. Green was in the game a lot early on as a pass-rush specialist.

* The 49ers had six sacks, 1 1/2 of them by defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who was singled out by Nolan after the game. McDonald and Justin Smith are a tandem and they often run stunts together. It's looking like a promising partnership.

* Injuries? What injuries? The 49ers did not report any after the game. That could change when players report to the training room tomorrow, but so far -- knock on wood -- the 49ers have emerged from two preseason games very healthy.

-- Matt Barrows

August 16, 2008
49ers-Packers gameday blog

This one's on TV, so no play-by-play this evening ... I will, however, provide any injury updates, lineup changes and pearls of wisdom that come to me during the game...

* Players who are out for today's contest: CB Tarell Brown, who hurt his hip during Thursday's practice; WRs Arnaz Battle (hamstring), Bryant Johnson (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf); G David Baas (pectoral), RB Michael Robinson (knee) and S Lewis Baker (thigh).

* Mark Roman will wear the radio receiver for the defense in the first half; Keith Lewis will have it in the second.

* A number of Packers have been scratched from the game. They include: Ryan Grant, DeShawn Wynn, Charlie Peprah, A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishopp, Orrin Thompson, Ryan Pickett, Ruvull Martin, Tory Humphrey, Greg Jennings, Justin Harrell and KGB ...

* The starting lineup for the 49ers: Isaac Bruce and Josh "Iron Man" Morgan.

* Mike Martz is on the field; last week he was in the box

* Jeff Ulbrich has been on both kickoff return and punt-coverage units so far. He also is starting at "Ted" linebacker. Look for Takeo Spikes in the second half.

* Interesting: Roderick Green starts and lines up as a right defensive end in a 4-3. Smith is a defensive tackle.

* Ray McDonald gets flagged for offsides. Two plays later, however, he beats the guard to the inside to collapse the pocket and Manny Lawson gets the sacks. A lot of ink has been spilled on Justin Smith, but McDonald could really help the pass rush this year as well.

*** Another bad interecption for O'Sullivan. this time on 3rd and 5 from his own 13, JTO follows Vernon davis who is being closely covered by LB Brandon Chillar. He doesn't see Charles Woodson, who has an easy pick. Woodson probably comes close to scoring but he fumbles the ball out of bounds ... ****

- Takeo Spikes makes his first appearance ...


Meanwhile, here's the view from the press box:



08162008058 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

-- Matt Barrows

August 16, 2008
Q&A: Nolan's fate pondered

Nothing like a quarterback clusterfudge competition to fill up the question box. I literally had hundreds from which to choose and couldn't get to all of them. From the look of things, Texas is giving New Jersey a run for its money as far as out-of-state Qs. And this week, I got my first question from Finland. Take that, Maiocco! Remember, passable grammar and a little device called "spell check" increase your chances of being posted.

Question: So what do you think the chances are that if the 49ers start off the season losing their first few and looking exceptionally bad, Nolan gets axed and Martz promoted? Or put another way, what kind of losing record do you think it would take for the Yorks to pull the trigger during the season?
Todd, Houston

Answer: John York is a very methodical man, and I doubt he would make a decision midseason unless things are really bad. And yet ... more and more Jed York is taking over day-to-day operations of the team. Jed York has a younger man's patience and he has a stadium to build. That will be harder to accomplish if there's a perception that the team is going nowhere and the ownership is resistant to change. As for Martz, if things fall apart, it almost certainly will be because of the offense. (defense and special teams should be good). I'm not sure you can promote the OC in that scenario. Mike Singletary or Greg Manusky might be better choices. Of course, should J.T. O'Sullivan flourish, everyone in the 49ers' offices - from Nolan to the Yorks - will look like geniuses.
- Matt

Question: Your tri-state fan club continues to roll on here... Two quick questions -- and they're sincere, not sarcastic: First, JTO has been cast aside by eight (8) teams in six (6) seasons. What is your best guess as to what all eight of those teams (1/4th the NFL) missed about O'Sullivan that the 49ers think they've found in this presumed starter? Second, observing Martz for years as HC of the Rams indicates he has a fair ego... He's credited with taking Warner from stock boy to Pro Bowler. Is it possible there's just a "hint" of Martz's ego involved with JTO?
Mike, Montclair, N.J.

Answer: Re: Martz's ego ... I'd be lying if that thought hadn't been bandied about in the press trailer. The Mike Martz myth only grows more powerful (Martzism?) if O'Sullivan, heretofore an NFL unknown, is turned into a star. As for O'Sullivan, he's been a victim of circumstances in some spots (Green Bay, Minnesota.) And, as is written in today's Bee about O'Sullivan, it's hard to shake that journeyman label once it's placed on you. The fact that he's stuck around the league for six years is telling, too.
- Matt

rodgers.jpg

Question: Hey Matt; If Aaron Rodgers takes the Packers to the playoffs this year, do you think Nolan & crew's decision to draft A. Smith instead of A. Rodgers will influence his future with the 49ers?
Jason, Las Vegas

Answer: I think Nolan's fate will be determined by how his own team fares this season. Under the same circumstances, it's very hard to imagine Rodgers (or any QB) ending up any better than Smith in San Francisco.
- Matt

flip flops.jpg

Question: Hi Matt, What do you think? What is Nolan's goal to say one thing (Qb rotation / competition) and act completely otherwise? It's happened several times during the camp.
Mike, Pori, Finland

Answer: Nolan's flip flopping is apparent as far away as Scandinavia ... It's a question I've asked myself many times. I think the answer is that Martz is handling the quarterback competition by feel and that he is making decisions on a day-to-day basis. That runs counter to the long-term plan Nolan set forth in July (Hill and Smith starting one preseason game apiece) and later the plan to give all three quarterbacks five first-string rotations in the final 15 practices. In hindsight, Nolan would have been better off saying that there was no concrete plan for repetitions, the competition might change from day to day and that it was Martz, not him, pulling the strings.
- Matt

Question: Hello, Matt. Love the Blog. How has Shaun Hill really looked out there? I was anticipating him having a real shot at the starting job and have been let down thus far (as Hill seems to be as well). He has shown the most poise and ability in the past few preseasons. What gives?
Mark, Oakland

Answer: I believe the thing that sunk Hill was his arm strength. He's excellent at short, touch passes and getting the offense into a nice flow. However, his downfield passes don't get downfield very quickly. And in a Martz offense, it's essential that they do.
- Matt

Question: Matt, how does THIS rookie class compare to last year's? What's your impression so far of each of the 49ers' top 3 draft picks: DL Kentwan Balmer, OG Chilo Rachal, & DB Reggie Smith?
Cody, Lafayette

Answer: Reggie Smith pretty much blended in during minicamps and OTAs. But he's recently been catching my eye in practice and he'll be an interesting guy to watch tonight. Balmer and Rachal have plenty of potential. But they may not start showing it until midseason or so.
- Matt

Question: Matt, love the blog, you're awesome! Considering JTO is now our starting QB, how long to you think he'll stay alive out there w/ the 49ers weak O Line? He didn't look too good against Oakland, and he also appears to be too slow in the pocket to avoid those hard hits that will be awaiting him.
Marc, Tempe, Ariz.

Answer: Good question. If JTO wins the starting job, Lord knows defensive coordinators will test him early with a wicked pass rush. The left side of the line wasn't too good against the Raiders and will need to shore itself up. One positive is that O'Sullivan makes decisions quickly and gets rid of the ball quickly.
- Matt

Question: Matt, Do you think that SF can play Zak Keasey at fullback this year? He seems too small, and not strong enough as a blocker or runner.
Clayton, Rancho Cordova

Answer: Nice observation. I bet Frank Gore, who is close to Moran Norris, is wondering the same thing. The bottom line is that it's too early to say yea or nay. But it's something to keep an eye on.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, love the blog. I watched the game Friday and Josh Morgan reminded me a lot of T.O. (otherwise known as team obliterator). The guy is big and can catch the ball in traffic. I was wondering if you saw the same thing on the practice field or if I was really that drunk Friday?
Larry, Lincoln

Answer: You weren't beer goggling, Larry. Morgan has been very, very impressive from a mental, physical and stamina standpoint since he got here. Owens is unique physically - I don't think Morgan, or anyone for that matter, is in his league. Two guys he reminds me of are Marques Colston and Reggie Wayne.
- Matt

Question: Do you believe Cam Colvin will make the final roster, and who do you think will be in our receiving corps?
Steve, San Antonio

Answer: I believe Colvin has a shot at the practice squad, not the final roster. The 49ers will have to choose between him and Dominique Zeigler for a spot on the practice squad. I think Zeigler is the better receiver right now. The question is whether the 49ers think Colvin has more potential. As far as the final group of receivers, I think it will look like this: Battle, Bruce, Hill, Johnson and Morgan. Who's missing?
- Matt

August 15, 2008
Aaron Rodgers: "Absolutely no ill will" toward the 49ers

After the 2005 draft, Aaron Rodgers was none too pleased with the 49ers, the team he loved while growing up in Chico. They passed him over with the No. 1 pick in favor of Alex Smith, sparking a draft-day drop for Rodgers that didn't stop until the Packers snagged him at pick No. 24. Rodgers' reaction after the draft: "(Twenty-one) teams passed on me, and when my time comes to play, I'm going to show those teams they made a mistake," he said on ESPN radio days after the draft. "And if we play the 49ers at their place, I'm going to make sure the entire city of Chico comes down there to watch us beat them."

I got a call from Rodgers this evening after the Packers plane landed in San Francisco. With Smith fighting for his job and the 49ers struggling mightily since 2005, let's just say that Rodgers is more accepting of how things transpired. And let's just say that some Chico residents will be on hand. Here's exactly what the former Cal star had to say:

Q: Welcome back to the Bay Area
A: Thanks. Good to be back. I wish I was on the other side of the bridge. I could see some of my buddies from Berkeley. I feels good to be back in California, definitely.

Q: What kind of Aaron Rodgers contingent should we expect tomorrow at Candlestick?
A: My family. Some of their friends. My extended family's coming. A lot of friends from college. There'll be a lot of my friends and family there.

Q: When's the last time you were at Candlestick as a fan?
A: I've only been to one game there and it was 2004 when Seattle played San Francisco. (49ers lost 42-27).

Q: When I wrote a story on you before the 2005 draft, your mom said she was a 49ers fan going back to the Kezar days. What's her allegiance now?
A: Strictly with the Packers.

Q: Have you ever sat down with Mike McCarthy (the 49ers' offensive coordinator in 2005) and asked him why the 49ers passed on you?
A: You know what? Not really. It's not a big deal for me. I know the organization made a decision. I know coach McCarthy was the offensive coordinator there and could have been my offensive coordinator if the Niners had taken me. I know it's a business. And I know the team was trying to make the best decision they could make. So there's absolutely no ill will with the 49ers or Mike Nolan or anybody.

Q: How closely have you followed the 49ers since 2005?
A: Well, I follow all the teams. You like to be up to date on what everybody's doing. You follow closely different players who maybe were drafted in your draft class or from your school or were from the Pac 10. So I definitely follow different teams and players throughout the season. Obviously, I want to know what the 49ers and Raiders are doing.

Q: One of the players in your draft class was Alex Smith. Have you followed what he's been going through recently?
A: Yeah, I'm aware of what's been going on a little bit just from what I see and hear from friends in Northern California.

Q: Would you want to trade places with him now?
A: I think everything happens for a reason. I was fortunate to end up with the Packers and learn behind Brett. Now my opportunity to be the starter has come, and I couldn't be happier. We have a lot of high-character guys, on the coaching staff and in the locker room. Like I said, everything happens for a reason, and I wouldn't trade it for anything now.

Q: Have you reflected on the fact that a team that picks first overall might have less stability than the one that picks 24th?
A: I've had three offensive coordinators in my four years. They've all been a similar system. ... I'm in a very good situation. There are lot of quality people and players here. I think the transition this year is going to be a fairly small one because there are so many talented guys on both sides of the ball.

Q: Will you have a chance to see friends this weekend?
A: We'll have some time this evening. But there's not a lot of time off. It's the preseason, but I've got a job to do, and that's play tomorrow. I'll be able to see a lot of friends and family after the game. Until then, I'll focus on having a good time tomorrow night and playing well.

Q: How much will you play?
A: I'll play about 30 snaps?

Q: Is that about a half?
A: Well, last week I played 25 and it was a little under a quarter. We made a lot of plays last week.

Q: Whatever became of the Joe Montana t-shirt you wore under you Cal jersey?
A: That's a good question. I believe it's in Chico right now at my parents' house. It's all Reebok now ...

******************
By the way, here's the story I wrote back in 2005 on Rodgers ... Not sure why the Web site didn't credit The Bee ...
-- Matt Barrows

August 15, 2008
Logjam: The toughest positions on cut-down day

As the 49ers head into their second preseason game, here are the positions at which coaches and evaluators will have their toughest decisions on cut-down day. The team must reduce its roster to 75 players by Aug. 26 and have its final 53 on Aug. 30

Tight end-fullback:

There's a lot of overlap between the tight ends and fullbacks in the 49ers' system and Mike Nolan this week said the two positions "kind of go together." He said it's possible the 49ers will keep five total, but in the past the final number's been four. Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker are locks, of course. The question is, if the 49ers only keep four on the final 53, who gets the final two spots? The answer lies with the first-team reps. Of the two fullbacks on the roster, Zak Keasey and Moran Norris, Keasey is the one routinely in with the first-team offense. Mike Martz and the 49ers like Keasey because he can stay out in front of Frank Gore on sweeps and also can wind his way through traffic to make blocks. He also is a better receiver than Norris, a must in Martz's offense.

Norris' advantage would be in short-yardage situations. He's about 15 pounds heavier than Keasey. But Norris also would have to win out over tight end Billy Bajema. He caught five passes his rookie season but he hasn't had a single catch in the two years since despite extensive playing time. Still, he seems to get a fair amount of first-team action in practice, he's a very good blocker and there actually have been quite a few practices passes thrown his way. So if the 49ers go with four, I think they'd be: Bajema, Davis, Keasey and Walker. J.J. Finley and Cooper Wallace are candidates for the practice squad.

Outside linebacker:

This is a tricky one. Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson are locks for the final 53. Justin Smith also is a lock, of course, but the fact that the former defensive end plays a lot of outside linebacker makes things interesting for four other players: Tully Banta-Cain, Roderick Green, undrafted rookie Louis Holmes and Jay Moore. The 49ers don't have room on their roster for all four. In fact, it may be that only one of them makes the 53.

