49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 30, 2008
49ers quarterly report

No one will be yelling, Sell! Sell! Sell! after looking at the 49ers' quarterly report, but it's not exactly a bull market either. The 49ers are a .500 ball club, which is precisely where most people would have put them after games against Arizona, Seattle, Detroit and New Orleans. They're certainly better than last year's team (also 2-2 after four games) but not ready to take on any elite teams either as shown by their disappointing performance in New Orleans. Here's how I see the team with three-fourths of the season still to go.

Offense. This is a Mike Martz offense, no doubt about it. The 49ers are eons ahead of where they were last year in everything from creativity to giving opposing defenses something to worry about. They rank 12th - TWELTH! - in total offense and are averaging 334 yards a game, which was unheard of last year. Three different receivers have had big games for the 49ers and Frank Gore has far more running room than he did last season. But it's not all good. Martz is living up to his reputation for exposing quarterbacks. The 49ers lead the league with 19 sacks allowed and have been particularly bad in that category on the road. Mike Nolan joked that he didn't mind a lot of sacks as long as they were "gentle" ones. The sacks J.T. O'Sullivan absorbed in New Orleans were not gentle and you wonder if he can make it through a season being flung to ground nearly five times a game. In fact, the loss to New Orleans looked eerily similar to how Lions games played out over the last two seasons - and that's not a good thing. Still, the bottom line is that the 49ers are moving the ball, and barring one game where they had trouble finding the end zone, appear able to keep pace with anyone. Grade: B+

Standouts: Frank Gore, Eric Heitmann, J.T. O'Sullivan
Need to see more: Vernon Davis, Jonas Jennings

Defense. Heading into the season, the belief was that an improved offense would boost an already solid defense. So far, that's not the case. The 49ers finished last season ranked 25th in total defense, giving up 346 yards on average. This year, they are 22nd overall and giving up 336 yards on average, hardly a quantum leap forward. They've actually dropped a bit in points allowed. They ended the 2007 season with a 22.8 points-against average and are giving up 24.2 points a game this year. Part of it might be the opponents. The 49ers have played four pass-happy teams that can gobble up a lot of yards. The Saints, Cardinals and Seahawks are all among the Top 11 teams this season in total offense. Still, there doesn't seem to be much change at all from last year. There's only a mediocre pass rush - 2 sacks per game, just like last year - and their opponent's 3rd-down percentage is exactly what it was last season. Grade: C

Standouts: Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Walt Harris, Nate Clements
Need to see more: Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson

Special Teams. Last year the defense was bad at times, the offense was bad all the time, but the special teams were consistently solid. This year - not so much. Sunday's game against New Orleans was the most 2007-ish showing yet with Joe Nedney hitting long field goals and the coverage teams looking strong. Allen Rossum has boosted the return game, an element missing from last season. But overall, the unit is off to a slow start. Andy Lee is averaging 41.8 yards a punt, down from his gaudy 47.3 average from a year ago. Nedney has missed two field goals from 40 to 49 yards; he was perfect in that category a year ago. The coverage units - perhaps the best part of the team a year ago - also are off pace. They are allowing opponents slightly more on kickoff returns and a lot more on punt returns - 14.2 yards per attempt vs. 7.6 yards from a year ago. Grade: C

Standouts: Michael Robinson, Zak Keasey
Need to see more: Andy Lee

Overall. The 49ers are unquestionably better than they were a year ago. The question is: How much better? The offense took a huge leap from 2007 to 2008 but the defense has yet to make a similar jump. If it can, there's no reason why the 49ers can't be scratching and clawing for the division lead in late November. If it can't, then you might as well refer to the 49ers as "Lions West."

-- Matt Barrows

September 29, 2008
Belly up in the Big Easy

Had a late flight out of New Orleans, which allowed me A.) to have an oyster po'boy at Mother's before leaving for the airport and B.) to peruse the local papers. It's clear that the story of the day here was Deuce McAllister's triumphant return to the game plan. The main headline on the front page of the Times-Picayune today is: DEUCE's HIGH with a photo of McAllister crashing over safety Mark Roman (which is poetic itself) for a touchdown. The headline on the sports page screams DEUUUUUUUCE! On the front page, Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan writes that McAllister was able to pound the "soft gut" of the 49ers' defense.

Soft gut. The 49ers' defense shouldn't have a soft gut. Over the years, they've rejected the tall, 275-pound pass-rushing defensive end for squat 315-pound fire hydrants, the type of player who should excel at stopping the run. They have the best tackler in the league in middle linebacker Patrick Willis. They have big, physical players in the secondary. They have a defensive-minded head coach who has tried to build a tough, blue-collar-style defense. The 49ers' gut shouldn't be soft; it should be a team strength.

But Duncan is right. The 49ers are soft where it counts. Edgerrin James ran against them in Week One, Julius Jones in Week Two. Detroit's Rudi Johnson found success last week and McAllister pushed them around yesterday. No doubt Laurence Maroney and the Patriots offense will look to get back on track against the 49ers on Sunday.

Part of the problem is scheme. The 49ers use their nickel or "Big Sub" defense quite a bit, reasoning that it's good at guarding against big offensive plays. That's what Mike Nolan fears the most - "explosives" by the opposing offense. But offensive coordinators have countered by running between the tackles, as the Saints and McAllister did Sunday.

The Big Sub also seems to rob the 49ers of their pass rush. Heading into the season, a lot of ink was spilled on how versatile free-agent pick up Justin Smith was going to be. Offenses weren't going to be able to isolate him like they did when he was a Cincinnati Bengal because in addition to defensive end, he would play linebacker, defensive tackle and would move around just before the ball was snapped. In "Big Sub," however, Smith mostly is limited to playing end. (He does shift inside on obvious passing plays). Is it any coincidence that the 49ers have had one sack in the games in which they've primarily played Big Sub and have had seven in the other two? You can have 16 defensive backs playing against Drew Brees. But if you give him time to throw, he's going to find an open receiver.

The other part of the equation is personnel. Nolan has said that the "Big Sub" ought to be just as good at stopping the run as the base defense. After all, the "Big Sub" features four defensive linemen. But those big, 315 pounders the 49ers have assembled over the years are getting pushed around too easily. The objective is for Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga and mates to hold their ground and gum up the line of scrimmage so that Willis and others can swoop in and make the tackles. The problem is that the line too often loses ground. Willis made a lot of tackles against the Saints. But when McAllister was in, it was five and six yards downfield.

The Saints are widely considered to have a finesse team, and the 49ers countered with a finesse defense. And the bottom line is that they were pushed around.

The TV cameras caught a frustrated Vernon Davis -- one catch for 19 yards -- on the sidelines with Nolan. here's what Nolan had to say today about the episode:

RE: When you had that confrontation with Vernon Davis, can you talk a little bit about what that was?
"I have not spoken with Vernon since yesterday and I'd look for him to..."

RE: Did you talk to him on the sideline?
"I did not talk to him on the sideline with the game going on. He's very emotional. He was excited at the time. I really don't know what transpired at the time, but he was right there in front of me and was really excited about whatever was going on so I pulled him aside. Because any player that's in that kind of mode, I don't think is best to stay on the field. At that time, I just called him off. Obviously I grabbed him. I said, 'Look, sit down. Sit down and calm down.' I turned my attention back to the game because we were on the field. But I have not had words with him since. But I will."

RE: Do you plan to?
"Oh yeah. But I haven't gotten...I just want to see what...To be honest with you, I don't understand why he was so excited at the time. He just caught the ball. He had gotten up. I don't know if it was a play prior to that one, but I just know that he had a lot of emotion going on. He is an emotional player. I know that Pete Hoener has always spoken with him. Mike Martz spoke with him on the sideline. Like I said, it was more emotion than anything else."

RE: Did he get back in the game?
"Yeah, he got back in the game. He did, but he didn't do anything. At the time I pulled him, it was about emotion, it wasn't about, he had said something or done something. Why I grabbed him, he was emotional."

RE: Do you sense a growing level of frustration with him?
"I don't know if I'd call it frustration. He's a very emotional player. When he gets the ball, obviously every time he gets up, whether it's the first quarter or the fourth quarter, he's very excited and shows himself, but when you are losing I think anybody gets frustrated. When the game is like it was, I don't care what position you play. It was a little bit of frustration because you want to have leverage in a game. We didn't have leverage."

RE: Did he get back in the game after that coach?
"I can't answer that because I don't remember. I don't recall. I don't remember exactly the timing of the game when that did occur. Do you?"

RE: It was during the fourth quarter...
"I don't know what we had left."

RE: It was right before the touchdown pass.
"What's that?"

RE: It was right before Isaac Bruce's touchdown.
"Touchdown? I don't remember the steps we had following that because I believe we kicked an onside kick and didn't get it. We got the ball back with about 30 seconds I believe."

RE: How was his blocking, Vernon's blocking?
"His pass protection was good. His run blocking a couple times, they slipped him. So is the case."

RE: Did you have to keep him in at some point because of the protection problems
"Like I said, we mix up our protections quite a bit. So whether it's a six man protection or seven man protection without getting real technical with that, he's stays in on some of those and some of those he's out. It's just a matter of mixing up protections for the play. If you have a play-action pass, a lot of times you don't have a lot of receivers out on a play-action pass. Again, it's just a matter of mixing."

Here's what Nolan had to say about the odd challenge he made in the third quarter, which cost the 49ers a timeout they -- presumably, at the time -- could have used at game's end.

RE: In the third quarter, you challenged a reception by the Saints. Why did you challenge it?
"You know what, I took my time on that too, that challenge, because I wanted to slow the game down. Obviously, it was a challenge that was, the significance of it wasn't a great deal. But, at the time I was thinking about burning a time out just to slow things down. So I just used a challenge instead. At the same time I looked, I thought he bobbled it, and when I looked up at the screen I saw that he didn't have complete control when he went to the ground, so I thought I might get it back. But to me, more than anything, I just wanted to slow things down. If you have the opportunity, because I've frequently have seen in the first few weeks, even on third down, I've called a timeout maybe once a game, and it's played to our advantage thus far this season. Where I think, 'Look it, I just want to get this situation just right so we can get off the field.' If there's a preceding play that gives me an opportunity just to challenge, because I don't lose anything, I'm going to lose a timeout either way. Something like that did it. But, otherwise, like I said, it was to gain time as much as anything. Just maybe I could win it and keep another challenge."

-- Matt Barrows

September 28, 2008
Live from the Big Easy, Saints-49ers blog

Here are the 49ers' inactives:

3rd QB Jamie Martin
CB Marcus Hudson
CB Reggie Brown
CB Shawntae Spencer
LB Ahmad Brooks
C Cody Wallace
T Jonas Jennings
LB Tully Banta-Cain

It seems like Donald Strickland is back in the lineup, meaning the 49ers could go nickel and dime against the Saints today. Bryant Johnson (hamstring) looks like he'll start ...

For New Orleans:

WR Marques Colston
CB Randall Gay
RB Aaron Stecker
CB Aaron Glenn
FB Mike Karney
T Jermon Bushrod
TE Jeremy Shockey
DE Josh Savage

Looks like LT Jammal Brown and WR David Patten are playing, although Lance Moore will start in place of Patten ...

09282008064 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/


* Don't expect to see much Manny Lawson today. The 49ers are in their Big Sub packages against the pass-happy Saints ... Safety Dashon Goldson started. It does seem, however, as if the 49ers will blitz more than they did against Seattle. Brees already has been blitzed -- effectively -- twice ...

* JTO looks good on the 49ers' first drive. It's extremely noisy in here. JTO, however, locks in on Bruce on the 3rd-and-7 play and his pass is nearly INT'd in the end zone. Nedney kicks a 47-yard FG and it's 3-0.

* Takeo Spikes is having a great game. Brees tries to go 20 yards downfield to Devery Henderson and Spikes INTs it midway. He lepas up, knocks it down with one hand, and comes down w/ the ball. 49ers 1st down at own 37.

* JTO goes with a hot read on 3rd down but the Saints are all over it; break up pass to Bryant Johnson. PUNT. Saints 1st down at own 17.

* Saints marching into 49ers territory. Billy Miller shaken up. Do the Saints have any more TE's? ... 3rd 12, Brees overthrows David Patten; Saints have to punt. Great start for 49ers defense. END 1Q


* JTO's weakness -- holding onto ball too long. He's sacked on back-to-back plays, fumbling on the second. Saints ball at 49ers 32.

* Walt Harris may have been excellent last week, but he's getting eaten up by the Brees-to-Lance Moore combo. Brees just hit Moore twice, including for a 5-yard TD. 7-3 Saints.

* Facing 3rd and 1, JTO's quick slant to Bruce is WAY off the mark. Punt. JTO now sitting on bench getting face-to-face from Mike Martz

* The Saints are running well against the 49ers' nickel package. Big surprise, right? ... Lawson now in the game ...

* Moore blows bye Goldson for a 33-yard TD. Is wide open. Maybe this is why Goldson doesn't start ... 14-3, 3 min. left in game ...

* JTO sacked again, this time on corner blitz. That's the 17th sack this year. 2nd and 18 with 2:26 left in half.

* 3rd and 9, JTO and Bruce again off. JTO reads blitz and throws quick to Bruce. Bruce, however, continues running route, inc. Nedney, however, nails a 48 yarders. 14-6 w/ 1;37 left in half.

* Brees again victimizes Goldson w/ 18 yarder to Billy Miller. Brees hits Meacham deep for TD. Beat Roman handily on the play. 21-6 Saints. w/ 52 seconds left. There was absolutely zero pressure on Brees on that drive.

* Three straight incompletions -- two of them drops -- prompt 49ers to punt. Running into kicker penalty is declines. Saints kneel to end half.... Brees goes into halftime w/ 195 yards, more than any opposing QB has had ALL GAME against SF this year ...


* 49ers offense looks much better to start 2nd half and haven't abandoned running game. But drive stalls deep in Saints territory -- sack No. 18 on season -- and SF settles for Nedney 38 yarder. 21-9.

* BTW, the Saints are playing an excellent cat-and-mouse game as far as the 49ers' Big Sub defense is concerned. When the Niners are in Big Sub, they pound away with Deuce McAlister; when they get out of it, Brees goes deep. ... Lawson (hamstring) is Q to return to the game

* 49ers driving late in 3rd Q. Not giving up on the run. They just used their second timeout before critical 3rd-and-2 call ... Gore gains 7 on draw. 1st down on Saints 36 ...

* JTO, who was nearly picked off in the end zone earliuer in the game, throws a horrible soft pass to Bryant Johnson that is picked off by the Saints ... 1st down Saints at 9 ... JTO, BJ and Martz are now having a pow wow on the bench ...

* 49ers in Big Sub so Saints pounding with Deuce ... Saints just did a flea flicker. 49ers read it perfectly but M. Lewis can't make play on the ball on 52-yard gain. END of 3Q

* The last two 49ers-Saints games were 34-10 and 31-10. this one is now 28-9 after Deuce McAllister's 1-yard plunge.

* Wow. Another bad pass in the end zone by JTO, this one picked off by rookie CB Tracy Porter.

* While JTO struggles, Brees just threw an 81-yard near-TD to Devery Henderson, who was tripped up at the 1 by Nate Clements. Brees could very well be the best QB in the NFL right now. ... It's now 4th and 1. ... Brees throws to fullback, who is crushed by Michael Lewis and fumbles at the 1-inch line ... Saints challenging that he got in ... Play stand. 49ers ball at NO 3 yard line ...

* JTO scrambles and hits Bruce for 5-yard TD; Shovel pass to Gore get the 49ers to 29-17 w/ 4:08 remaining ...

September 27, 2008
Q&A: If Martz goes, will JTO follow?

Question: How do the 49ers not offer Martz the head coaching job if the 49ers go at least 10-6 and the offense keeps up the pace all year? He brought in O'Sullivan, kick started the offense, and brought back respectability....something Nolan has not accomplished in 3 Losing seasons. It is clear that if the Niners succeed, it is not the coaching of Mike Nolan but Mike Martz.
Patrick, Montclair, NJ

Answer: It's waaaaaay too early to be speculating about this, but since you brought it up ... Yes, it's hard to see the Yorks letting Martz get away should they finish with a respectable record. He's brought near-instant credibility to an offense that has absolutely stunk for the last four seasons. Lose Martz and both the continuity and the credibility go away. And there's another issue the Yorks have to think about as the season draws to a close - O'Sullivan. The 49ers can't sign O'Sullivan to a long-term deal until after the season. If another team - let's say the Chiefs - lures Martz away, whom do you think he's taking with him? Lose Martz and the 49ers also risk losing O'Sullivan.
- Matt

Question: I know it's too early -- well, no it's not -- but when can we expect the 49ers to lock in JTO to a long(er) term contract?
Mike, Sacramento

Answer: Actually, it is too early. JTO signed a specific type of contract that prevents the team from extending him until after the season is over. This is what makes the Martz situation (see above) so delicate.
- Matt

Question: J.T. O'Sullivan is 29. I was wondering if the 49ers would draft a QB in the 09 draft, like maybe in the 3rd or 4th round.
Miguel, Sacramento

Answer: I think it depends on whether two players stick around - Alex Smith and Jamie Martin. It also depends on whether Martz is still here. He's built a reputation as a QB genius, but he's drafted few of those QBs. That is, he seems to have had his most success with multi-year veterans.
- Matt

Question: Matt, Could you ask Jed if there are any plans to retire Dave Wilcox's number? Is he the only Niner HOFer besides Jerry whose number is not retired?
Mike, Oregon City, Ore

Answer: Including Young, the 49ers have retired 11 numbers and they have 13 members in the hall of fame. The HOFs who have not had their numbers retired are Wilcox, Y.A. Tittle, Fred Dean, John Henry Johnson and Bill Walsh. The players who have had their numbers retired but who are not in the HOF are Dwight Clark, Charlie Krueger and John Brodie
- Matt



Question: Great that Steve Young's number is being retired - I'm all for it. Just curious though, how come #80 hasn't received the same yet? Thanks, keep up the good work.
Don, Modesto

Answer: Now why would the 49ers retire Isaac Bruce's practice jersey? Kidding! Retiring JR's number ahead of SY's may have seemed like a slap in the face to Young. After all, JR's only been retired for a year.
- Matt

Question: Do you think that Nolan's demeanor has anything to do with the credit Martz has been receiving for the success so far?
Jeff, Sacramento

Answer: I've wondered the same thing, but I don't think so. Nolan decided on his current approach - be as circumspect and business-like as possible - well before the season began.
- Matt

Question: I don't believe Mike Holmes is the only defensive player besides Rossum to score on offense as a 49er. Back in the 1960's, Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson played mostly on defense, but once in a while was used at wide receiver. I believe he caught a TD pass or two. Check me on this and see if I'm right? Keep up the good work, Matt, all of us 49er fans appreciate your hard work!!!
Dennis, Elk Grove

Answer: I believe you're correct. ... Johnson, by the way, was a personal favorite of former 49er coach Dick Nolan.
- Matt

Question: When are the 49ers going to come to their senses and bring back the Lott era Niners unis? For crying out loud, those are classic, good looking and perfect all around. The current maroon and black mess looks bad even when they are blowing out the Lions.
Erik, Mill Valley

Answer: I agree. But as I wrote in the spring, the earliest the 49ers can change the uniforms is 2010. It doesn't seem like it's a top priority.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, Do not stay out on Bourbon Street too late. I know you have a former colleague who works for the Times Picayune but just wanted to send you a link for restaurants in New Orleans. This is the site of a local food critic, Tom Fitzmorris. Hope you enjoy your time in town. http://www.nomenu.com/RestaurantsOpenCuisine.html
Teddy, Kenner, La.

