49ers Blog and Q&A

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

March 30, 2009
Marvel Smith: No doubt I'll stay healthy

Just got off a quick conference call with the newest member of the 49ers, offensive tackle Marvel Smith. The topic of conversation quickly turned to Smith's back, which has been operated on in each of the last two seasons. The most recent procedure, Smith said, occurred on Nov. 26 and was done to remove a lose fragment from a disc in his lower back. Smith, 30, had a similar surgery in December of 2007. He said he was confident he'd remain healthy this time because he feels a lot better now than he did following the December 2007 procedure. "I noticed an instant improvement right away," he said of the most recent surgery. "Even when I was lying in the hospital."

Smith's two-year contract depends on him remaining healthy. He is being penciled in as the starter at right tackle. Whether he begins the season there depends on what the 49ers do with the No. 10 selection in the draft. Smith said he was not concerned that the 49ers might tap a tackle and said that he was ready to compete for the job if they do. "Doesn't matter to me at all," Smith said. "I don't have any control over any decision like that."

Smith grew up in East Oakland and - brace yourself, Faithful - was a Raiders fan. He did say, however, that he liked individual members of the 49ers (just not the team) and that once he was drafted by the Steelers all of his allegiances instantly vanished. He will join his new teammates in Santa Clara next week.

-- Matt Barrows

March 30, 2009
Denver, Dallas on preseason slate

Jay Cutler is coming to San Francisco! That is, if he's still a member of the Denver Broncos in August. (Sorry, couldn't resist). The Broncos and Raiders will visit the 49ers in the preseason this year. The 49ers go on the road to Dallas, which is unveiling a new stadium, and finish the preseason in San Diego. The dates have yet to be announced. The NFL usually announces the regular-season schedule in April.

Week 1: vs. Denver

Week 2: vs. Oakland

Week 3: at Dallas

Week 4: at San Diego

Also, the team announced that Marvel Smith has signed his contract. That likely means that Smith has arrived and will join his new teammates for the offseason program. Smith is scheduled to go on a conference call at 1 p.m. today...

-- Matt Barrows

March 29, 2009
Some draft prospects getting closer look from Niners

'Tis the season for pre-draft visits and pro day workouts. Here is a brief look at who the 49ers will be and have been looking at with the draft a mere 27 days away. Keep in mind that there are plenty of visits we might not know about and that these visits result in the team dropping a player down its list as often as they do bumping them up.

Boston College NT B.J. Raji will visit the 49ers among other teams reports Pro Football Talk. As mentioned in a previous blog, Raji's skill set seems to fit what the 49ers want from their nose tackle. Raji is big - 337 pounds - but is more of a quick, penetrating nose tackle as opposed to a speed bump who merely holds his ground. It's also worth noting that the 49ers lost one nose tackle, Ronald Fields, in the offseason and haven't always been complimentary about their other one, Aubrayo Franklin.

andre brown.jpg English.jpg bj.jpg

N.C. State running back Andre Brown also is scheduled for a visit. Brown was the best running back at the Senior Bowl and his workout numbers - 4.47 40 - also have been dazzling. At 224 pounds, Brown also fits the big-back mold the 49ers are looking for. They'll probably have to use a second-round pick to grab him.

Pro Football Talk also reports that Gregory Toler from tiny St. Paul's College in Virginia will visit. Toler has been getting plenty of interest lately. He wasn't invited to the combine but reportedly ran a 4.35 40 at his pro day. The 49ers lost Donald Strickland in free agency and have been looking at possible replacements. Look for them to draft a cornerback in the later rounds.

Trent Baalke also has been seen at a few pro day workouts. Baalke is the team's director of player personnel, meaning he's the No. 2 man to GM Scot McCloughan. Baalke recently has attended the workouts of Northern Illinois' Larry English, a projected 3-4 OLB who could be available in the second round, and Washington State receiver Brandon Gibson, a Day 2 selection. Look for the 49ers to take a receiver late in the draft and hope to strike gold like they did last year in the sixth round with Josh Morgan.

-- Matt Barrows

March 28, 2009
Q&A: Draft-day swap?

Question: Yo Matty B! My genius mind was racing recently (at a full 4 mph), thinking the 49ers and Broncos would pull off a draft day deal swapping some players for picks because of Nolan. Are there any players you hear that Nolan was high on (especially on D) during his pathetic Niner days? Manny Lawson, Walt Harris, Aubrayo Franklin? I think this may happen!
Lebowski, Los Angeles

Answer: I like the way your mind works, Lebowski. The problem with that scenario is that the 49ers just aren't in a position to deal any players, much less ones that Nolan would covet. There are at least a half-dozen positions in which the 49ers need depth. That being said, you have to wonder whether the 49ers will try to trade back in the first round to try to accumulate even more picks. I would think a team that's looking for a quarterback - the Jets, Tampa Bay, Minnesota - might think about a leap forward. Or what if Denver deals Cutler and then tries to swap picks with the 49ers to get a QB? Definitely some scenarios out there ...
- Matt

Question: I graduated from UVA in 2000 and am a die hard Niner fan. My question is, why the Niners don't offer Denver an offer they can't refuse on Jay Cutler? I would much rather trade away unknown draft picks for a known quantity in value especially at the QB position. Cutler would get the fan base excited for the fist time in a while and he would also give us a legit chance to succeed. What's the downside? I remain optimistic on the Niners - whatever they decide to do - probably more than I can say for UVA football.
Jeremy, Manhattan

Answer: Well, you may have answered your own question. The draft picks are an unknown quantity to Denver as well. Josh McDaniels was interested in acquiring a very known quantity - to him - in Matt Cassel. It would be a leap of faith if he traded Cutler for, say, Mark Sanchez. But who knows - Cutler may force him into doing so. In the end, however, I think other teams will be willing to give up far more for Cutler than the 49ers, who --rightly or wrongly -- feel they are solid at QB. ... As for UVA, why it that the school routinely produces Top 10 draft talent but never Top 10 teams? I wonder if it begins with a "c" and ends with an "oaching."
- Matt

Question: Mr. Barrows, I just don't understand why you are predicting that the 49ers might go for a OT in the first round. Why pick a RT and pay him LT money? There's not enough value and the candidates (A. Smith, Oher) wouldn't be worth of #10 pick even if they are drafted to play LT. And we have plenty of other needs!
Mika, Pori, Finland

Answer: Two thoughts: One, I think the days when the left tackle was infinitely more valuable than the right tackle are over. Teams have excellent pass rushers on both sides of the line nowadays. Think back to 2007 when Joe Staley, then a right tackle, had to battle Michael Strahan all day. Defenses also rotate their best pass rusher around the field. Case in point - Dec. 14 in Miami when Joey Porter switched sides to face Barry Sims on the pivotal fourth-down play that sealed the Dolphins' victory. My second thought is that few rookies will be worth the money the No. 10 pick will command. However, you can realistically expect that an offensive tackle will be able to step in and start from Day 1.
- Matt

Question: I know you've mentioned many times you don't think the Niners will draft Sanchez at 10. But in what scenario would they seriously think about it?
Henry, Oakland

Answer: Keeping in mind that this is purely speculation and my sense of the situation ... I think they'd seriously think about Sanchez if all the top offensive tackles are off the board by pick no. 10, if they don't think that Malcolm Jenkins is a Top 10 cornerback, if they think that B.J. Raji's arms are too short, if they think Jeremy Maclin is injury prone and if they think they can land a good pass-rushing linebacker in the second round. As I mentioned above, they could also take Sanchez and then work a draft-day trade with a team that really covets him ...
- Matt

Question: Matt: Assuming no more FA signings, and looking at the team as it stands today (pre-draft), what five players do you think SF could least afford to lose to injury this year in order of importance? Would this affect your approach to the draft if you were GM and needed to win in '09? (BTW, Staley is at the top of my list because SF doesn't even have a RT at this point...)
Mike, Montclair, N.J.

- Frank Gore: Who's behind him? Unproven Thomas Clayton and Michael Robinson, who has better receiver instincts than runner instincts.
- Patrick Willis: He's the sun and the rest of the defense rotates around him. Who's behind him? Justin Roland (though Jeff Ulbrich likely would play there if Willis went down)
- Staley: The 49ers sealed the deal with Marvel Smith after you wrote, but still there are big question marks with him and the two other tackles on the team
- Parys Haralson: He's the only linebacker on the squad who has shown he can rush the passer. That's scary when you run a 3-4 defense.
- Vernon Davis. Don't laugh. I have a feeling he's going to be integral this season.
- Matt

Question: O.K. Matt, What is the status of Jason Hill? I thought he showed flashes last year that he could be a great receiver but it does not seem he is getting any love. I know he might never be a #1 type but I know he is fast and has good hands. Is he ready to step up and make coaches notice him? Was he in Mike Nolan's doghouse as well?
Dave, Ukiah

Answer: He's definitely love-worthy. He looked very quick and capable in the recent minicamp, just like he did at the end of 2008. He and Manny Lawson are two players I think will bust out this season.
- Matt

Question: after reading the headline "former gm has 49ers taking sanchez", i cringed a little bit. thats a pretty reliable source. but i read on and saw: 1. he has chris wells going at 4!! and 2. he was a gm for teams not really known for their drafting ability. interestingly, he doesnt have bj raji in the top ten. do you think he slips and if so, should/would the niners take him? and btw, since when did "barrows" write in third person? (carlos just smirked a little bit)
Carlos, Hayward

Answer: Barrows has been impressed with Casserly ever since he picked Mario Williams over Reggie Bush and Vince Young in 2006. I thought that took guts, and so far he looks pretty damn smart. ... Dunno what the deal is with Raji. His height (lack of) and arm length (lack of) might concern some teams. But he was virtually unstoppable in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl. I would think his skill set would be perfect for how the 49ers use the nose tackle. That is, he seems like Aubrayo Franklin 2.0 ... Barrows has spoken.
- Matt

March 27, 2009
Former GM has 49ers picking Sanchez

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Internet is full of two things - porn and mock drafts, and Barrows finds only one of them valuable. And yet when it's a former NFL general manager giving his mock draft, my ears tend to prick up.