Holmes, who has shown real promise as a pass rusher, is an obvious practice-squad candidate, but the 49ers would risk him being plucked off it by a team with room on its active roster. Banta-Cain disappointed last year with just 3.5 sacks, but he is the most versatile of the bunch and there's a sense that he'll be more effective in a reserve role just as he was in New England. Green has been perhaps the best pass rusher of this latter group. But his versatility is limited and the 49ers know (from history) there's little risk in cutting him and bringing him back midseason if need be. Moore, meanwhile, hasn't shown much of a pass rush and is still very much in learning mode when it comes to coverage duties. He is practice-squad eligible.

Who makes it? I think Banta-Cain has the inside edge, but these final three exhibition games will decide.

Secondary:

Since Nolan and Scot McCloughan have come aboard, seven of their draft picks have been either cornerbacks or safeties (or both). They also inherited Keith Lewis and Shawntae Spencer and brought in Nate Clements, Walt Harris, Michael Lewis, Mark Roman and Donald Strickland through free agency. (For the sake of this analysis, Allen Rossum doesn't count). At cornerback, Clements, Harris, rookie Reggie Smith and Spencer are locks. At safety, Michael Lewis, Roman and Dashon Goldson are safe. That's seven players. Last year, the 49ers kept 10 in the secondary.

Who gets the final three spots? You have to think that the 49ers still want to see what they have in cornerback Tarell Brown, a fifth-rounder in 2007 whom McCloughan has said has first-day talent. The team also loves Donald Strickland, who is tough enough to support the run and versatile enough to play both cornerback and safety. Which leaves the final spot as a toss up between Keith Lewis and Marcus Hudson.

Lewis is a valuable special teams player, who has shown a knack for blocking punts and who routinely is at the top of the special teams tackles list. He also has proven to be a trustworthy back-up at safety. In 2006, for example, he made nine starts and was part of the 49ers' midseason defensive resurgence. He had two interceptions over that span and finished tied for second in tackles. He seems to have a similar skill set to starter Michael Lewis, who plays best close to the line of scrimmage. Keith Lewis' shortcoming is his speed, and he is limited to playing strong safety.
Hudson, meanwhile, doesn't have Lewis' playing experience. What he does have is versatility, and he has played both safety and cornerback this summer. He also showed a knack last season for special teams, finishing sixth in special teams tackles. In making the final decision, the 49ers will have to ask themselves whether they prefer experience or potential at the position. Rookie Lewis Baker has a shot at the practice squad but must return from a deep thigh bruise soon.

-- Matt Barrows

August 14, 2008
P.M. practice: Grant throws punches; Smith throws passes

Not much to report from the afternoon session. Last week, rookie quarterback Kyle Wright handled most of the scout-team work. Today, it appeared to be Shaun Hill who was playing the role of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The most exciting thing was a fight between rookie linebacker Larry Grant and -- who else? -- Vernon Davis. Grant seemed to take exception to some hard blocking on a DeShaun Foster running play. The two took several wild, flailing swings at each other before they were restrained by teammates. It was hard to tell when it occurred, but Grant must have taken a shot to the stomach. He had trouble catching his breath and had to sit out a few plays. The melee seemed to fire up the second-team defense, especially rookie cornerback Reggie Smith and defensive end Walter Curry, who didn't stop hollering for several plays.

**************************
Alex Smith got to run a two-minute drill at the end of practice. He drove the second-team offense to the 9 yard line before his final pass in the corner of the end zone was too far for Cam Colvin to handle. With that incompletion, practice ended. Smith was 4 of 9 on the drive.

**************************
Saturday's game is a big one for two players: Smith and J.T. O'Sullivan. If O'Sullivan has a good game, he will widen the gap between him and Smith. Before training camp began, Mike Nolan said he hoped to nail down the season-opening starter by the third preseason game. That game, Aug. 21 against Chicago, is looming. So will O'Sullivan shine? If he does, he'll have to do so against a good Green Bay defense. Coach Mike McCarthy today told the Packers media that his starters would play "30 or more snaps." That's roughly one half, which is what O'Sullivan is scheduled to play ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 14, 2008
JTO, starters to play the first half

Mike Nolan finally revealed the secret that everyone and their second cousin has known for the last few days: That J.T. O'Sullivan will start his second straight preseason game when the Packers come to town on Saturday. In fact, the quarterback order will remain the same except that O'Sullivan will play a little longer against Green Bay than he did against the Raiders on Friday. He and the starters will play the first half. Alex Smith will start the second half and Shaun Hill will finish out the game. Some starters, such as Isaac Bruce and Frank Gore, will be taken out well before halftime.

Said O'Sullivan, who is starting only his third NFL game: "It's an opportunity to show what you can do. You can get the mental reps from sitting back there and not wasting a chance to learn from watching someone else do it. But I don't think there's any argument for actually getting in there and getting the game reps, practice reps, of actually making the throws and making the decisions."

**********************
As for the receiver situation, Nolan said today that Bruce didn't need to start because of his vast experience in Martz's offense. However, the 49ers are wafer thin at wideout with Arnaz Battle (hamstring), Bryant Johnson (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) out for the game. Rookie Josh Morgan will start alongside Bruce and play through the first half.

Others who will miss the game are David Baas (pectoral), Robinson (knee) and rookie Lewis Baker (thigh).

With O'Sullivan starting again, the question now is whether he can win the overall starting job with a strong performance. Said Nolan: "It's another opportunity to showcase what he can do. As it is for everyone else."

-- Matt Barrows

August 14, 2008
JTO leading walkthrough; Morgan at WR

J.T. O'Sullivan is leading the first-team offense in this morning's walk through, a clear indication he will start his second straight preseason game on Saturday. At wide receiver, look for Isaac Bruce and rookie Josh Morgan to start. The question is whether that could be the starting comination on opening day. Morgan has gotten a lot of throws from all three quarterbacks, most recently O'Sullivan. Meanwhile, the guy who is presumably ahead of Morgan on the depth chart, Bryant Johnson, got hurt just as O'Sullivan was taking control of the quarterback competition.

Asked Tuesday about Morgan's chances of starting, Mike Nolan said this:

"Could? Sure. It would be one thing if the people he's competing with at that position were established because, for example, Bryant Johnson, who is a very good player, we want to see Bryant on the field playing. I think he did a hell of a job in mini-camp and in the OTAs, but at the same time, if he's not out there performing it's difficult to get ready for the first game. He's got to back on the field. Otherwise, he's still an unknown commodity when it comes to game time. Obviously practices and games are different; it's as close as you can get in practice, but they're different."

-- Matt Barrows

August 13, 2008
Alex Smith deals with tragedy off the field

Alex Smith went 3 of 7 today with an interception, and everyone would agree that he's had a rough week on the practice field.
What hasn't been made public until today is that Smith has been having a devastating week off the field. On Sunday, Smith learned that his best friend, David Edwards, had committed suicide in San Diego.
The two had been friends since they were 14. Edwards, 24, took the same AP classes as Smith at Helix High. As a senior, he was the principal's assistant at Helix, meaning that Edwards and Alex's father, Helix principal Doug Smith, also were very close.
"He had a relationship with everyone in our family," Alex's mother, Pam, said today on the telephone. "He was at the draft with us. The first couple of years Alex was with the 49ers, anywhere Alex would go, David would go with him - the Super Bowl, everything."
In fact, the Edwards family requested that David's service be held in the Smith's backyard.
That service will be on Friday. Alex Smith will fly back for it and miss Friday's practice.
He admitted today that dealing with the news from home as well as his day-to-day duties with the 49ers has been difficult. After graduating from UCLA, Edwards was one of the friends who lived with Smith in his Los Gatos home. Edwards left last year to move back to San Diego.
"I talked to him on Saturday, our day off," Smith said. "I asked him if he wanted to come up for Saturday's game. He was going to come up."

*************
Smith's loss is one of many to have hit 49ers' players in the last year and a half. Running back Frank Gore lost his mother, Liz, in September and then was dealt another blow when friend and former teammate Sean Taylor was murdered in December. Mike Nolan and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky both lost their fathers during the season.

***********
It remains to be seen how Smith will be used in Saturday's game. Mike Nolan today said the rotation won't be determined until this afternoon, although the 49ers will not announce it until tomorrow. I would be shocked if anyone other than J.T. O'Sullivan started. Today Smith split second-team repetitions with Shaun Hill, the first time Hill has received any 11-on-11 snaps since Aug. 6. That may be an indication that Smith's absence this week will mean more game time for Hill on Saturday. All will be revealed tomorrow ....

-- Matt Barrows

August 13, 2008
Nolan to players: Enjoy the afternoon

Sorry about the delay ... technical difficulties have been a problem all morning and I'm now using ... gulp ... dial up. Sooooo 1998 ...

J.T. O'Sullivan again ran the first team and if you don't believe he'll start Saturday's game, I have some newspaper stock I want to sell you. O'Sullivan looked good, hitting Josh Morgan on a bomb early in team sessions and then throwing another nice pass to Vernon Davis that left him - O'Sullivan - pumping his fist. One bit of news is that there has been a Shaun Hill sighting. Hill, who hasn't had any team repetitions in a week, split the second-team reps with Alex Smith. Mike Nolan said afterward that because Hill would play in Saturday's game against the Packers, he needs to get some practice reps.

O'Sullivan was 8 of 15. Smith was 3 of 7, including one pass that was picked off by Dontarrious Thomas. Hill was incomplete on his first attempt, but went 6 of 8 for the morning.

****************
The 49ers were supposed to practice twice today. But before they had their team session, Nolan had an announcement: "I'm going to apply a little pressure to the practice. How well we practice will determine whether we practice in the afternoon," he said, which, of course, was met by cheers from the players. The practice indeed went well - certainly better than Monday's session - and was capped off when Joe Nedney made a 40-yard field goal, in which several players formed the goal posts. (Marcus Hudson and Allen Rossum were the uprights).

*************
Nolan said the coaches will use the afternoon to start to game plan for Green Bay. This presumably means they will pick a starter by the end of the day. The players who won't see any action are WRs Arnaz Battle (hamstring), Ashley Lelie (calf) and Bryant Johnson (hamstring). Look for the starters to be Josh Morgan at X and Isaac Bruce at Z. If Bruce doesn't play, Jason Hill probably will get the start. Also out are G David Baas and safety Lewis Baker.

I'll have more on Saturday's game later today ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 12, 2008
8 a.m. Nolan vs. 11 a.m. Nolan

So, is the quarterback competition even? Or does J.T. O'Sullivan have the edge? The answer depends on what time of day you listened to Mike Nolan. On KNBR this morning, he acknowledged that J.T. O'Sullivan is in the lead, although he was careful to say that the lead was tenuous and a final decision has not been made. That report was picked up by ESPN, and thus transmitted across the universe. But later in the morning, Nolan insisted that no one had pulled ahead in the race. For the sake of accuracy, here's exactly what he said on the radio and then later after practice:

RADIO:

Host Brian Murphy: Is there a reason you're saying not to read anything into it? Are you being cautious promoting (O'Sullivan)? Or is he actually gaining ground right now and is it time for us to start acknowledging that?

MN: If I was to read anything into it, it would be that he is ... he's probably ... you know, he's more well-versed into the offense because of his background in it. But at the same time, he's also progressed ... Well, I should say because of that he's progressed, you know, a little bit more. It doesn't mean a decision has been made. More than anything else, that's what I mean.

BM: Would it be fair to say he's the lead horse in the race?

MN: At this time, yes, because of what I just mentioned. But again, if it was clear-cut right now, I'd make an announcement or something. But we've got the other guys working very well. I've been very pleased with Alex the last few days. He's made a step as far the offense, feeling a little more comfortable in the pocket doing those things. That's why I say I don't want to get too far ahead. Because one good day, then the guy kind of drops off a little bit. You don't want to go through a roller coaster with a player because they do have good days, bad days. ...

AFTER PRACTICE:

RE: Is the quarterback situation getting down to one player?"No, we're just practicing. Walking through. Trying to get better."

RE: On August 3rd you said there were 15 practices remaining, you were going to split up the remaining practices meaning, three, three, three with all the quarterbacks working with the first team. What has changed since then?
"We've re-adjusted who works with what group."

RE: And why have you re-adjusted that?
"Just trying to get better prepared for some of the things going forward, that's all. A little bit more continuity, but no final decisions were made yet."

RE: Is there still a rotation?
"Yeah, but it's less rotating than it was before."

RE: So J.T. O'Sullivan's going to get the start this week?
"I haven't decided that yet."

RE: He is getting all the starts with the first team?
"Well, this is still training camp practice. We haven't started preparing for Green Bay quite yet. We'll start on Thursday."

RE: Is it safe to say now, you've decided between two--it's going to be between two quarterbacks, J.T. O'Sullivan and...
"I keep them all alive still. Until I say differently, I'm going to keep them all alive. I like all three quarterbacks, I can't stress that enough. I feel good about all three of them. Alex [Smith] obviously is a starter, a healthy starter anyhow, at seven and five and Shaun [Hill] last year in his two starts he had he was 2-0. So I know they both can win games. I feel confident in both of them. J.T. is the newest product to what we've got, so I'm getting a longer look at him."

RE: As of right now, who has the edge on the quarterback position?"It's all the same as it's been: three guys all even. We haven't named anybody."

RE: You said this morning on the radio that...
"He has better command of the offense. That's why he's taking the reps."

-- Matt Barrows

August 12, 2008
It's JTO again, but "don't read anything into that."

When it comes to the three-man quarterback race, the message seems to be: Don't pay attention to what we do. Just listen to what we say. Despite the fact that J.T. O'Sullivan has been in charge of the first-team offense for nearly a week now, Mike Nolan insisted that no one has taken the lead in the competition. "It's all the same. Three guys all even," Nolan said. So why has O'Sullivan gotten so many first-team repetitions in recent days, including this morning's practice? "He has better command of the offense. That's why he's taken the reps."

Mike Martz, however, has a slightly different take on the matter. "We're just trying to get him caught up, rep-wise, with the rest of the guys, really," Martz said. "With the same amount of reps as the other guys, what can he do? And see where he goes with it." But doesn't O'Sullivan know the offense better than Smith and Hill? What does Martz mean by 'caught up?' "It's pretty easy when you think about it," he said. "'Caught up' in terms of practice. Right now he can know the entire offense, but if he doesn't practice, you can hardly expect him to play well in games."