Answer: Thanks for the site and thanks for the warning. You know that line from the song "The House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals? " ... it's been the ruin of many a poor boy ..." Well, the Big Easy has been the ruin of many a poor 49ers beat writer (sorry, no names) including me. I almost - almost - ruined my days-with-out-vomiting streak back in 2003 but I summoned my inner Chuck Norris and somehow kept it together. Sadly, that streak, which stretched for 11 years, would end the next year in a hotel room in Hawaii. But I digress ...
- Matt

September 26, 2008
49ers suffering from infections and from denial

Admitting you have a staph infection issue is a little like admitting you have a sexually transmitted disease. This is what a league official - he shall remain nameless - told me today when I asked him why the 49ers have been acting so mysterioso about the recent staph infections suffered by Keith Lewis and Josh Morgan. And indeed he helped explain why the 49ers have been so tight-lipped about the issue.

"If players feel like they're in danger or they're not getting the proper care - you'd better overpay them or they're not coming," the official said. Which is to say, word spreads quickly around the league and agents use it as leverage when it comes to free agency. It's impossible to pinpoint where a staph infection is picked up, but still it reflects poorly on your organization. Staph infections are extremely dangerous, and in the eyes of the league, embarrassing. It raises all sorts of questions about the cleanliness of your facility.

For the last month, the 49ers have been mum on why Lewis and Morgan, who was one of the most exciting players in the preseason, missed time at the end of August. When they resumed practice, they were given black jerseys, an indication to other players they were not to be engaged in full contact. Asked why they weren't playing, Mike Nolan and team officials said only it was an "illness" and claimed to know nothing more.

The cat, however, started to crawl out of the bag last week. During the broadcast of the Lions-49ers game, FOX's Brian Billick said that Morgan had lost 15 pounds since the preseason. Where did he get that information? The Friday before games, the broadcast crew sits down with coaches and hopes they give insights they can use during the Sunday broadcast.

On Wednesday, Maiocco asked Morgan about the weight loss and he admitted it was a staph infection that had spread to several areas of his body. Morgan said then - and reiterated today - that he had lost a lot of weight and was still trying to put it back on. Morgan said that he thought he may have picked up the infection from the infield dirt during the preseason opener in Oakland.

That's unlikely. First, the bacteria that causes the infection isn't usually found in dirt. And if it were, there would no doubt be reports of Raiders and A's players suffering from it. One possibility - and one that was looked at when the Rams suffered a staph outbreak in 2003 - is an artificial playing surface. Unlike grass, whatever falls onto an artificial surface - spit, blood, sweat, etc. - doesn't go anywhere. And in California, there's no rain to wash that collection of germs away from April to November. One of the 49ers' three practice fields is artificial. However, the 49ers typically only use it for walk-throughs.

The 49ers certainly aren't offering any answers. Yesterday, I asked Mike Nolan if Morgan had recovered from his staph infection and he reacted like he'd never heard of staph infections or Morgan. "That was written and I don't even know it's been accurate to be honest with you. That's all speculation with this and that. That's hearsay information. It didn't come from Fergie (trainer Jeff Ferguson) did it?" Told that the information came from Morgan himself, Nolan said, "Did it?" Sgt. Schultz would be proud.

I'm sure the 49ers did everything they possibly could to treat Morgan and to prevent the infection from spreading to more players. But playing dumb is only making the situation worse. The information is out there. Everyone in the league knows now. The only thing that will help the 49ers is explaining how similar infections will be prevented in the future.

Almost forgot .... Here are some guys to scout in today's big Big 10 game:


#27 Brandon Harrison SS
#90 Timothy Jamison DE
#97 William Johnson DT
#67 Terrance Taylor DT
#14 Morgan Trent CB


#9 Travis Beckum TE
#2 Jonathan Casillas OLB
#75 Andrew Kemp G
#92 Matthew Shaughnessy DE
#63 Kraig Urbik G
#71 Eric Vandenheuvel T

-- Matt Barrows

September 26, 2008
Five questionable for Saints game

With the exception of Jonas Jennings and Shawntae Spencer who are out for Sunday's game, every 49er took part in today's practice, some on a limited basis. Bryant Johnson (hamstring), Keith Lewis (knee), Michael Lewis (elbow), Dashon Goldson (shoulder) and Donald Strickland (knee) all are listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

Because the 49ers are so deep at defensive back, they will wait to see if they incur any more serious injuries Sunday before putting Spencer (torn ACL) on injured reserve.

Meanwhile, four Saints - fullback Mike Karney (ankle), cornerback Aaron Glenn (ankle), receiver Marques Colston (thumb) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (sports hernia) -- have been ruled out for the game. Center Jonathan Goodwin (hamstring) and receiver David Patten (groin) are game-time decisions. Linebacker Scott Fujita (knee) and left tackle Jammal Brown (hip) both practiced fully on Friday. They're listed as probable.

Just had a chat with Jed York. The recent announcement that Steve Young will have his jersey number retired has prompted a lot of questions about Jerry Rice and his No. 80. A ceremony is coming, York said. For now, he and the 49ers want to focus their attention on Young, whose jersey will be retired on Oct. 5. After that, they'll get in touch with Rice and begin nailing down a date.

I know. I know. I'm obsessed with Carl Nicks. But I can't get over the fact that the Saints list his age as 25. Back in April, Barrows did some sleuthing and determined that his birth date was May of 1985 not March of 1983, which is how the Saints list it. Apparently, they got the date from the University of Nebraska, which is why he was listed as 25 in all the pre-draft guides. Nicks, of course, will be starting at left guard Sunday. My guy Mike Triplett wrote a feature on Nicks in today's Times-Picayune.

-- Matt Barrows

September 25, 2008
Nolan still mum on Morgan

Receiver Bryant Johnson missed his second straight practice with a hamstring strain, the same hamstring that kept out of most of the preseason. Still, Mike Nolan said today that he was hopeful Johnson would play Sunday in New Orleans. He said Johnson, Michael Lewis (elbow), Keith Lewis (knee), Donald Strickland (knee) and Dashon Goldson all would be game-time decisions.

I asked Nolan whether rookie Josh Morgan had recovered from his staph infection to start should Johnson not be able to play. The broadcasters in Sunday's game had said that Morgan lost 15 pounds and Maiocco yesterday interviewed Morgan who revealed that the mystery "illness" - the team never said what it was -- was indeed a staph infection. Why the team had been dancing around the issue for the last month, I have no clue, but the cat seemed to be well out of the bag by this afternoon.

Yet Nolan still played dumb:

"That was written and I don't even know it's been accurate to be honest with you. That's all speculation with this and that. That's hearsay information. It didn't come from Fergie (trainer Jeff Ferguson) did it?"

Told that the information came from Morgan himself, Nolan said, "Did it?"

As far as the game is concerned, Nolan said he was certain he'd have at least four healthy receivers - Morgan, Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle and Jason Hill. If they need a fifth, they'll tap Allen Rossum for that role.

This will only be the second time that safety Mark Roman has played a game in his native Louisiana. And he admitted today that he's arranged to have "quite a few" friends and family make the trip from New Iberia, La., which is about 90 miles west of New Orleans. How much is quite a few? "A hundred and fifty," Roman said. "The last time (in 2006) I had to get a bus." He said that former LSU teammate and current Saints cornerback Randall Gay was helping him find the requisite number of tickets.

The question is who his contingent will be rooting for. Roman smiled and explained that until the NBA's Hornets arrived in 2002, the Saints were the only game in town and are beloved throughout the state. "They'll go back and forth," he said of his family's allegiance. "They'll be rooting for the 49ers."

Great news for anyone who's got tickets to next week's game against New England: The 49ers will officially retire Steve Young's No. 8 at halftime. Young will be the 11th player to have his jersey retired.

"Steve Young is an important part of the 49ers history and tradition," owner John York said in a statement. "He combined talent, character and a tremendous work ethic to become an incomparable performer and champion on the field. He was a model professional, and he influenced many of the younger players with his dedication. Our players today and for years to come will look up to Steve. We are excited to pay tribute to his achievements with this special halftime ceremony in front of our fans."

Here are the other players who have had their jerseys retired:

#12 John Brodie 1973
#16 Joe Montana 2000
#34 Joe Perry 1971
#37 Jimmy Johnson 1994
#39 Hugh McElhenny 1971
#42 Ronnie Lott 2003
#70 Charlie Krueger 1974
#73 Leo Nomellini 1971
#79 Bob St. Clair 2001
#87 Dwight Clark 1988

-- Matt Barrows

September 25, 2008
Another Saint missing today; M. Lewis back at practice

Another day, another injury for the Saints. This time it's starting center Jonathan Goodwin, who tweaked a hammy yesterday and did not practice today, according to the Times-Picayune. Fullback Mike Karney hurt his ankle yesterday and did not practice. Neither did receiver David Patten (groin) and back-up linebacker Troy Evans.
The players who are definitely out for the game, according to coach Sean Payton, are cornerback Aaron Glenn (ankle), receiver Marques Colston (thumb) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (hernia).

For the 49ers, Frank Gore and Walt Harris are practicing after being held out - coaches' decision -- Wednesday. Safety Michael Lewis (elbow) is limited today after missing practice yesterday. There were no other changes to the injury report, meaning that Dashon Goldson and Donald Strickland were limited in practice and Keith Lewis and Bryant Johnson did not practice.

-- Matt Barrows

September 24, 2008
Spencer and Brown: a contrast in cockiness

The 49ers' new No. 3 cornerback is nothing like their previous No. 3 cornerback. Whereas Shawntae Spencer is tall and lanky, Tarell Brown is three inches shorter and more muscular.

But that's a minor discrepancy compared to their dispositions. Everyone whose been covering the team for a while remembers an exchange with a gloomy Spencer that came after a summer practice his rookie year. After the practice, Dennis Erickson had high praise for the rookie. Spencer, however, had a different take. "I don't know what everybody else is watching," he said while giving a self-deprecating assessment that made him sound a lot like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. "I mean, I'm making way too many mistakes. I'm going through those growing pains just like everyone else. It's a long, tough process to make this jump from college to pro ball." If you had been there that day you would have sworn that Spencer was on the verge of being cut. In other words, he was decidely un-cornerback-like, dwelling on mistakes and sounding like a worry wart.

Brown, meanwhile, sounds exactly like a cornerback - aggressive, intense and confident, bordering on cocky. "My confidence has always been high. Always. I never really lost confidence. I've always trusted in my ability and always had confidence. The thing is just waiting your turn and seizing the moment." Brown also admitted he is playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. A couple of brushes with the law prior when he was at Texas damaged his draft status, and he lasted until the fifth round when the 49ers picked him. "Oh yeah," he said when asked whether he still thinks about that. "Definitely. I've got that in the back of my mind all the time."

When Ahmad Brooks first arrived in Santa Clara, the 49ers had him practicing exclusively behind Patrick Willis at "Mike" linebacker. Now he's practicing exclusively at "Ted." This is just me thinking aloud (on-line) but it doesn't seem as if the 49ers are particularly enamored of either Takeo Spikes or Jeff Ulbrich, who have been rotating at "Ted" throughout games. After all, as Mike Nolan is so fond of saying, "you don't have two starters, you have two back-ups." And I wonder if we'll see them start working Brooks -- younger, bigger, more athletic -- into the rotation at some point this season.

Safety Keith Lewis said today that he actually hyper-extended his knee in the Seattle game and then aggrevated it while covering a kickoff against Detroit. Neither he nor Michael Lewis practiced today, a concern for the 49ers considering Keith Lewis is Michael Lewis' backup. If neither played Sunday, the 49ers would turn to Dashon Goldson, who was limited in practice with a shoulder sprain. Said Keith Lewis: "I can't make any promises but I should be good to go. Hopefully, hopefully."

I was wrong earlier when I wrote that we won't be seeing my guy Carl Nicks on Sunday. Apparently, Nicks will fill in at left guard for Jamar Nesbit, who was suspended Tuesday. Here's what my guy Mike Triplett wrote about my guy Nicks today: "Nesbit will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie guard Carl Nicks, a fifth-round pick out of Nebraska. Nicks (6 feet 5, 343 pounds) turned heads during training camp and the preseason with an impressive combination of power and athleticism."

The 49ers and team partners will donate $35,000 to Warren Easton High School in New Orleans and take part in a locker-painting ceremony at the school on Saturday. The school, the oldest public school in New Orleans, took on eight feet of water from Hurricane Katrina and was closed for one school year.

-- Matt Barrows

September 24, 2008
DB shortage in SF (updated)

12:30 p.m.: Just got off a conference call with Saints coach Sean Payton. He said that receiver David Patten (groin) was held out of practice and that the team picked up Sean Ryan to augment a tight ends corps that will be without Jeremy Shockey for weeks. Payton said that left tackle Jammal Brown (groin) practiced today.

Talk about parity. The Saints' injuries at wide receiver this week might end up being balanced by injuries to the 49ers' secondary. When the team practices this afternoon, six members of the secondary will either be limited or out for the session. They are:

  • CB Shawntae Spencer - Having ACL surgery today, will be placed on IR later in the week

  • S Keith Lewis - Injured his knee on a kickoff coverage against Detroit. He returned to the game but will not practice today.

  • S Michael Lewis - Injured his elbow late in the Lions game. He did not come out of the game but he won't practice today.

  • S Dashon Goldson - He hurt his shoulder late in the Detroit game and did not return. He will be limited in today's practice.

  • CB Donald Strickland - He injured his knee in Week One. He did not play against Seattle and Detroit and will be limited today.

  • CB Walt Harris - He will be held out today due to a "coaches' decision." Harris, 34, probably will not practice on Wednesdays this year.

Coaches also gave Frank Gore the day off and WR Bryant Johnson (hamstring) also did not practice.

Meanwhile, there is still no definitive answer on Jonas Jennings' right shoulder, which he dislocated against Seattle. Mike Nolan said only that Jennings would be out this week. With Jennings out, guard Adam Snyder is the primary back-up at both left and right tackle. That's why David Baas saw some action Sunday at Snyder's left guard spot -- if Snyder had to play tackle, Baas would fill in at guard. Chilo Rachal also was activated for the Detroit game and would play guard in an emergency.

Nolan said that center Eric Heitmann's head bobs -- which FOX's Tony Siragusa called attention to in Seattle -- were done as a way of communicating the snap to his own teammates at Qwest Field. The problem is that the Seattle defense quickly figured out that Heitmann would snap the ball after one head bob and was getting a good jump off the line of scrimmage. What will the 49ers do if the Superdome is noisy on Sunday? Said Nolan: "We might need to (go) on two or three head bobs this week," he said.

-- Matt Barrows

September 23, 2008
Spencer diagnosis: torn ACL

It's official: Shawntae Spencer tore an ACL in Seattle. He will have surgery tomorrow and will be placed on injured reserve at a later date. The team made the announcement today although it's been known for a week -- or at least strongly suspected -- that he had torn an ACL. The 49ers have been a bit squirrely as far as injury news this year. Heck, we haven't even gotten an official diagnosis from the team yet about Alex Smith.

Spencer is a good cover cornerback and has been either the team's No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback since midway through his rookie season in 2004. In recent years, however, he has been hobbled by injuries, and with his slight frame -- 6-1, 190 pounds -- durability is his main issue. No team can be considered lucky when its No. 3 cornerback goes down. But if the 49ers can afford injuries to any area of their roster, it's cornerback. With Spencer out Sunday, Tarell Brown filled in marvelously against the Lions. Rookie Reggie Smith also suited up and played special teams against Detroit. Meanwhile, both Donald Strickland and Marcus Hudson can play both cornerback and safety, and Dashon Goldson probably could play cornerback in a pinch ...