Such was the case when former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly was on NFL Network a few moments ago. Whom does Casserly have the 49ers taking at pick No. 10? USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. "How do you pass a quarterback when you're not settled at that position?" Casserly reasoned.

Casserly also noted that Mike Singletary has told him that offensive tackle was the 49ers' biggest need this offseason. But today's contract agreement with Marvel Smith changes the landscape a bit. It allows the 49ers more leeway with their first-round pick and makes it more likely that the 49ers, a team that has been unsettled at quarterback since Jeff Garcia was unceremoniously dumped, will take a passer. Do I think it'll be Sanchez? No, I think the 49ers already have one Top 10 quarterback on the roster and won't draft another. I still believe the 49ers want to solidify that offensive line even more and that an offensive tackle is still their top choice. Marvel Smith's signing, however, makes me a little less sure. ... One more thing to ponder: Casserly believes the Jets and Buccaneers will want to trade up to nab Sanchez ...

The rest of Casserly's picks:

  1. Detroit - QB Matthew Stafford

  2. St. Louis - OT Jason Smith

  3. Kansas City - LB Aaron Curry

  4. Seattle - RB Chris Wells

  5. Cleveland - WR Michael Crabtree

  6. Cincinnati - OT Eugene Monroe

  7. Oakland - OT Andre Smith

  8. Jacksonville - WR Jeremy Maclin

  9. Green Bay - LB Brian Orakpo

  10. 49ers - QB Mark Sanchez

- Matt Barrows

March 27, 2009
Marvel Smith added at right tackle

Offensive tackle Marvel Smith has agreed to terms with the 49ers on a two-year deal. The longtime Steeler, who lives in Los Angeles, is expected to sign his contract and join his new team for offseason workouts. The 49ers were hesitant about Smith, 30, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2004, because of the lower back injuries that have knocked him out of action the past two seasons. The 49ers have been roundly criticized for signing another tackle, Jonas Jennings, to a big-money deal in 2005. Jennings had injury issues prior to that deal and has been unable to stay healthy as a 49er. He did not take part in the team's recent minicamp and was released today. The Smith deal, however, is laced with incentives and protects the 49ers if Smith's season is cut short by injury.

"I am blessed with the opportunity the Niners have given me to come back home and play," said Smith, an Oakland native.


What does Smith's signing mean for the offensive line? When the 49ers conducted their recent minicamp, Adam Snyder, 27, was the starter at right tackle. At their next minicamp in early May, Smith likely will be the starter. If the 49ers keep Snyder at tackle, that could mean the team eventually parts ways with Barry Sims, 34, who was signed last offseason. Or the team could slide Snyder back inside to guard, where he began last season and where the 49ers are relatively thin. Starting left guard David Baas is entering his contract year, and he and the team have yet to agree on an extension.

Smith's signing also gives the team more wiggle room in next month's draft. Without a free-agent addition at tackle, the 49ers were almost certain to take one - Ole Miss's Michael Oher, Alabama's Andre Smith? - with the No. 10 pick. They still could do so, but with Marvel Smith, Sims and Snyder on the roster, they now have the leeway to go in a different direction. Marvel Smith is listed as 6-5, 325 pounds, but his actual weight is closer to 310 pounds.

-- Matt Barrows

March 27, 2009
49ers cut ties with Jennings

The 49ers have terminated the contract of Jonas Jennings, the oft-injured offensive tackle who was the team's big, free-agent prize in 2005. Jennings was never healthy in four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. But he commanded a $36 million contract from the 49ers, who belived he would be the anchor of a rebuilt offensive line at left tackle. Jennings played well when healthy. However, he suffered an array of injuries over the last four seasons, ranging from ankle sprains to being poked in the larynx. Jennings missed 41 of 64 potential starts during his time as a 49er.

Jennings's most troublesome injuries were three seperate dislocations to his right shoulder. The most recent occurred this past season in a Week Two game against the Seahawks. He was placed on injured reserve in November, ending his season. At the time, a frustrated Jennings wondered if he'd ever play again. Jennings' release comes as the 49ers are considering another talented tackle with an injury history, Marvel Smith. If Smith is signed, he likely will start the 2009 season where Jennings was in 2008 -- at right tackle.

-- Matt Barrows

March 27, 2009
New unis to be unveiled before draft

New coach. New voice of the 49ers. New uniforms. All will be unveiled at the 49ers draft party on April 25 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The free event runs from noon to 4 p.m. on the opening day of the draft.

The new threads -- believed to be similar to the "throwbacks" the team has worn in recent seasons -- will be displayed before the draft begins. After the 49ers make their selection in the first round, head coach Mike Singletary will arrive at the convention center to address the crowd. Current and former players also will be on hand for a Q&A that will be mc'd by radio announcers Gary Plummer and Ted Robinson, who is taking over for longtime play-by-play man Joe Starkey.

Season ticket holders will get first dibs on the free tickets. They can sign up for tickets on Monday, March 30 and the general public can sign up the following Thursday, April 2. To obtain tickets, fans must register online at www.49ers.com. Tickets are awarded on a first come, first serve basis. One printed ticket admits up to 2 people.

It's been awfully slow in 49ers land since the minicamp. However, it looks like there might be a resolution re: Marvel Smith later today. Stay tuned ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 25, 2009
Niners lose Strickland to the Jets

A 49ers' team that was light on cornerbacks over the weekend minicamp will not have Donald Strickland next season. Strickland has agreed to a three-year deal with the Jets, according to agent Peter Schaffer. Strickland also had visited with the Tennessee Titans. A San Francisco native, Strickland, 28, was a versatile and hard-nosed defensive back for the 49ers, starting 10 games in the last three seasons and seeing plenty of action in the team's nickel coverage packages. One of Strickland's starts this past season was against the Jets.

The 49ers' starting cornerbacks this season will be Nate Clements and Walt Harris. Both Shawntae Spencer and Tarell Brown were nursing injuries as the 49ers began their minicamp Friday while Reggie Smith is being converted into a safety. The backups for the minicamp were Marcus Hudson and Allen Rossum, the team's return specialist. The 49ers have looked at least two cornerbacks in free agency -- Eric Green and Karl Paymah. Both signed elsewhere.

How are the 49ers looking as far as complementory picks for next season? The NFL has a secret formula for doling those out, but it essentially examines whether a team's free-agent losses outweigh its free-agent gains.

DL Ronald Fields
WR Bryant Johnson
QB J.T. O'Sullivan
CB Donald Strickland
(The team also could lose TE Billy Bajema)

DL Demetric Evans
QB Damon Huard
WR Brandon Jones
FB Moran Norris

- Matt Barrows

March 23, 2009
Q&A: Sacks or sack protection at No. 10?

Question: If the Niners indeed bring in a veteran to play RT, be it Marvel Smith or Levi Jones, does that solidify them drafting a pass rusher at the 10th spot if one of more of the trio are available in Brown, Orakpo and Maybin? And who do you feel the Niners would like the most out of those three?
Henry, Oakland

Answer: If the 49ers brought in Smith or Jones, I don't think that precludes them from drafting a tackle at No. 10. But it does give them more leeway to go after a pass rusher. Of the three you mentioned, I think Orakpo (if he's there) fits the big-body 49er mold the best. But something to keep in mind - McCloughan likes getting value out of that position by taking lightly regarded 4-3 ends and converting them into OLBs. (See: Haralson, Parys; Moore, Jay). That is, it might be a position that the 49ers think they can bolster in rounds three through five.

By the way, Marvel Smith is still considering the 49ers' offer. I think it's fair to say that he was under whelmed by the numbers and is hoping the 49ers sweeten them a bit ...
- Matt

Question: Being that Coach Singletary is an "old school" type of persona, do you think he will build the team from the inside out starting with his lines? Seems to make sense, being that he wants to run the ball.
Layton, Kapaau, Hi

Answer: Definitely. And even more to the point, GM McCloughan thinks the same way. ... However, at some point you have to start adding skill players to the mix. That's why I keep harping on Percy Harvin. It seems that Harvin would be an ideal compliment to the power-based attack the 49ers want to run. He could be a change-of-pace back and someone who scares defensive backs with his speed. Harvin certainly needs refinement as a receiver. But in the first year, you could get a lot of mileage out of him by using him the same way the Gators used him - as a quasi rb-wr who catches a lot of screens.
- Matt

Question: Matt, So, I have been contemplating the OT problem for the 49ers. And then it came to me: Take the bust at tight end who is a great blocker and put him at right tackle. With his athleticism and good feet, this should be a achievable switch. And every once in awhile, do the tackle eligible thing and let him catch and run, run, run.
Ed, Eugene, Or

Answer: I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess you're referring to Vernon Davis. The funny thing is, Davis was asked - jokingly - last season what would happen if he gained 50 pounds and played left tackle. Davis' non-joking response: He'd be the greatest left tackle that ever lived.
- Matt

Question: What about Levi Jones? What are his upsides and negatives?
Mike, Sacramento

Answer: Upsides are that he's not quite 30, that he has experience at left tackle and that he's mostly been durable (though he hasn't had a 16-game season in the least three seasons). Negatives are that he might be a little light for the 49ers' taste to play the right side and that he's still under contract with the Bengals. Jones, if you'll recall, is the guy who got into a casino-floor fight with Joey Porter two years ago.
- Matt

Question: With Singletary's reaction to the infamous VD in-game situation as a cautionary tale...one has to wonder what he'll do if he finds the "mole" on his coaching staff. (As Mr T would say: "I pity the fool.") So Matt, what odds to you attach to these three potential MS scenarios: He 1) drops trow and moons the guy; 2) points to the "door of no return"; or 3) in another display of public passion, tells the press, "Can't coach with him, can't trust him, cannot do it!"?
Mike, Montclair

Answer: I'm going to offer a fourth scenario: Singletary identifies the culprit, gives him a stern warning and is confident the issue is resolved. ... By the way, I have to believe that Singletary knows who's been complaining. You don't exactly need a private detective and a forensics kit to figure it out. ...
- Matt

Question: Last year about this time - actually after the draft - we found out that you guys were not being permitted to attend practices at the minicamps. Has that policy changed? Do you expect to be able to attend and report on all practices?
Matt, Modesto

Answer: Those were the June OTAs in which the 49ers did the bare minimum by opening one of the sessions. I'm not sure what the policy will be this June, but I have a funny feeling Singletary's going to limit access as much as he can.
- Matt

March 23, 2009
Niners awarded two compensatory picks

The 49ers have been awarded additional picks at the end of the fifth and seventh rounds of next month's draft. Those picks are in addition to the seven picks the 49ers already have, one each in rounds one through seven. The so-called compensatory picks are given to compensate for free agents the team lost the previous offseason.