The quarterbacks, meanwhile, appear to be entirely in the dark. They say they usually learn who will be taking the first-team reps when they arrive in the morning. Asked about how the repetitions will be handled from this point on, Hill, who has had no first-team repetition this week, said, "I really have no idea. I kind of wish I had a little more light on things." But he and Smith said they try not to let doubt affect them on the field. "The more you dwell on something like that, the more you think about it, the worse you're going to be," Smith said.

******************
The 49ers are starting to get very low on receivers. Arnaz Battle strained his hamstring and Jason Hill has a groin injury. Bryant Johnson (hamstring) is jogging with trainers, but he said he doesn't expect to return to practice until next week. Ashley Lelie has been out since the beginning of camp with a calf strain. Isaac Bruce practiced this morning, but he hasn't been practicing every day. Meanwhile, the only healthy receiver - who figures to make the final roster - is rookie Josh Morgan. Morgan caught a touchdown from O'Sullivan at the end of a two-minute drill when he outwrestled Nate Clements for the ball. The 49ers do not plan to add anyone at receiver.

**************
Still, Johnson isn't worried about losing his starting job or getting in sync with O'Sullivan. Johnson said he had gotten plenty of repetitions before he got hurt. He also said the receivers are too intent on their own assignments to have an opinion in the quarterback competition. "Sometimes as a receiver, you really don't know who's in the huddle and throwing to you," Johnson said.

*************
During practice, O'Sullivan was 4 of 10 in team drills while Smith, working with the second-string offense, was 8 of 9. O'Sullivan was the only quarterback to run the two-minute offense. He started at his own 31. Going against a mix of first- and second-string defenders, he completed 6 of 8 passes, including the touchdown to Morgan.

-- Matt Barrows

August 12, 2008
Training camp: Morning coffee edition

While you're in the break room having that third cup of coffee (really ought to keep it to two), Barrows is out scouring the practice field for information. What I saw today is that Josh Morgan, whom I have dubbed "Iron Man," and Dominique Zeigler are back after feeling a bit ill yesterday. Both were going through individual drills. It remains to be seen how long they last during the morning session. But my guess is that Iron Man also has an iron constitution. ...

No sign yet as to which quarterback will be leading the first team. Mike Nolan yesterday insisted the QB rotation is still in effect and seemed to imply that the session would be led by someone other than J.T. O'Sullivan. However, what's said about practice and what's actually done in practice haven't always been the same. .. So stay tuned ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 11, 2008
More JTO in afternoon practice

The 49ers didn't exactly practice at coaching speed this afternoon but it wasn't exactly full speed, either. The second "team" session seemed to have more urgency than the first. J.T. O'Sullivan led the first-team offense (Again. Hint, hint) and went 6 for 8 during the session. Alex Smith went 5 for 7. One of his passes was picked off by Dashon Goldson. The pass was intended for Billy Bajema, who fell down. However, it looked like Bajema fell when he tried to reach back for the pass, which was behind him.

Receiver Dominique Zeigler was sick and did not practice. Josh Morgan, heretofore Iron Man, also wasn't feeling well but made it through most of the practice. Jonas Jennings and Arnaz Battle sat out the session; Walt Harris and No. 80 took part.

-- Matt Barrows

August 11, 2008
Spikes: Just tell me what to do and let me play

Here's the trascript from Takeo Spikes' media session from earlier today. Spikes always has been well-liked by teammates and by the media, and you can see why ... Joe Staley has competition for the "media good guy" award:

RE: How's it going?
"It's going. It's coming. First day. It was decent, I have to take some of the rust off, so everything came along pretty well for the first day though. There's a lot of catching up that I have to do obviously, but other than that, putting the time in, getting acclimated with some of the guys. The good thing about it is that I played with several other guys on this team, so it makes the transition easy."

RE: Who are the guys you've played with?
"Mark Roman, Justin Smith, Jonas Jennings."

RE: [Nate] Clements?
"Yep, Nate. So yeah, several guys."

RE: Were you familiar with Dontarrious Thomas? I know you didn't play at the same time.
"Yeah, I was familiar. Actually, when I left, he came in on this recruiting visit. We grew up in the same area in Georgia. So, I'm familiar with him ever since he was a young pup out of high school."

RE: The position you are playing, it is at all similar to what you have played in the past?
"The good thing about it, I played that position late in my career in Buffalo, but just defense, I played just defense my first four years in the league with Cincinnati, so that's why I'm familiar with it."

RE: Were you more the MIKE?

"Yeah, I was the MIKE, where Patrick [Willis] is playing at now."

RE: Had you met Patrick Willis before?
"Not up until I got here."

RE: Any quick impression on him as a player?
"He's just--I've seen him do interviews on TV and everything, but he's all that everybody says he is. I think he is a good young man and I think he is an outstanding player. Everything he's proven over this past year, I mean it speaks for itself. We are going to get together and everything I know and some of the things I've learned over my years, I'm going to help him out and try to notate that transition over as far as him taking his game up into another level."

RE: What tipped you to coming here at this time?
"I never knew it was going to happen. Even the first time I came out here to San Francisco, I was impressed. I really didn't--I was impressed with the coaching staff. It reminds me of the coaching staff that I had when I first got to Buffalo out of free agency out of Cincinnati and that really turned me on, and then having the chance to talk to the guys. Mark Roman, Nate Clements, Jonas [Jennings]. Those guys kind of stayed in my ear throughout time, all over the summer time. I still didn't know, so I was just waiting and seeing what the best opportunity was and the big thing, it really wasn't about money for me. I wanted to come somewhere where I thought I would have the best opportunity to win because I've been playing for eleven years now, so I'm trying to at least, at the minimum, get to the playoffs and then we are going to win it all in the Super Bowl. So, I felt like San Francisco was the best place for me."

RE: When did you get the call to come out here?
"Yesterday. Well, the day before yesterday, but it was at night."

RE: Where were you?
"I was at home in Atlanta. Actually, I was at the fair. I took my little daughter to a carnival. So when my agent told me it was done, I looked at her and didn't even have the heart to tell her I had to leave. We finished the day out and I explained it to her and she can live with it."

RE: How old is she?
"She's five."

RE: What's her name?
"Jakai."

RE: Where were you guys? What part of the country?
"Atlanta."

RE: Just the county fair?
"Yeah, little county fair. Just the city fair."

RE: Reading some reports out of Detroit that they didn't want you to leave there without a contract last month. What happened there and how close were you to going to Detroit?
"I liked Detroit. I really like Rod Marinelli and what he preaches, and Joe Barry, defensive coordinator. I'm very good friends with Derrick Brooks and I had the opportunity to talk with him, really just talking and seeing what type of guys they were. It was close, but at the end of the day I think I just had to come where I was going to be happy. Where my heart was at, so that's why I chose San Francisco."

RE: How are you physically?
"I'm fine. I'm good. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't. That's a good way to look at it, but I got passed the surgery to the fifteenth week of the season. I almost made it through, but I'm fine now."

RE: Was it something that was going on during the season?
"No, it happened at that game and actually, I was hoping to play the season out, but that Monday night when Minnesota won, that kind of put us out of the playoffs, so there was really no need for me to go ahead and continue to finish."

RE: How did practice look out there for you today? It looked kind of rough out there, especially early on.
"Yeah it was rough. It was long, but I'm still learning. I really can't sit back and evaluate what this person is doing or what the offense is doing. The only thing I'm really focusing on now, is am I doing what needs to be done? So, just knocking the dust off."

RE: How long do you think it will take before you get everything down?
"It's just a matter of time. The good thing about this defense is it's not loaded with a lot of stuff. I came from Philly, to where it was serious. It was a lot of stuff, but the good thing is it's basic. You are going to have a couple of calls, but it is more so terminology for me. The best part about it is I've been in the league now, going on eleven years, so it's not really much I haven't seen. It's really not anything I haven't seen. Now it's just finding out what we used to call it and call it that here now."

RE: You said you played this defense with the Bengals?
"Yeah."

RE: Was that [Dick] Lebeau?
"Yeah, Lebeau."

RE: Is this similar?
"Yeah. It's pretty much similar. Well, it's still early here, we did a lot more blitzing. I can't really speak on that now because this is only my first day."

RE: How about the perception of the two positions? Is that the MIKE, is the marquee position and the TED is sort of the next one down. Do you see it that way that [Patrick] Willis is highlighted and you're kind of...?
"I think--Yeah, I think at the end of the day, I haven't had a chance to tell him yet, but he really don't know how good he has it, but he deserves that. He's actually coming into the same position that I was when I came into Cincinnati because I was in that same position. A lot of the calls are for that side of the defense, the weak side. He's sitting right there on the weak side, but at the same time the TED has a lot of opportunities to make plays, too. They are out there to make. Do I just sit back and bide and at the end of the day, "There's just this play he's got to make and everything," nah. If there is a play out there to make, I am going to go out there and make it. I tell him meet me at the ball. I tell all the guys, meet me at the ball, all the time."

RE: What did Mike Singletary tell you when you got here?
"We've talked several times. It's not just one thing with Mike. It's ongoing, but we had good talks and he just told me a little about himself. How detailed that he is, what he expects. I talked to him about how I liked to be coached and it's starting off good."

RE: How do you like to be coached?
"Just tell me what to do and let me play."

RE: You said you wanted to come to some place where you could win and compete. You see the defense making so many interceptions and big plays today, does that make you kind of say...
"It makes me feel real good because first of all you've got guys on the back--I've been on teams to where you have guys on the back end, where they don't compete at all. They act like, "Well, we'll turn it on in the game." It doesn't work like that. You can't turn playmaking ability on like a light switch. You can't turn it on and off, and so to see guys like that, getting hands on balls, intercepting, knocking it down. That's big to me. I like that."

RE: What about Dontarrious [Thomas] giving you his number? Was that an easy swap?"No, it was tough. I had to ride him all through the night last night. Even this morning. So we got it done, so I have to do something real special for him. I hope it doesn't cost as much though."

RE: What is that something real special?
"I don't know yet. I've got to get creative. He told me get creative."

RE: So there was no contract signed or anything?"No, just get creative, so we'll do it."

RE: What is special about this number?"It's always the speed limit when I'm on the field the way that I look at it. I got it when I first came in and I've been attached to it ever since then."

RE: There was a perception that you were going to wait until training camp and see if a team needed you. A contender had an injury and you might be wanted. Why do this now? Why not give it another week or so to see what might happen around the league?
"To me, it is important for me to come in and understand what I'm doing and not only that. To understand who I'm playing with so they get to know me and I get to know them. That's what is more important for me than anything and I kind of had this date circled on my calendar but as time goes on--nobody likes training camp, I don't like training camp, but I'm here."

-- Matt Barrows

August 11, 2008
Yuck. Offense flounders during morning session

I've been covering this team for a long time. I was here when the quarterbacks were Rattay, Dorsey and Pickett. I was here when the 49ers won only two games. In other words, I've seen some pretty putrid practices. But I gotta tell you - I'm having a hard time remembering an offensive performance as lousy as the one I saw this morning.

And I'm not sure I'd get much argument from Mike Nolan. False starts. Busted routes. Bad throws. Dropped catches. After one of the early "team" sessions in which first-team quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan threw two interceptions and second-team quarterback Alex Smith threw one (more on that dynamic in a moment), Nolan huddled the team at midfield and let the offense have it. I took notes, but I can't print most of the words he said. "How many times did we leave yards on the field? We left touchdowns on the field," he yelled.

Asked afterward about the ragged session, Nolan explained it as a combination of two things. One, the defense is always ahead of the offense. And two, that the team's top receivers - Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson - were not practicing. That the offense just plain stunk things up this morning was not one of his reasons.

O'Sullivan was 3 of 8 in the second "team" session and 5 of 8 in the final one. Smith was 5 of 8 and 3 of 5. His final pass of the morning - a shovel pass to Thomas Clayton - was picked off by Louis Holmes. With that, the horn sounded ending practice. A mercy kill.

*******************
Ever since Friday's game, O'Sullivan has gotten all of the first-team reps, Smith has gotten all of the second-team reps and Shaun Hill has gotten zero team reps. And yet Nolan insists that there is a rotation occurring. Told that there doesn't seem to be any rotating going on, Nolan replied, "There's going to be a practice this afternoon. They'll be one tomorrow. We'll see how they go, alright?" Smith will not run the first team in the afternoon, Nolan said. He said no decisions have been made as far as the starting quarterback. Nolan was asked if he and his coaches assess the quarterback situation every night. "Yeah, we do. We talk about it quite a bit. So probably if I seem tired when you guys are asking questions, it's not just you. We meet on it a lot. We talk about it a lot. We look at the film, study it. So if I get a little short, I'm short inside, too."

*******************
Just-signed linebacker Takeo Spikes practiced with the second-team defense alongside Dontarrious Thomas. Nolan said Spikes would play with the second team during Saturday's game against the Packers but that the defense would be simplified for the second team. All offseason, there was a sense that Spikes might wait to join a team until an injury situation really made him a valuable commodity. But Spikes said he had yesterday circled on his calendar. "To me, it's important to come in and understand what I'm doing," Spikes said. He said the fact that he knew a number of players on the team - Mark Roman, Nate Clements, Jonas Jennings and Thomas - helped the 49ers' cause, he said. What also helped is that Spikes played in a similar system when Dick LeBeau was coaching the Bengals defense. Spikes, of course, played the "Mike" position back then. That's Patrick Willis' spot in the 49ers' defense, and Spikes admitted that it was the more high-profile of the two inside linebacker positions. But he said he didn't mind. "If there's a play out there to be made," he said, "I'm going to go out there and make it."

*****************
Dominique Zeigler hadn't been feeling well and left practice early. Newcomer Chris Patrick got some work at left tackle.

-- Matt Barrows

August 11, 2008
Training camp: morning coffee edition

Takeo Spikes isn't only in the building, he's on the practice field. As expected, Spikes is wearing his familiar No. 51 jersey. Dontarrious Thomas is in the No. 56 jersey previously worn by Brandon Moore. Newcomer Chris Patrick, a guard, is wearing No. 77.

No injury report yet, but it looks as if Walt Harris -- who looked good against the Raiders, by the way -- is having an old man's practice.

-- Matt Barrows

August 10, 2008
It's official -- Spikes is a 49er

It's official. Takeo Spikes just passed his physical and signed on the dotted line. He's now a 49er. Now the big question is how much he has to pay to get No. 51 from Dontarrious Thomas ... And if you don't that's important, check out this site.

Look for the linebacking corps, from left to right, to look like this on opening day: Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith.

-- Matt Barrows

August 10, 2008
P.M. practice: O'Sullivan runs the first team

First off - nothing new to report on the Takeo Spikes watch. In fact, it doesn't seem as if Spikes even has arrived for his physical. An announcement could be made later tonight, so keep hitting this blog (over and over and over ...) throughout the evening.