-- Matt Barrows

September 23, 2008
Alex Smith sticking it out through the season

First of all, welcome Raiders fans. I figure after yesterday's ugly brouhaha in Alameda some of you might be ready to defect to the other side of the bay. To begin your conversion, please commit the following to memory.

  1. Bill Walsh created the universe is five days.
  2. Joe Montana was given magical powers when, at birth, his right arm was dipped into the River Styx
  3. The 49ers will have a new stadium soon

football.jpg god.jpg

Tomorrow's lesson: The Dark Ages: 1975-1979.

Now onto business. One interesting development from yesterday's press conference was the revelation by Mike Nolan that Alex Smith approached him and asked to be fully involved with the team this season. When a player is placed on injured reserve, as Smith was earlier this month, he is under no obligation to hang around at all. And given Smith's past relationship with Nolan and his fortunes with the 49ers, you couldn't have blamed Smith if he left town never to see the inside of 4949 Centennial Drive again.

But if he's anything, Smith is a model citizen. Indeed, his lack of attitude is one of the things that distinguished him from Aaron Rodgers in 2005 and prompted Nolan to take him with the No. 1 pick. Nolan said yesterday that Smith will take part in all meetings and will be on hand for all the practices and home games, as he was Sunday. The only thing Smith is not permitted to do, per league rules, is travel with the team and stay at the team hotel before home games. Otherwise, it's as if Smith is one of the back-up quarterbacks.

"That's by his own choice," Nolan said. "And I think it's a great decision. I know that, it's like I said all along before Alex got hurt, I think Alex has great trust that the system that's in place is one that he can flourish in as well. And he's excited about that. Because it's very disciplined and detailed, and that's kind of the way he thinks. And it gives him a chance to be successful."

Some will see Smith's decision as further evidence that he lacks the edginess to be an effective quarterback in the league. He should have told Nolan to shove it, and then stomped out of the room. But sticking around is the smart move. First, it allows him to glean as much as he can from one of the best offensive minds in the league. Smith is a classroom guy and it's a safe bet he will emerge from the 2008 far wiser - in terms of offense - than he entered it. And it also sends a good signal to the other 31 teams in the league. In all likelihood Smith will be released next year. How many teams would be interested in signing him if there was a sense he abandoned his team?

On a related note, Nolan was asked how many other players on IR have done what Smith is doing. "Not to the extent he does," Nolan said before ticking off some names of other players - Damane Duckett, Jay Moore - who are on IR. The third name he said was Shawntae Spencer, who, of course, was not on IR. Nolan seemed to catch himself, saying, "Shawntae last week was just injured so there's nothing there. But again, any guy that's injured stays around and does something else or something further than that."
Maiocco's been reporting for a week that Spencer may have torn an ACL against the Seahawks, thus ending his season. The 49ers, as is their custom these days when it comes to injuries, have said precious little on the topic. Did Nolan slip up and spill the beans? We'll likely find out soon enough...

-- Matt Barrows

September 22, 2008
Shockey out at least three weeks

Not only is Lady Luck smiling at the 49ers. She's writing down her phone number. A week after playing a Seattle team that was absolutely decimated at the receiver position, the 49ers will face a Saints team without Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey. My guy Mike Triplett, who used to write for The Bee but who is now at the Times-Picayune, writes that Shockey will miss three to six weeks with a sports hernia.

I talked to Triplett this morning and he said that receiver David Patten also is iffy and that left tackle Jammal Brown had to leave Sunday's game with a groin injury. All of which means, of course, that the 49ers are catching New Orleans at a particularly tender moment. Without Colston and Patten, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore would be the Saints' top two receivers.

For the 49ers, there were no new injuries since yesterday. Safety Keith Lewis (knee), safety Michael Lewis (elbow), safety Dashon Goldson (shoulder) and linebacker Jeff Ulbrich (ankle) all got nicked. Goldson was the only one who didn't return to the game but none of the injuries is considered long term.

Members of the 49ers secondary will exchange hard hits for hard hats tomorrow as they help build the 49th house for Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley. The 49ers and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation have donated a combined $49,000 to the cause. Walt Harris, Mark Roman, Donald Strickland, Tarell Brown, Nate Clements, Reggie Smith and Marcus Hudson are expected to take part.

-- Matt Barrows

September 22, 2008
Best Niner? Harris deserves a vote ...

The guys over at 49ersWebzone have a good thread going, one that asks who the best 49er has been so far. JTO, of course, is winning in a land slide as well he should. But a guy who's been quietly having an excellent - dare I say, Pro Bowl - type year so far is Walt Harris. Sure, Nate Clements got all the publicity today for shutting down Calvin Johnson (And for his proclamation that he is the best cornerback in the league). But Harris did just as good a job on Roy Williams. And, remember, it was Harris' tipped pass that led to Patrick Willis' big play in Seattle. Harris has looked sharp since training camp, and the 49ers must be patting themselves on the back for having him signed through 2009 ...

Another cornerback who looked very good Sunday was Tarell Brown, who was responsible for shadowing prolific Detroit wideout Mike Furrey all day. Brown looked quick and aggressive in substituting for Shawntae Spencer, and it looks as if Brown will have the same role Sunday in New Orleans. My guy Mike Triplett of the Times-Picayune says that Marques Colston will not play and that David Patten also is iffy. That means the 49ers will be catching another pass-happy team at just the right time. (It also probably means the 49ers will be in their nickel package throughout the game).

Did you notice the "Welcome to Bill Walsh Field" sign in the south end zone? Yeah, it was easy to miss sandwiched between an ad for www.pge.com and another for KNBR. I think Walsh deserves something a little more august. Perhaps the 49ers will have something special when the new stadium opens.

T-minus 10 minutes until Mike Nolan does his Monday morning presser. For those of you watching, lemme know if you see a change in Nolan's demeanor this season. It seems that he's a more serious, more business-like Nolan this year - even after a big win.

-- Matt Barrows

September 21, 2008
49ers 31, Lions 13: Notes from a rare blowout

A blowout win? For the 49ers? You'd have to go all the way back to 2003 to a 50-14 beat down of the Cardinals to find a 49ers game win this lopsided. In fact, in only two wins since that game - against the Raiders and in Seattle in 2006 - have the 49ers' won a game by more than a touchdown. In other words, this was as complete a victory as we've seen around these parts in a long, long time. Sure, the Lions are pretty awful. But 49ers' fans won't be complaining tonight.

  • Every 49er was ebullient after this one, and Isaac Sopoaga's Haka dance could be heard bursting from the closed locker room doors immediately after the game. The only person who seemed a bit dour and serious was Nolan, who has made it a point to stick to his one-game-at-a-time approach to the season. And maybe that's a good thing. Nolan wants to make winning seem routine, not a special occasion. Still, he could at least crack a smile.
  • There didn't appear to be any serious injuries after this one. Both Keith Lewis (knee) and Jeff Ulbrich (ankle) were nicked but continued to play. Michael Lewis hurt his elbow on a friendly fire incident from Walt Harris. Perhaps the one injury we have to keep an eye on is Dashon Goldson's sprained shoulder. Goldson did not return to the game after the injury.
  • Isaac Bruce scored his first-ever touchdown for the 49ers, a six yarder in the first quarter. The Candlestick crowd reacted accordingly - with a loud chorus of "BRUUUUUUUUUCE!" Maybe they'll let him wear No. 80 after all.
  • With Shawntae Spencer out (perhaps for the season) with a knee injury, Tarell Brown filled in as the third cornerback. Brown mostly shadowed Mike Furrey throughout the game. How did Brown do? Furrey had two catches for eight yards and Brown got his first career interception on a pass intended for Furrey. An auspicious start indeed.
  • Entering the game, Allen Rossum had seven touchdowns in 10 years in the league, but they were all on special teams (three punt returns; four kickoff returns). His one-yard scamper in the fourth quarter was his first offensive touchdown. Rossum is officially listed as a cornerback but every now and then he practices running pass routes. What's his role outside of special teams? "I'm doing a little bit of everything," he said. "Ask coach about what exactly my definition is."
  • The only other 49ers defensive player to score an offensive touchdown was cornerback Mike Holmes, who caught a 24-yard pass from Norm Snead in a 1975 game against New England.
  • Player of the game? How about Justin Smith, who had a sack, an interception, and a batted-down pass and who seemed to be around the ball all game. Both starting cornerbacks deserve mention as well. Nate Clements shadowed Calvin Johnson all game and limited him to four catches, three of which came in what was essentially garbage time. Walt Harris, meanwhile, has been excellent as far back as preseason and has been perhaps the team's most underrated player.
  • On offense, both Frank Gore (130 yards) and J.T. O'Sullivan (123.3 passer rating) were great, but the real hero was Martz, who seemed to do whatever he wanted - especially in the first half - against his old team. For that Martz was given a game ball.

-- Matt Barrows

September 21, 2008
Three cornerbacks inactive for today's game

The 49ers will take on the receiver-heavy Lions today without three cornerbacks. Shawntae Spencer and Donald Strickland are out of the game with knee injuries. Marcus Hudson is inactive. That means that Tarell Brown and rookie Reggie Smith will be on the 53-man today and likely will be used heavily. The other inactives are:

Jamie Martin (3rd QB)
Ahmad Brooks
Tully Banta-Cain
Jonas Jennings
Cody Wallace

Second-round pick Chilo Rachal also will be active for the first time this season. In fact, Wallace is the only rookie who is not active. The inactives for the Lions are:

Drew Stanton (3rd QB)
CB Ramzee Robinson
LB Jordan Dizon
G Manny Ramirez
T Damion Cook
DE Cliff Avril
DT Andre Fluellen
DT Landon Cohen

As far as starters ... Just like last week, Jeff Ulbrich started the game next to Patrick Willis but Takeo Spikes took over on the second defensive series. Brown and Dashon Goldson were in the game on third down.

It looks like Tarell Brown has been assigned to cover Mike Furrey when the Lions go with three wide receivers. Both Walt Harris and Nate Clements have been matched against Roy Williams thus far. It's essentially the same tactic the 49ers use against the Cardinals.

Keith Lewis limped off the field following the kickoff after the 49ers' first TD. Trainers are looking at either his right knee or ankle.... Lewis has gone to the locker room to have his right knee examined.

In case you haven't seen for yourself, Keith Lewis is back in the game. In fact, he just caused a fumble on the most recent kick return.

Dashon Goldson, who whiffed on the touchdown pass to Rudi Johnson, has a shoulder injury and is questionable to return. Keith Lewis is filling in at the end of the game.

September 20, 2008
Q&A: Pondering Manny Lawson

Question: Frankly Matt, I'm confused. Do we run a 3-4 or a 4-3? I thought we drafted Manny Lawson to be a 3-4 pass rushing OLB, and that Kentwan Balmer was drafted to be our Richard Seymour-type end. So then why do we keep reverting back to a 4-3?
John, Great falls, MT

Answer: Well, the 49ers run a 3-4 and a 4-3, though they primarily ran a 4-2-5 against the Seahawks. Which is to say, it varies. You're right, Lawson was drafted to be a pass-rush linebacker, but it quickly became evident he had little pass-rush ability. So they moved him over to the strong side where he showed good ability in coverage. Which is why it was odd that he wasn't in the defensive game plan at all against Seattle. If you're worried about the passing game, why not include a linebacker who has been good enough to play safety at times? It also should be noted that the fifth defensive back didn't do a very good job of covering rookie TE John Carlson. Lawson normally would have tight-end responsibility. ... As for Balmer, no, he's going to be more of a lunch-pail type player. The Richard Seymour-type end in this system is Justin Smith.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt- I don't blame Nolan for using a nickel defense. I think 4 D-Linemen are the best bet for the Niners to get some sort of pass rush but it's the personnel they had on the field that confuses me. Seattle seems to be a speed-type offense, so why not have Lawson and Willis as the 2 LB's? That makes the most sense while resting the older guys. They could've gotten off the field a lot faster if they stoped the run but Julius Jones is a pretty fast guy for say, Ulbrich or Spikes to be running down.
Glenn, Sacramento

Answer: With five defensive backs, the 49ers wanted to make themselves as strong as possible against the running game at linebacker. Hence, Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, two of the better run stoppers on the team.
- Matt

Question: Is it me or is playing predominately in a dime and nickel package weird vs a team that has a decimated WR corp? I thought we would be in a defense more aimed towards stopping the run. I feel like the dime and nickel defense allowed the Seahawks MAJOR yardage. No pressure on Hasselbeck and he WILL make plays even to me at WR.
Sean, Sacramento

Answer: It's not just you.
- Matt

Question: Any chance with the lackluster play of Ulbrich/Spikes next to Willis that Brooks gets a shot to start sometime this season.
Henry, Oakland

Answer: Well, I thought Spikes was much more aggressive against the Seahawks than he was against the Cardinals. Still, Ahmad Brooks' physical skills can't be denied, and I think the 49ers will try to get him on the field by hook or by crook this season. They may be eying him as their "Ted" of the future.
- Matt

Question: Three related questions, Matt. What does 8 sacks on JTO say about our O-Line (or Seattle's D-Line?) How long can JTO stand up to that? Should a higher priority have been given to the O-Line in the draft and free agency or would you say that the rebuilding of the 49-ers is about as far along as can be expected?
Tom, Elk Grove

Answer: I think JTO is a durable guy. He's obviously a gym rat. He's got muscles and is thickly built. And most important, he seems to have a sixth sense about the pass rush that has enabled him to avoid big shots. I would guess that he's closer to Jon Kitna in durability than he is Marc Bulger. But no one knows. That's the rub when it comes to a career back up - no one knows what he's capable of. He's a great unknown. ... As far as his protection, it's hard to see the 49ers putting more emphasis on the o-line. Their top free-agent pick up in 2005 (Jonas Jennings) was an o-lineman as were two of their first four draft picks that year (David Baas and Adam Snyder). They spent a first rounder last year on Staley and then spent a second rounder on Chilo Rachal. In other words, this offensive line should be way better than it's been the last two seasons.
- Matt

Question: The Seahawks' defensive linemen were getting off the line so quick I thought maybe O'Sullivan wasn't varying his snap count enough and they were jumping the snap. But Tony Siragusa pointed out that they were timing Heitmann's head nod. It looked like Heitmann would keep his head down so he could hear the call but right before the snap he'd bring his head up. Are the Niners aware he was doing this?
John, Sacramento

Answer: It may have been that Heitmann's head nod was a signal to his own offensive line mates that he was about to snap the ball. They had a very hard time hearing the snap count throughout the game.
- Matt

Question: My plates, since 1978(2-14 record) have read 9ERS SF. I'm a real deal fan but this REALLY sucks. The Chron's Tom Fitzgerald wrote "...and Logan Payne blew out his knee on Seattle's fifth play..." as if it "just sort of happened." It didn't. Dashon Goldson intentionally went helmet to knee and maybe ruined a guy's career. This was NOT Dave Wilcox/Ronnie Lott scary tough. It's just plain dirty play. Was glad to see him repaid in kind. Do you think his injury was "payback" by a Seattle enforcer? I'd like to think so.
Bill, Sacramento

Answer: When the play happened, I, too, thought it might have been a cheap shot. Both Goldson and Mike Nolan said that Goldson was in awkward position as Payne caught the ball and lunged to stop him. The result is that he hit Payne low - too low - and blew out his knee. The NFL looked at the play and ruled there was no malfeasance. (Although they also ruled that Brian Russell's blatant spearing of J.T. O'Sullivan was ok, too).
- Matt

Question: I'm a little PO'd that the 9ers didn't pick up Desean Jackson. Sure, all teams passed on him in the 1st RD, but it was stupid to pass up on him in the 2nd. I think Jackson's lack of size shouldn't have overshadowed his playmaking skills. Maybe I'm a little biased (being a CAL fan), but after watching Jackson's first two games, he showed that he still has the speed and moves to be a great WR in the NFL (except for the TD blunder on MNF). Do you now think the 9ers/Yorks were crazy for passing on him?
Christian, El Cerrito

Answer: I'm not going to disagree with you about Jackson - he's looked great and seems to be an excellent fit in the Philly offense. But the 49ers also have a good-looking rookie receiver who was lights out in the preseason. The fact that Josh Morgan hasn't seen much action makes me think that Jackson wouldn't have either had he been selected by the 49ers.
- Matt

Question: Matt, love the blog and your overall coverage. Question for you about the disastrous Terry Donahue regime. While he deservedly gets blamed for much of the talent drain in the early part of this decade, wasn't he a Bill Walsh hire and protege? Is Walsh's legacy and mystique so great he escapes blame for this horrible front office move?
Mike, Berkeley

Answer: In a word, yes. Bill Walsh's contributions to the 49ers and to the league were so great that his shortcomings are swept under the rug. Sorta like how no one ever mentions that George Washington lost almost every major battle during the Revolutionary War and was helped out by the French at the decisive battle at Yorktown.
- Matt

September 19, 2008
Baldy knows best

Give Brian Baldinger credit. Way back in the spring, when every expert was saying that Alex Smith would win the 49ers' three-way quarterback competition, FOX's Baldinger predicted the winner would be J.T. O'Sullivan. Admit it. You thought Baldinger was nuts at the time (and there are some chat-room threads that still exist that use more colorful adjectives). If Smith didn't get the job it certainly would go to last year's pleasant surprise, Shaun Hill. O'Sullivan was a distant, distant third back in the spring. I'm not sure Mike Nolan even knew his name.

At the time, I thought Baldinger was picking O'Sullivan just to stand out from the crowd. Ah, but there was method to his madness. Baldinger spent 10 years covering games in NFL Europe and grew to admire O'Sullivan during the quarterback's two stints overseas. Here's how Baldinger, who is in town this week because he's calling Sunday's 49ers-Lions game, explains his prediction. And I would have paraphrased what he said if he wasn't so spot-on in his assessments.