Exactly how the league determines the value of those picks comes from a secret formula (we're talking "Deep Throat" secret) that takes into account the salary and playing time of the lost free agents. For the 49ers, that list included offensive linemen Justin Smiley and Kwame Harris as well as running back Maurice Hicks and defensive lineman Marques Douglas. The compensatory picks are typically revealed during the annual league meeting, which is occuring now in Dana Point, Calif. The Bee's Paul Gutierrez is reporting from the meetings this week.

Here are the picks:

5th (171 overall)
7th (244 overall)

And, no, the 49ers don't have Mr. Irrelevant. That distinction belongs to the Chiefs with pick No. 256.

-- Matt Barrows

March 22, 2009
Where the 49ers could use help

Mike Singletary's early minicamp was designed to set a workman-like tone for his 49ers team and to give new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye an early look at his offensive talent. It also revealed that the team still has plenty of holes to fill this offseason. The 49ers are expected to have nine picks -- one in each round and two compensatories -- in next month's draft. The compensatories will be revealed this week.

Pass rusher. Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson are the starters. Haralson led the team last season with eight sacks despite playing full time for only half the season. Lawson, meanwhile, is the heaviest he's ever been and the hope is that his newfound bulk will translate into explosiveness. That alone is a big "if." An even bigger one is depth.

The 49ers said goodbye to Tully Banta-Cain and Roderick Green in the offseason. Ahmad Brooks is now behind Haralson and Jay Moore is backing up Lawson. Moore has had a rocky transition from college defensive end, and he spent last two seasons on IR. If he hadn't been injured last summer he likely would have been cut. He was playing with the third-team defense, after all.

Brooks, meanwhile, is a guy badly in need of the Mike Singletary treatment. He should be an elite talent in the league but lacks focus, drive and work ethic. Which is to say, the 49ers need to add at least one - probably two - outside linebackers to the mix. Banta-Cain is back with the Patriots. Green, however, likely could be added if the 49ers ever were in a pinch.

Offensive line. The 49ers should/must/need to have a better offensive line this year. Joe Staley was making a transition to left tackle at this point a year ago. Now he has a full year under his belt. Eric Heitmann is one of the best centers in the league. David Baas is playing in his contract year, which always brings out the best in a player.

The 49ers gave up a league-high 55 sacks last year, the second straight season they have hit that dubious number. A lot of those sacks were blamed on J.T. O'Sullivan and on Mike Martz's reliance on seven-step drops. But the offensive line hemorrhaged sacks even after O'Sullivan was removed from the lineup and the seven-step drops were eliminated. Over the last seven games, the 49ers averaged three sacks a game, which if extrapolated over the course of the season, still would have given the 49ers one of the highest sack totals in the NFL.

The most obvious problem is right tackle. The team has made an offer to Pittsburgh free agent Marvel Smith, and Smith should decide whether he wants to be a 49er soon. Let's say he does. That wouldn't preclude the 49ers from drafting a tackle in the first round, but it would give them both more wiggle room to go after another position at pick No. 10 and the ability to develop a young tackle taken later in the draft.

Safety. Dashon Goldson and Michael Lewis are the starters while Jimmy Williams is the only backup with any meaningful playing experience. Of course, it's hard to see Mark Roman - he's been given permission to seek a trade -- finding another team on which there is more potential to start than the 49ers. My guess is that he'll be back before the offseason program is over. The 49ers have moved Reggie Smith to safety, which is essentially like taking one in the draft. That move provides depth.

Receiver. Lots of speed but little experience. It also should be noted that the team's top 4 receivers - Josh Morgan, Brandon Jones, Jason Hill and Arnaz Battle - all have been in and out of the lineup with injuries over the past couple of years. The 49ers need Isaac Bruce back.

Defensive line. The 49ers lost Ronald Fields and added Demetric Evans in free agency. What hasn't been accounted for yet is Ray McDonald's knee injury. McDonald had two surgeries to his right ACL in 2005 and the knee was a big question mark in the 2007 draft. McDonald recently had surgery on that same knee and did not take part in the minicamp. Singletary downplayed the injuries to the other half dozen players who sat out the minicamp but said McDonald's was more serious.

Other areas that could use additions between now and September: running back, blocking tight end, inside linebacker.

-- Matt Barrows

March 21, 2009
Results from San Jose State's Pro Day

Lots of football in the South Bay this week. While the 49ers were opening a three-day minicamp Friday, a few miles to the south, San Jose State was hosting a pro day that drew quite a crowd. The headliners were two San Jose State players, Jarron Gilbert and Coye Francies, and Cal Poly receiver Ramses Barden. Players from San Jose State, Cal Poly, Sac State and UC Davis all worked out in front of NFL coaches and scouts, including head coaches Rex Ryan and John Fox.

Gilbert, a defensive end, measured in at 6-5, 284 pounds, according to San Jose State SID Lawrence Fan. He had a 37-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 7-inch broad jump, both of which are pretty spectacular for someone Gilbert's size. NFL Draft Scout has Gilbert as the eighth-best defensive end in the draft. Others, however, see him going as high as late in the first round.

Francies, meanwhile, measured a little over 6-feet and weighed 181 pounds. He ran the 40 in 4.59 seconds, which isn't all that good. Fan said Francies false started a number of times, which likely contributed to his poor time. Another Spartan cornerback, Christopher Owens, aced the 40, running it in 4.47 and 4.48. Owens, 5-10, 177 pounds, also had a 35-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot broad jump. NFL Draft Scout has both players going in the third or fourth rounds of the draft.

The real show stopper may have been RB Yonus Davis, who measured in at a very Darren Sproles-like 5-6, 194 pounds. Davis had a vertical of 38.5 inches and a broad jump of 10-feet. He had 20 reps of 225 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.42.

I'm still trying to track down the Sac State and UC Davis highlights, especially Davis DT John Faletoese, whom NFL Draft Scout ranks as the 17th-best interior defensive lineman and a possible sixth-round pick.

-- Matt Barrows

March 21, 2009
Niners practice in a spring shower

The 49ers got a chance to practice in adverse conditions this afternoon. A strong spring shower materialized just as the 49ers went into their team session. As a result, the pass plays were a bit eratic. Alex Smith again looked inconsistent. He did, however, hook up with Michael Robinson on a long-downfield pass in which Robinson tipped the ball to himself and made a sliding catch. Smith also threw a 40-yarder to Jason Hill between Nate Clements and Dashon Goldson. Smith's passes seem to gave good velocity, but a lot of them are on the high side ... Shaun Hill hooked up with Vernon Davis on a nice over-the-shoulder catch. After the play, new QBs coach Mike Johnson gave Hill an enthusiastic high five.

Walt Harris was back in the lineup, meaning that Michael Lewis was the only defensive starter not on the field. Reggie Smith is filling in for Lewis at strong safety.

I paid careful attention to the end-of-practice, sideline-to-sideline gassers the team was running. Once again, Patrick Willis, Alex Smith, Reggie Smith, Lewis Baker and Goldson were among the winners. Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, Chilo Rachal and Ahmad Brooks brought up the rear.

Thus ends the minicamp practices. The team will meet tomorrow but will not practice. there will be no media availability ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 21, 2009
Defensive philosophy: Simplify, simplify, simplify

A year ago, the 49ers were going to be a chameleon on defense - frequently jumping between 4-3 , 3-4 and big nickel defenses and using players like Justin Smith at multiple positions. This year the philosophy is K.I.S.S. - keep it simple, stupid. Defensive players like Takeo Spikes and Justin Smith said today they had high expectations for the new season mainly because of how well the defense played when Mike Singletary simplified things at the midpoint last season. Opposing offenses may not have has as much to prepare for. But the 49ers' defensive players were more confident and they played faster. "I'd expect us to be a Top 10, hopefully a Top 5 defense," Smith said. "That's what we're shooting for."

To hear Josh Morgan explain it, it was as if Isaac Bruce was Obi Wan Kenobi to Morgan's Luke Sywalker. Morgan said he constantly approached Bruce last seasons with questions. Now Bruce isn't around and it's as if Morgan hasn't finished his training. "He was kind of like a second father on the field," Morgan said. Bruce is undecided on whether he wants to return for a second season. Singletary has said he wants a decision by April 1.

Morgan is playing split end again this season, and he said that he wants to become the No. 1 receiver should Bruce not return. Morgan was slowed by several injuries last season, including a nasty staph infection during the preseason. Morgan, who was never hurt at Virginia Tech, said dealing with injuries and maintaining his body - something at which Bruce has excelled - was the most difficult part of his rookie season. In fact, Morgan said he was still rehabilitating a pesky groin injury from last year.

Morgan had lots of praise for new 49ers safety Jimmy Williams, against whom Morgan practiced his freshman and sophmore years at Virginia Tech. "I tell people all the time that Jimmy Williams was the best cornerback I've ever played against," Morgan said. Morgan noted that Williams began his Va. Tech career as a strong safety who wore No. 18. When he switched to cornerback, Williams went with No. 2. When Williams departed for the NFL, Morgan grabbed No. 2.