And sorry, there's nothing dramatic to report on the quarterback front either. Mike Nolan said it might be a couple of days before he and his assistants decide on the quarterback rotation for the Green Bay game. Today was "just a rotation day," according to Nolan, although there didn't seem to be much rotating going on. J.T. O'Sullivan got all of the first-team repetitions during team drills. Alex Smith worked with the second team. Shaun Hill did not make an appearance in team situations.

The most riveting part of practice came at the end during a two-minute situation. O'Sullivan began his drive at his own 40 and got the first-team offense into the end zone in seven plays. His nicest pass was a long out to Arnaz Battle, who was going against Nate Clements. He also hit Josh Morgan on a nicely thrown lob over Shawntae Spencer for the touchdown. O'Sullivan was 5-6 on the drive and there was good energy and urgency throughout.

Smith started the second-team offense from his own 36. There didn't seem to be as much urgency - on either side of the ball - and Smith didn't get the offense into the end zone. In fact, the drive probably should have ended on fourth and 5 at the opposition's 34 when Smith was "sacked" and his eventual pass was completed at the 30. Smith got five more chances from that point but his final attempt to Jerard Rabb fell incomplete in the back of the end zone after Rabb was held up in coverage. Smith was 7-11 on the drive.

*********************
Safety Mark Roman was back in practice, and several of the players nicked in the Raiders game also were on the field. They were Eric Heitmann, Allen Rossum and Chilo Rachal. Jason Hill and Marcus Hudson did not practice. Bryant Johnson (hamstring) also will be out a while longer. Isaac Bruce practiced ... in his No. 80 jersey.

The team signed guard Chris Patrick to fill Damane Duckett's (IR) roster spot. Patrick is from Nebraska and spent time last season on Green Bay's practice squad.

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Here's how O'Sullivan and Smith handles the first two team sessions:

JTO (first-team offense vs. first-team defense). Nice crossing route to Isac Bruce. 1-1.
JTO (1st, 1st). Pass over Billy Bajema's head; picked off by Michael Lewis. 1-2

Alex Smith (second-team offense vs. first-team defense). Tight pass to Dominique Zeigler. 1-1.
AS (2nd, 1st). 18-yard pass down the middle to Bajema. 2-2.

JTO (1st, 1st). Pass slightly behind Bruce is dropped. 1-3.
JTO (1st, 2nd). Quick dump of to Frank Gore 2-4.

AS (2nd, 2nd). Crossing pattern to Zeigler 3-3.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Nothing deep, goes short to Thomas Clayton. 4-4.

JTO (1st, 1st). Pass to Bruce. 3-5.
JTO (1st, 1st). Throws the ball away. 3-6.
JTO (1st, 1st). Deep sideline throw to Morgan is on target but dropped. 3-7.
JTO (1st, 1st). Out to Battle. 4-8.

AS (2nd, 2nd). Quick pass to Moran Norris. 5-5.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Too deep for Zeigler. 5-6.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Nothing open, throws ball away (Int. grounding?) 5-7.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Quick out to Delanie Walker. 6-8.

Second "team" session:

JTO (1st, 1st). Dump to Gore. 1-1.
JTO (1st, 1st). Handoff to Gore
JTO (1st, 1st). Stiff rush; throws ball away. 1-2.

AS (2nd, 2nd). Quick, over the middle pass off Zeigler's hands. Too hot? 0-1.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Handoff to DeShaun Foster.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Intermediate over-the-middle bullet to Zeigler. 1-2.

JTO (1st, 1st). Nice pass over LB Jeff Ulbrich to Vernon Davis. 2-3.
JTO (1st, 1st). Handoff to Gore.
JTO (1st, 1st). Out pattern to Gore. 3-4.

AS (2nd, 2nd). Rollout right, nice throw to Rabb. 2-3.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Handoff to Foster.
AS (2nd, 2nd). No one open, tucks and runs.

JTO (1st, 1st). Looks right, throws left to Gore. 4-5.
JTO (1st-1st). Over middle to Walker (should have been sacked by Justin Smith). 5-6.
JTO (1st, 1st). Handoff Gore

AS (2nd, 2nd). Fake end around, screen to Foster. 3-4.
AS (2nd, 2nd). Handoff to Foster
AS (2nd, 2nd). Delayed dump to Billy Bajema. 4-5.

-- Matt Barrows

August 10, 2008
Brandon Moore released; Spikes to visit

The 49ers have two open roster spots today after releasing linebacker Brandon Moore and placing tackle Damane Duckett on injured reserve. Duckett broke a bone beneath his left kneecap Friday and will have surgery. Moore's release, meanwhile, may pave the way for the team to sign veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, whom the team has been wooing since March. Spikes will visit later today and will have a physical. Mike Nolan said Spikes had not signed a contract at this point. If he were to sign -- and all signs point to him signing later today -- Spikes would play the "Ted" linebacker spot next to Patrick Willis.

As for Moore, the linebacker's play had declined sharply from the 2006 season when he led the team with 114 tackles and had a career-high 6 1/2 sacks. Moore started 11 games that season; last year he started one after then-rookie Willis was inserted into the starting lineup during the preseason. Nolan said that with the depth the team had at inside linebacker, he felt he ultimately was going to have to cut Moore. He said Moore has been a long-time and loyal member of the 49ers and that he wanted to give the linebacker a chance to catch on with another team. "I just felt that looking down the road, the numbers that we have (at linebacker) ... I was pretty confident that in the end I was going to have to make a move with Brandon," Nolan said.

Asked whether the 49ers might be looking to add a veteran quarterback, Nolan said the "door is open to any player that makes us better," although he said there wasn't a particular quarterback the 49ers were eyeing.

Justin Smith played alongside Spikes, 31, for two seasons in Cincinnati. He said no one from the 49ers had sought his opinion about Spikes, but he gushed about him to reporters today. "Great guy," Smith said. "As far as football goes, he's just a leader. He's got that quality about him. He knows his stuff." Asked about the prospect of a Spikes and Willis inside linebacking corps, Smith said, "That's going to be one of the strongest inside linebacking corps in the middle." Both Willis and Jeff Ulbrich, who had been close to Moore, declined comment following the team's morning walk-through. Ulbrich started at "Ted" during Friday night's loss to the Raiders.

The 49ers currently have five players at inside linebacker: Willis, Ulbrich, Dontarrious Thomas, rookie Larry Grant and Dennis Haley.

As for Spikes,the Raiders, Lions, Browns, Buccaneers, Patriots and Saints all have expressed interest in the linebacker.

-- Matt Barrows

August 10, 2008
Clocking ticking on Spikes deal

It wasn't Friday night's defensive performance against the Raiders that has prompted the 49ers to rekindle their interest in free-agent linebacker Takeo Spikes. Instead, it was a sense that if Spikes were to be ready for the Sept. 7 opener, he ought to join the club now. The 49ers for months have wanted to sign the 31-year-old linebacker to play the "Ted" position. Apparently that interest is reciprocated by Spikes, although his asking price the last few months has been too high for the 49ers. Mike Nolan is expected to discuss Spikes when the team's walk-through ends in a matter of minutes.

Spikes visited the 49ers in March and also visited the Lions last month. I'm told the Raiders, Buccaneers and Patriots have been among his most ardent suitors ...

-- Matt Barrows

August 9, 2008
Nolan: QB rotation for Green Bay to be decided

Mike Nolan said he has yet to meet with Mike Martz and quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner to discuss who will start Saturday's game against the Packers. He said he saw good and bad things from each of his quarterbacks in Friday's loss to the Raiders. He said J.T. O'Sullivan had nice accuracy and good command of the huddle, but made some questionable decisions that cost the team. "J.T. did a very good job aside from the two turnovers," Nolan said. "I think they were plays he could have kept from happening." His reliever, Alex Smith, didn't make any costly mistakes but was not as accurate, Nolan said. "Alex moved the ball pretty good, too," Nolan said. "His throws were not as effective. He had the throwing errors that J.T. did not have as far as accuracy."

Other Nolan notes:

Asked why Smith ended up handing the ball off to fullback Zak Keasey instead of throwing the ball, Nolan said that the running plays were designed to curb the pass rush. "Had (Smith) dropped back every down and gotten hit, I would have been disappointed," Nolan said.

Asked whether Jay Moore merited more playing time with first- or second-team defense, Nolan said, no. "He made some plays but he had some errors. If all of them were bright spots, then I would say, yes." Nolan essentially said that Moore was still very much in the learning phase.

Asked about O'Sullivan's backward dump off to DeShaun Foster in the first quarter, Nolan said he understood and admired O'Sullivan's instinct to want to make a play. But he doesn't want to see one again. "It's a high-risk play and I would rather him not do that at this time," he said.

Nolan wasn't exactly pleased with how the left side of his offensive line, Joe Staley and Adam Snyder, played, especially early. "I'd like for them to do better than they did last night. They started soft ..."

He said the safeties probably would continue to wear the radio receiver like they did Saturday night. He said Patrick Willis probably will get a chance at some point. "For right now, I just would rather not dilute a guy's play."

It looks like several players nicked Friday night will miss practice early this week, but few will be out for the Packers game. They are Eric Heitmann (hip), Allen Rossum (knee), Marcus Hudson (thigh bruise), Chilo Rachal (unknown) and Jason Hill (groin bruise). It sounds as if Damane Duckett (knee) is the most serious of that group. Nolan said receivers Bryant Johnson (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) probably would not play against Green Bay. If Isaac Bruce plays, it will only be briefly ...

I just finished watching the replay of last night's game. Here are some of the notes I took:

* It seems that Smith's touch on short passes continues to be a problem. He threw a screen to Thomas Clayton that was too hard to handle and it looks as if all of his short crossing routes are behind the receiver. Even one of his completions - to Delanie Walker - was behind Walker. This has been a consistent problem in practices, too. On a positive note, it's nice to see the 49ers running screens and slants, basic and effective plays that were mysteriously absent last season.

* The middle of the defensive line seemed to get shoved around pretty easily. Aubrayo Franklin did not hold up well at the point on several running plays and his backups didn't do much better. Protecting Patrick Willis is essential this season, and that wasn't happening early in the game.

* Speaking of Willis ... Moving Dontarrious Thomas from "Ted" to Willis' backup at "Mike" linebacker seems like a wise move. The scouting report on Thomas was that he wasn't good at taking on blocks, which is something "Ted" must be able to do. At Mike, he can use his athleticism to swoop in and make plays, which is what he did throughout the third quarter and second half.

* Walt Harris had perfect position on two deep attempts to Javon Walker. With Nate Clements at the other corner, offensive coordinators will try to target Harris - who turns 34 tomorrow - this season.

* Larry Grant did a nice job attacking the line of scrimmage. He certainly has the right attitude to play "Ted." The question is whether he can master the mental part enough to convince coaches to trust him with the job.

* The 49ers have a glut of defensive backs, and each one of them looked good at different times. The 49ers are going to have a very tough time figuring out whom to cut.

* I thought Vernon Davis was in position to pounce on J.T. O'Sullivan's fumble but for some reason did not.

* Asked early in training camp which areas of the team he's optimistic about, the first thing Nolan mentioned was special teams. The punting game, however, was a mess last night. Johnnie Lee Higgins, of course, ran a punt back for a TD and he had another long run negated by a penalty. For the record, that's two punt returns for TDs in a row for the 49ers. Joshua Cribbs took one in during the season finale in Cleveland.

-- Matt Barrows

August 9, 2008
Q&A: Tangled web at quarterback


Question: Matt, Does Nolan really expect us to believe he is starting O'Sullivan b/c he hasn't seen him in a live game? This would imply that he is using the other QBs' past bodies of work to decide this year's QB competition. Doesn't this contradict the whole idea of "wiping the slate clean" (aka Martz) and having a true QB competition?
Stephen, Portland, Or

Answer: I had what is known as a "BS Meter" inserted in my brain a few years ago, and I have to admit that the needle was going wild when Nolan told us that earlier this week. The needle also was twitching when Shaun Hill was given a day and a half of rest for a "sore arm." In my opinion, these are examples of Nolan and Martz massaging this quarterback competition. It's safe to say that O'Sullivan has pulled ahead in the competition and that Shaun Hill has fallen back. But it would be nice to hear someone of authority actually say that. If we can sense the bs, the players certainly can ...
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt. I don't get it: Nolan says he's happy with the QBs, but Kevin Lynch at the Chronicle says the QB performance is the worst he's seen in 2 decades. What gives? The QB numbers each day have been pretty mediocre. Nolan was impressive in his candor in the 1st 2 seasons, but is he now spouting half truths to cover up the team's problems?
Peter, Halifax

Answer: The quarterback play definitely has been ragged thus far. But it's gotten noticeably better since the start of camp. I think the key will be the Aug. 21 game in Chicago. If none of the three quarterbacks is looking sharp by that point, this three-way competition will have been a bust.
- Matt

Question: Matt, thanks again for the great reporting! Is Martz really going to let Nolan have a say in who the starting QB is? Any idea what Martz thinks of any of this? Have you been able to get his (Martz's) read on the QB situation?
W Rivers, Helena, MT

Answer: Well, Martz is definitely the guy who made Shaun Hill "rest" his fatigued arm, which is what allowed J.T. O'Sullivan to enter the quarterback competition. So I think it's definitely Martz pulling the strings on the competition end of it. The big question is who will make the final decision. If you're a 49ers fan, you hope and pray that Nolan yields to Martz on that one.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt- all I have heard about Balmer so far is that he hasn't impressed too much and that he would be a 2nd string guy seeing some snaps here and there. If this is the case does that mean the niners missed on draft day? Is he looking like a guy that can be a 3-4 d-lineman? It sounds like so far he is just a good backup. And, disregarding player's history and past performance, can you rank the WR based on overall performance thus far?
Glenn, Sacramento

Answer: Don't worry about Balmer. He's a big guy with an excellent motor. He just seems a little unrefined right now. He's got a great coach in Jim Tomsula, who is helping him hone his skills. The 49ers don't need to rush Balmer out there. They've got a good player, Isaac Sopoaga, playing ahead of him. As for the WR's, I would rank their training camp performances like this: Bryant Johnson, Josh Morgan, Jason Hill, Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Dominique Zeigler, Cam Colvin, Ashley Lelie. (Lelie and Bruce simply haven't practiced much).
- Matt

Question: We all keep hearing about Josh Morgan's impressive camp this summer but what about Jason Hill? Is he ahead of Morgan and Lelie on the depth chart at this point? How much will the niners use 4 receiver sets and what type of productivity do you expect from him this year?
Patrick, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Josh Morgan started ahead of Hill Friday night because he plays the X position and Hill plays the Z. Morgan is behind Bryant Johnson (injured) on the depth chart. Hill is behind Isaac Bruce and Arnaz Battle. ... I expect you'll see some 4-receiver sets but not as many as previous Martz-coached teams. That's because Martz has better tight ends than he's had in the past. Don't worry about Hill, he's looked very good in camp ...
- Matt

Question: Besides signing LB Takeo Spikes, are the 49ers interested in making any other transactions this off-season? Is there anybody else on their "radar"? (Steve Smith/Lito Sheppard)
Kyle, Santa Barbara

Answer: I was told the other day that Spikes is still very much on the radar. Are there any other players? I'm sure there are. The 49ers typically make some roster additions but they are more along the lines of Atiyyah Ellison than Lito Sheppard.
- Matt

Question: Why wasn't Frank Gore more involved in the practices against the Raiders? By your descriptions it was Foster going with the first team. What's up?
Mike, Mishawaka, IN

Answer: He's getting the Tomlinson treatment. That is, the 49ers are making sure Gore doesn't get hurt.
- Matt

Question: Matt, can you give us some words about Darrell Green and his induction into the HOF?
Danny, Sacramento

Answer: When I was little, we had a basketball hoop set up in the driveway. Darrell used to come over and shoot hoops with me and my buddies. (We must have been 12 or so). Darrell is, like, 5-9 but he could dunk. We used to plead with him to do some cool dunks, which he was reluctant to do given that, you know, he was a pro football player and an ankle/foot injury would have been catastrophic for the entire Virginia-Maryland-D.C. population.