"Well, I knew most of the other guys. I knew Alex and I watched Alex. And I've known Shaun for a long time. I knew Shaun from NFL Europe. I'm pulling for Shaun and I want to see Shaun get 10 years in this league. But I also knew that Shaun wasn't a great practice player. He's a better game player. Once he gets out there, the team moves with him. But I didn't think he would wow anybody in practice.

"I've also known J.T. And he's kind of prickly. He's not the friendliest guy, which I kind of liked about him. I watched him in Europe twice and I used to talk to him on the field before games (in the NFL) when he was the third quarterback. I would talk to him about why third quarterbacks can't get a look, can't get anyone to believe in you, can't get an opportunity. You don't get coached, you don't get reps. So I knew when he came back to Europe the second time (three years later) I'm like, 'This guy's not quitting. This guy's not gonna give it up.' And when you watch him you ask, 'What isn't there to like about this guy?' He's got a good arm. He's got good mobility.

"The only thing that hampers him sometimes is that he tries to do too much like he did (against Arizona). You know, he tries to do too much and puts the ball on the ground. If he could somehow manage that aspect of it ... And I understood it. The reason why you do too much is that you don't realize how big your window of opportunity is. Even Mike Nolan (Baldinger had just come out of a Friday pre-game meeting with Nolan) just said he was trying to win the job versus just trying to win the game. So you're trying to catch everybody's eye - I can make all these throws. Look what I can do. And I thought if he was ever in a system where he could stay calm and they believed in him, he would flourish.

"And the other part of the equation is, I know Mike Martz. Martz is never going to make a name for himself, never going to keep himself out there if he's coaching the No. 1 pick in the draft. So he's got Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick - he's supposed to be great because everybody picked him No. 1. But if he takes a street free agent that's been cut like Kurt Warner ... There's a track record there. I'm gonna take the guy who's tough, who's gritty, that's been cut, kicked to the curb that nobody believes in. And that's how he sort of props himself up."


Who's going to be the top quarterback taken in the draft in April? It might be No. 12 in yellow and burgundy. (I don't think so) but see for yourself as Arizona State takes on the big Dawgs Saturday. Here's whom to watch ...


#12 Rudy Carpenter QB
#63 Pauliasi Fanaika G
#1 Michael Jones WR
#97 Luis Vasquez DE


#33 Dannell Ellerbe ILB
#90 Corvey Irvin DT
#55 Jeremy Lomax DE
#1 Mohamed Massaquoi WR
#95 Jeffrey Owens DT
#36 Brannan Southerland FB

-- Matt Barrows

September 19, 2008
Russell, Goldson escape fines

Neither Seahawks safety Brian Russell nor 49ers safety Dashon Goldson were fined for notable hits in Sunday's game in Seattle, the NFL announced today. Goldson had an awkward hit on receiver Logan Payne in the first quarter that knocked the receiver out of the game with a torn knee ligament. It was a low hit, but there was nothing overtly illegal about it.

Russell's hit appeared to be more questionable. It came on a scramble by J.T. O'Sullivan. As O'Sullivan slid feet first, Russell appeared to lower his helmet and give the quarterback a late shot to the head. Mike Nolan said after the game that he thought a couple of hits on O'Sullivan could result in fines, including that one.

The only player from the game who was fined was Seattle linebacker Julian Peterson who was hit with a $7,500 fine for taunting. Peterson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first quarter after sacking O'Sullivan for a 13-yard loss.

Goldson (knee) has been taken off the injury report this week but cornerback Donald Strickland will be listed as questionable. Strickland practiced all week but there is still some concern about his sprained MCL. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer already has been ruled out with his own knee injury and there is a concern that he could require surgery and be lost for the season.

This is a tough week for San Francisco to be low on defensive backs. Detroit has two of the best starting receivers in the league in Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams, and the Lions use Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey extensively as well. Still, if the 49ers can absorb injuries at any position, it's defensive back. They have a dozen on the roster, including return man Allen Rossum. One or two of the following cornerbacks -- Tarell Brown, Reggie Smith and Marcus Hudson -- will see their roles expand this week.

Asked about depth at tackle, Mike Nolan said that either Adam Snyder or Chilo Rachal would be tapped if there is another injury at the position. The team also has the option of elevating Joe Toledo from the practice squad.

Look for linebacker Ahmad Brooks to be activated in coming weeks. Brooks has been playing back up at both "Ted" and "Mike" and his size and athleticism would be an asset on special teams.

The following sign has been added to Candlestick Park. The 49ers installed a plaque commemorating Bill Walsh in the team tunnel last year.

Bill Walsh Field Ribbon Panel 003.JPG

-- Matt Barrows

September 18, 2008
P.M. update: Gore back at practice

Breathe easily, fantasy football nuts. Frank Gore was back at practice today after sitting out Wednesday's session. Gore was limping noticeably early in the week but today it was characterized (by me) as "general running back soreness" and Mike Nolan agreed with the assessment. Said Nolan: "Obviously, he takes a lot of hits and he takes a lot of reps in the game." Nolan said giving Gore a break allows his backups, DeShaun Foster and Michael Robinson, to see more practice time. The thinking is that Foster and Robinson will have to be called upon to spell Gore at times as the season goes forward.

Walt Harris also practiced after getting an old man's day off Wednesday. In all seriousness, Harris was excellent during the preseason and initiated the play of the game -- Patrick Willis' 86-yard touchdown return -- against the Seahawks. In other words, the rest he is afforded does not go to waste.

Both Donald Strickland and Dashon Goldson also practiced. As for Shawntae Spencer, he said his knee injury is a result of his foot getting caught in the Qwest Field surface Sunday. He said Seattle receiver Logan Payne's knee injury, a torn ligament, was similar in that Payne's foot was caught up in the surface and he was being hit by Goldson. Spencer said that there seemed to be far more rubber shavings on the field -- what gives the FieldTurf its buoyancy -- than he recalled.

-- Matt Barrows

September 18, 2008
J. Jennings: Another roadblock in my life

Jonas Jennings was in the locker room today, his right arm in a sling. Jennings said he dislocated his right shoulder Sunday in Seattle, the third time he has dislocated the same shoulder since joing the 49ers. He said doctors are still discussing how to treat the injury. He said surgery has not been ruled out. He was very open about the injury, saying several times that he's embarrassed about it. "I know people get frustrated," he said of his long string of injuries. "But no one can be as frustrated as me." Here's the full transcipt ....

Q: Why are you embarrassed if it's out of your control?
A: You're talking about three times in four years, you know? It still feels embarrassing to me because I can't do what I like to do. And that's work and play the game. It's out of my control, you're right. I've got to find out in my mind if there is underlying problems and what it may be. But ... Just coming in I felt I had probably one of my best offseasons, one of my better camps. That's what makes it embarrassing. It just takes one play and there it goes.

Q: Have you had any problems with the left shoulder?
A: No

Q: One play, that's all it took?
A: That's usually what it takes every time. One play.

Q: Are you going to need surgery?
A: Not sure

Q: Any idea how long you're going to be out?
A: No

Q: It just popped out similar to how it did in the past?
A: Mmm hmm. ... It was a lot different, though. It was a different ... the mechanics were different. It went out a different way than it did in the past, I can tell you that much. It ain't nothing I have to fly to have surgery for. I've got a chance. I've got to visit with doctors, just kind of roll with the medical staff and do what they ask me to do. It's to the point of frustration for me. I just want to do whatever I can to play football again. Even if it was the surgery option, I probably wouldn't jump to it at this point. That's just how I feel.

Q: Did they have to pop it back in?
A: Yeah, that put it back

Q: How long did that take?
A: Well, I actually played a few more plays with it out. I don't know if you guys could tell but I was just sort of winging it. They sent Barry (Sims) in, sent me out and popped it in on the bench.

Q: It popped out in the front, right?
A: Mmm Hmm.

Q: Did it pop out in the back?
A: I don't know. That's what I'm saying. We've got to let the minds come together and look at it. Because Dr. (James) Andrews did my last surgery. So it's kind of (wanting) to get together with everybody and see exactly what it is, what's best and exactly what happened. Because I want to know, too.

Q: Will you visit with Dr. Andrews?
A: I'm not sure at this point.

Q: How many times has that think popped out out?
A: Third time

Q: And how many surgeries?
A: Two

Q: All here or were some in Buffalo?
A: No, it was all up in here. That's what makes it embarrassing. ... I've already missed previous times so it's just ... you set out ... Basically, I haven't been able to do what my plan was to do coming out to the organization. It hurts more knowing you really could do it if stuff like this just ... I know people get frustrated but nobody could be as frustrated as me, and that's including the coaches, fans and the writers. Because ain't nobody got to deal with it but me. But I really feel their pain because I'm (really) annoyed by it, too. I just don't know what to do, really.

Q: Is it doubling annoying considering how well you played this offseason?
A: Definitely. Coming into a new position and doing everything that coach Martz and everyone wants me to do at a new position. So I was getting past a lot of that, you know just really playing football. Getting back with the guys and having offensive production. And that's really what being on the offensive line is about. Then we started to get that and - boom - here we go. Another road block in my life.

Q: What do you do now?
A: All I can do is stay strong and see what plays out. See how my shoulder reacts.

Q: Do you have any doctor's appointments scheduled?
A: Nah ... Just going on with the plan right now. Just kind of letting Fergie (trainer Jeff Fergusen) handle that. If you all have questions, you probably have to ask Fergie. But I fully trust Fergie, so I just have to roll with it.

Q: Do you wear a harness?
A: I used to. I used to after the first (dislocation) Going into the second one I did. Then after the second for precautionary measures I did. Then last year, that was a whole different story. You guys know the shoulder had nothing to do with it. So I (was thinking) it was clean, out of the gate with it and - bang - there it is. Maybe it's just bad luck or a bad break. I just want to .. . The third time ... In your mind, as a person outside of football, you start to think, 'Is there really an underlying problem?' What's causing it to do that?' Because I'm not going to stop playing the way I play. When I go on the field I can't be thinking about it every play whether my shoulder is going to come out. I'm going to continue to play the game violently. That's the way I do it. Still, it's something to think about.

-- Matt Barrows

September 18, 2008
Martz sack totals show steady rise since 1999

Today I wrote a story about Jon Kitna, who for the past two years has been the poster boy for punishment and perseverance. In two years under Mike Martz, Kitna absorbed 114 sacks, including a whopping 63 in his first season in the Martz offense. It wasn't always that way for Martz. In 1999 as offensive coordinator for St. Louis, the Rams allowed just 33 sacks. But if you were to construct a line graph of "Martz sacks" it would show a steady incline in the nine years since. Here's the data:

Kurt Warner 29
Joe Germain 3
Paul Justin 1
Total: 33

Kurt Warner 20
Trent Green 24
Total: 44

Kurt Warner 38
Jamie Martin 2
Total: 40

Kurt Warner 21
Marc Bulger 12
Jamie Martin 10
Scott Covington 2
Ricky Proehl 1
Total: 46

Kurt Warner 6
Marc Bulger 37
Total: 43

Marc Bulger 41
Chris Chandler 7
Jamie Martin 2
Total: 50

Marc Bulger 26
Jamie Martin 11
Ryan Fitzpatrick 9
Total: 46

Jon Kitna 63
Total: 63

Jon Kitna 51
J.T. O'Sullivan 3
Total: 54

The question is whether J.T. O'Sullivan will have Kitna-like sack numbers this season. The short answer is that he shouldn't, and here's why:

  1. As Kitna pointed out yesterday, the Lions' fatal flaw is that they constantly fell behind early the last two seasons, causing them to abandon the running game and pass an inordinate number of times. The 49ers' defense should be better than that of the Lions. Of course, so far you have to wonder. San Francisco has fallen behind in each of its games and has been forced to play catch-up. While that's partly because the defense has allowed long drives, it's also due to big turnovers - a dropped kickoff in Game 1 and Frank Gore's fumble that was returned for a TD in Game 2. The bottom line is that the defense should be good enough to at least keep games close and spare O'Sullivan from dropping back to pass every play in the second half.
  2. Another reason why Martz abandoned the run in Detroit is because he had no running game on which to rely. The 49ers have Frank Gore, who, if the 49ers had a lead, would spend the second half of games pounding away at defenses. If Gore indeed is the Marshall Faulk of the offense, then it stands to reason that the sack numbers will be more early-decade Rams than late-decade Lions.
  3. The offensive line should be better. One of the players Martz pointed to upon taking the 49ers' job was left tackle Joe Staley. If Martz scheme is to flourish, he has to have good protection from the tackles. Martz thought he had that in Staley in Jonas Jennings. Jennings, however, is already hurt, and Staley hasn't been as dominant as expected. Staley will never be as good as Orlando Pace, but the 49ers' offensive line should be better than that of Detroit.
  4. Finally, and perhaps most import, O'Sullivan is still learning. Sunday's game was just his second start ever. It also was his first road start, and it happened to come in perhaps the most inhospitable stadium in the NFL. On Wednesday, he heaped a lot of the blame for his eight sacks in Seattle on himself, arguing that he needs to learn when to throw the ball away. "Obviously, you don't need to be a football guru to know that I took some unnecessary sacks," O'Sullivan said. "Things like that I need to clean up, and we need to realize what the problem is and for me, do the things that I need to not take those sacks." He is a better-than-average scrambler, and his mobility is better than that of just about every other QB on the list above. As the season goes on, he'll gain a better understanding of how to use that ability and of when to take shots downfield and when to merely chuck the ball out of bounds.

-- Matt Barrows

September 17, 2008
Injury update: Gore doesn't practice

Remember on Monday when we caught Frank Gore for a few minutes after he was limping out of team headquarters? Well, Gore did not practice Wednesday, although the team called it a "coach's decision" rather than an injury. Gore was wincing noticeably in the locker room following the Seahawks game but sloughed it off. "I'll be alright," he said at the time. Cornerback Walt Harris also was held out of Wednesday's session.

As noted earlier, Jonas Jennings (shoulder) and Shawntae Spencer (knee) did not practice and are listed as "out" for Sunday's game. Both Donald Strickland (knee) and Dashon Goldson (knee) practiced.

-- Matt Barrows

September 17, 2008
Bruce speaks ... but doesn't say much

The Isaac Bruce Foundation yesterday sent out a press release saying that Bruce had donated $5,000 toward Hurricane Ike relief efforts. The hope among the beatwriters was that the topic would be something the normally terse, and -- let's be frank, dismissive -- wide receiver would open up to. Boy were we wrong:

Q: On his donation:
A: It's something I feel strongly about and what inspires me is the word of God - tells me to help my fellow man as far as feeding, clothing and shelter.

Q: I understand your wife is from the Houston area. Did she share some personal experience about what life has been life for the victims?
A: No. My wife didn't inspire it. ... I would have done it had she not been from there.

Q: What is the foundation's goal?
A: Strengthen in the hand of the community.

Q: Is it specifically for St. Louis or for all communities?
A: Strengthen the hand of the community.

Q: How do you feel you're fitting in with this offense?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Was there a doubt after being held catch-less after the first game?
A: It wasn't my first time being held without a catch, so, no doubt.

Q: What was there in Game 2 that wasn't there in Game 1?
A: I just didn't get the football in game 1. In Game 2 I got the football. That's the only difference.

Q: Nothing defensively they were doing?
A: I can't even remember Game 1, honestly.

Q: Do you remember the play where J.T. had the ball knocked from his hand? He thinks he would have hit you for a TD. Do you agree?
A: Yes. Yes, I did.

Q: When was the last time you were able to get down the field so consistently?
A: (15-scond pause .... ) Atlanta '96, '97, something like that?

Q: How do you feel now compared to '96. '97?
A: Not big on comparisons but I feel better, stronger, quicker, wiser and, uh ... not big on feelings either. That's it.

Q: Is getting down field what this offense is about or it an exception?
A: I don't think it's a new dimension. If you look at some of the past game film of this offense, it's been down the field quite a bit.

Q: What does O'Sullivan do so well to make this offense run as well as it has?
A: What does he do? He's coach-able, he listens and he applies what he hears.

Q: How do you like dealing with the media?
A: I love it.

Q: What do you like most?
A: Conversations.

Q: It doesn't look like you've really made a huge effort since you've been here to deal with the media. Is that your quiet personality?
A: Not at all. I speak when I have something to say, so. That's it.

Q: When do you generally have something to say?
A: When I'm asked a question that I can answer.

Q: You said J.T. is coach-able, he listens. Do you ever coach him up given your experience with the offense?
A: Not really. No. He has enough coaches coaching him up. He doesn't need my help.

Q: What about some of the young receivers - Josh Morgan, Jason Hill?
A: I'll tell you what. The biggest way I learned was just watching. I watched other guys I wanted to be like. I didn't have to ask them too many things. I just did what they did.

Q: How's your rapport with J.T.?
A: Making progress.

Q: Does a trust have to be developed between the QBs and WRS in this offense? And how is that coming along?
A: We're making progress

Q: But you don't think it's where it could be?
A: We're making progress

Q: Can you elaborate on that?
A: Yes, I can. This week versus Detroit, I'll elaborate.

Q: You mean on the field?
A: Yes.

-- Matt Barrows

September 17, 2008
Jennings, Spencer out this week

Jonas Jennings' shoulder injury is serious enough that he has been ruled out this week, but Mike Nolan said he didn't think the 49ers' right tackle would require surgery. "I believe he'll be back," Nolan said, although the coach had neither a diagnosis nor a prognosis. Barry Sims will take over Sunday against the Lions. Shawntae Spencer (knee) also is out. Nolan declined to say who the third cornerback will be, but the safe bet is either Tarell Brown or Donald Strickland (knee) who is expected to practice today.