Lots of talk about the new, more intimidating grass hill that is being contsructed at the 49ers' facility. The hill - perhaps 25 feet high and pretty darn steep - is Singletary's brainchild and is part of the "excellence through hard work" message he is pounding into his team this offseason. Asked if he had a name for the hill, which is two weeks away from being ready for use, Singletary said: Pain.

During yesterday's intense, Marine Corps-like training circuit, Singletary said he was prepared to end the session early when tight end Vernon Davis piped up and said he and and his teammates wanted to complete the task. Singletary said he was very happy with the attitude of the team. They're back out there today ... here's a taste:

03212009101 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

Singletary declined to give injury details for the players who are unable to take part in the minicamp. They are: Tarell Brown, Arnaz Battle, Shawntae Spencer, Michael Lewis, Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Singletary did say that none save for McDonald's is considered long term. McDonald had surgery this offseason on the same knee that gave teams pause when he was being drafted in 2007. Perhaps that explains why the 49ers were so hot and heavy for defensive ends - Chris Canty, Kenny Peterson, Demetric Evans - during free agency.

Speaking of Singletary, he certainly didn't win any brownie points with reporters when he said today that his assistant coaches would be off limits to the media until some undetermined point in time. Singletary reasoned that he wanted his assistants focused on preparing for the season, not thinking about what they'd say in an interview. There are a number of teams in the league - the Raiders and Patriots come to mind - that deny access to assistants. The 49ers, however, always have been on the opposite end of the spectrum. Assistants have been available to reporters here for as long as anyone can remember, certainly dating as far back as the beginning of the Bill Walsh era. That access didn't seem to get in the way of five Super Bowl titles. And the heavy media attention Singletary's Bears received in 1985 didn't seem to sidetrack their Super Bowl season. Singletary said the change of procedure had nothing to do with several leaks - presumeably from his coaching staff - that have cast him and the 49ers in a bad light.

-- Matt Barrows

March 20, 2009
Niners thin at S and CB for first practice

Some observations from today's afternoon practice. There were four players, Ray McDonald (knee), Shawntae Spencer (knee), Arnaz Battle (foot) and Michael Lewis (?) who did not participate at all. In addition, union reps Walt Harris and Takeo Spikes were at a meeting today but will be back tomorrow.

With that in mind, the 49ers were short at two positions: cornerback and safety. In fact, the starting cornerbacks during the afternoon practice were Nate Clements and Allen Rossum. The second-team corners were Marcus Hudson and Rossum. Tarell Brown is here but did not practice today. He appears to be injured but there are no details yet. The 49ers seem to be moving last year's third-round pick, Reggie Smith, to safety. He and Goldson were the starters while Jimmy Williams and Lewis Baker were the backups.

Here was today's depth chart, which should be taken with a grain of salt due to the injuries/missing players and because, you know, it's freakin' mid March:

RDE: Justin Smith
NT: Aubrayo Franklin
LDE: Isaac Sopoaga
WOLB: Parys Haralson
MILB: Patrick Willis
TILB: Jeff Ulbrich
SOLB: Manny Lawson
CB: Nate Clements
CB: Allen Rossum
S: Reggie Smith
S: Dashon Goldson

Second team:
RDE: Demetric Evans
NT: Isaac Sopoaga
LDE: Kentwan Balmer
WOLB: Ahmad Brooks
MILB: Justin Roland
TILB: Mark Washington
SOLB: Jay Moore
CB: Rossum
CB: Marcus Hudson
S: Jimmy Williams
S: Lewis Baker

QB: Shaun Hill
WR: Jason Hill
WR: Josh Morgan
TE: Vernon Davis
RB: Frank Gore
FB: Moran Norris
LT: Joe Staley
LG: David Baas
C: Eric Heitmann
RG: Chilo Rachal
RT: Adam Snyder

Both Shaun Hill and Alex Smith got to work behind the first-team offensive line. It's too early to start charting completions, etc. and it's very evident that the team is in the infant stages of installing its offense. As far as Smith's arm, he hit Jason Hill on a nice crossing route and then zipped a pass to Dominique Zeigler, which Zeigler dove for but missed. Other passes, including a deepr crossing route to Josh Morgan, were off target. In other words, it was what you'd expect from a guy who hasn't thrown a practice pass since early September. ...

Here are some observations that I shall call "Barrows' eyeball" observations:

  • Jimmy Williams is a big guy. He looks to be about the same size as Michael Lewis. That is, he'd certainly big enough to play strong safety in the 49ers' scheme. Today he played free safety with Baker, a college linebacker, at strong safety.
  • It looks to me as if Vernon Davis is leaner. Over the past few years, he's had a definite weight lifters build, which may have hindered him as a pass catcher. I wonder if he's trying to improve his flexibility agility. Something to follow up on with Davis ...
  • The 49ers began the practice with a nearly hour-long circuit of drills that looked like something from a Marine Corps proving grounds. We're talking weaving in and out of cones, stepping over bags, lifting and carrying weight bags -- a true endurance workout. That was followed by practice. The day ended with sideline to sideline sprints that were run by every player on the team at the same time. The players went back and forth several times with the winners being Reggie Smith, Alex Smith and Patrick Willis. Those lagging at the back: Chilo Rachal, David Baas and Ahmad Brooks ... not what you want to see from a talented linebacker whose work habits have been questioned in the past.

The 49ers have made an offer to Steelers free-agent tackle Marvel Smith. Now it's Smith's turn to mull it over. He is expected to take the weekend to come to a decision.

-- Matt Barrows

March 20, 2009
Singletary wants Bruce decision by April 1

A steady stream of players were in front of the microphones/tape recorders as 49ers minicamp kicked off. Before I head out to practice, here are the highlights of what was said:

Mike Singletary

Said there was no resolution yet with Isaac Bruce but that he'd like a decision from Bruce by April 1.

Said the top goal of the minicamp was to give new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye a sense of the talent he has to work with on offense.

Said that Alex Smith would be full go in the minicamp. Smith later said that the only thing he was concerned about shoulder-wise was building endurance.

Shied away from any discussion about Jay Cutler. "He's a player under contract and I'm gonna stay away from that." The scuttlebutt out of Denver is that 10 teams have inquired about Cutler.

Explained the team's dalliance with Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner like this: "My job as the head coach of the football team is to do the things that give us the best chance to win."

Confirmed that defensive end Ray McDonald indeed had knee surgery after the season. Singletary said that the knee was the same one that was cited as a potential problem when McDonald was drafted. How that surgery will affect McDonald in the minicamp has yet to be determined.

Said there is still no resolation on free-agent tackle Marvel Smith. The two sides are negotiating today.

Shaun Hill:

Said there were absolutely no hard feelings when the 49ers pursued Warner. Hill said he put himself in the place of the 49ers and figured it would be silly not to pursue a future Hall of Famer.

Said Raye stood up and gave an inspiring talk to the team this morning. There's been a concern that Raye's offense will be run-based and stodgy. But when he described the system, Hill called it, "fast, hitting on all cylinders, scoring touchdowns, moving the chains. ... You'll definitely see a definite rhythm with our offense."

Perhaps the most important quote of the day from anyone was this from Hill: "I feel more comfortable in Jimmy Raye's system than I did in Mike Martz's system."

WR Brandon Jones.

He's wearning No. 81 (cue the ominous music). Apparently no one has told him that T.O. put a curse on the number before he left San Francisco.

Said he'll get practice at both split end and flanker. As of now, he's practicing at flanker, which would have been Bruce's spot. Jones said he was ready to step into the no. 1 receiver role if need be.

Jones said he has played in the digit-system offense in the past. When exactly? In high school.

He said he was impressed with "both of the quarterbacks." Asked which he was referring to, he said Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, but then quickly noted that he was impressed with Damon Huard, too.

Alex Smith:

He said that the terminology of Raye's offense appeared to be similar to the system Norv Turner ran in 2006 but that it was too early to identify just how similar the two systems are.

Said he had "bulked up" to 221 pounds. Why is that important? "I just think for me at the position - you take a lot of hits. I just think that weight can help you absorb hits."

Smith said the Warner wooing had "no impact" on him reworking his contract with the 49ers. "I was actually on my honeymoon when that stuff happened."

He said there were no monetary targets he wanted his agent to reach in negotiating with the 49ers. "No, it was more just, 'Make it happen.'"

Demetric Evans:

Said he weighed about 280. He said he hasn't been told whether he'll play left or right defensive end. I expect he'll do a little of both at this minicamp.

Evans, whose wife is finishing up her medical residency in Washington, D.C., arrived here on Sunday and said he planned on attending the remainder of the offseason program, which extends through June.

Evans has never played in a 3-4 system. Last year in the Redskins' 4-3 scheme, he played defensive end on first and second downs, and then slid inside to defensive tackle on third down.

Manny Lawson:

The linebacker was noticeably bulkier. Lawson said he weighed 250 pounds after tipping the scales last year at anywhere from 235 to 240 pounds. Lawson wants must of that gain to be in his legs. "It will allow me to be more explosive, more powerful overall."

Asked about his role this season, Lawson said he's been told that "we're going to be playing a 3-4 defensive and both will get to go." By "both," Lawson said he meant him and fellow OLB Parys Haralson, and by "go" he meant rush the quarterback.

Lawson said the ACL tear he suffered early in 2007 didn't hinder him physically last season. But he admitted there was a mental block he had to overcome. That mental block, he said, began to go away at the end of the season.

Dashon Goldson:

Said he has not been told whether he'll have the radio receiver this year. In fact, Singletary said that Patrick Willis might get another shot at wearing it this season. Willis experimented with the so-called "green dot" last year but didn't like it.

Goldson said he was fighting through a PCL strain in the latter half of last year. Injuries, of course, are a major concern for the team's new starting free safety. He has struggled with an array of them dating back to his time at the University of Washington.