One day it was just Darrell and I shooting around. I went in for a layup and at the last second decided to whip a hard pass back to Darrell. Except he wasn't looking and the pass - as hard as I could throw it - hit him square in the face. So he grabs his face and I'm thinking, "Oh, crap. I just broke Darrell Green's nose!" At the very least, I figured he would be extremely ticked off - who wouldn't? - and that he'd yell at me. He didn't. I could tell he had to stifle some anger and he did. He shook it off and continued shooting around as if nothing had happened. (I guess I've always felt guilty about that. I feel so unburdened. Thanks!)
- Matt

August 8, 2008
Final thoughts .... the umbrella of caution is back!

... About ready to pack up and head back to San Jose. But first a couple of items I'm sure everyone is wondering about. For example, Mike Nolan's fourth-down call ...

I thought it would at least be the regular season before Nolan got raked over the coals for a bungled fourth-down decision. And I thought it would be a while before I brought up "umbrella of caution." But no, the fun begins early this year. To recap: Alex Smith is driving the 49ers toward the end zone at the end of the half. On third and 3 with 27 seconds left, the 49ers call a Zak Keasey run off left guard (where have you seen that play before?) that gains one yard. Facing fourth and two, the 49ers call timeout and Nolan elects to go for a 22-yard field goal instead of taking a shot in the end zone. Nolan's explanation: He would have gone for it if it had been fourth and one.

"If it's fourth and one, I would have done that (go for it)," Nolan said. "At fourth and three, it's more difficult. We are working on our special teams as well in the preseason ..."

That might be a plausible explanation in the regular season when, you know, the games actually count. But the preseason is for evaluating personnel, and the 49ers' biggest personnel decision is at quarterback. Why not give Smith two chances to dump it in the end zone? On the other side of the field, Lane Kiffin went for it on fourth down. He also decided to go for a two-point conversion. Preseason is a good time to fold up the umbrella of caution and stick it in the corner. ... For the record, Martz called 13 runs and 17 passes in the first half. Six of those passes came during Smith's final drive when the half was winding down ...

***************************
J.T. O'Sullivan's assessment of his performance: "Disgusted." Said O'Sullivan: "I kind of feel disgusted. ... I guess that would be the way I feel about the way I played." O'Sullivan threw a bad interception into coverage when the 49ers were driving for a score. On the next series, he tried to scramble for a first down on 3rd and 6 and ended up coughing up the ball. "I was trying to do too much. It's 100 percent not acceptable."

On the bright side, it didn't take O'Sullivan long to get into sync. He hit Josh Morgan on several long throws and his accuracy -- the biggest key in Martz's opinion -- was dead on. Now all he needs to work on is judgement.

The other two QBs lived up to their scouting reports. Alex Smith started slowly, throwing incompletions on his first three attempts. But he again looked good in the 2-minute drill (see: 2007 season opener) driving the team 55 yards in the last three minutes.

Shaun Hill's Achilles' heel also showed up tonight. On fourth and three, he bought some time and saw that Jason Hill was open and heading for the end zone. But he didn't get his feet under his throw and the wobbler was picked off by S Hiram Eugene. "If he had put a little more air under it, it would have been good," Nolan said.

***********
Nolan was asked what kind of bearing tonight's game would have on the quarterback rotation next week against Green Bay. "I'll get there tomorrow," he said. "I'll start dicussing that tomorrow."

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As for injuries, there was nothing serious. The injured players were center Eric Heitmann (hip), tackle Damane Duckett (knee), returner Allen Rossum (knee) and tight end Delanie Walker (cut on elbow).

-- Matt Barrows

August 8, 2008
Live 49ers blog: Your cure for the TV blackout

-- Marques Tuiasosopo just ran a quarterback keeper that fooled everyone. He gains 31 yards and it seems the game is pretty much salted away ...
-- Raiders are trying to run out the clock. Nolan burns first time out.

-- ... Hill escapes rush, fires deep pass to Robert Ortiz in the end zone. Ortiz, however, has broken off route and the ball falls incomplete. Ball goes over on downs.
-- Hill just threw two incompletions to Thomas Clayton. One boinked off his helmet; he wasn't looking for the "hot read" on the second. Third and 10. Complete for Clayton but he's hit immediately for only a one-yard gain. Fourth and 9 ...
-- A nice pass from Hill to to Cam Colvin is negated by a holding penalty on Joe Toledo. 1st and 20 from the SF 40.

-- I'm back. Ricky Schmitt, who can both kick and punt, just booted a 38-yard field goal for the 49ers. Hill should have had a touchdown on a beautifully thrown pass to the right side of the end zone over two Raiders defenders. Jason Hill, however, let it go through his grasp.

-- Sorry, have to sign off for now and concentrate on tomorrow's newspaper stories ...
-- Long, long run by RB Louis Rankin to the 5 yard line. The 49ers stiffen at the goal line and the Raiders have to settle for a field goal. 18-3.
-- On fourth and three, Hill can't find an open receiver. He tries to go deep for Jason Hill but the pass is too short and INTed by S Hiram Eugene. That's the end of the 3rd Quarter. Two INT, two fumbles ...
-- Shaun Hill is in the game with 2:45 to go in the third quarter. Let's see if he can put the ball in the end zone ... His first pass is a quick screen to J. Hill, which hje takes upfield for 7 yards ...

-- Smith on second down fires a pass to Dominique Zeigler. But the ball is stripped by Waddell and the Raiders take over at the SF 44. Turnover No. 3 for all of you scoring at home ...

- Scratch that. 49ers get a delay-of-game penalty. Raiders go for two and succeed on pass to Chaz Schilens
- On fourth and 1 from the five, the Raiders go for it. Shawntae Spencer whiffs on Michael Bush, who plows over safety D.J. Parker for a touchdown. 14-3
- Keith Lewis just made a nice play to knock down a pass in the end zone. Lewis is not the fastest guy on the team but his instincts always seem to be dead on. It's now 3rd and 7 at the 11 ...
- Big gain on a delayed screen to Michael Bush. Raiders on the 14 yard line.
- Raiders driving. Dontarrious Thomas is playing Patrick Willis' "Mike" linebacker spot and making lots of tackles. He had four tackles in the first half. Larry Grant is playing "Ted."

SECOND HALF

- What to do? Field goal. Nedney nails 22-yarder. 7-3 Raiders.
- Keasey gains 1; Nolan calls timeout with :18 seconds in the half. What to do, what to do ...?
- On second down, short pass to Walker, gain of five. Third and 2 from the 5 ...
- Smith is living up to his reputation: starting out slowly but playing well in the two-minute offense.
- Smith scrambles, finds Arnaz Battle for gain of 10. Personal foul on Terdell Sands put sball on the 12. Two-minute marning.
- Quick pass to Walker to the left, picks up five; 3rd and 5
- Inc. pass on delayed screen to Thomas Clayton
- Smith 0-3, but he steps into throw and finds Battle for a 23-yard gain to Raiders 40.
- Trevor Scott, the guy the 49ers couldn't block Monday, busts in and rushes Smith's throw. Inc.
- Rossum has a nice kick return to the 37. Smith gets another chance. First pass slightly behind Jason Hill inc., knocked down by CB Chris Johnson.

- Smith scrambles, pass to Hill is a one hopper. Punt ... Johnnie Lee Higgins takes punt 53 yards into the end zone. Punctuates touchdown with a backflip. 7-0 Raiders.
- Second-team offense is in; Morgan and Jason Hill are the receivers. Holding on Barry Sims declined ...
-- Eric Heitmann has a right hip injury. Rookie Cody Wallace was in during the last series. I see Heitmann walking on the sideline; doesn't appear serious.

- Raiders go for it on 4th and 2 from the 11. Bush only gains a yard.. Niners take over at the 10. Alex Smith is in.
- Raiders driving deep into 49ers territory against 49ers second-team defense. Kentwan balmer is playing LDE, Ronald Field NT and Walter Curry RDE.

- Third and 6 ... JTO scrambles, fumbles ,,, recovered by CB Michael Waddell
- Another JTO-to-Morgan pass, gain of 15 ...
- Raiders second-team defense is in; 49ers still have starters ...
- Raiders and Andrew Walter go three and out. Punt. JTO is still in the game ..

- Don't go buying that No. 14 jersey just yet. JTO has plenty of time to throw but tosses into coverage. Intercepted by Stanford Routt at the 1 yard line. he fumbles but it's recovered by Terdell Sands .. Raiders ball.
- Inc, then another JTO-to-Morgan pass to the oakland 35, gain of 20 ... Raiders challenging play ... Morgan juggles as he's tackled but seems to control it at last second ... Ruling stands. Catch.
- JTO 22-yard pass to Josh Morgan to end the quarter. Ball was in the air before Morgan broke on it ..
- Another Foster run for one yard ...
- Two Foster runs -- where's the pass? -- net 13 yards. First down at 22 ...
- JTO starts at the 9. So far he's 2-3 for 20 yards ... First-team offense still in. Only three defensive starters ...

- Raiders 3rd down pass incomplete. Punt ...
- Holding penalty, but it's not on Kwame. 1st and 20 from the 41 ...
- With the exception of M. Lewis, first-team defense has left the game ...
- Fargas just ran for 8; Raiders are driving at the 37 ...
- Darren McFadden gets first carry; gain of four, tackled by Smith
- Raiders start at own 10 after penalty on punt

- On 3rd down, JTO flips pass backward to Foster. play loses four yards. Punt ...
- JTO's first inc.; screen knocked down by linebacker ...
- Morgan gets first catch; gain of 11 on quick slant ...
- 49ers start out on their own 23 ... Gore out; DeShaun Foster in. Keasey out; Delanie Walker in ...

- Ray McDonald trips up Russell for the sack on 3rd and 10. Punt ...
- Goldson just had a great hit behind the l.o.s on Fargas ...
- Niners on defense; Justin Smith playing ROLB; Jeff Ulbrich at "ted"

- Well, so much for a pass-heavy offense. O'Sullivan threw on second down, a gain of nine yards to Vernon Davis. Frank Gore, however, was stuffed on third and one. Punt. ...
- JT O'Sullivan era begins ... with a handoff
- Allen Rossum back to return kickoff ...
- Coin toss: Niners win, elect to receive ... Tails never fails...
- Both teams are out of the tunnel; Kwame Harris just introduced to light applause ... JaMarcus Russell's ovation was slightly louder ...

Welcome to the NFL, rook! It looks as if Isaac Bruce is sitting this one out, which means that rookie receiver Josh Morgan gets the start alongside Arnaz Battle. The O'Sullivan-to-Morgan era begins tonight. Dashon Goldson will start as FS for Mark Roman. As reported yesterday, Michael Lewis will have the radio receiver in the first half ... Keith Lewis will have it in the second. For the Raiders, LB Kirk Morrison will have it in the first half; Edgerton Hartwell will have it in the second ...

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Hartwell might want to think twice about getting into another kerfluffle with Moran Norris. Mike Pereira, the head of NFL officiating, is in the house tonight.

***********
Meanwhile, here's the press box setup at McAfee. See who I'm sitting next to? Do you still want to be a sportswriter?



08082008056 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

August 8, 2008
Five things to watch later (in some cases, much later) tonight

It's now t-minus *eight* hours before the 49ers and Raiders get it on in Oakland. Of course, some of you will have to wait even longer to see the game because, not having been sold out, it is subject to the NFL blackout rules and thus tape-delayed. (In Sacramento, the game will start on time. Why? Apparently, the league is more lenient in the preseason.) If you're not in Sac, you can log on to one of the very excellent blogs (Psst! Over here!) that cover the 49ers. Those same NFL rules prevent us from giving you a play-by-play account of the action. But we are allowed to summarize, generalize and give our opinions. Such as: J.T. O'Sullivan looked crisp on the first drive, going 4 of 5. The team opened the game in a two-tight end formation. O'Sullivan hit Delanie Walker once for 11 yards and threw a nine-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis, who immediately earned an illegal celebration penalty ... or something to that effect.

Here are some of the things I'll be watching when the game begins.

1. J.T. O'Sullivan. You might have heard somewhere that O'Sullivan will get the start tonight. He's looked sharp in practice, sharp in Monday's inter-squad practice in Napa, and it'll be very interesting to see him in a game situation. Many observers are starting to get a sense that O'Sullivan very well could be Mike Martz's next diamond in the rough. He has the shaggy dog background common to Martz's former pupils, and he reminds Martz of Marc Bulger. A couple of things going against O'Sullivan today: He doesn't have very much experience - a week and a half - throwing to the 49ers receivers in team scenarios and the 49ers' top receivers probably will be on the sideline. He also is facing a very, very good Raiders defense.

2. Young guns. Speaking of receivers, two guys have really stood out in training camp thus far - Josh Morgan and Jason Hill. That's mainly because, unlike the other receivers, they have managed to stay healthy. But for a young wideout, that in itself is a genuine accomplishment. Morgan and Hill are both big-bodied receivers, and their consistency in training camp has earned them playing time.