Dashon Goldson (knee) also is expected to practice today. While Nolan reiterated his belief that J.T. O'Sullivan took a cheap shot from Brian Russell on Sunday, he dismissed the notion that Goldson's tackle on receiver Logan Payne was dirty. Payne left the game with a torn knee ligament, further depleting the Seahawks receiver corps. "If he doesn't start to drop right there and change his body lean he's going to miss him," Nolan said of Goldson.

Nolan said that as far as he's concerned Manny Lawson is fully recovered from last year's knee injury. He said that injury had nothing to do with Lawson sitting out every defensive snap on Sunday.

As far as the eight sacks surrendered on Sunday .... Nolan said that the offensive line played "OK." "They've kind of been hot and cold for the most part. We've got to get more consistency." He said he was willing to trade sacks for big plays downfield as long as the sacks were "gentle." Asked whether Sunday's sacks were gentle, Nolan said there were a couple on which O'Sullivan was roughed up pretty well.

-- Matt Barrows

September 17, 2008
Kitna praises JTO, worships Martz

Mike Martz has said in the past that J.T. O'Sullivan compares favorably to his past pupils. He's got the quick release of Marc Bulger. He's got bull's-eye-accuracy like Kurt Warner. And he's got the fiery temperament of Jon Kitna, whom the 49ers will be facing on Sunday. Kitna agreed wholeheartedly that he and O'Sullivan, his teammate last year in Detroit, were kindred spirits:

"I think we're very similar," he said on a conference call this morning. "I think both of us came into this league without a lot of opportunity. ... You kind of carry a little chip on your shoulder. We expect so much of ourselves that we demand a lot from the guys around us."

But Kitna said there was never a problem having two tightly wound guys in the same meeting room. Under Martz, the starter was the unquestioned leader until Martz said otherwise. "It was never a look-over-your-shoulder thing. We got along great. I think Mike created that."

It's obvious that Kitna was very impressed with O'Sullivan, especially with the way O'Sullivan is able to get rid of the ball quickly downfield. "He'll be in a situation where it looks like he'd be lucky to get a five-yard throw as quickly as it comes out and he gets off a 20-yard throw with velocity," he said.

What's even more obvious is the admiration Kitna has for Martz. Kitna called Martz "as close to a father figure as I've had in this game. He always tgreated me like a man. He always told me the truth."

Kitna certainly took his lumps while under Martz. In two seasons, the Detroit quarterbacks were sacked 127 times, one of them a monster shot on Kitna by blitzing 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer. Kitna said the Martz philosophy places reward over risk. "I'll take a few more hits if it means you're going to have a chance at bigger plays," he said. Kitna also said that while he absorbed a lot of hits, they rarely knocked him out of games. "I started 16 games two years in a row. I think there's enough said there," he said. It should be noted that Martz's previous student, Bulger, missed 11 starts due to injury while playing under Martz.


While Martz was in Detroit, there was a sense that he quickly abandoned the running game in favor of gaudy passing statistics. After he left, the Lions vowed to return to a more conservative, run-oriented offense. But Detroit has fallen behind - by three touchdowns - in both games so far, and consequently the statistics are lopsided. The Lions have attempted 78 passes vs. 33 runs and they have 508 passing yards to 111 on the ground. Kitna said the same issues were at play last year. In the games the Lions won, they were balanced. In the ones they lost, they fell behind early and were forced to pass. "If you get down 21-0, you might be able to run the ball, but it's difficult to get back in the game," he said.

Isaac Bruce and his foundation have donated $5,000 to the Salvation Army to assist with disaster relief efforts caused by Hurricane Ike.

-- Matt Barrows

September 16, 2008
Nolan defends defense against Seattle

Sometimes "it's not best to dance with the one that brought you." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but that was Mike Nolan's reasoning for using a nickel defense throughout Sunday's game in Seattle. Nolan said that the Seahawks use multiple receiver formations throughout the game, and moreover are able to change those formations so quickly that it puts the defense at a disadvantage. Rather than trying to keep up substitution for substitution, he thought the 49ers could cover all their bases with an alignment that had four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. That strategy had worked well in the past against Seattle, after all.

Said Nolan: "When you try to jockey in and out of a lot of substitutions and keep up with Seattle -- it's just been my philosophy that that's not a good thing to do. You want to give your players the best chance to win the game. You don't want to think you're going to be the difference maker with every call as a perfect call. Every call is a good call and every call has the potential to be a bad call. You just want to put them out there and make sure they have an opportunity to execute."

Shouldn't the fact that the defense has a radio this year make substitutions easier?

Nolan: "It's not...no. Two seconds, three seconds, but that's not enough for what they set you back. They run as quick an operation as anybody in the league. They do a great job with it, a real compliment to them. People that aren't aware of that, playing Seattle, whether they are playing them at home or away, they need to be aware of that. They do an outstanding job. They really do."

To Nolan, the strategy worked. Matt Hasselbeck connected on only 50 percent of his passes, had no touchdowns and was held under 200 yards passing. And, of course, the 49ers won. Others (like me), however, were scratching heads. Hasselbeck had a rough day, they argue, because he had no receivers, not because of what the 49ers were doing defensively. The Seahawks' top four receivers didn't start the game and they lost two more - Seneca Wallace and Logan Payne - before the first quarter ended. And while the Seahawks struggled in the passing game, they had no trouble running the ball. Julius Jones ran for 127 yards, the second hundred-yard rusher the 49ers have allowed so far this season.

The bigger issue is that the "Big Sub" takes away perhaps the 49ers' biggest advantage - it's ability to dramatically chance its look and confuse the offense. It put Manny Lawson, ostensibly one of the 49ers' best players, on the sideline all game and limited Justin Smith, whose versatility has been ballyhooed all offseason, to playing along the defensive line. The 49ers went from chameleon to plane Jane. The question is with several pass-happy teams - Detroit, New Orleans, New England, Philadelphia and Seattle - looming on the schedule how much the 49ers will use it in the future.

Look for Seattle safety Brian Russell to be hit with a fine later this week. J.T. O'Sullivan was sacked eight times, but perhaps the hardest hit he absorbed came on a scramble. He slid feet first while safety Deon Grant took him down. But Russell came in late and gave O'Sullivan a shot to the facemask with the crown of his helmet. There was no penalty on the play.

Said Nolan: "There were a couple of hits on him that I thought some guys might get fined about. That's really concerned me more than anything else. Those kinds of things."

-- Matt Barrows

September 15, 2008
49ers have a case of the Mondays

It was a "Win Monday" at 49ers' headquarters, meaning that any player who didn't need treatment was told not to come back until Wednesday. One of the players who was hobbling a bit was Frank Gore, who had a rough afternoon against a Seahawks defense designed to stop him but who still managed 99 combined yards. Gore said he was happy with the win and very happy to see the passing game open up downfield. Now when opponents study the 49ers, they'll have to think about more than stopping No. 21. "And I can go crazy again," Gore said.

There was no injury update on any of the 49ers, including Jonas Jennings (shoulder), Dashon Goldson (knee), Shawntae Spencer and Patrick Willis (leg). We're supposed to talk to Willis on a conference call later today, but knowing him he won't discuss his injury. Questioned whether Jennings was taken out of the game because of injury or bad play (two false starts and a holding penalty in the first half), Nolan insisted the injury was legitimate. Barry Sims filled in at right tackle and played very well.

Apparently the illegal celebration penalty following Willis' TD was called on Nate Clements, who dropped to his knees and did the Mike Meyers "We're not worthy!" gesture to Willis. The NFL hath decreed that there shalt be no going down to end zone surface to celebrate touchdowns. This is the word of the League ...

Asked to pinpoint exactly why the offense is so much better than it was last year, Nolan mentioned two names - Mike Martz and J.T. O'Sullivan. The former UC Davis quarterback had an excellent game, becoming the first 49er QB to surpass 300 yards since Tim Rattay did it in 2004. The one critique that Nolan had is that O'Sullivan needed to get rid of the ball more quickly on some plays. He was sacked eight times, some of which were not due to poor protection. Still, O'Sullivan also showed that keeping the play alive can result in big plays. the 49ers might have to live with sacks and turnovers in exchange for a big-play offense. That's the Martz-ian compromise....

-- Matt Barrows

September 14, 2008
Postscript: 49ers 33, Seahawks 30

I said I thought the 49ers had a chance against a weakened Seattle squad, but I didn't think it would be an overtime thriller in which the teams combine for 63 points. I was thinking more along the lines of 49ers 20, Seahawks 15. For the second straight game, the defense didn't give up any big plays but also showed a disturbing knack for allowing teams to gobble up yardage one small chunk at a time. And this was a team that was relying on rookie tight end John Carslon and just-off-the-street receiver Billy McMullen for most of the game.

This time the offense -- namely J.T. O'Sullivan -- bailed them out. Despite being sacked eight -- EIGHT! -- times, O'Sullivan nevered wavered, standing steady in the pocket all afternoon and hitting big plays when they were needed. That is the epitome of a Mike Martz quarterback. The quarterback knows he's going to get hit. But he also knows he has an opportunity for big plays.

This is a big win for the 49ers. They needed to show a killer instinct against a wounded Seattle team and they did. If they can show a similar go-for-the-jugular mentality against the Lions next week, I think it will mean that Mike Nolan will survive ... through the bye week at least.

Jonas Jennings left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return. His injury and a knee injury to Dashon Goldson appear to be the most serious. Patrick Willis hurt his leg, went into the locker room for an X-ray but returned to the game. Like he did last year when he broke his hand, Willis pretended he didn't know anything about an injury when questioned about it afterward. Ignorance is bliss as far as he's concerened.

Jennings never returned to the sideline and he wasn't in the locker room after the game. If he's not back next week, Barry Sims -- wasn't he an excellent acquisition? -- will start at right tackle. One more injury -- Shawntae Spencer sprained his knee and was limping badly at the end of the game.

I followed Takeo Spikes closely throughout the game. He didn't start at "Ted" linebacker but came in during the second series and played the rest of the game. He was far, far better than he was last week and even seemed to improve as the game went on. He agreed with that assessment. "Absolutely. I did. A lot of it was just a matter of - the more repetitions you get, the better I know I'll be. It's unfortunate for me that I missed OTAs and a lot of training camp. But I did a lot of studying and I think that helped me out. I think my best plays are yet to come."

I didn't watch Manny Lawson as promised because, well, Lawson didn't play a single defensive snap. That's because the 49ers were in nickel or dime defenses throughout the game. Lawson doesn't play in either of those packages. Lawson sloughed off the situation saying he knew since Wednesday that he wouldn't play. Instead, he volunteered for all the special teams units and had a very good game there, coming away with two tackles and a blocked punt.

Still, Lawson's absence has to be disturbing. The 49ers use their nickel or "sub" defense almost as much as their base package. What does it say when a former first-round draft pick isn't part of a package that is the staple of a team's defense? Either the 49ers don't think Lawson is fully back from his ACL tear or they just don't have a lot of respect for his skills.

-- Matt Barrows

September 14, 2008
Jennings injured, Willis nicked; Game-day blog

The injury bug that the 49ers have managed to avoid thus far has bitten in today's game. Patrick Willis was injured after making a stop on Julius Jones late in the third quarter. He played the next snap but was limping badly on the play and left the game. It is being described as a leg injury but it looked more like an ankle injury to me. He is not on the field. Jeff Ulbrich has taken his place. ... UPDATE: Willis was just seen jogging back from the training room. He is on the sideline but not in the game. UPDATE: Willis is back on the field. By my count, he missed 14 plays.

Meanwhile, Jonas Jennings is out of the game with a shoulder injury and Dashon Goldson is out with a knee injury. They have been replaced with Barry Sims and Keith Lewis respectively. Shawntae Spencer also had to be helped off the field.

A Fox Sports story says the Buccaneers called the 49ers to see if there was any interest in unhappy QB Jeff Garcia. The 49ers, however, said there never was an offer. "No offer, no discussion," was how GM Scot McCloughan phrased it. The 49ers might have had more interest if Garcia had been available before the season. Adding him now would be difficult considering how long it would take him to learn Mike Martz's offense. ...

CB Donald Strickland (knee) will not play today. CB Tarell Brown will take his place on the game-day roster. The other inactives for today are:

CB Marcus Hudson
CB Reggie Smith
C Cody Wallace
LB Tully Banta-Cain
G Chilo Rachal
LB Ahmad Brooks
Jamie Martin is the third QB

Here are the Seahawks' inactives
K Brandon Coutu
RB Maurice Morris
T Sean Locklear
DT Red Bryant
WR Deion Branch
WR Bobby Engram
DE Baraka Atkins
Charlie Frye is the third QB

This seems like a winnable game, and I wouldn't normally say that about 49ers-Seahawks game in Seattle. Logan Payne and Courtney Taylor are Seattle's starting wideouts. Morris, their best running back, is out while Matt Hasselbeck has been dealing with a back injury. With the Lions visiting next week, it seems like a very, very good opportunity to string together two wins.

I'm going to have the ol' binocs trained on two defensive players today, linebackers Manny Lawson and Takeo Spikes. I thought Spikes had a bad game last week and want to see if he improves. Lawson? I don't remember seeing him at all, and I wonder if he's indeed fully recovered from last year's torn ACL. On offense, it'll be interesting to see if the 49ers' tackles can handle the Seahawks' edge rushers. Please feel free to add your scouting reports to the comments section ...

-- Matt Barrows

September 14, 2008
Q&A: Does front office need fixing?

Question: Hey Matt, I was wondering if you can honestly see the 49ers ever going to the Superbowl again with the ownership and the front office they have installed right now? As a long-time Niner fan, it's painful to see where the team has gone in just ten years. What is it they really need to do and will it ever get better? Thanks!
Rich, San Francisco

Answer: If I were the Yorks, I would make Mike Holmgren an offer he can't refuse, one that puts him in a position similar to the one Bill Parcells is in in Miami. I think a Holmgren-McCloughan front office would be a very strong one. If Mike Nolan doesn't produce this season, I'd replace him with an offensive-minded coach. Holmgren this week said that he and Mike Martz go "way back" and that he considers Martz a friend. If not Martz, there are other names available. Norm Chow comes to mind. Perhaps the saddest thing about the 49ers' situation is that the NFC West has been ripe for the plucking for several years. It's a weak division, the weakest in the league, and the 49ers have been unable to take advantage. What an opportunity lost ...
- Matt

Question: I'm wondering if you'll entertain a theory I have on Alex Smith's situation. Last week in McCloughan's weekly presser, he stated that Smith will not be back next season as a backup. Less than a week later, Smith comes up with a phantom shoulder injury that supposedly happened during practice. Doctors are baffled by the inexplicable nature of the injury, which just doesn't happen in the circumstance Smith claims it happened. Do you think that this injury was made up so that Smith can let his shoulder heal even further before going on the market as a FA next season?
Robert, Brea

Answer: No, It's legit. Smith likely will become a free agent next year. He won't be helped by the fact that he ended the last two seasons on IR. His best-case scenario this season would have been if J.T. O'Sullivan got hurt or was ineffective, thus allowing him to come in to salvage the season. Now that's impossible. Also, I don't think Smith is capable of fibbing. Not in his genetic makeup.
- Matt

Question: How do you compare O'Sullivan's 'potential' to Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger? Obviously Warner and Bulger are accomplished players right now, but they were considered third stringers for a while before getting their chances.
Ken, Fremont

Answer: I think O'Sullivan's story is turning out very much like Warner's and Bulger's. The difference is that when Bulger and Warner got their chances in a starring roles, they were surrounded by good talent. Warner had Isaac Bruce, for example, when Bruce was in his mid 20s. Bulger had Bruce when he was in his late 20s. O'Sullivan has Bruce in his mid 30s.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, I'm still curious as to why Nolan wants to replace Ulbrich with Spikes, especially after watching Spikes flounder around out there on Sunday. Okay that might a little harsh, but he just doesn't look crisp in that position. He looked a little on the slow side, and we won't mention his hands, overall ineffective. Why not place him on special teams and keep Ulbrich where he seems to do the most good?
Don, Citrus Heights

Answer: Thank God. I thought I was the only one who noticed. On several plays it seemed like Spikes didn't want to get his jersey dirty. I'll have my binocs trained on him in Seattle. But are you sure you want Spikes on special teams?
- Matt

Question: What time is the 49er game this week? My directTV schedule says 1 pm eastern but I could have sworn it was 1 pm pacific. I'd check the site but my work has a sports web filter.
Nick, West Sacramento

Answer: Sports web filter? Those bastards! If every work place had a sports web filter I'd be out of a job. ... Game's at 1:05 p.m. Pacific.
- Matt

Question: Is it too early to say that the 49er's draft was a bust?
Richard, Sacramento

Answer: You can safely say it lacked star power, but it's too early to use the "b" word. Check back in 2010.
- Matt

Question: Matt, Still loving this blog. Since you've been around the team since training camp began, I'm sure you've seen the players interact with each other. My question is who does JT O'Sullivan fraternize with? Does he get along with certain WR over others? I know they're all professionals, but Im sure players like certain players over others (just like at our jobs). Anyways, keep up the great work, and better luck to Virginia this week. Peace!
Brett, Santa Barbara

Answer: I'm not sure J.T. O'Sullivan fraternizes period. He is a very serious dude. I do see him chit chatting with the other QBs every now and then, but it's not as chummy as the Smith-Hill-Dilfer triumvirate of the last two years. Go Hoos!
- Matt

Question: Hey, Matt. Why is the team so adamant about keeping Snyder at LG? He didn't play that position last year and has been out played so far this season/preseason. He just seems better suited at tackle. Shouldn't we move him over to RT so he can back up Jennings (who will be cut after this season) and possibly take over that position next year?
Marc, Tempe

Answer: I think it's because no one else has practiced there this offseason. Remember, Tony Wragge has been practicing at David Baas' right guard spot since May. And Chilo Rachal has been Wragge's back-up. Brian de la Puente was Snyder's understudy throughout the offseason but he was claimed by Kansas City.
- Matt

Question: I just want to know if the niners QB JTO doesn't do good would the niners be willing to take a chance on Michael Vick, if none of the Niners QB's step up? It might be a dumb question but just want to know? Plus everyone deserves a second chance.
Christian, Fresno

Answer: Yeah, and maybe they can see if O.J.'s available to play running back ...
- Matt

September 13, 2008
Experience matters in 49ers secondary

Those who wonder why Dashon Goldson can't seem to displace Mark Roman at safety should read the following statistic. It comes courtesy of 49ers PR staffer Ryan Moore who looked at the opening day starting secondaries - two cornerbacks, two safeties - of all 32 teams. What he found was that Walt Harris, Nate Clements, Michael Lewis and Roman are the most experienced unit in the NFL by a fairly big margin. They have a combined 499 games played. The next team on the list is Denver with 477 games played. The 49ers's secondary also has a combined 426 starts. Second place in that category goes to Baltimore with 368 games started. It's indicative of how much stock Mike Nolan - who was very particular when building his secondary -- puts in experience. Roman has played in 115 games, starting 86. Goldson has played in 11 games and started zero.