New numbers:
S Lewis Baker ... 43
DE Demetric Evans ... 95
QB Damon Huard ... 14
WR Brandon Jones ... 81
FB Moran Norris ... 44
LB Justin Roland ... 50
LB Mark Washington ... 57
S Jimmy Williams ... 41

Off to watch practice ....

March 19, 2009
Miniquestions for minicamp

Yes, there are some big-ticket items certain to be covered when the 49ers meet tomorrow for their first minicamp practice. Coach Mike Singletary will be asked the "C" word (Cutler) and whether the 49ers would contemplate a trade for the unhappy Denver quarterback. He'll be asked whether he's spoken with Isaac Bruce and whether he thinks the veteran receiver will return for his 16th season. He'll probably be asked why he doesn't just name Shaun Hill the quarterback starter heading into the season.

But there also will be plenty of interesting minutia - oxymoron? - to look at over the next few days. And if blogs are good for anything, they're good for minutia. For example:

  1. What's the deal at safety? We know that Dashon Goldson and Michael Lewis are penciled in as the starters. But who's behind them? Will newcomer Jimmy Williams be the No. 2 guy at both positions? Will erstwhile CBs Marcus Hudson or Reggie Smith get a look at safety?
  2. Who starts at right tackle, Barry Sims or Adam Snyder? Both started in place of Jonas Jennings last season, but neither is a long-term answer at the position. Do the 49ers consider Snyder a guard or a tackle? He seemed to play better at tackle last season.
  3. Where will Ahmad Brooks play? Both Scot McCloughan and Mike Singletary feel the linebacker is teeming with potential. Do they make him a Will OLB who rushes the passer, or do they put him behind Patrick Willis at "Mike"? My guess - with TBC and Roderick Green gone, Brooks gets a chance to rush the passer. Does Jay Moore, who has struggled to convert from defensive end, go back to outside linebacker?
  4. Who are the top three receivers? Injuries to Arnaz Battle last season allowed Jason Hill to get time at slot receiver, and he made the most of the opportunity. Battle is still dealing with a foot injury from last year. Josh Morgan and Brandon Jones appear to be the top targets at flanker and split end.
  5. What will be Michael Robinson's role? The 49ers are expected to draft a big running back in the upcoming draft who would platoon with Frank Gore. Does this limit Robinson to special teams? Does he become a Wildcat specialist? By the way, I asked about the potential of moving Robinson to strong safety. The answer was "no." And, yes, I felt stupid for asking. Thanks, you guys ruined my credibility ...
  6. Does Isaac Sopoaga slide over to nose tackle? Is Demetric Evans the starter at left defensive end? With Ray McDonald recovering from knee surgery, who plays behind Justin Smith at right defensive end?
  7. Who's going to wear the radio receiver for the defense? Mark Roman mostly wore it last year, but he's staying away from minicamp while he tries to orchestrate a trade. Willis didn't like wearing it. Do you give it to Goldson, who already has plenty on his plate as a first-time starter?
  8. Who backs up Takeo Spikes at Ted? Jeff Ulbrich certainly can do the job, but he is not a long-term solution. How seriously do the 49ers look at Mark Washington?

S Lewis Baker
DE Demetric Evans
QB Damon Huard
WR Brandon Jones
FB Moran Norris
LB Justin Roland
WR Michael Spurlock
LB Mark Washington
S Jimmy Williams

TE Billy Bajema*
LB Tully Banta-Cain
NT Ronald Fields
RB DeShaun Foster
LB-DE Roderick Green
WR Bryant Johnson
S Keith Lewis
QB Jamie Martin
QB J.T. O'Sullivan
TE Sean Ryan
CB Donald Strickland*

* Still could return to 49ers

The 49ers are still mulling over Marvel Smith. If anything changes, I'll post it pronto ...

**UPDATE** Just checked in re: Marvel Smith. Negotiations have yet to begin. Apparently, there has been a delay in getting the results of the physical back from Stanford ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 18, 2009
Niners to contemplate Marvel Smith

Offensive tackle Marvel Smith is getting ready to fly back home to Los Angeles this evening after what his agent characterized as a good visit with the 49ers today. Smith, 30, met with coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan, toured the team facility and, of course, had a physical. Agent Kenny Zuckerman said Smith came away with a very good impression of Singletary and said he felt at home in the Bay Area. Smith grew up in the East Bay and went to high school at Skyline High in Oakland.

If it weren't for recent injuries to his back, adding Smith at right tackle would be an easy decision. He is a former Pro Bowler who has two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. The 49ers will mull over the results of today's physical before making a decision. Zuckerman said Smith feels as good as he has in years and would be able to take part in the 49ers' upcoming minicamp if a deal is reached before Friday.

-- Matt Barrows

March 18, 2009
New uniforms in ...... 2009!

Heard any updates about the new uniforms? Me neither. Just to reiterate, the team is set to unveil the new duds at its draft party on April 25 and to wear them on the field this season. ... This post replaces an earlier one in which I wrote that the uniforms wouldn't take the field until 2010. Apparently, there had been some question about the date, which has now been cleared up. Look for new duds this season ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 18, 2009
Marvel Smith is in the building

Free-agent offensive tackle Marvel Smith arrived in San Jose a little after noon today. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler will go through the free-agent routine -- meet with coaches and GM Scot McCloughan and then head for a physical up at Stanford. The physical, of course, is the key to a deal. Smith has dealt with lower-back pain the past two seasons, and he had surgery on his lower back in December of 2007. If I deal is reached, it likely will be this evening or perhaps tomorrow morning. If Smith isn't signed, another tackle to keep an eye on is Levi Jones, whose tenure in Cincinnati appears to be iffy.

Lots of questions about SI reporter Jim Trotter's appearance on ESPN's "First Take" this morning. Trotter spoke about a disconnect between the 49ers front office and the coaching staff on some recent free-agent acquisitions, specifically WR Brandon Jones and QB Damon Huard. If this were a rift between Mike Singletary and GM Scot McCloughan, it would be cause for concern. Instead, the root of the issue seems to be an unhappy assistant coach.

-- Matt Barrows

March 17, 2009
Marvel Smith to pay 49ers a visit

The 49ers currently have a hole at right tackle, and they're wondering whether Marvel Smith is the man to fill it. The long-time Steelers tackle is scheduled to meet with the 49ers tomorrow, a team official confirmed today. Smith is from the Bay Area having played high school ball at Skyline High School in Oakland. He went to Arizona State and was a second-round pick by the Steelers in the 2000 draft. Smith has two Super Bowl rings and he went to the Pro Bowl in 2004.

As the 2008 season ended, the 49ers identified tackle as one of the positions they hoped to improve this offseason. So, far, however, they haven't added any new tackles to their ranks. Jonas Jennings, who began 2008 as the starting right tackle, will be released later this offseason. Barry Sims, 34, and Adam Snyder, 27, also started games at right tackle, but neither is viewed as the future starter. The team also could turn to the draft for help. However, both of the tackles that are most likely to be available at pick No. 10 - Alabama's Andre Smith and Ole Miss's Michael Oher - come with question marks.

At 6-5, 325 pounds, Marvel Smith is just the kind of big body the 49ers want on the right side and he has experience at both right and left tackle. But he's not perfect. Smith will be 31 when the season begins and he has missed 15 games due to injury in the last two seasons. Smith had lower back surgery in December 2007. He returned from that procedure this past season but re-injured his back on Oct. 5 and was later placed on injured reserve. In other words, Smith's physical tomorrow at Stanford Hospital will be tremendously important.

-- Matt Barrows

March 17, 2009
Bajema, Strickland drawing interest

A couple of 49ers free agents are drawing interest in the so-called second wave of free agency. Tight end Billy Bajema is visiting the Rams today, according to his agent. Bajema, who is purely a blocking tight end, also has visited the Jets. The 49ers have been eyeing Dallas free-agent tight end Tony Curtis but have not yet brought him in for a visit.

Meanwhile, cornerback Donald Strickland has had interest from three other teams, according to his agent. Strickland is meeting with a team today, but his agent declined to say which team he is visiting. The 49ers have hosted two cornerbacks, Eric Green and Karl Paymah, but they signed elsewhere. They also are interested in re-signing Strickland, but at the right price ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 16, 2009
Niners short on safeties for first minicamp

As MM reported last week, three 49ers currently under contract - Jonas Jennings, Mark Roman and Isaac Bruce - are not expected to take part in this weekend's minicamp. Four more players will be limited due to lingering injuries from last season. They are: cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who went on injured reserve Oct. 16 with a torn knee ligament; receiver Arnaz Battle, who suffered a nagging foot strain and went on IR on Dec. 13; Ray McDonald, who missed the Oct. 26 game against Seattle with a knee injury and who had offseason surgery on his knee; and safety Michael Lewis, who gutted out 16 starts in 2008 despite an array of ailments, including injuries to his back, elbow, abdomen and knee. I haven't been able to pin down exactly why Lewis will be limited.

Lewis is the only starter among that group, and he plays a position at which the 49ers are already thin. Newcomer Jimmy Williams and second-year player Lewis Baker could see time at strong safety when Lewis isn't practicing.

The 49ers informed Roman that Dashon Goldson will be the new starter at free safety in 2009. Roman has been given permission to seek a trade and will not take part in the minicamp. His agent has said that if Roman can't find a better situation by June, he likely would return to the 49ers. Without Roman, depth at free safety also is a question mark. Williams could see time at that position, too. The 49ers also could test a cornerback -- such as Marcus Hudson - at free safety.

-- Matt Barrows

March 16, 2009
Niners skeptical of Holt's knee

The 49ers are keeping the door ajar for Torry Holt, but they are very skeptical about the veteran receiver's right knee. Holt, who has been to seven Pro Bowls, was recently released by St. Louis, which owed him a $1.25 million bonus that was due tomorrow. Holt's agent has not contacted the 49ers and Holt, according to the Nashville City Paper, is currently vacationing out of the country. Other receiver-needy teams have said they have no interest in Holt.