3. The chameleons. I've stopped listing Justin Smith as a defensive lineman. From what I've seen, he mostly lines up as an outside linebacker, and it will be interesting to see how effective he is from that spot tonight. The 49ers are building their pass rush around Smith, and they want to see how he performs at several positions. The other chameleon is Manny Lawson, who was excellent early last season before tearing an ACL. It will be interesting to see whether his game speed has returned less than a year after the injury.

4.The interior line. The 49ers' offensive tackles - Joe Staley and Jonas Jennings - have looked very good this summer. The interior of the line, however, has been a mixed bag. Eric Heitmann seems to be back in form after struggling early last season. At right guard, Tony Wragge is dependable but not dynamic. At left guard, Adam Snyder has struggled. He won't get any breaks against a good Oakland defensive line.

5. The Ted shuffle. Keep an eye on who is playing next to Patrick Willis (and later in the game, Dontarrious Thomas). Jeff Ulbrich will start the game, but coaches and evaluators want to see if Brandon Moore returns to his 2006 play-making form and if rookie Larry Grant, No. 57, starts to capitalize on his potential.

-- Matt Barrows

August 7, 2008
Expect Martz, 49ers to air it out tomorrow

Mike Martz isn't bringing the "Greatest Show on Turf" to San Francisco, but you can expect to see quite a few passing plays tomorrow night against the Raiders. After all, the most important evaluation will be of the quarterbacks and you can't evaluate a quarterback unless he throws the ball. "There's going to be a little bit more of the passing early on just to get a look," Mike Nolan said.

Nolan said yesterday that J.T. O'Sullivan would start against the Raiders because, unlike Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, he hasn't seen O'Sullivan in an in-game situation. But O'Sullivan played extensively in Martz's system last year in Detroit and actually started the third preseason game for the Lions. Hasn't Nolan watched those tapes? He has, he said, but that doesn't mean he has a true feel of how O'Sullivan handles a game. "It's kind of like being in the press box vs. being on the field," Nolan said. "You can see the emotion that goes on during a game. And you can see how guys respond to stressful situations. You don't get that in the box and you don't get that on TV."

As for Alex Smith, this will be the first time since his rookie season he has started a game on the sideline when he was healthy. Smith said today the key was not to get upset about the situation but rather to take advantage of the repetitions he will get starting in the second quarter. Smith said the three quarterbacks were given the same explanation Wednesday Nolan gave the media - that O'Sullivan was starting because Nolan hadn't seen him in a game. Asked if there has been any assurance he would start a future preseason game, Smith said, "I have no idea. I haven't been told anything."

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Nolan said that the following players would not play tomorrow night: running back Michael Robinson, guard David Baas, safety Lewis Baker, safety Mark Roman and receivers Ashley Lelie and Bryant Johnson. Receiver Isaac Bruce will be a game-time decision, meaning the starting wideouts could be Josh Morgan and Arnaz Battle. Frank Gore will start the game, but don't expect him to play all that much.

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With Roman out, Michael Lewis will wear the radio receiver when the first-team defense is in the game. Lewis is one of a handful of players who, barring injury, never leaves the game on defense. Lewis said that Roman usually would be the guy who wears it.

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Rookie QB Kyle Wright got his first extensive repetitions of training camp when he ran the scout-team offense. That is, Wright was giving his best JaMarcus Russell impersonation.

-- Matt Barrows

August 7, 2008
Training camp; noon tea edition

The 49ers have just one practice session today. They began with a special teams practice and are now beginning a regular practice that will end at 1 p.m. Because he is the starter for tomorrow's game in Oakland, J.T. O'Sullivan is expected to get all of the first-team snaps.

The players who are definitely out of action tomorrow are Michael Robinson, David Baas and Lewis Baker. Bryant Johnson and Ashley Lelie probably won't play. Safeties Mark Roman and Dashon Goldson are going through individual drills, but Roman might be held ou tomorrow. Parys Haralson's (shoulder) status also is unknown. If Roman doesn't play, it'll be interesting to see who wears the radio receiver. It could be Patrick Willis or perhaps Michael Lewis, who rarely leaves the field.

Jonas Jennings, DeShaun Foster and Arnaz Battle had "old man" practices yesterday afternoon but are back in practice today.

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Former 49ers cornerback Eric Davis will join Dennis O'Donnell in the booth for CBS 5's three preseason broadcasts. The only game not on CBS-5 this summer is the Aug. 21 in Chicago, which is at 5 p.m. on FOX.

-- Matt Barrows

August 6, 2008
O'Sullivan to start vs. Raiders

J.T. O'Sullivan will start Friday's game and play at least the first quarter, Mike Nolan said following the team's afternoon practice. Alex Smith will enter in the second quarter and play through the third; Shaun Hill will finish out the game. Nolan insisted that the rotation did not reflect a pecking order in the battle to be the 49ers' starter this season. Instead, he said that he was already familiar with how Smith and Hill looked in games. "I've got experience with both Shaun (Hill) and Alex (Smith) in game situations though we do not have that experience thus far with J.T. O'Sullivan," Nolan said. Conversely, offensive coordinator Mike Martz is familiar with how O'Sullivan looks in games having been his offensive coordinator last season. O'Sullivan played in four games last season for the Lions, completing 13 of 26 passes, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The 49ers will start implementing their game plan for the Raiders tomorrow. Because O'Sullivan will get the start, he received all of the first-team offensive repetitions during the afternoon session. He was 10 of 16 on the afternoon, including a nice touch pass downfield to Delanie Walker over linebacker Manny Lawson. He also threw two interceptions, one that was picked off by linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, the other by cornerback Nate Clements. Smith was 3 of 6 in the afternoon practice; Hill was 3 of 7. The team has one practice tomorrow and O'Sullivan is expected to get the bulk of the first-team snaps.

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Several players sat out the afternoon practice, including RB DeShaun Foster, T Jonas Jennings, WR Arnaz Battle, WR Bryant Johnson, S Dashon Goldson and S Mark Roman. With Roman and Goldson out, Keith Lewis (Valley High) teamed with Michael Lewis at safety in the first-team offense.

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Nolan said that the 49ers will be light on receivers Friday and that rookie Josh Morgan will see plenty of time with the first-team offense. "As you know, our wide receiver corps is down, so Josh Morgan more than likely will be in there with him with Arnaz Battle," Nolan said. "And then you're going to see Jason Hill and some other guys that aren't truly the (first string)." The 49ers keep a tally of how many passes each receiver has caught in training camp. The top three, in order, are Johnson, Morgan and Jason Hill.

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Congratulations to kicker Joe Nedney, who will be inducted into the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame next month. Nedney set the school's career scoring record in the early 1990s.

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Friday's game may be blacked out in the Bay Area, but it will be on as scheduled in Sacramento. KOVR says it plans to air the game at 7 p.m. Take that, Bay Area!

-- Matt Barrows

August 6, 2008
Starters to play 1st quarter Friday; Nolan mum (for now) on QB rotation

Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan shared the first-team repetitions in practice this morning. As far as who will open Friday's game in Oakland - well, Mike Nolan isn't saying. "I have not spoken to the quarterbacks yet," Nolan said. He said that meeting could occur this afternoon and that he might share that information following the afternoon session. Early in training camp, Nolan said the preseason games might see his quarterbacks alternating snaps with every series. He would not comment on that possibility today. Overall, Nolan said that the first-team units would play the first quarter or 12-15 plays, whichever came first.

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Friday's Raiders-49ers game has been blacked out and will be shown on tape delay in the Bay Area. In Sacramento, however, KOVR assures me the game will be aired at its regular time, 7 p.m. Still checking with KQCA....

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Here's how the quarterbacks performed in the two "team" sessions today:

- Hill (first-team): Downfield pass incomplete. Nearest 49er is safety Michael Lewis. Nolan not happy with the energy level. "You guys had a day off yesterday," he calls out.
- Hill (1st) Rolls right, fires 18-yard sideline pass to Josh Morgan.
- Hill (1st) Fake end-around to Arnaz Battle, fires pass to Battle.
- Hill (1st) Delayed screen to Frank Gore.
- Hill (1st) Quick dump to Gore with Dashon Goldson blitzing.

- Smith (second team) Roll right, quick crossing pattern to Jason Hill.
- Smith (2nd) Left sideline completion to Cam Colvin, but Colvin lands out of bounds.
- Smith (2nd) Fake handoff, rolls right. Nothing deep, so he hits Billy Bajema with short pass.
- Smith (2nd) Shovel pass to Thomas Clayton

- J.T. O'Sullivan (first team) 20-yard pass downfield to Arnaz Battle.
- JTO (1st) fake handoff right, throws back left to Gore.
- JTO (1st) Handoff to Gore
- JTO (1st) Shovel pass to Gore

- Smith (2nd) Quick throw right to Jason Hill
- Smith (2nd) Shovel pass to Clayton.
- Smith (2nd) End around to Jason Hill
- Smith (2nd) Quick dump to Zak Keasey.

Second "team" session, which was a red-zone session in which the ball began on the 19-yard line.

- Hill (1st team) Short pass (right) to Keasey
- Hill (1st team) Hot read to Isaac Bruce falls incomplete. QB-WR not on same page.
- Hill (1st team) Pass to Battle nearly picked off by Patrick Willis.
- Hill (1st team) At the 4-yard line, handoff to Gore.

- Smith (2nd team) Wide open to Bill Bajema who jogs in for a touchdown. Secondary coach Johnnie Lynn talks with rookie safety D.J. Parker after the play.
- Smith (2nd) DeShaun Foster, run right
- Smith (2nd) Clayton, run right
- Smith (2nd) At the 4-yard line, Foster up the middle.

- JTO (first team) End around to Bruce.
- JTO (1st) Quick pass to Morgan
- JTO (1st) Dump off to Gore
- JTO (1st) At the 4-yard line, handoff to Gore.

- Hill (2nd team) Swing pass to Clayton
- Hill (2nd) Short pass to Colvin
- Hill (2nd) Pump fake, handoff to Foster
- Hill (2nd) Swing pass to Foster

- JTO (first team) Blitz. Quick pass to Battle.
- JTO (1st) Pass nearly picked off by Michael Lewis
- JTO (1st) Throw to Vernon Davis in the end zone too high. Would have been a sack by Donald Strickland.
- JTO (1st) Delayed screen to Davis; play snuffed out by Justin Smith

- Smith (2nd) Quick pass to Ortiz. Smith would have been sacked.
- Smith (2nd) Out pattern to Jerard Rabb.
- Smith (2nd) Pass to corner of end zone incomplete.
- Smith (2nd) hand off to Foster.

-- Matt Barrows

August 6, 2008
Wednesday practice; morning coffee edition

While you're in front of your computer pretending to work -- checking your e-mail; reading blogs -- Barrows is scouring the sidelines, trying to figure out who is practicing. Receiver Bryant Johnson (hamstring) is standing on the sideline in sweatpants while fellow receiver Ashley Lelie (calf) is working with a trainer. David Baas (pectoral) and Parys Haralson (shoulder) also are with the training staff.

The good news: Mark Roman (hamstring), Dashon Goldson (arch) and Tarell Brown (hand) are all at practice and taking part in individual drills.

-- Matt Barrows

August 5, 2008
Quarterback competition: Two-minute analysis

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Training camp is full of minutia, and it's dangerous to lock in on one bit of that minutia and try to make dramatic conclusions from it. And yet ...well, I've been thinking about that two-minute drill that Alex Smith ran last night. I'm not going to say that it reveals the secret to the three-way quarterback competition. All I'm going to say is that it was interesting. Here's why.

1.) First, Smith executed it pretty darn well. Some of his passes are still late and thrown behind his receivers. This has been a common element in Smith this training camp. But the bottom line is that he steadily moved the team down the field and began to display a command of the offense that Mike Martz predicted would start showing right about now. Yes, Smith was playing against second-stringers. But with Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Arnaz Battle and Ashley Lelie all sitting out the practice, Smith's second-string receiving corps consisted of Robert Ortiz, Dominique Zeigler and Cam Colvin. Not exactly the Fun Bunch.

2.) Smith wasn't even supposed to be on the field. He was supposed to get first crack at running the two-minute offense and then yield to either Shaun Hill or J.T. O'Sullivan. When the first team went four and out - because of a dropped pass - Martz decided to leave Smith in when the second team took the field. Martz said he wanted to see how Smith handled himself in an end-of-game situation. Does that mean Martz is leaning toward Smith and needs just a bit more reinforcement before he decides Smith's the one? Or does it mean that Martz senses a flaw in Smith - that he has trouble in pressure situations? Dunno the answer. What is evident, however, is that Smith made the most of the opportunity.

3.) Mike Nolan was watching the defense on a separate practice field while all of this was happening. Sure, he'll get to watch the practice tape and make his assessments off of that. But it's a signal that Martz is the one pulling the strings as far as which quarterbacks get which first-team opportunities. And that's a good thing.

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Here's a quick video of how Raiders camp was set up yesterday. The 49ers did all their individual drills on the right-hand field before the Raiders defense and 49ers offense practiced togther there. The opposite occurred on the left-hand field. Al Davis lorded over the procedings.



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I'll have an update on CB Tarell Brown's hand later today ... *****Update****** Both Brown (hand) and Dashon Goldson (arch) took part in special teams practice, according to a team spokesman. As expected, Nolan gave the team the afternoon off. Instead of hitting the practice field, they'll hit the movie theater ... to see "Batman."

-- Matt Barrows

August 4, 2008
Smith looks good in spirited 2-minute drill

Two things jumped out in the late practice here in Napa. One, Alex Smith looked sharp directing a two-minute drill with the second-team offense. And two, Mike Martz - who up to this point had shown a zen-like calm - went ballistic a few times when his receivers failed to run the right routes.

First, let's talk about Smith, who had the least amount of first-team repetitions in the morning drill. Martz initially tapped him to run the two-minute offense with the first-team offense. That team, however, went four and out when Robert Ortiz dropped a pass on fourth down. When the second-team offense replaced them, Martz decided to leave Smith in. "I wanted to see how he handled it," Martz told me. "I wanted to see him in that situation."