The 49ers probably won't hold the title for too much longer, however. Harris, 34, has the most experience of the group with 178 games played and 157 starts. That's second only to Atlanta's Lawyer Milloy who has 188 games played and 182 starts.

What is every wannabe scout of self-described draftniks doing at 5 p.m. today? That's right, parking themselves in front of Ye Olde Tube and watching Ohio State and USC go at it. Who's draft-worthy? The short answer is 'everyone' but here's who Scot McCloughan and his men are especially eyeing:


#17 QB Todd Boeckman
#75 T Alex Boone Note: Is 6-7; likely will be a right tackle in the NFL
#1 OLB Marcus Freeman
#2 CB Malcolm Jenkins
#33 ILB James Laurinaitis Note: "Laurinaitis" is Greek for "Ted linebacker"
#80 WR Brian Robiskie


#10 OLB Brian Cushing
#4 SS Kevin Ellison Note: listed at 226 pounds. Brother is a LB for Bills
#7 CB Cary Harris
#58 ILB Rey Maualuga Note: "Maualuga" is Polynesian word for "Ted linebacker"
#75 DT Fili Moala
#1 WR Patrick Turner

Allen Rossum has been added to the injury report with a tight hamstring. He is listed as probable.

-- Matt Barrows

September 12, 2008
In Peterson, 49ers face the one who got away

The 49ers have excellent pass rushers. They just happen to be playing in different cities these days. Andre Carter, for example, had 10.5 sacks for Washington last season and the back injuries that plagued him when he was in San Francisco appear to be, ahem, behind him. Perhaps a bigger regret is Julian Peterson, who had 9.5 sacks in Seattle and whose versatility would make him an excellent fit in the 49ers' chameleon-like defense. Peterson had a so-so season in 2005, Mike Nolan's first with the 49ers and Peterson's first since rupturing an Achilles tendon the year before. He has made the Pro Bowl every season since joining the Seahawks.

Asked about whether the 49ers miscalculated about Peterson, Nolan today said they did not. "We had another problem we were dealing with at the time. And it wasn't the player. It was a situation where we wanted to get our (salary) cap right. So it was unfortunate. It was the same thing with Carter. We would have liked to have kept Carter. But again, that was way back when ..."

Nolan said the decision to cut ties with Peterson was difficult on the linebacker and "he took it kind of personal." Indeed, the excitable Peterson seems to ratchet up the intensity level a few more notches when he plays his former team. He had four sacks against the 49ers last season and celebrated each one by pointing at the name on the back of his jersey as if to say, "Remember me?" (By the way, Peterson is back wearning his familiar No. 98 this year). Nolan said that signing Peterson to the long-term deal he was after would have prevented the team from adding some of the big-name free agents, like Nate Clements, it added in subsequent years. "But that's not to take away from the fact that we were not happy about having to lose him."

The 49ers' defensive backs are in an unusual situation in that they don't know whom they'll be facing on Sunday. Walt Harris said today that he usually spends the week watching film and figuring out the tendencies of the player he will face. How does he react to jams? What does he look like coming in and out of breaks? Is he a strong downfield blocker? Against the Seahawks, that evaluation will have to come on the fly. "As far as my experience, it only takes a few minutes in the game for you to figure out the kind of guy you're lining over," he said. One of the players the 49ers figure to see at wideout is Seneca Wallace whose background at quarterback means the 49ers will have to watch out for trick plays. Harris also believes the segue to receiver will be an easy one for Wallace. "Actually, he understands a little bit more about what the quarterback wants for his routes. You can't sleep on that. When he comes in the game, obviously you want to have your thinking cap on and alert everyone to be ready." After all, who knows Matt Hasselbeck more than his understudy?

Defensive back Donald Strickland said he'd thought he'd play Sunday. He said he injured his knee early in Sunday's game when he was sandwiched between receiver Anquan Boldin and linebacker Patrick Willis. If Strickland can't go, Nolan said there were plenty of candidates to replace him. The 49ers have 11 - yes, ELEVEN! -- defensive backs. And that's not including return man Allen Rossum.

The 49ers will have a walk-through in Santa Clara tomorrow before flying to Seattle. Nolan said he typically has Saturday walk throughs early in the season but has eliminated them later in the year if he feels his team needs a day off their feet.

-- Matt Barrows

September 12, 2008
Heitmann to play Sunday; Strickland questionable

Center Eric Heitmann, who sprained his shoulder in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to Arizona, is back at practice today and will be listed as probable for Sunday's game. Heitmann has missed the last two days of practice. As was the case during the game, Tony Wragge has filled in at center and David baas has taken Wragge's place at right guard.

Donald Strickland (knee) is not practicing and is questionable for the game. His injury might be a bigger deal if the Seahawks didn't have so many missing receivers. Their top three wideouts -- Bobby Engram, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson -- won't play in the game. In fact, there's a solid chance that quarterback Seneca Wallace will make the switch to receiver and start for the Seahawks. The former Rancho Cordova High star hasn't been a full-time receiver since his days at Sacramento City College ...

-- Matt Barrows

September 11, 2008
Martz speaks: Happy (mostly) with offense

He didn't like the turnovers. And he thought the wide receiver play was a bit rusty. But other than that Mike Martz was pleased with what his offense was able to do Sunday against the Cardinals. "We made some real good plays in that game. In about a half a dozen other plays we were just a hair away from big plays. Just a little here, a little there. So we're making progress." One of those plays was J.T. O'Sullivan's interception on a pass intended for Arnaz Battle. Martz said Battle broke the route off too early. Another came on O'Sullivan's first fumble when the ball was knocked out of his hand as he was winding up to throw. The pass was intended for Isaac Bruce in the corner of the end zone and likely would have resulted in a touchdown.

Other Martz tidbits:

  • He said that not having all of his receivers (whether by injury or other reason) through much of the preseason hurt the 49ers. "We weren't always on the same page, so to speak. That'll get a lot better each week. Having those guys all together is a big deal."
  • He said that the problems with the receivers wasn't a chemistry issue. "Just the discipline of what we do in the passing game needs to get better. JT... is remarkably further along than what you'd expect."
  • Martz said there were "probably five or six plays" where Isaac Bruce was the first choice on a passing play. "We were trying at times to give him the ball and it just didn't work. Sometimes that happens."
  • Martz called the third-down draw play to DeShaun Foster deep in Cardinals territory "an unsual call." "That was kind of a guess for me. I really felt like they were going to be in coverage. ... We just missed a block on a safety otherwise (Foster) was taking it in. he certainly would have had the first down. If that makes it, then it's not an issue."
  • Martz gave good marks to the pass protection and even better ones to the run blocking. He said Frank Gore and the running game were the highlights for the offense.
  • On J.T. O'Sullivan: "I thought he played exceptionally well for his first start." He said he has been impressed with O'Sullivan's mobility. In fact, he said he's more mobile than Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger, Jon Kitna and his other prominent pupils.
  • He said he embraced crowd noise in places like Seattle. "That's the NFL. Half the games are going to be like that. You better get used to it. ... It's kind of nice when they're loud. To me, it's what the league's about. It's exciting. It's loud. I kind of like it."
  • Martz said that Zak Keasey needs to do a better job of securing the football. But aside from the fumble, Martz said Keasey did a "magnificent job in the game. He was outstanding in what we asked him to do."
  • Martz acknowledged that the offensive timing was off at the beginning of the game. "The timing of all these plays when you get into games is a little different than in practice. So they're getting used to all those things."

-- Matt Barrows

September 10, 2008
Niners return to the scene of the crime

The 49ers return to the scene of the crime on Sunday. Sure, it was during the first meeting with the Seahawks in San Francisco that Alex Smith's shoulder was separated. But it was the second meeting between the teams, on Nov. 12 in Seattle, that really underscored how bizarre and dysfunctional the situation had become.

Smith struggled badly in the game, connecting on only 12 of 28 attempts as the 49ers were shut out in an ugly, ugly loss on national television. Later that week Smith told reporters what every observer had suspected for weeks - that his shoulder was messed up and had been killing him with every pass.

What was so warped about the situation is that no one on the 49ers seemed to stick up for him. Mike Nolan continually dismissed it as mere soreness. None of Smith's teammates said boo. Smith's agent never stepped in and said, "Hey, my client's getting killed out there. Stop the madness." Certainly Smith is complicit in the affair as he also told reporters he felt ok. But the 49ers - and Nolan in particularly - were looking for him to tough it out. Someone should have interceded on his behalf.

Ironically, the only one who stood up for Smith was his enemy. After the game in Seattle, Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson said the quarterback didn't look like the player who had engineered a fourth-quarter comeback a year earlier in the same building. Peterson elaborated on that today during a conference call.

"I thought he wasn't ready to go," Peterson said. "I thought it was still kind of banged up. I thought he just tried to tough it out and it really wasn't a smart move for the team and for himself. But I just thought he tried to do it for the team and wasn't really ready."

Asked if he told Smith as much, Peterson said, "During the game? No. During the game we were just trying to kill him. After the game I just told him to keep his head up and make sure to get healthy enough for the next offseason to try to get better."

-- Matt Barrows

September 10, 2008
Smith will wait before deciding on surgery

Alex Smith will wait two weeks or so before deciding on whether to surgically repair his broken right shoulder, according to a source close to the situation. As reported previously, Smith has a fractured coracoid process, a bone in the shoulder that is typically only broken when there is severe trauma. Smith has said he didn't absorb any big hits to the shoulder during the preseason and that the injury didn't stem from the tackle that separated his shoulder last September.

Doctors are speculating that the fracture might be related to the suture that was used to reattach his shoulder to his collarbone in December. When Smith's shoulder was separated, the ligaments that connect the shoulder and collarbone were torn away. Dr. James Andrews re-connected those ligaments with a suture, which is where the fracture appears to have occured.

If Smith ultimately opts for surgery, a pin will be used to stabilize the area. However, it is preferable that the injury heals on its own. Doctors will take the the next two weeks to see how the area is responding. Smith was placed on injured reserve today, ending his season.

-- Matt Barrows

September 10, 2008
Smith on IR; Will he be in 49ers uniform again?

Mike Nolan began his Wednesday morning press conference by saying that Alex Smith will be placed on injured reserve, thus ending his season. As reported earlier, the team has signed ex Rams quarterback Jamie Martin to take his place on the roster. It was obvious that Nolan didn't want to spend much time talking about Smith. He said he didn't know any of the specifics of the injury, which is unlikely given that it happened five days ago and an MRI was taken Friday night. He also refused to address Smith's future with the team, saying he didn't want to deal in hypotheticals. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said.

What's been known since Saturday night is that Smith has a fracture in the same shoulder that was badly separated last year. The results of the MRI have been examined by Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon who operated on Smith's shoulder in December. Presumably it was Andrews' recommendation that prompted the 49ers to put Smith on IR. Smith has said that surgery is an option for the latest injury.

Smith's future with the team also is dubious. Last week Scot McCloughan said that the team couldn't afford to keep Smith next season if he is not a starter. Smith is scheduled to earn just under $10 million in base salary in 2009.

The team dropped Louis Holmes from the practice squad and added DL Larry Birdine to take his place. Birdine is a former Oklahoma DL who has spent time with the Packers and Broncos. He is listed as 6-4, 270 pounds. He was orginally signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2007. ***** Birdine told me he weighs 257 pounds at the moment. That makes it sound as if he'll be linebacker in the 49ers system, but Birdine said he didn't know yet how he'll be used.

The Seahawks are decimated at receiver this week with Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch injured. As a result, Seneca Wallace (Rancho Cordova High) is likely to see action, and that, Nolan said, brings its own challenges. Last year, the multi-talented Wallace played QB, WR and attempted a reverse pass against the 49ers

Nolan would not reveal whether Jeff Ulbrich or takeo Spikes would start at "Ted" linebacker. Look for them to rotate like they did against Arizona. Asked how Spikes played on defense, Nolan said, "OK." He said Spikes was still mastering the defense. "If this was the peak (of his play) ... I'd be less excited," Nolan said.

Justin Smith lined up at seven different positions Sunday and Nolan said he was very pleased with his new acquisition. Nolan said the result is that offenses spend a lot of time figuring out where Smith is lining up on a given play. "They've got to find him and that's a good thing for the other guys," Nolan said.

It doesn't look as if Tully Banta-Cain will be seeing much playing time in the near future. Nolan noted that fellow outside linebackers Roderick Green and Parys Haralson had strong games against the Cardinals. Green had "three or four hits" on the QB, Nolan said while Haralson had 2 1/2 QB sacks. Haralson was in for 19 plays. Nolan said Banta-Cain paid a visit to his office the other day to discuss his playing time.
***Update**** One of the half sacks that Haralson was awarded Sunday was given to Justin Smith. That means Smith finished with one sack, Haralson with two.

Center Eric Heitmann (shoulder) and CB Donald Strickland (knee) are being held out of practice today but neither injury is considered serious.

-- Matt Barrows

September 10, 2008
49ers sign Martin

The 49ers have signed ex-Rams quarterback Jamie Martin, an indication that Alex Smith will go on injured reserve. Martin's agent Tom Mills said he has just faxed the necessary paperwork and the deal is complete.

Martin, 38, appears to be the only quarterback the 49ers targeted. He has a long history with Mike Martz, including two stints with Rams when Martz was the head coach and one with the Redskins when Martz was the team's quarterbacks coach.

-- Matt Barrows

September 9, 2008
Waiting on Dr. Andrews ...

Free-agent quarterback Jamie Martin has had his physical. But the 49ers are holding off on signing him until they figure out what to do with Alex Smith. And they can't make a decision on Smith until Dr. James Andrews examines the images of Smith's shoulder. Those images arrived in Birmingham, Ala. today. But I'm told that Andrews typically schedules his surgeries for Tuesdays and that he probably wouldn't get around to Smith's case until late in the day.

Smith fractured a bone in his throwing shoulder on Friday. If he needs to have surgery, the 49ers likely will place him on injured reserve and sign Martin. If Andrews decides on a less drastic course of action, Martin might not be needed as long or at all. Hence the waiting ...

-- Matt Barrows

September 9, 2008
Q&A: Pondering Thomas Clayton

FYI: I wrote this Q&A Saturday morning and was about to post it when the news about Alex Smith's shoulder broke. Smith should learn his prognosis today and there's a good chance the 49ers will sign Jamie Martin. So check back often ... Oh, check out my prediction in the last Q&A. I swear I didn't alter it. I might have special fortune-telling powers ...