Holt's knee problems began in 2005, causing him to miss two games that season. Though he played in all 16 games in 2006, he was limping badly after the season finale and had surgery in February of 2007 to repair torn cartilage in the knee. Despite the surgery, Holt caught 93 passes for 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns that season, and he was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl.

This past season, however, all of Holt's statistics dropped. With rookie Donnie Avery in the lineup, Holt, 32, said in late October that it felt he was being phased out of the offense. He caught 64 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns in 2008. The 796 yards was his lowest total since his rookie season in 1999, and his 12.4-yards-per catch average was the lowest of his career.

The 49ers' leading receiver last year was Isaac Bruce, who caught 61 passes for 835 yards and seven touchdowns. Bruce, however, is undecided on whether he will return to the 49ers and he is expected to miss the team's first minicamp, which begins Friday. That would leave the 49ers with Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones, Josh Morgan and Dominique Zeigler, none of who have experience as a No. 1 receiver.

The 49ers announced they have signed Lewis Baker and Mark Washington to contracts. Both guys went undrafted but are very interesting. Team officials were high on Baker, a linebacker-turned safety out of Oklahoma, last summer. But he suffered a thigh bruise in training camp and was placed on injured reserve. The 49ers like his size (6-2, 202) and, of course, he plays a position at which the 49ers are paper thin.

Washington, meanwhile, at one point was a candidate to get a look at Ted linebacker. Remember, he's the guy who was miscast at nose tackle at Texas State-San Marcos. At 6-3, 245 pounds, Washington certainly has the size for the position. Washington spent 12 weeks on San Francisco's practice squad in 2007 before being signed to the active roster by the Dolphins. He played in three games in 2007 for Miami.

-- Matt Barrows

March 14, 2009
Q&A: Niner receiving corps incomplete

Question: Hey. Love the blog. Do you think the 49ers should sign Torry Holt?
Weaver, San Jose

Answer: I'm hearing that the 49ers are very wary of Holt's history of knee injuries
- Matt


Question: Hi Matt, do you see the 49ers maybe making a trade for Anquan Boldin to help them out at WR.
Cory, Lebanon, Pa

Answer: The 49ers would love Boldin, but I don't see the Cardinals dealing him to a division rival. Having Boldin outside the division, however, still would be a win for the 49ers...
- Matt

Question: Matt, why is Isaac Bruce taking so long to figure out what he wants to do? Do you think he will come back for another year?
Dan, Latham, NY

Answer: MM reported today that Bruce will not take part in the March 20-22 minicamp. Bruce is still deciding whether he wants to return. You have to wonder whether the same offensive outlook that convinced Kurt Warner 45 minutes into his visit that San Francisco would not be a good fit also has given Bruce pause. Bruce has played 15 seasons in the NFL, and with that he has earned a bit of wiggle room in making his decision. But at some point, you can't avoid the fact that he is hurting the team with his indecision.
- Matt

Question: HI Matt, hope you're well. As more of a smash-mouth team now, is it likely we may only carry 5 WR's, and if so, do you think that Ziegler is worth a spot as the fifth (assuming Bruce does not return)?
Toby, London, Ca

Answer: I think the 49ers will draft a receiver whether Bruce returns or not. Zeigler may have the best pair of hands on the team. But his has the physique of a stick figure, and I can't imagine he's much of a downfield blocker. That is, I'm not sure you can rely on him at this point to be a regular contributor.
- Matt

Question: Matt -- In your opinion, is there too much history for Alex Smith to overcome in SF at this point? (Said differently, three straight incompletions and how loud are the "boo birds" who have already given up on him?)
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: Well, I think you're making a good point. Alex Smith is not a fast starter, never has been. In order for him to be successful both he and his coaches will have to have the resiliency to overcome rough patches at the beginning. ... That being said, I envision Shaun Hill heading into the season as the starter but having a short leash. That makes Smith the backup, and the backup QB typically is the most popular player on the team in the fans' eyes.
- Matt

Question: We all know that Smith has the physical tools to be a very good QB but his issues have always been inside his head, in my opinion. He struggles to find the open receivers and often throws behind them. Is this something that can be fixed? Do you think it had anything to do with his injured shoulder? As for Hill and his lack of "a big league arm", couldn't he get stronger and become a bigger down field threat. Let's not forget that one of the knocks on one Joe Montana was that he didn't have a strong arm.
Paul, Lodi

Answer: Smith most definitely was throwing behind his receivers last offseason. However, I chalked that up to the onus of digesting Mike Martz's dense offense. In 2006 and pre-injury 2007, Smith was accurate. If Smith's shoulder is indeed back to normal as Smith expects, and if Jimmy Raye's offense is as similar to Norv Turner's as everyone says it is, then I think Smith's accuracy ought to return to its 2006 form. ... As for Hill, big muscles don't translate to arm strength. That's why Tim Lincecum is a major league pitcher but Lou Ferrigno is not.
- Matt

Question: Hey, Matt. I keep reading in blogs that the niners will select a OT w/ # 10. May I ask why? The prospects out there are good, but not Clady good. And isn't the key to the 3-4 defense a dominant rush linebacker? Last time I checked we didn't have one? Will a decent RT be available at # 43?
Marc, Los Angeles

Answer: If I had to make a $100 wager at this point, I'd put $60 on the 49ers taking an OT and $40 on them taking a pass rusher. I still don't think Andre Smith gets past them at no. 10. I also think there will be better pass rushers available at pick No. 43 than there will be pass protectors.
- Matt

Question: Matt - The idea of a shared stadium between the 9ers and the Raiders has very little chance, but why not a shared stadium between the 9ers and the A's? I know the 9ers disliked playing 3 or 4 games on an infield when they shared with the Giants, but the entire friggin stadium floor in Arizona moves outside for sun, why couldn't they make a field that slides one way for baseball, the other for football? And with all the innovations in stadium architecture they ought to be able to make a design that suits both games?!?!
Scot, Yukon, Ok

Answer: A little creativity - I like it! That arrangement would put the A's right off of 880 and a stone's throw from the Alameda County line. You would now have two teams forking over money. And the City of Santa Clara would be more inclined to chip in because the number of games jumps from 10 a year to more than 100. However, there is a 36,000-seat discrepancy between the stadiums the two teams ideally would want. I'm not sure even the best architects in the world could get around that. That's an awful lot of empty seats for the A's-Royals games ...

- Matt

March 13, 2009
Lombardi has surprise pick at No. 10

Interesting. I just watched Michael Lombardi present a fascinating Top 10 mock draft on NFL Network. Lombardi has the 49ers taking ... drum roll, please ... Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers with the 10th pick. Ayers definitely was one of the guys who jumped out at the Senior Bowl in January. But unlike other practice-week stars like B.J. Raji, Ayers also came up big in the game, and he's been one of the fastest risers over the last few months.

All mock drafts, especially ones in March, should be eyed suspiciously. But it's notable that Lombardi is the only ex-GM in the mock business, and that gives him automatic credibility. One of the questions about Ayers is whether he is agile enough to stand up and play linebacker in a 3-4. After a week of Senior Bowl practice, the 49ers came away thinking that Ayers could indeed handle that transition. And besides, the team already has had success with another Tennessee DE-turned-LB, Parys Haralson.

The rest of Lombardi's mock:

  1. Detroit: QB Matt Stafford

  2. Rams: OT Eugene Monroe

  3. Chiefs: LB Aaron Curry

  4. Seahawks: DT B.J. Raji

  5. Browns: LB Brian Orakpo

  6. Bengals: OT Jason Smith

  7. Raiders: OT Andre Smith

  8. Jaguars: QB Mark Sanchez

  9. Packers: LB Aaron Maybin

  10. 49ers: DE Robert Ayers

Of course, it's notable that WR Michael Crabtree was not in Lombardi's Top 10. Would the 49ers, who are light at that position, really allow Crabtree to slip past them? They might if they signed Torry Holt, who became a free agent today. Sorry, no info - yet - on whether the 49ers will pursue Holt.

Why Holt would come here:

  1. Plenty of cap space

  2. Opening at No. 1 receiver

  3. Chance to play STL twice a year

Why he wouldn't:

  1. Power-running offense might not be attractive

  2. Would rather play for a proven winner

By the way, you have to wonder what the roster would have looked like today had Mike Martz been retained. Just sayin' ....

-- Matt Barrows

March 13, 2009
Andre Smith a perfect 10?

How far is Andre Smith falling after his flabulous pro-day workout this week in Alabama? Probably not as far as you think. No, his numbers weren't stellar. The offensive tackle weighed in at 325 pounds, his fastest 40 time was an unofficial 5.28, he hoisted 225 pounds 19 times and he had a 25-inch vertical jump. The real calamity, however, was Smith's decision to take off his shirt during the workout. Let's just say Smith doesn't have a beach body. James Gandolfini looks ripped by comparison. In fact, the image of Smith spilling across the finish line like he was made of custard may make his actual numbers seem worse than they were.

Here's a look at some of the times posted by some of the top o-line draft choices in recent years:

*Andre Smith:...weight: 325, 40: 5.28, bench: 19, vertical: 25
Levi Brown:...... weight: 323, 40: 5.40, bench: 31, vertical: 25.5
Jake Long: .......weight: 313, 40: 5.22, bench: 37, vertical: 27.5
Ryan Clady:......weight: 309, 40: 5.18, bench: 24
Branden Albert:.weight: 309, 40: 5.17, bench: 23, vertical: 26
Chris Williams:..weight: 315, 40: 5.13, bench: 21, vertical: 25
*Michael Oher:. weight: 309, 40: 5.34, bench: 21, vertical 30.5

*2009 draft class

The real question is, does Smith get past San Francisco at No. 10? He certainly would fill a need for the 49ers at right tackle. He'd provide value because first-round offensive linemen usually start right away. His game-day tape from Alabama is so good that before the combine all the "experts" had him as the top-rated tackle in the draft. And then there's the Mike Singletary factor. Singletary believes he can - and moreover he should - set wayward young men on the right course. It's the reason he won't close the door on Michael Vick and why he considered Terrell Owens when the receiver hit the free-agent market. Bad attitudes don't scare Singletary. Smith had an undisclosed transgression at Alabama that kept him out of the team's bowl game. He bolted from the scouting combine prematurely. And he obviously is not a guy who's dedicated to the weight room. If the 49ers select Smith, there will be a leap of faith that Singletary can provide the motivation and discipline he needs.