Here's how the drive, which began on the San Francisco 24 played out:

- 1st down. Smith connects on a deep pass to Dominique Zeigler at the 50 yard line
- 1st down. Another nice pass to Zeigler to the 40.
- 1st down. Smith incompletion to Cam Colvin
- 2nd down. Smith incompletion to Jason Hill, who nearly collides with Zeigler on the play. Zeigler gets an earful from Martz
- 3rd down. Smith connects on the right sideline with Zeigler to the 22
- 1st down. Pass to Colvin dropped.
- 2nd down. Smith connects again with Zeigler at the 9
- 1st down. Pass behind Colvin, but judging from Martz's reaction, the receiver ran the route improperly. Martz: "Come on, Cam! Let's go!"
- 2nd down. Smith to Zeigler inside the five. Martz: "Outside, Cam! Outside!"
- With ball on the one, Thomas Clayton just makes it to the goal line for a touchdown.
- Joe Nedney nails a 40-yard field-goal in the final drill of the day.

That drive, of course, came against the Raiders second-team defense. Still, Smith also looked good earlier in team drills when the first stringers were in. He had two picture-perfect touchdown passes to Jason Hill, the first from the 19 yard line when he hit Hill in the left corner over cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The second was from closer in and was in the right corner of the end zone.

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The first "team" session of the evening practice was devoted to running the ball. Smith worked with the first unit; J.T. O'Sullivan worked with the second. When they reassembled for team drills later in the session, O'Sullivan and Smith both worked with the first team while Hill worked with the second. Nolan said the goal is to keep things even among his three quarterbacks, and the number of first-team repetitions in Friday's preseason opener could hinge on who had the most and least first-team repetitions today.

Here's exactly how the session played out:

- JTO (first-team) Handoff right
- JTO (first) Overthrows DeShaun Foster over the middle
- JTO (first Completion over the middle to Josh Morgan

-Hill (2nd-team offense) Completion to Zeigler
- Hill (2nd) 15-yarder over the middle to Morgan

-JTO (first) Short over the middle to Foster
-JTO (first) Incomplete to Foster; may have been backwards pass, scooped up by Raiders

-Hill (2nd) Pass intended for Clayton, picked off by Robert Thomas
-Hill (2nd). Nice deep sideline pass to Morgan ... except Morgan pushes off and Hill would have been sacked by Trevor Scott, who blew past Damane Duckett.
- Hill (2nd) Dump to Keasey; Scott again applies pressure

- JTO (1st) Nice, quick toss to Foster
- JTO (1st) Pass for Zeigler nearly picked off by FS Hiram Eugene
- JTO (1st) Foster initially blocks Kalimba Edwards, then fires off line and catches pass. Nice play.

-Hill (2nd) Short pass to Clayton
-Hill (2nd) Over the middle to Clayton

Red-zone offense:

-Smith (1st) Shallow crossing pattern to Hill
-Smith (1st) Pass is behind Morgan, tipped into the air and intercepted by a diving -Gerard Warren.
-Smith (1st) handoff to Foster
-Smith (1st) Handoff to left end zone

- Hill (2nd) Dump off to Moran Norris
- Hill (2nd) End-zone pass to Ortiz is too high
- Hill (2nd) hand off to Clayton
- Hill (2nd) handoff to Clayton to the right

- Smith (1st) perfectly thrown TD pass to Hill over DeAngelo Hall.
- Smith (1st) Quick pass incomplete to Morgan, but judging from Martz's reaction, it would have been a TD if Morgan had run the route correctly.
- Smith (1st) Foster run; Vernon Davis and Edwards scuffle after the play.
- Smith (1st) Another nicely thrown TD pass to Jason Hill.

- Hill (2nd) handoff to Clayton
- Hill (2nd) handoff to Clayton
- Hill (2nd) TD pass to Ortiz.

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It should be noted that several prominent Raiders defenders, including Derrick Burgess, Terdell Sands and Tommy Kelly did not take part in the session. By the same token, the 49ers were without Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Arnaz Battle and Jonas Jennings.

Johnson "tweaked" his hamstring earlier in the day. He was on the practice field but walking around with a slight limp. Bruce, Battle and Jennings have not been participating in every practice. After the practice, Mike Nolan said that Dashon Goldson suffered a sprained arch and Tarell Brown hurt his hand. "I don't believe any of (the injuries) are serious," Nolan said.

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My spies on the other practice field tell me that Justin Smith abused left guard Robert Gallery during one-on-one blocking drills.

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The 49ers will have a special teams practice tomorrow morning, but Nolan hinted strongly that he would give the players -- and, by extension, me -- the afternoon off. Woohoo!

For a take on the Raiders offense (and 49ers' defense) check out my colleague Jason Jones' blog here.

-- Matt Barrows

August 4, 2008
49ers, Raiders rumble in wine country

The 49ers and Raiders practiced togther for the first time *since 1982* and as you might expect, there were some heated tempers between the Bay Area cousins. No doubt you'll see plenty of footage on the evening news, but to be honest, the rough stuff was a minor distraction in an otherwise smooth practice. The biggest fracas occurred during 7 on 7 drills and involved several players, including Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, who at one point had his hands around Raiders safety Jarrod Cooper's throat. At the end other end of the practice field, 49ers rookie guard Chilo Rachal and defensive tackle William Joseph took a few swings at each other's heads.

As for the quarterback battle, all three 49ers' passers saw significant action. If you had to pick one guy as the "starter" today, it would be Shaun Hill, who saw the most work with the first-team offense, although J.T. O'Sullivan worked with the ones as well. Alex Smith mostly worked with the second team.

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The 49ers are becoming thin on receivers. Isaac Bruce didn't take part in the practice while the other would-be starter, Bryant Johnson, went down with a hamstring injury on the first play of 7 on 7 drills. Johnson was on the ground for several minutes while trainers tended to the hamstring. He watched the rest of practice while standing on the sideline. Mike Nolan called it a "tweak" and said he didn't think it was serious. With Bruce and Johnson out, undrafted rookie Cam Colvin saw plenty of action and looked good in the offense. "It's getting easier," Colvin said of learning the offense. "Just in terms of going out there and having those double (practices) every day. ... It's starting to slow down."

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Lelie, meanwhile, emerged from the 49ers' locker room - actually the boys locker room at an adjacent middle school -- with an ice pack on his left calf. Lelie injured the calf on the third day of camp and only returned to action yesterday. "I think it just got fatigued," he said. "It was a little tender before." There's no word yet on whether he will take part in the 7 p.m. practice, which won't be in full pads.

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During the first "team" session, led by Hill, the 49ers ran the ball exclusively and did most of their running on the inside. Frank Gore did not take part in team drills, giving way to DeShaun Foster. Gore did participate in the rest of practice. There was no live tackling on the day, but it seemed like the Raiders had everything bottled up. My notes are peppered with "Thomas Clayton, no room to run." During the second team session of the morning, O'Sullivan came out with the first-string offense. His first pass three passes to Josh Morgan, Billy Bajema and Colvin were dropped before he connected on a quick slant to Colvin. Alex Smith, who mostly lined up with the second team, saw his first pass go off Ashley Lelie's fingertips.

The third team session was the best for the 49ers. Hill connected twice on intermediate sideline routes, first to Morgan and then again to Colvin. Hill was 4 of 5 in the third session; Smith, leading the second-team, also was 4 of 5.

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I took copious notes during the one-on-one blocking drills. Jonas Jennings looked good - very good - against the Raiders' top rusher, Derrick Burgess, mirroring Burgess' every move. Here's how the other 49ers offensive linemen held up against the Oakland defensive line.

49er offensive lineman vs. Raider opponent = Winner

-Tony Wragge vs. Tommy Kelly = Kelly
-Eric Heitmann vs. Gerard Warren = Heitmann
rematch = Warren
- Adam Snyder vs. Josh Shaw = Shaw
rematch = Shaw
-Joe Staley vs. Kalimba Edwards = Staley
rematch = Staley
- Barry Sims vs. Greg Spires = Sims
rematch = draw
- Chilo Rachal vs. William Joseph = Joseph
rematch = Rachal
- Cody Wallace vs. Terdell Sands = Sands
rematch = Sands
- Brian De La Puente vs. Derrick Gray = Gray
rematch = De La Puente
- Damane Duckett vs. Jay Richardson = Duckett
rematch = Richardson
- Alan Reuber vs. Greyson Gunheim = draw
Rematch = Gunheim
- Wallace vs. Mauricio Lopez (int'l player) = Wallace
Rematch = Wallace
- John Booker vs. Tommy Kelly = draw
Rematch = Kelly
- Joe Toledo vs. Trevor Scott = Toledo
Rematch = draw
- Jonas Jennings vs. Derrick Burgess = Jennings
- Wragge vs. Josh Shaw = Shaw
- Snyder vs. Gray = Snyder
- Heitmann vs. Warren = Heitmann
- Sims vs. Greg Spires = Sims
- Rachal vs. Joseph = Rachal
- Duckett vs. Scott = Duckett

-- Matt Barrows

August 3, 2008
Quarterbacks will divide snaps equally from here on out

Mike Nolan today lifted some of the fog from his quarterback rotation. He said the team has roughly 15 practices left until they break camp, and the goal is for each of his three quarterbacks to lead the first-team offense in practice five more times. He also said he hopes to have Alex Smith, J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill go against the Raiders' first-string defense at various times during tomorrows inter-squad practice. If the 49ers stick to the five "starts" in practice, they could still decide on an ultimate starter by the third preseason game Aug. 21 in Chicago. Camp ends on Aug. 20.

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Smith got the "start" today while Hill led the second team. There wasn't a lot of pass plays. The team mostly worked on goal-line offense (lots of running) during the first team drill. In the second session, Smith tried a deep pass to Arnaz Battle, but he was well covered by safety Michael Lewis. Hill went deep to Robert Ortiz. His pass was held up by the wind and easily knocked down by the defensive back.

For their goal line offense, the 49ers have been using Barry Sims as an extra tight end. Sims lined up next to Joe Staley on the left side of the line.

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Undrafted rookie Louis Holmes got quite a bit of work with the first-team defense today. Holmes lined up with a hand on the ground on the left side in the team's 4-3 defense. Holmes also had a nice showing during one-on-one blocking drills. He beat Jonas Jennings to the outside on one rush, then slipped past Barry Sims on another. Oddly enough, he struggled with the lesser of his three opponents - Alan Reuber - during his final rotation.

The other guy who stood out was guard Adam Snyder, who had been inconsistent the last few days. Snyder looked good against Justin Smith on one play, then locked up Walter Curry on the next.

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As for tomorrow's practice in Napa, no one can seem to remember the two Bay Area teams ever having practiced together in the past. Nolan said he called up Lane Kiffin to talk about it and that GM Scot McCloughan contacted Al Davis. "Because, obviously, if Al's not in favor of it, it doesn't matter if I talk to Lane." Nolan said Davis was concerned about injuries, and the teams agreed there would be no "live" tackling. "I think that's sometimes when it gets heated," Nolan said. He said he hoped that all three of his quarterbacks would be pitted against the Raiders' first-team defense tomorrow.

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Injured guard David Baas said he's begun doing "light" bench press work and said his rehab from a torn pectoral ligament is going well. He would not share what he considered a "light" bench press. "In my mind, I'm definitely going to be back for the (regular) season," he said. "And anything before that is a blessing."

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Delanie Walker was held out of practice today after complaining of headaches. He said they probably were related to not drinking enough water.

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Six players will not make the trip to Napa tomorrow. They are Baas, Mark Roman (hamstring), Michael Robinson (knee), receiver Jerard Rabb (groin), safety Lewis Baker (leg) and lb Parys Haralson, who is nursing a shoulder injury.

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Isaac Bruce wore No. 80 in practice. No one asked him about it ....

-- Matt Barrows

August 3, 2008
Balmer, Lelie back at practice

It looks like a couple of injured 49ers are returning to practice. Both rookie Kentwan Balmer (ankle) and receiver Ashley Lelie (calf) are back in uniform today. I'm told it will be a wait-and-see process as far as how much they can participate today. Balmer sprained his ankle Tuesday; Lelie has been out since the second day of training camp.

-- Matt Barrows

August 3, 2008
Q&A: In Alex we trust?

Question: Matt, I just started reading your blog and I've really been enjoying your updates. It's tough being a Niners fan in NY. I was just reading some of your blogs from last season to get a feel for how your opinions played out (generally right on by the way)! In many of those blogs you actually defended Alex Smith up through his injury and fall out with Nolan. That being said, my question is...based on everything you've seen so far this preseason, is he going to be the guy or should we start putting our faith elsewhere?
Chris, NY, NY

Answer: Leave it to the New Yorker to come with the high heat. Ok, I'll bite. Here's what I think: I think O'Sullivan has been the sharpest quarterback in camp, mainly because he has a full grasp of the offense whereas Smith and Shaun Hill do not. (When will they feel comfortable/confident? That's the big question going forth). I think of Smith and Hill, Smith has looked better. Smith is certainly the most athletic and has the best arm, but that O'Sullivan and Hill have that hair-trigger release Martz likes. Of O'Sullivan and Hill, O'Sullivan has the bigger arm.