Question: Hi Matt, I don't understand the rationale of letting Thomas Clayton go. Why didn't they try him on punt returns or kickoffs? He seemed to completely outperform Foster. Why would they keep Foster over Clayton?
Dennis, Carmichael

Answer: If anything should be evident from Mike Nolan's four years as head coach it's that he much prefers veteran players over up and comers. (See: Goldson vs. Roman; Dilfer, Trent, etc.) A year ago, I didn't think much of Clayton. He ran too erect (awkward phrasing), and seemed to get tackled too easily. With Frank Gore as his model, he became a much tougher, more straight-ahead runner this year. He's infinitely better than he was a year ago. But is he good enough to be the man should Gore go down this season? The 49ers obviously think he still has more developing to do and would rather give that job to someone like Foster who's been in that starting role before. If anything should happen to Gore or Foster this year, Clayton will be elevated to the 53-man roster.
- Matt

Question: Alex Smith frequently addresses the necessity of a Martz QB having to make quick reads/decisions/reactions (and says he's getting better at it but I don't see that). In your opinion, from up close and personal: since he fails to consistently bypass his 'mental' hangup of pre-processing before reacting, do you honestly foresee him ever really developing in the Martz system?
Sammy, Sacramento

Answer: Smith is a guy who takes a long time to master an offense - just ask Urban Meyer. I think he'll continue to develop in the Martz system but that ultimately it's a bad fit for his style of play. Every quarterback wants to be a starter, and one this season is over Smith and his agent no doubt will try to find a landing spot where he can be a starter again. But perhaps a more slow and steady approach is best for Smith. Maybe he should find a team where he can apprentice for a few years, fully learn the system, and then make a triumphant return when he's in his late 20's. He'd still have a decade of playing time ahead of him ...
- Matt

Question: Hi, Matt. Nolan and Co. seemed to have made up for the busted Alex Smith by obtaining Willis and Staley in last year's draft, so all is forgiven, right? But we still haven't found a longterm OLB to play along side Willis and create that pass rush each team needs to be competitive. If Nolan and Co. knew Wragge would have been this good so far, would they have passed up on Rachal and, maybe selected Groves? And what's your opinion of Lawson? Was he worth the 1st round selection in '06? Thanks for all your hard work.
Marc, Tempe

Answer: You make an excellent point about Wragge. The 49ers now have a glut of starting caliber players at guard and center. The team no doubt will want Rachal to be in the starting lineup at some point, meaning three of the following five players - Wragge, Baas, Snyder, Heitmann and Wallace - would be sitting. ... As for Lawson, I can't shake the notion that he's not 100 percent recovered from his knee injury. Maybe the 49ers kept a lid on him in the preseason and he'll be back to his explosive self.
- Matt

Question: This may be a dumb question, but if Josh Morgan is good enough to challenge the #1 at split end, then why can't he start at one of the other WR positions?
Margaret, Sacramento

Answer: Not a dumb question, and one I'm sure the 49ers are pondering. The question is whether, in Martz's ultra-precise, timing-based passing attack, a rookie would be able to adequately learn another position during the season. There's also an ego question involved. Can you imagine going up to Isaac Bruce and telling him that he's been displaced in the starting lineup by a rookie? ...
- Matt

Question: Am I the only one to notice that J.T. O'Sullivan went to the same college AND high school as 80s Jets QB Ken O'Brien?
Nate, Sacramento

Answer: Yes! Doris, tell the man what he's won ...
- Matt

Question: I read on another blog site that TBC took a pay cut to stay with 9ers. Is this true? How long before Spikes starts?
Michael, San Jose

Answer: Wait, there's another 49ers blog site? If Spikes doesn't start next week I'll be surprised. **updated** I didn't think that Spikes looked all that good Sunday, his special teams blunder not withstanding. What did you guys think?
- Matt

Regarding last week's Q about sports bars, my guy David Fucillo at Niners Nation has started a thread on the very subject. Enjoy tomorrow's game wherever you're watching it. I'm predicting a barn burner with the under/over on total turnovers 5

-- Matt Barrows

September 8, 2008
Nolan: Glass half full after loss to Arizona; QB update

Last year at this time Mike Nolan was 1-0 after a narrow win over the Cardinals. But the coach today he had a better feeling about the upcoming season this year than he did a year ago despite losing the opener to Arizona. "We're going to be a better football team than we were last year. I believe we already are,' Nolan said. " ... I'm excited about the prospects of this football team. But it is about winning. So it's difficult to get too excited when you're 0-1."

  • Nolan confirmed that former Rams QB Jamie Martin was one of the quarterbacks the 49ers were considering signing but that they had a "wall of names" of potential replacements. He said there has been no determination about the extent and duration of Alex Smith's shoulder injury. Whether Smith is out for a short period or a long one will help determine the type of player - veteran or youngster -- they bring in, he said. The 49ers are not interested in training-camp QB Kyle Wright at this time. They have spoken with Tim Rattay's agent, but their level of interest has not been determined. Rattay was in New England today and could be signed by the Patriots. *****UPDATE***** Martin is flying in tomorrow to have a physical, according to his agent.
  • The Cardinals seemed to be picking on cornerback Donald Strickland in the second half, especially when he was matched up against Anquan Boldin. Nolan, however, insisted that the 49ers were continually switching the scheme - zone to man-to-man, etc. - so that Arizona would not get comfortable on the matchup. When a team has 40 second-half plays (like the Cardinals did), they are bound to get some favorable matchups, Nolan said.
  • Nolan acknowledged that the Cardinals defense did a good job of taking away the 49ers' outside receivers, particularly Isaac Bruce, who was held without a catch. Nolan said the Cardinals left the inside receivers in single coverage. J.T. O'Sullivan is expected to move on to his next option in those cases, and for the most part he did, Nolan said.
  • The 49ers were contemplating some razzle dazzle when the Cardinals punted from deep in their own territory at the end of the first half. One of the options was for Allen Rossum to hand the ball to Nate Clements, who was back on the play. In the end, the 49ers decided on a fair catch, which Nolan said disappointed Rossum and Clements who were in favor of the more ambitious play.
  • The 49ers only had one significant injury - center Eric Heitmann's shoulder - and Heitmann returned to play most of the game. They should be healthy for Sunday's game in Seattle.
  • The 49ers had to burn a timeout before a third-down play by the Cardinals because the defensive call was not being transmitted properly from the coaches' booth. The 49ers had more technical difficulties at halftime when the elevator from the booth to the field level broke down, forcing the 49ers' assistants to climb down through the stands. I'm beginning to think it might be time for a new stadium ...
  • -- Matt Barrows

September 8, 2008
Ex-Ram Jamie Martin on 49ers' QB list

******UPDATE at 2:20 p.m. ****** Martin is flying in for a physical tomorrow, according to his agent. Given Martin's background in Mike Martz's offense, he will not be asked to work out for the 49ers. There's a strong chance he'll sign tomorrow.

As the 49ers begin searching for a backup quarterback today, one of the names on their list is Jamie Martin. Mike Nolan on Sunday said the list of candidates includes both young and older quarterbacks. Martin falls into the latter category.

He entered the league with the Rams in 1993 when they still played in Los Angeles. What is most intriguing to the 49ers is Martin's background with Mike Martz, which began in 1997 when both were with the Redskins. He also spent four seasons under Martz in St. Louis, filling in as the starting quarterback for two games in 2002 and five games in 2005 when Marc Bulger got hurt.

In 2002, Martin connected on 124 of 195 passes for 1,216 yards, seven TDs, 10 INTS and was sacked 10 times. He was 124 of 177 in 2005 for 1,277 yards, five TDs, seven INTS and was sacked 11 times. He most recently had been Drew Brees' backup in New Orleans.

-- Matt Barrows

September 7, 2008
Smith: Course of action will be determined tomorrow

Just had a brief, group Q&A with Alex Smith, whose right arm was in a sling. Here's what he had to say about his recent shoulder injury:

Q: Do you know how it happened?
A: Yeah, I was just throwing. It was non-contact.

Q: Did you feel it?
A: Yeah, it was kind of gradual then I defenitely felt something on a throw ...

Q: Was it a big throw?
A: Yeah, I let a ball go and felt it

Q: Were you able to throw after that?
A: I tried a little but it was definitely painful.

Q: Was there a stress fracture already in that area?
A: Potentially. they're trying to figure that out. That's the goal. Hopefully the films get down to Dr. Andrews tomorrow and they'll talk and see what's what.

Q: Could the fracture originally have occurred on that hit by Rocky Bernard?
A: No, no because the films ... something would have come up before then. So, as far as I know, no.

Q: Will you visit Andrews?
A: No,I'm not planning on going down there. They're going to send the films down and do it like that. But as of now I'm not going down there.

Q: Is this a season-ending injury?
A: We should find out tomorrow. That's the goal. They're going to talk, so ...

Q: Is surgery an option?
A: They're potentially talking about it. Don't know anything definitive right now. SHould find out tomorrow exactly what the plan is.

Q: Is this something that could have been there all along?
A: No, I think it was gradual. I think that's what they're thinking. Stil trying to figure it out.

Q: Any pain in any of your recent long throws?
A: I've had some soreness recently, but nothing like this.

-- Matt Barrows

September 7, 2008
Inactives for today's game

QB Alex Smith
CB Marcus Hudson
CB Tarell Brown
CB Reggie Smith
C Cody Wallace
LB Tully Banta-Cain
G Chilo Rachal
LB Ahmad Brooks

* The 49ers have no emergency third QB. RB Michael Robinson would fulfill that role.

For the Cardinals:

QB Brian St. Pierre
RB J.J. Arrington
T Brandon Keith
DT Alan Branch
WR Early Doucet
TE Jerame Tuman
DT Gabe Watson

September 7, 2008
Smith has fracture normally associated with severe trauma

Alex Smith has a fracture of the coracoid process, a bone in the shoulder that is rarely broken. An MRI of the shoulder has been sent to Dr. James Andrews, who operated on Smith's separated shoulder in December. Smith won't decide on a course of action until Andrews looks at the results, but similar fractures have been treated with surgery and the insertion of pins.

The type of fracture usually is associated with severe trauma. Smith was not hit when the fracture occurred. Rather, he was throwing his final pass of Friday's practice -- a deep pass -- when he felt a sharp pain. The MRI was taken that night. He is currently being treated by team orthopedist Tim McAdams, who assisted Andrews on the December surgery. Doctors are surprised by the diagnosis and speculate that Smith may have had a stress fracture in the shoulder that gave way when he threw the deep pass on Friday.

There is a strong possibility that Smith will go on injured reserve. If that's the case, the 49ers will have to find a third quarterback. That role is being filled today by running back Michael Robinson, a former quarterback at Penn State.

-- Matt Barrows

September 6, 2008
Smith has a fracture in his throwing shoulder

Just received information that confirms ESPN's Chris Mortensen's earlier report that Alex Smith has a fracture in his throwing shoulder. Smith apparently felt a pain at the end of Friday's practice that led to him receiving an MRI. The MRI revealed the fracture. That's all I know for sure.

This next part is getting into the area of speculation but it's certainly not wild speculation: It's entirely possible that the repetitive stress of throwing a football has resulted in one of Smith's reattached ligaments tearing a piece of bone from the shoulder. That's all I've got for tonight but should learn more details tomorrow ...

-- Matt Barrows

September 6, 2008
Alex Smith injures shoulder, doubtful for Sunday

There's been a late development on the injury report. Alex Smith injured his surgically repaired right shoulder this week and is doubtful for tomorrow's game. That means Shaun Hill will be the back-up and that Michael Robinson would be the emergency back-up. I'm told that it was a non-contact injury but there are no other details about the injury at this time. Here's a quote from Mike Nolan:

"Yesterday Alex Smith sustained a non-contact injury to his surgically repaired right shoulder. He will be consulting with his surgeon in Birmingham for treatment recommendations. At this time there are no specifics to the injury or a timetable. "

Smith has been practicing all week and was seen zipping the ball during Friday's practice. I'm told he began complaining of soreness in the shoulder following Friday's session. While Hill ran the scout team this week, Smith and starter J.T. O'Sullivan were working with quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner on drop-backs and quick throws. That is to say, there seemed to be no indication that Smith's shoulder was bothering him during the week.

Smith, of course, suffered a Grade 3 shoulder separation on the third play of the game in Week 4 last season. He returned to the starting lineup four weeks later but was ineffective and placed on injured reserve following a bad loss to the Seahawks on Nov. 12. Dr. James Andrews repaired the shoulder in December and Smith is consulting with Andrews about the current injury. Smith recently said the shoulder has felt good all offseason and for the most part the injury was a non-issue. He said all of his throws were normal save for the deepest passes, which have been slow to return to form. Smith was not alarmed by that, saying that long throws were the last thing to rebound following his type of surgery. Smith said he threw more passes this offseason while learning Mike Martz's offense than he had in any of his previous offseasons.

***UPDATE**** Smith had an MRI, which will be sent to Andrews. The results of the MRI were not definitive. He is expected to attend today's game

-- Matt Barrows

September 5, 2008
Wanted: Team to play in new L.A. stadium

I had a phone conversation today with John Semcken. He's the VP of Majestic Realty Co., the group building an $800 million stadium in the City of Industry. Semcken was effusive about the project and was confident a team would be playing in the stadium by 2011. He said that 15.5 million people live within an hour and half's drive from the site. And because the stadium literally will be built inside a mountain (or big hill), the infrastructure costs are lower than that of a free-standing structure. In January and February, he said, the Majestic group would begin wooing a team - or perhaps two - to Los Angeles. It sort of sounds like an NFL version of The Bachelor.

Which team will be presented with a rose?

Semcken was more tight-lipped on that topic. Majestic owner Ed Roski, who co-owns the Staples Center, previously has identified seven teams that could make the move. Not surprisingly, they are the seven teams that currently have the lousiest stadium deals: the Bills, Saints, Chargers, Jaguars, Vikings, Raiders and 49ers. That list, however, may now be down to six. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Vikings have declined Roski's overtures. The most natural move would be by one of the three California teams, each of which plays in a crummy stadium. Said Commissioner Roger Goodell when asked about the subject by CBS Sportline:

"Well, they are (the three worst), and that's the reality of it. And it's something we raised frequently. Our stadium situation in California is not very good, and we need to improve those facilities. The fans demand it. They're seeing new facilities in other sports. And it's something we think is necessary for our fan base out there. So we are working to try to address it."

When I asked Jed York about the L.A. proposal last week, he was unequivocal in his response: "We have not had any communication with Roski, his group, the NFL or anyone regarding L.A." The Yorks have been asked the L.A. question many times before and have insisted each time that the 49ers will remain in the Bay Area. Semcken, meanwhile, said he wouldn't reveal the names of the teams his group was targeting because it would hamstring ticket sales for that team in its current market. The Majestic group also is leery of running afoul of the NFL, which, of course, would have to approve such a move. "If we get our way, nobody will know who we're talking to until we have a deal," Semcken said.

Safety Michael Lewis (back) and tight end Delanie Walker (calf) did not practice today but are listed as probable on the injury report. Also probable are Parys Haralson (shoulder) and Aubrayo Franklin (knee), both of whom practiced. What does that mean? It means every player ought to be available for Sunday's game. Take a bow, 49ers training staff ...

Asked about the starter at split end, Nolan said that it could be either Bryant Johnson or Josh Morgan depending on the formation and the personnel group. In other words, both look to play a lot ...

-- Matt Barrows

September 5, 2008
Martz gave Warner the whip. Who got it in SF?

Over the offseason the 49ers quarterbacks were careful not to complain about their grueling competition and offered little insight into the inner sanctum of a Mike Martz-led meeting room. Instead, it was a former Martz pupil, Kurt Warner, who shined a little light on the subject this week. Said Warner during a conference call:

  • "Probably the anecdote is that when I first got there in my first year with Mike [Martz] that I was the 'whipping boy' that you hear about when Trent Green was there and all of the coaching was done through me. But a couple of quick anecdotes was that there were a couple of times that I would get yelled at in every single meeting. There would be days where I'd go home and I would call my wife and I'd be sitting on the phone telling her that 'Man I suck, I'm not any good' because that's all that I heard in the meetings. I never lacked confidence before but I remember tell her that 'man, I'm just not very good.' Then there was the time, to just kind of put in perspective, about five weeks into that first year. I think that we were undefeated I was playing pretty well a media group came in and was interviewing myself and four or five of the other guys, Marshall [Faulk], Isaac [Bruce], Torry [Holt] and I think Ricky Proehl. I remember them asking the question to those guys ' did you have any idea that Kurt could play this well' and every single one of them looked back at the interviewers and said 'No, we thought Kurt was terrible because all we remember is in meetings all through training camp he'd get yelled at. So we did think he was very good at all.' That's kind of an idea of what it's like in those meetings."

Asked about that technique by Brian Murphy of KNBR this week, Martz chuckles. "Some guys you need to press a little more and find out how they'll respond to those situations," he said. Martz said he usually applied the heavy pressure to a player who wasn't playing at the time as was the case with Warner during the '99 offseason.

So who was the 49ers' "whipping boy" this offseason? By all indications it was Shaun Hill. In a recent piece, Yahoo! Sports writer Mike Silver writes that Martz tends to coach all the quarterbacks by focusing his animus on one player - in this case Hill - and that Hill went to Mike Nolan during the offseason to complain that the competition was rigged.

But Warner doesn't seem to hold any grudges. In fact, he credits that pressure with jump-starting his career when Trent Green suddenly went down with an injury prior to the '99 season.

  • "Mike pushes you to the limit and wants you to be perfect, wants you to get to your full potential and scrutinizes a lot of things that you do to see if you can handle it, if you can take it in, you can regurgitate all of the stuff that you're trying to learn and you can apply it when you get on the football field. [It's] very difficult to go through. Like I said, [there] were times that I lost confidence or didn't feel like I could play anymore but at the end of the day , the desire inside of me to want to be great made me take that stuff and take the criticism and the little points that he was trying to teach me within those meetings and apply them to my game and ultimately it helped make me a better quarterback."

One of the arguments against shortening the preseason is that teams will enter the regular season rusty and out of sync. To them, I give you last night's yawn-inducing seazzzzzzon opener in which the Giants and Redskins combined for 14 penalties. The Giants had four preseason games with which to prepare. The Redskins had five and yet still committed three false start penalties and apparently didn't have a two-minute offense installed. Really, can it get any worse than that with just two preseason games?

-- Matt Barrows

September 4, 2008
Snyder to start at left guard; Walker rests calf

Mike Nolan today said Adam Snyder will start at guard next to Joe Staley and that David Baas will be the back-up at both right and left guard. Baas played right guard the last two seasons but practiced early in his career at left guard. He and Snyder had been rotating at left guard this week. "I thought he did decent," Nolan said of Baas' performance Friday against San Diego. "I don't remember the number of reps he got but he did alright."

Snyder's been the team's left guard all offseason but struggled at the position early in training camp. "He started to get more consistent," Nolan said. "Even the line in training camp was getting used to the new offense as well. But the last couple of games, they weren't too bad. They were pretty good."

Nolan said the starter at split end is still undecided. He said Ulbrich would start at "ted" linebacker but that he and Takeo Spikes likely would split time in the game. "Takeo's a good player," Nolan said. "He just needs to get more comfortable with the defense, that's all."

Nolan said he expected first-round pick Kentwan Balmer to play some Sunday. "But how many reps and when he goes in, I'm not sure yet. But we look to utilize him," Nolan said. Balmer didn't play a lot in college, Nolan said, and simply needs more time on the field. Still, he said the rookie showed all the signs of being a good lineman. "Some guys have potential but they don't have the other things that go with it," Nolan said. "They're just body beautiful. But they don't really have the work ethic or the toughness. The reason I have confidence Kentwan will get there, he does ... have good work ethic, he is coachable and he does have good toughness."