One free-agent cornerback the 49ers were eying, Eric Green, signed with the Dolphins. Another, Karl Paymah, is interviewing with the Vikings, the fifth team he has visited. Why don't the 49ers just re-sign Donald Strickland, who by all accounts has had a quiet offseason?

-- Matt Barrows

March 11, 2009
2005 redux: Urban Meyer sees the future

Upon signing his new, more modest contract on Monday, Alex Smith said it was as if he was starting over with the 49ers. So I thought it would be a good time to revisit the April 23, 2005 conference call the 49ers beatwriters had with Urban Meyer just hours after Smith was drafted No. 1 overall by the team. This is the interview in which Meyer used the word "nonfunctional," an adjective that has followed Smith for four seasons. I'll let you draw your own conclusions -- and Lord knows you'll share 'em -- but after reading this it's pretty easy to assume that Meyer wouldn't advise having four offensive coordinators in four years for someone like Smith.

RE: What kind of player are the 49ers getting with the number one draft pick?

Urban Meyer: "I think he is the best football player that I have ever been around. He is one of those guys if you take his intangibles and put him at any position you will probably get the best player at that particular position. His greatest qualities are competitiveness, intelligence and work ethic. Then on top of that, he is very talented too. I am ecstatic that he was the first player picked and I'm excited that he is in San Francisco".

RE: Do you think the offense that you instituted there, do and the fact that he had to read so many things, do you think that will help him at the next level or do you think playing so much shotgun that the spread might hurt him?

UM: "I have had this discussion with many people in the last three months. I think the media and some fans, would like to think that maybe our style of offense, he ran some option, he ran maybe 5 to 6 options per game. He dropped back to pass approximately 30 times per game. Our drop back passing game is very similar to that used by some NFL teams, with the difference that at times we are operating from the shotgun. Other than that it is pretty much all the same. He is very effective thrower, whether you're in the shotgun or not. I think that the 49ers are looking at his mechanics, he throws on balance and has a very quick release, and he's extremely accurate. Can he learn to operate under center? Absolutely."

RE: A lot has been said about his intelligence and his football sense, can you talk about how quickly he was able to pick up the system at Utah and the kind of learner he was?

UM: "Well, that is the thing that is going to be interesting in San Francisco. He is an extremely quick learner. He is a guy that, however, until he understands it, he is non-functional. He is a guy that, I keep hearing how Brett Favre kind of makes something out of nothing and is a person that runs around to make a play. Alex Smith is not that kind of player. Alex Smith is a person that, once he is taught, he has to learn it all. He might struggle early but once he gets it, he gets it. I think it is well documented, his first spring in our offense he was not a productive player. Because he was coming from a team that ran two tight ends, I formation, and really did not have much of a passing game. Then he came into our offense, it took a minute to learn it, but once he did, obviously the rest is history and he did a great job with it."

RE: How long, do you think, will it take him to learn a pretty complicated scheme on this level?

UM: "I don't know. I don't know that system very well. I kind of studied some of the, I believe it is the west coast offense that Coach Nolan is going to put in there. I don't know enough about it. I understand it is wordy and is a fairly complicated system. I can tell you this, at the University of Utah, that he became so engrossed with the offense, that we went from a team that rarely checked and didn't put a whole lot on the quarterback, to this past season, he check protection, he checked plays and was in complete control of the offense. That is because of his intelligence."

RE: Both, you and Mike Nolan have mentioned his intangibles; do you have a story or anecdote that would illustrate that sort of thing?

UM: "Yeah, I do. When you start talking about college football, you have a 20 hour rule. You're only allowed to coach your players for 20 hours per week. Obviously in the NFL you don't have that issue and you can coach them as often and long as you need, I don't really know that, but understand that in the NFL you have as much time as you need. Alex Smith would come in on his own time and by the middle of his junior year, this past year, he was actually very involved in the game planning, because he was there all the time, on his own time. On Sunday's, that is their day off, he would come in and spend 4-6 hours with the coaches studying opponent's film. We were playing a team that had a very unique scheme, a scheme that took us quite a while to figure out. It was about midnight on Sunday night and it was one of those nights when you have the lights off and the film on for about four straight hours. I looked at my watch and I said 'I need to get these coaches out of here, because it is late and we got to get started at 6 am' when I flipped on the lights, sure enough Alex was still sitting in there. So basically he was there from one o'clock until midnight studying film with the coaches. Now if you want to talk about the intangibles of a college football player or any football player in particular, that's the intangibles that every coach is looking for."

RE: What team were you preparing for?

UM: "That was New Mexico. They ran that 3-3-5, that bizarre defense where we had a lot of protection issues, but obviously we had a great game."

RE: This was a Sunday after one of your Saturday games?

UM: "Yeah, this was a Saturday game that we had, and obviously the coaches come back and crank it up the next morning and go through it. Alex would usually sleep in, get something to eat and go to church and then come and spend some time with us. And once again he did that; he would leave once he got a handle on it. He had as much trouble as us of getting a handle on exactly, what kind of defense and protection scheme issues that you deal with from a week to week basis. It took a lot longer than normal, and that is why he was there so late with us."

RE: How dominant of a player was he at the college level?

UM: "You didn't really appreciate him because it was so fast what happened, you don't have time as a coach to reflect and evaluate your season. In the middle of the season someone said 'do you think Alex will come back for his senior season' and I looked at him and said 'of course he will' and didn't even put two and two together because you're so busy. As the season winded down, and he became a Heisman candidate, you really began to appreciate what he could do. You realized that we had the best quarterback in college football. After watching the film cut ups, in February and March, that's when coaches have time to do it after recruiting, you realize that he was one of the better quarterbacks, he is the best quarter I have ever been around, that is for 19 years, and the best one that I have seen on tape. That is including 19 years in the college game. I cannot wait to see him play and am anxious to see the development in San Francisco."

RE: What in particular sets him apart from the other top quarterbacks that you have coached?

UM: "I think his intelligence; I have never seen a player who graduated in two years, who has the knowledge and ability to pick it up. However there is a difference between intelligence, football is a game of reactions, a lot of times the 4.0's in the classroom don't carry over because football is a reaction game. He is as smart in the reaction part of it as he is when you study it. The thing that sets him apart as a player is his athleticism and accuracy. His accuracy is incredible and that was proven this year."

RE: Why do you think he will be non-functional until he fully learns the system, how do you make that line of delineation?

UM: "That's a great question, I am anxious to watch his development. He is so careful with the ball. His touchdown to interception ratio the last two years has been phenomenal. That is because, unless he knows exactly what's going on, he won't throw it. He won't just try to guess and take a shot. He has to know. That is why, early in his career, and early in our career with him, that first spring; he was not a very effective passer, because he really didn't understand. Once he understood it, there was no one better. He learns quickly though, I think that is the thing that is going to be interesting for me to evaluate. We were not allowed to spend time with him in the off-season like in the pros. So, I imagine his learning curve and his experience now will help him. He will learn much quicker, but it will take him a second because, once again, he is not a guy that you throw the ball out there and tell him, go play. He wants to know what is exactly expected of him and then he becomes a dynamite player."

RE: What is the most amazing thing you have seen him do on the football field?

UM: "I think in the game this year against San Diego State, where they had two NFL quality linebackers and their whole intent was too, we had to do formations where he was going to get hit. We at times, on purpose, would run him because he was one of those guys who would get stronger as he got hit. That is true with a lot of players. Once you get them hit and clear him up a little bit, they play better. I thought in the San Diego State game they were taking some shots on him, that were all legal, but they had one goal in mind, that was knock him out of the game. He had one of his better games, he almost threw for 400 yards and he had one of the best games I've seen a quarterback have. The more he got hit the stronger he got and that talks about his toughness and his competitiveness."

RE: Have you ever gotten mad at him and why?

UM: "Yeah I got mad at him quite often because he won't slide. At one point he was our franchise player, he was a guy, you know on offense you do get hit, and he is a 6-4 guy who wants to try to run over people and run through them. If it is three more yards to run through a guy he is going to try to get it. To be honest with you, he didn't think I was serious when I said 'were going to teach him to slide' and I want him to get down, because he knew what kind of coach I am and I know what kind of player he is. We had to get very firm with him and teach him how to get down and not take that unnecessary hit."

RE: There was one clip that they showed us, where he was next to the sidelines and didn't go out of bounds, but cut back and scored on a long touchdown run, did you get mad at him after that play?

UM: "Oh, you know Alex and I developed such a relationship that, basically he was our coach on the field. There were other times where he did step out of bounds and he made those right decisions. If it was one where there was no angle, there was pursuit and you were about to get wiped out, he would step out or slide. The one you saw, I would have cut it back too, because it was such a poor angle that the guy was coming on. Yeah, we discussed that after, but he became such a great player that we discussed it, we wanted him to slide, but we also let him play the game."

RE: How determined was he when he was, actually in the position, where he had to compete for the job early in his career?

UM: "His sophomore year, right before my first year at Utah, we started two-a-days and he started getting ready to pass the incumbent, the returning starter, and he hurt his back. He had a minor back injury that set him back about 10 days. He came walking off the field during two-a-days and I finished my media session, I turned and started walking with him. He looked at me and was extremely disappointed that he was injured and was going to have to miss a few days and it was all hindering his throwing. He looked at me and said 'coach, if I wasn't hurt this would not even be close'. That's how competitive and how much confidence he had in his ability that he would be the starting quarterback."