Now let's talk politics. Here's a simple (oversimplified) way to look at things. Each QB has a major backer. O'Sullivan's is Martz. After all, it was Martz who wanted the 49ers to grab him on the free-agent market and the 49ers paid more than a team normally would for a journeyman QB. O'Sullivan also has that Cinderella storyline that Martz seems to like. Hill's is Nolan. Hill won a couple games at the end of the season and immediately thereafter, Nolan declared Hill would get to compete for the starting job in '08. You also might recall that Nolan and Smith had a bit of a tiff last season that, no matter how he spins it today, still stings Nolan. Smith's backer is Scot McCloughan. Drafting Smith was McCloughan's first - and biggest - decision as personnel director. As GM, he also must take into account how much money the team has invested in Smith. Read into that what you may ...
- Matt

martz n jto.jpg JTO.jpg

Question: "Nolan said Smith didn't take control of the first-team offense because that would have been unfair to Hill." Matt, you wrote it. But do you believe it? Does anyone actually believe this sham that Shuan Hill could be named starter for the first game of the regular season? Does anyone believe Nolan will essentially proclaim the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft -- his first pick -- a bust, and go with a journeyman to right the franchise? If not, how do you NOT give Smith more reps with the first team? This is crazy.
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Here's what Nolan's thinking (I think): I think he doesn't believe that Smith is a team leader and that forcing him to win a three-way competition will result in players having more respect for him. Of course, you could argue that, if Smith indeed lacks his teammates respect, it is in large part due to Nolan undermining him last season. That would be a very good argument.
- Matt

Question: Hey, Matt! Fellow UVa fan here again! I'm wondering what Alex's demeanor has been during this first part of camp. Is he being aggressive and showing his leadership abilities, or is he more passive, meek and quiet, just letting things happen to him? Seems to me if I were him, I'd be doing anything and everything I could to win the job! I hope he comes around and can be the QB we all wish for, bringing us a couple (at least!) Super Bowl Championships! Here's hoping for the best! Go NINERS! Go Cavs!
John, Tucson

Answer: It's a great question (and not just because you're a U.Va fan). Alex is the type of guy you'd want your sister to marry but I've often wondered whether he is too nice to run an offense. He has a fine line to walk this summer, though. The fact that he's sharing snaps with two other players is as much a mental test as anything else. If he suddenly develops an attitude, it might be counterproductive to his chances ... By the way, I've already scolded Josh Morgan for choosing Tech over U.Va. Last year, he was one of four senior WRs on a Tech offense that ran the ball every chance it could. U.Va., meanwhile, hasn't had a decent WR since Germane Crowell. Morgan in a Cavaliers uni = first-round pick.
- Matt

Question: Any news on Cam Colvin? Is he headed for the practice squad or will he get cut? What are the chances Ashley Lelie gets cut?
Patrick, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Wow. Barrows is popular in the Tri-state area .... Colvin had a few nice catches in yesterday's practice but mostly has been quiet. Dominique Zeigler seems like the better receiver, and yet, the 49ers have already seen what he can do. They might be more intrigued by Colvin's potential and will want to develop him on the practice squad. Which is a long way of saying, I'm not sure ... As for Lelie, I think it's obvious the 49ers like him or else they would have gotten rid of him in the offseason a la Darrell Jackson. His calf strain certainly isn't helping his reputation as a player who lacks grit. He was running routes yesterday, so it seems as if he's close to returning to the practice field.
- Matt

Question: Matt: What ever happened to Joe Cohen? I was hoping to hear a lot of positives about him this summer and no one mentions him at all. Is he hurt or just not effective?
Walt, Quincy, Ca.

Answer: Cohen rejoined practice in training camp. He's the third-string NT. I've been following him in one-on-one blocking drills. He looked understandably rusty early on but has been improving. Barring injuries, I think he's destined for the practice squad.
- Matt

Question: Will the 2008 offensive line be an improvement over the 2007 version?
Greg, Sacramento

Answer: Yes. If I were the 49ers coaches, I might be a tad nervous about both guard spots. But the tackle situation has to be encouraging to Mike Martz, whose offense relies on excellent pass protection.
- Matt

*** By the way, the glitch that has prevented some of you from posting Qs has been fixed, so fire away **

August 2, 2008
Davis gets, wants extra work after practice

Some time after the morning locker room session had come and gone, I realized that I needed to talk to Vernon Davis for the story I'm working on. I figured my chances were slim considering the afternoon session was a special teams practice and that the big-time players, like Davis, don't partake in special teams. They either would be in meetings, hanging out in the players' lounge or otherwise making themselves scarce.

But I lucked out. Davis was on an adjacent practice field, getting extra work with tight ends coach Pete Hoener and quarterback Kyle Wright. And that's not uncommon. Davis often stays after practice to work on route running or his hands. (When he was hanging out in South Florida in July, he pulled aside Ravens rookie Joe Flacco to work on his pass catching). Davis is a guy who, more than anything else, wants to be great. As was the case last season, he said he's shooting for 1,000 receiving yards this season. Does he have a better chance this year than last? "Yeah, " he said with a smile. "Oh yeah."

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Receiver Ashley Lelie also was running routes during the special teams practice. He appears close to returning from his calf strain.

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The 49ers only will have one practice -- at 3 p.m. -- tomorrow in anticipation of their Monday session with the Raiders in Napa.

-- Matt Barrows

August 2, 2008
It's O'Sullivan and Smith on Day 9

Today the quest to find a starting quarterback truly became a three-man competition. Shaun Hill's arm was fully rested. He was cleared for practice. And yet it was J.T. O'Sullivan running the first-team offense and Alex Smith directing the second team. Hill was relegated to running the live tackling drill with the No. 3 offense. (More on that later.) "The reason Shaun Hill was in with that group," Mike Nolan said, "was because today was his day to be in that role as far as taking less reps. So, we allowed him to take those plays in that 12-play live (session)." Asked about the new rotation order, Nolan said, "I can give you what happened today. But I can't give you what will happen tomorrow." In other words, he was purposely vague. But it seems as if there will be a different quarterback pairing every day at least for the short term. That is, O'Sullivan and Smith today, Smith and Hill tomorrow, Hill and O'Sullivan after that (or something to that effect.) The quarterbacks don't know much either. Asked whether they are aware of a definitive rotation order, Hill said, "You probably know more than we do." That's part of the test. The coaching staff is keeping them in the dark to see how they react to the situation.

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So how did the quarterbacks look? There are still some misfires, but overall Mike Martz's prediction of a gradually improved performance seems to be coming true. O'Sullivan, who is the most advanced as far as knowing the offense, understandably looks the sharpest and is the most adept at lining up the offense and making sure everyone's in the right place. Smith had a good practice, starting out 4 for 4 in the early team session with throws to Robert Ortiz, Cam Colvin, DeShaun Foster and Billy Bajema.

His best pass was an incompletion. He threw a perfect 35 yarder down the right sideline to Jason Hill, perhaps Smith's best deep ball of camp. Hill, however, not only shoved off cornerback Tarell Brown - and drew a penalty - he dropped the pass. Smith had a similar throw, though not as deep, to tight end J.J. Finley over linebacker Larry Grant.

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Speaking of Brown, he was one of the defensive players who really stood out in the live-tackling drill, the first one of training camp. He was very aggressive on a Thomas Clayton running play to the right in which he swooped in and took out both Clayton and center Cody Wallace. "I like to hit," Brown said later. "It's not about the size of the player. At the end of the day, it comes down to the size of your heart." Joining Brown in the secondary in the No. 3 defense were CB Reggie Smith and safeties D.J. Parker and Marcus Hudson. Yes, with Mark Roman out with a hamstring strain, Hudson has been playing a little safety.

The rest of the defense: Linemen Louis Holmes, Cohen, LaJuan Ramsey and Attiyah Ellison. Linebackers: Jay Moore, Dennis Haley and Larry Grant.

* The offense looked like this: LT Joe Toledo, LG Brian De La Puente, C Wallace, RG ?, RT Alan Reuber. TE JJ Finley, WRs Doninique Zeigler and Robert Ortiz.

* The team waived guard Jeb Terry, who had been out with a foot injury, and signed John Booker, who was with the team through OTAs.

The other guys who stood out in the drill were linebacker Jay Moore and NT Joe Cohen. Clayton got most of the carries - he also caught Hill's only completion - but he did not take the pounding he took in last year's live session. Clayton last year was criticized for running too upright and going down too easily. This year, with Frank Gore as his model, he's running with better balance and a better pad level.

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You guys are in for a real treat: my in-depth interview with Isaac Bruce. You see, Bruce was wearing No. 80 today, not his usual No. 88. So, I decided to ask Bruce about the switch. Here's the Q&A:

Q: I noticed you were wearing a new number ...
A: No interviews.

So there you have it. I think it's safe to say that Bruce won't be putting any pressure on Joe Staley in the "good guy to interview" competition. By the way, Nolan seemed to indicate that the switch to no. 80 - Jerry Rice's number - was a practice-only maneuver.

-- Matt Barrows

August 2, 2008
Saturday practice, morning coffee edition

While you were still stumbling around in your pj's, I was checking out the early-morning status at 49ers practice. Here's what I saw: Both Shaun Hill and Alex Smith were throwing footballs. It *appears* that Hill will run the first-team offense this morning with Smith leading the second.

Good news on the Kentwan Balmer front. The rookie defensive end was jogging on his injured right ankle, the first time he has done so all week. Also taking part in the early-morning jog were Ashley Lelie (calf) and safety Mark Roman (hamstring). A lot of people are asking whether Dashon Goldson will eventually supplant Roman as the starter. Goldson keeps making outstanding plays in practice, and yet I'm skeptical.

Asked about the Roman-Goldson competition the other day, Nolan said this of Roman: "He's a veteran player that plays very smart." Of Goldson, he said, "a good player, and he's just going to get better and better. He is somebody that we're very positive about." I realize I'm parsing words, but I don't think that Goldson has won Nolan's trust at this point. Nolan is extremely picky about his safety, perhaps moreso than any other position aside from quarterback. It took him two full seasons to find a safety combination he likes, and Roman has earned that trust.

-- Matt Barrows

August 1, 2008
Gore: I don't walk to talk numbers

There will be no grandiose predictions from Frank Gore this season. A year after shooting for Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record - and falling 1,000 yards short -- Gore says he doesn't have a goal this season. "I don't want to talk numbers, nothing," he said. "I'm just going to go out there, try to stay healthy, try to play hard and just give it all I have, you know?" Gore is slimmed down this season in anticipation of his more varied role in Mike Martz's offense. Check out today's story on Gore for more on his transformation.

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I heard the first "BRUUUUUUCE!" chant of the season when WR Isaac Bruce caught a 20-yard pass from J.T. O'Sullivan during the afternoon practice. O'Sullivan ran the first-team offense after Shaun Hill had that role this morning. Most of the practice was run at half speed, except for the team drills midway through. O'Sullivan's best pass was a 28 yarder down the middle of the field to Gore, who had a step on Patrick Willis. It was a play that smacked of Marshall Faulk circa 2000 and one that also drew a chorus of cheers from the crowd.

As for O'Sullivan, he's intriguing because 1. He knows the offense and 2. He has that quick release that seems to be a common trait in Martz's quarterbacks. He also has that shaggy dog story that Martz tends to admire. You may have read this already, but it might be a good time to refresh your memory on what Martz finds intriguing about O'Sullivan.

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The one-on-one blocking drills this morning had some highlights. One of them was when rookie Louis Holmes knocked Barry Sims on his backside. The veteran tackle recovered on the next play and it was Holmes who found himself on the ground. The toughest shot, however, was absorbed by Tully Banta-Cain, who took a punch to the face from tackle Alan Reuber just as he was getting off the line of scrimmage. The inadvertent uppercut staggered Banta-Cain and he slowly walked back to the defensive side of the line.

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Jonas Jennings sat out the afternoon practice as he has all week. Sims filled in at right tackle. Arnaz Battle and Walt Harris also sat out. There were no new injuries from the a.m. practice.

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The team will only practice once -- at 3 p.m. -- on Sunday in anticipation of their intrasquad scrimmage practice with the Raiders on Monday

-- Matt Barrows

August 1, 2008
Alex Smith rests on Day 8

And on the eighth day, Alex Smith rested ... As was the case with Shaun Hill earlier this week, Alex Smith was given the morning practice off to rest his right arm. Smith also will have the afternoon off, he said. "We have been doing a lot, I'm not going to lie," Smith said. "... putting a lot in and practices have been rigorous." Smith and Hill had been alternating repetitions with the first-team offense. When Hill was out earlier this week, J.T. O'Sullivan stepped in and took what would have been Hill's first-team snaps. Smith was scheduled to run the first team this morning. But it was Hill, not O'Sullivan, who ran the first team. When asked about this, Mike Nolan said all the first-team repetitions should even out when all is said and done. "We have a plan," he said. "We have to look further down (the practice schedule)."

Smith, meanwhile, said he had no problem with getting a day off. In fact, he did more in one brief media session to allay concerns over the team's three-way quarterback competition than Nolan has over the past two days. The biggest question is whether a quarterback can adequately learn a new offense while sharing snaps with two other passers. Said Smith: "I feel like we've gotten so much more (of the offense) in, even more than in years' past." Smith said he's thrown more in this training camp than in any other he's taken part in. In years' past, of course, Smith was getting virtually all of the first-team repetitions. This year, offensive coordinator Mike Martz has been aggressively installing his playbook. That's one of the reasons why the quarterback play has been so inconsistent. But Smith said he was far more comfortable now than he was on the first day of training camp. He also said he didn't mind sharing snaps with two teammates. "Honestly, I think from my mindset, it's no different," he said. "I'm still trying to take advantage of my reps out there."

Like Hill yesterday, Smith won't do any throwing today. He'll work on his footwork and take "mental reps." He said he felt confident with his surgically repaired right arm when he made it through OTAs. He said the arm felt a little tired now, but that's expected after a week of training camp. Smith said in previous years, the entire team would have gotten a day off by now. Today's rest, he said, is tantamount to a team day off.

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O'Sullivan ran the second-team offense today. He had perhaps the nicest pass of the day, a perfectly placed toss in the back corner of the end zone to Jason Hill in which the ball was just out of reach of cornerback Tarell Brown. Nolan likes to end practice on a high note, and with that play the horn sounded to end the session.

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I've never seen two coaches more animated over one practice play. During blocking drills today, the defense was running two-man stunts against a guard and tackle. That's where the inside rusher engages the guard but then loops around and tries to get outside the tackle. During one play, LT Joe Staley handled the outside rusher well, but guard Adam Snyder was slow to pick up linebacker Jay Moore who shot up the inside.

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula (who could and should be the star of his own reality TV show) was ecstatic with Moore and give him a loud and hearty congratulations. On the opposite spectrum was offensive line coach George Warhop who ripped into Snyder.

Looked Good:
- Eric Heitmann. The best-looking offensive lineman has been Jonas Jennings. A close second is Heitmann, who easily handled the inside rush of Ronald Fields on two straight plays.
- Isaac Sopoaga. His best move is a bull rush, and he used it to put Tony Wragge on his backside on separate plays.

Not so good:
- Adam Snyder. See above. Snyder also continues to have problems with Justin Smith's inside move.

************
On the injury front, Damane Duckett was back in action at left tackle with the second-team offense. The injury I observed tackle Joe Toledo suffer yesterday in pass-blocking drills turned out to be a cramp. Running back Michael Robinson (knee) was observed walking out to practice sans crutches. Robinson was one of the hardest workers in the offseason program and he didn't miss a workout.

-- Matt Barrows

MORE

August 1, 2008
Hill throwing in practice. Will Smith rest today?

Our morning coffee peek at practice revealed Shaun Hill throwing passes in individual drills. It looks as if he may rejoin team drills today after one and a half days off to rest his right arm. A team spokesman said there is a possibility that Alex Smith may get a practice or two off to rest his own arm. We shall see ...

There appears to be no changes to the rest of the injuries. Safety Mark Roman (hamstring), receiver Ashley Lelie (calf), guard Jeb Terry (foot), safety Lewis Baker (leg) and defensive end Kentwan Balmer (ankle) all are out this morning.

-- 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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