Delanie Walker had a sore calf today and sat out practice. He is expected to return tomorrow. Walker was the only player missing today. Both Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and Parys Haralson (shoulder) went through a full practice. Haralson has been wearing a black No. 7 jersey that normally belongs to quarterbacks. Like a quarterback, Haralson is not to be touched during practices.

Nolan said he would not announce the eight inactive players until close to game time, a policy he adheres to with the players as well. He said he used to notify players early in the week but noticed they wouldn't practice as hard.

"They shift down to first gear rather than practicing all week at a high level because they thing, 'Well, I'm not going to play,'" Nolan said.

He said now he waits until pre-game to tell players. " ... They may be a little more disappointed than normal but we get a better roster on Sunday."

-- Matt Barrows

September 4, 2008
Johnson trying not to o.d. on excitement

Mike Nolan is still being tight-lipped as to his starter at split end on Sunday, but you have to think veteran Bryant Johnson will get the nod to play against his former teammate. Johnson twice today said he has to be wary of "o.d.ing on emotion" when he faces the Cardinals. Try not to o.d. on excitement as you read a few excerpts from what he had to say today ...

Is this a game that you circle on your calendar?
"No, you look at it just like any other game. The thing you have to be careful about going into a situation like this is o.d.ing on your emotions. I'm here now. I'm not there anymore and I'm taking the approach (that) they're an opponent now.

Do you feel good about how you left Arizona?
"Yeah. I felt pretty good. I thought I was able to make the most of the situation I was in, and I was happy about that."

When you were drafted, did you expect it would turn out like it did?
"I won't say it was disappointing. I'll just say it was something I had to deal with. I had no control over who they were going to draft and the type of decisions they make. All I can do is try to be the best football player I can possibly be."

Have you been waiting for any opportunity to show you can be a No. 1-caliber receiver?
"I wouldn't say I've been waiting for it. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity that's given to me. It's a whole lot more than the opportunity I've had in Arizona."

Is this the best possible situation given who the offensive coordinator is?
"Yeah, that's the reason I came here. I felt as though this was the best fit for me."

Have you gotten enough work with J.T. O'Sullivan?
Out there on the field, we go through everything with all of our quarterbacks. We don't single anyone out. So, we've got a lot of work with everyone."

What are your impressions of J.T?
"J.T., uh, seems to take leadership in the huddle. He's comfortable in the offense, which he was in last year last year in Detroit with coach Martz. We're definitely looking for him to continue to progress."

What do you think you're capable of in this offense?
"Just to be another playmaker. If you look at our offense, we have tons of playmakers on this offense. Just to be another playmaker who can create mismatches out there with the defense."

Given your one-year contract, are you looking at this year as an opportunity to showcase your skills to the rest of the league?
"I'm just looking to be productive. I'm in a great situation. And I couldn't ask for anything more."

-- Matt Barrows

September 3, 2008
Arizona injury report: no depth at nose

The Cardinals injury report shows that back-up nose tackles Alan Branch (ankle) and Gabe Watson (knee) did not practice today, raising some questions about the interior of the Arizona defense Sunday in San Francisco. Beat writer Kent Somers has more details in his blog. Center Al Johnson (knee) did not take part in Wednesday's practice, either. Tight end Ben Patrick (ankle) was limited while tackle Mike Gandy (knee) went through the full practice.

For the 49ers, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and linebacker Parys Haralson (shoulder) went through a full practice. Look for both to be listed as "probable" tomorrow.

Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about possibly altering the preseason schedule today by Chris Myers today on FOX Sports radio. Said Goodell:

"Well I've been on the record that I don't think the preseason games as they stand right now meet the NFL standard of entertainment and I think it is becoming quite clear in the conversations that we don't need four preseason games, so we're looking at what we call the 20 game season which is 4 preseason, 16 regular season games, and trying to see whether that should be restructured, should that be modified, and maybe add 2 regular season games instead of the 4 preseason and have it 18 [regular season games] and 2 [preseason games] or a 17 and 3 which we think both would be much more attractive and improve the quality of the remaining preseason games and obviously give us better and higher quality product in the regular season."

I couldn't agree more. Sure, Friday's season finale against San Diego had a riveting finish. But of the defensive players who made that final, valiant (and ultimately flawed) stand, how many made the team? Three? Four? The fourth game of the preseason was so useless to the 49ers that they sat a quarterback, J.T. O'Sullivan, who would be making his first-ever regular season start nine days later. Half of the Chargers first-string offense did not play, either. If people are paying regular-season prices, they ought to be seeing regular-season football....

-- Matt Barrows

September 3, 2008
McCloughan speaks about the futures of Smith, Nolan, Martz ...

Just got out of a marathon group session with GM Scot McCloughan, who spoke frankly about several topics, including the futures of Alex Smith, Mike Nolan, Mike Martz and J.T. O'Sullivan. Like his head coach, McCloughan is taking a week-by-week approach to the season. But he conceded that there will be some big decisions to make at season's end, even if the team has been successful.

One of them is Martz's future. The 49ers have had six offensive coordinators in six seasons, and Martz has said he wants to become a head coach again. I asked McCloughan if he and Martz have talked about the latter's ambitions and whether he wants to be a head coach again.

"He says he does not want to be a head coach," McCloughan said. "(But) I'd be disappointed if he doesn't want to be a head coach again. Then he's striving to be the best he can be at what he does. And that's call plays. And he's been a successful head coach before in the NFL. Again, that would be a great problem to have at the end of the year. Because it means we've put some stuff up that shows he's worthy of being a head coach.

***** Word just arrived that McCloughan mispoke on this topic. He meant to say that Martz wants to be a head coach. *********

On whether Smith ultimately will find success:
"Don't know. Don't know. I know the one thing about him with his age and what he's been through ... I think it's all going to help him for the future. I still think he's going to be a good quarterback in the NFL. And I hope it's here. But in the NFL you don't know. Especially at that position ..."

On whether Smith was mishandled by the 49ers:
"I know the one thing that first and foremost in my mind is just keeping the one coordinator for him. It would have been great. Who knows where he'd be at right now? Who knows where this offense would be at if we had just one coordinator?"

On whether the team can afford to have Smith around next year if he is not a starter:
"You can't. You can't. That something at any position - the amount of money we're going to invest in him, it would have to be proven that he is the guy going into the offseason; that he is our guy for next year."

On whether there's uncertaintly at the quarterback position no matter what given the fact that O'Sullivan only has a one-year deal:
"Oh Yeah. Certainly. There's no doubt about it. The one thing that would be great about it is if we're still having this discussion at the end of the year about J.T. because that means he's had a heckuva year for us. And that's what we're looking for. That would be a nice problem to have - having to do a new contract with him and keeping him a 49er."

On whether the QB competition was fair?
"I would say it was fair. I would say because they all got snaps on the field, especially with Alex and JT. People want to say, 'Well, JT got the upper hand because he knew the system.' That's fine. Nothing in football is fair. Nothing in the NFL or in life is going to be fair when all is said and done. We've got to go with feel gives us the best chance to win on Sunday."

Is he positive JT is the best option?
"... From a pure talent standpoint, I see something different. But that doesn't matter. You have to go out there with the guy that understands the system and knows how to work the system best."

Is it safe to say that he went in expecting Smith to start?
"I was planning on him being the starter. Most definitely. But I was planning on some other guys starting, too. You can't approach it as who looks best on paper. It's got to be who deserves it, who gets it done on the football field."

How much jeopardy is Mike Nolan in this season?
"I wouldn't say jeopardy. I think we're under fire from the standpoint of we need to win. That's what you get measured by in the NFL. ... I wouldn't pinpoint one guy who's more under pressure than another guy. I think it's important that we all work together and, again, get this thing started in the right direction and get some momentum going."

If the team got off to a bad start -- 1-4, 1-3 -- would Nolan be vulnerable?
"I can't answer that right now. That's all looking out into the future. We're planning on getting off to a 3-1, 4-1 start and going from there. We're living week to week. And that's what you do in the NFL. The bad thing is that you can go out and play a great game on Sunday and lose and still feel like you did if you got beat by 50. It's a tough business to be in. But you're measured week to week. ... Again, we feel positive about the outlook of the season. ... But I don't want to do ifs and buts and all that because it's not worth it right now. Again, we're all in this together and we want to win together."

-- Matt Barrows

September 3, 2008
Rookies will be scarce on Sunday

There's a good likelihood that just one of the 49ers' six draft picks will be in uniform for Sunday's opener against the Cardinals. Both Kentwan Balmer and Chilo Rachal look to be on the sideline. At this point, Balmer is the least versatile of the team's d-linemen, having only played left defensive end. Rachal, meanwhile, is the team's fourth best guard.

The 49ers' fourth-round pick, center Cody Wallace, also looks to be on the bench because Tony Wragge and David Baas have experience playing center. The outlook is better for the third-round pick, Reggie Smith, because he plays special teams and because the 49ers are playing the Cardinals, a team that likes to pass the ball. However, the team has an abundance of defensive backs this year, including two -- Donald Strickland and Marcus Hudson -- who can play both cornerback and safety. Smith would appear to be the odd man out if they chose to sit a defensive back Sunday. The 49ers' seventh-round pick, Larry Grant, is on the practice squad.

Mike Nolan, of course, chose to look at the glass-is-half-full angle regarding his rookie class. "The better you are, the less those rookies play," he said. "... It's nice to see that we've got a little bit of depth."

Asked why he thinks this year's squad is better than last year's, which went into the season with high expectations, Nolan immediately pointed to the quarterback position: "We're more established at the quarterback position than we were a year ago. More depth." More established? The 49ers essentially exchanged Trent Dilfer, who had 14 years in the league, for J.T. O'Sullivan, who will be making his first-ever regular-season start Sunday. What is it about O'Sullivan that gives Nolan so much confidence? "Because of what we've done in practice and in the preseason games. Six years of experience. I think that's pretty good," Nolan said of O'Sullivan's tenure in the league. "... I think that makes you better. I've been several places myself. I'm glad I've been several places."

The 49ers head into the season with just two players - Parys Haralson and Aubrayo Franklin - on the injury report. Both, however, will go through practice today. They don't have an official designation yet, but both look to be questionable or better for the game.

-- Matt Barrows

September 2, 2008
Splitting hairs at split end, other positions

The 49ers quarterback competition? That's sooo mid-August. These days, it's all about split end, left guard and "Ted" linebacker, all of which are in a state of flux. Here's the inside scoop on each ...

  • Split end. Mike Nolan insists that it's still a dead heat between veteran Bryant Johnson and rookie Josh Morgan, who were arguably the team's most productive two receivers throughout the entire offseason. But pencil in Johnson to start Sunday against Arizona. Here's what Mike Martz had to say on the matter: It's hard with Josh 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's 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 it obviously but we're really kind of depending on [Bryant Johnson] to step up now and be healthy and ready to go." Nolan also said that Morgan would be playing special teams in the regular season. Morgan's been practicing on several special-teams units but didn't play there in the preseason because he was a starter at receiver (In games 1-3). If he's playing specials teams on Sunday it only stands to reason that he won't be a starter at receiver.
  • Guard. This one is tougher to sniff out. The 49ers feel very confident about four out of five of their offensive line spots. Left guard, however, has become a conundrum. Do you give the job to Adam Snyder, who has practiced there for most of the offseason but who struggled early in training camp? Or do you give it to David Baas, who played well at right guard in the second half of the season but who hasn't practiced extensively on the left side since 2006? It may come down to who looks better in practice this week.
  • "Ted" linebacker. No, Ahmad Brooks wasn't brought in to shore up the "Ted" spot like many have speculated. Brooks is tall, fast and athletic, and his skill set fits best at "Mike" linebacker or the strong-side outside spot where Manny Lawson plays. The "Ted" competition is still between Jeff Ulbrich and Takeo Spikes. Ulbrich has the edge for Week One. But once Spikes digests the entire defense, look for him to get the starting nod. One risk is that the 49ers have a pair of 31-year-olds playing a position that has a heavy load of violent collisions. The 49ers are betting that at least one is healthy all season. If not, Larry Grant or even recently released Dontarrious Thomas could be back in the mix.

-- Matt Barrows

September 1, 2008
Brooks: 49ers tried to trade for me last week

Just spoke with both Mike Nolan and Ahmad Brooks after practice ... Brooks said he had a strong inkling that he might wind up with the 49ers especially after his agent told him that the 49ers tried to trade for him last week. Brooks said he didn't know the terms of the proposed trade.

As reported earlier, the 263-pound Brooks is starting out at the "Mike" linebacker spot behind Patrick Willis. The position is similar to the one he played his rookie season in Cincinnati. Brooks said he didn't like the move to strong-side linebacker his second year with the Bengals and is more comfortable where he is now. Brooks also played in a 3-4 defense at Virginia. Brooks is still recovering from the groin injury that cost him all but two games of the 2007. He said he is close to 100 percent but not quite there yet.

Both Nolan and Brooks minimized the recent legal scrape Brooks found himself in this past offseason. Brooks was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly punching a woman in the face in Northern Kentucky. Said Nolan: "I don't really know the details of it but I know enough of it to know that we're willing to take this opportunity and see what he can do." Nolan said he feels the team has "the structure and manpower and the people in place" to take on players who have had character issues in the past. He noted that the team's staff included a psychologist, Rev. Earl Smith, Dr. Harry Edwards and others who are there to assist players. Cornerback Tarell Brown and running back Thomas Clayton, for example, are players who arrived out of college with character concerns but who have had nary an issue while with the 49ers. Antonio Bryant, on the other hand, was not able to get past his issues and was dismissed by Nolan after a little less than a year in San Francisco.

Brooks, meanwhile, said his recent run-in probably had something to do with his release from the Bengals. "But it really didn't because I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I made a dumb decision, I guess." Brooks also had problems while in Virginia and was dismissed from the team by Al Groh following his junior season. Nolan spoke to Brooks about his college transgressions when Brooks visited in 2006. He revisited the subject when Brooks arrived yesterday. "He said obviously it was a case of immaturity at that time in college," Nolan said.

A year ago, Nolan had players from every position group elect a captain, a group that Nolan dubbed the team's "shop captains." Today, Nolan essentially said that experiment was a dud and has decided to go with a more traditional group of four who will have the "C" for captain on their jerseys. They are:

Offense: Eric Heitmann
Defense: Patrick Willis
Special teams: Michael Robinson
Player representative: Walt Harris

Nolan said that Adam Snyder and David Baas are competing to start at left guard for Sunday's opener against Arizona. He said the split end also is undecided although Mike Martz last week seemed to indicate that the job would go to veteran Bryant Johnson instead of rookie Josh Morgan. Nolan also said that Morgan, Arnaz Battle and Jason Hill will contribute on special teams.

Back by popular demand this year is Scot McCloughan's "Guys to Watch" list for the upcoming college season. Follow this list and you'll gain at least a smidgen of credibility when you are making outrageous claims -- "Horrible pick!" or "Awesome pick!" -- on draft day. We'll begin with tonight's UCLA-Tennessee game ... Keep in mind, these are limited to seniors.

For the Vols:
#47 Britton Colquitt Punter *Comment: How many punters can one couple produce?
#27 Arian Foster RB
#78 Ramon Foster Tackle
#75 Anthony Parker Guard
#24 DeAngelo Willingham CB

For the Bruins:
#36 Kahlil Bell RB
#17 Aaron Perez Punter

-- Matt Barrows

September 1, 2008
JTO in sharp focus; Brooks to play 'Mike' linebacker

J.T. O'Sullivan gets a little more interesting every time we talk to him. Today we found out he's an English major (huge brownie points), was a catcher in high school and still lives at the team hotel. "I'll ride the hotel as long as I can until they kick me out," he said. It's hard to see O'Sullivan being overwhelmed by the limelight of being an NFL quarterback, either. He is the personification of focus, and has been excellent at filtering out anything unrelated to being an NFL quarterback. "Anything that's not going to benefit my profession - I'm not interested in doing it," he said.

Ahmad Brooks will fill the role Dontarrious Thomas had before he was released. That is, his primary duty will be to play "Mike" linebacker behind Patrick Willis. Brooks was getting briefed today on his new defense - expect him to be nonfunctional for a while - and wasn't available to the media. One guy who vouched for him, however, was Vernon Davis. Both grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and Davis played against Brooks in high school (Brooks' team won) and in college. One of Brooks' best games came in 2004 when his Virginia team beat Davis' Maryland squad 16-0. Brooks had two interceptions in the game, which he got while covering Davis. ... Brooks will wear No. 55, which was most recently worn by Dennis Haley, another former UVA linebacker.

Both Jonas Jennings and Adam Snyder will be back at practice today. Jennings wasn't wearing a cast on his right hand in the locker room but said he'll have protection over it on the field. He has some practice in that regard. Before the 2005 season, he broke a bone in his left hand and had to start the season with a bulky plastic contraption. At the time, Jennings said he felt like a "one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest." Jennings agreed that that episode helped him prepare for the current one. "But it's still a hindrance. You want to be able to grab." The silver lining: Fewer holding penalties. ... The 49ers expect everyone to be healthy by Sunday's game. Parys Haralson and Aubrayo Franklin will re-join practice mid week.

The 49ers rounded out their practice squad with OT Joe Toledo and WR Chris Hannon. Hannon has spent time with the Chiefs and Panthers. Presumably, he has some familiarity with Mike Martz's offense because a version of Al Saunders' offense was being used in Kansas City.

It's official. My guy Jason Jones says the Raiders have signed Ashley Lelie. Al Davis loves speed .. and ex-Bronco receivers ....

-- Matt Barrows


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

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