RE: What level of performance do you expect him to obtain in the NFL?

UM: "I don't think that is a fair question. I think a lot of it has to do with the system that he is in. I would give you my personal opinion, if that is what you're asking, I think he will play in the NFL and be a starter in the NFL for a long time. Because he is that smart and knows how to take care of himself."

RE: What is his personality like off the field?

UM: "He is a young guy, believe it or not he is a 4.0 in the classroom and he also spends a lot of time in football but he is not one of those guys who are anti-social. He is a person who does enjoy college life, but he enjoys it the right way. He is a person that has a great sense of humor; he is a person that is comfortable in settings. He's been over to my house numerous times; him and our offensive coordinator have a great relationship and he is quite often over at their house as well. He is very liked by my kid and my family. I heard a comment today by the 49ers; I think it was Coach Nolan or one of the front office people, that they want Alex to be the face of San Francisco 49ers, the new face of it. They couldn't have picked a better guy, off the field and on the field; he is exactly what you like."

-- Matt Barrows

March 11, 2009
UFL to work with NFL, challenge 49ers

Just got back from a United Football League press conference at AT&T Park in which the league formally introduced the head coaches of its initial four franchises: Dennis Green - San Francisco, Jim Fassel - Las Vegas, Jim Haslett - Orlando, Ted Cottrell - New York.

The most interesting thing I took away - and what ultimately may distinguish this football league from failed predecessors - is that it isn't trying to take on the NFL but rather compliment it. When NFL Europe folded last year, the NFL lost a valuable tool for developing players. The UFL seeks to fill that niche. The idea, as explained by Commissioner Michael Huyghue, is to work with the NFL to help develop and showcase future Kurt Warners and David Patten's. "I think the robust feeling that 'we're going to take the NFL on' is a foolish ploy," Huyghue said.

Each of the four teams will have an affiliation with NFL divisions. The SF franchise, for example, will get first dibs on players cut by teams in the NFC and AFC West. Orlando will have the same relationship with the NFC and AFC South, New York with the East divisions and Las Vegas with the North. The UFL will experiment with gadgets - GPS devices inside footballs, cameras to document halftime speeches - but the rules won't stray far from NFL rules. In fact, the UFL might use NFL officials for its games. Huyghue said that once the UFL season is over on Thanksgiving, players from that league will be free to sign with any NFL team. The UFL believes its value will come from developing quarterbacks. "Where do you go right now if you're a third quarterback?" Huyghue said. "How do you get that opportunity?"

Other tidbits from the presser:

  • Huyghue said the plan is for the SF franchise to play two home games at AT&T Park and one at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento. The details of the Sacramento game are still being worked out, however. Huyghue also said the SF franchise ultimately could wind up in Sacramento depending on attendance/interest in the two cities. "I don't want to say that we're playing the two cities against each other, but time will tell how the markets do," he said.
  • That being said, the UFL thinks that the 49ers' flirtation with Santa Clara will create a vacuum in San Francisco. Said Paul Pelosi, the owner of the San Francisco franchise: "The Niners have made it clear that they want to be in San Jose, elsewhere. ... So we might end up -- will probably end up -- being the only team up here." Note: Jed York recently has rekindled what has been a frosty relationship with SF City Hall. Candlestick and Hunter's Point are on the table as possible stadium sites ...
  • Huyghue certainly didn't rule out welcoming players like Michael Vick who have run afoul of the law and the NFL. But would doing so fray the relationship the UFL is trying to build with the NFL? "I think we would have to wait first to see if it would be ok with the NFL," Huyghue said.
  • Any aspiring Vince Papale's out there? The league will hold public tryouts this year for potential pros who may have slipped through the cracks. Start stretching those hammies, you weekend warriors.
  • The league plans to either expand to six or eight teams next season. If it's six, there will be six home games; if it's eight there will be seven home games. Hartford and L.A. appear to be the leading candidates for expansion. The New York team will play a game in Hartford and the Las Vegas team will play a game in L.A. this year. Teams will take 60 players to training camp and cut 10.
  • As far as team names, the league is leaving that up to the public. Fans can vote online here. Sacramento Sea Lions. Wow, kinda has an awesome ring to it, huh? I also like Sacramento Steelhead ....

As far as the 49ers and free agency, CB Karl Paymah is in the building today. Note to the audio operator at Candlestick Park. If the 49ers sign this guy, the Andre 3000 song, "Hey ya!," would be appropriate whenever he makes a play. Paaaay-maaaah!

-- Matt Barrows

March 10, 2009
Don't forget Damon

Anyone else get flashbacks when reading what Alex Smith had to say about his QB competition with Shaun Hill today? After all, a year ago at this time we were all preparing for a Hill-Smith duel. A year ago at this time, Smith was coming back from a shoulder injury and Hill was coming off late-season heroics. And a year ago at this time, no one was talking about the No. 3 quarterback.

That no. 3 quarterback, of course, came out of nowhere (well, not exactly ) to win what became a three-way competition in training camp. The lesson: Don't count out Damon Huard. Smith spoke today as if it was going to be a two-man race between him and Hill. When Huard spoke to KJR radio last week, however, it didn't sound as if he had resigned himself to being the No. 3 QB. Said Huard when asked about his role:

Well, I don't think any real role has been defined other than, 'hey you've got a chance to come to camp and compete.' That's kind of where it was left. So you never know how these things unfold. They were kind of in that predicament last year with all the quarterbacks they had. So, I think. I'll just go to camp, put my best foot forward, work hard, learn the system and see where the chips fall. I think the sky's the limit in some ways.

In other words: If J.T. can do it, why not me?

Of course, there are some key differences with last year's three-way competition. A year ago, only J.T. O'Sullivan was familiar with Mike Martz's voluminous playbook. This year, Hill, Smith and Huard are on equal footing - the offense is similar to ones all three have run in the past and it won't be as daunting as Martz's.

Another difference is Smith, who said today that his shoulder feels better than it did at any point last year. The suture that was used to reattach Smith collarbone and shoulder in a December 2007 surgery irritated him throughout 2008. It was that suture that caused a fragment of his shoulder to break just before the season. Both the fragment and the offending suture have been removed, and Smith is now pain free for the first time since September 30, 2007 at about 1:15 p.m. ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 10, 2009
Rossum, Evans officially sign

Return man Allen Rossum and defensive end Demetric Evans officially signed their contracts today. Evans' contract has been reported as a two-year, $3.8 million deal. Evans did not get an offer from his old team, the Redskins.

The 49ers also announced the dates of their upcoming minicamp in which Shaun Hill and Alex Smith will effectively begin their QB battle. The minicamp is March 20-22. The team will have a morning meeting on the 22nd but won't practice

-- Matt Barrows

March 10, 2009
Alex Smith: "unfinished business" brought me back

Alex Smith says he feels like he's getting a fresh start with the 49ers: "It is kind of refreshing," he said on a conference call. "Start fresh, start over and try to be the player you want to be. ..."

Here's the Q&A from the 12:30 press conference with Smith, who signed a new, salary-cap friendly two-year deal with the 49ers today:

Why was it important to come back to the 49ers?
It was definitely important to me. I really felt like I had unfinished business here. This is the team that brought me out and gave me my first chance, and I really felt like I had a lot to prove here to myself, the organization to my teammates, to the fans. And to really become the player I set out to become when I first came out of college. I'm grateful they gave me the opportunity to stay here and be a part of this.

What's your understanding about the QB pecking order going into minicamp later this month?
I don't know the specifics about how this first minicamp will work out as far as who's taking snaps with who. I'm just excited they're going to give me a chance to compete for the starting job. I guess I'm not totally sure on the specifics. I guess they'll work themselves out as we move along. Just excited that I'll get a chance to compete.

How's your shoulder?
It's doing well. My shoulder feels great. I don't want to put any percentage on it or anything on it like a number. But it's definitely better than I felt at any time last year. You know, I've been here working since the season ended and I feel really, really good with it -- excited to finally being healthy and getting out on the field and competing and not have to worry about it.

How extensively did you look at your other options before re-signing with the 49ers?
You know, it was a weird situation -- not knowing what was going to happen with me and not really being a free agent. So a lot of it was just hearsay here and there. You hear different things. And that's how I really found out that the feelings were mutual. That I wanted to stay here in San Francisco and they wanted me back. A lot of it was kind of rumors ... hearing different things. I can't even comment on it. But I'm thankful that I didn't even have to go down that road, that the Niners want me back and it just kind of all worked itself out.

Does it feel like a fresh start to you?
It does feel good for me. There's definitely a different feeling around the facility with coach Singletary here, with some of the new people he brought in. It's kind of a fresh attitude. You know with the new contract coming in and kind of the fresh start to compete, it is kind of refreshing in a sense. I feel like I can start fresh, start over and try to become the player I want to be.

What have you learned over your first four seasons?
You know, the football side out of it -- I think I'm just much more mature mentally. Not to say I was immature. I think I've grown up a lot. As far as this business and as far as being focused. I think I really was focused when I first came out, but I think I just have a better oulook on it mentally, a better strength about it, about what I need to worry about and what I don't need to worry about. The things I need to focus on and what are the right things to focus on so to speak. So in essense I really feel like I'm in a better place. My life outside of football is a much better place. Your life right after college -- you're a student athlete and all of a sudden you do get some money and you're a homeowner and different things. A lot of those things can be distracting. I feel like I'm in a better place in that sense. Just really focused on my career and set some goals for myself and I'm really trying to achieve them.

Will you be able to take part in the full minicamp?
I certainly hope so. I really haven't sat down with the trainers and the coaches to go over all those details. I expect to from my standpoint. but I really haven't talked to them about what will be best and what we're going to do. I definitely feel capable enough to go out there and make the passes I'm expected to make. We'll see, though. I guess I don't want to say anything for sure. But I definitely feel good enough to go out there and do it.

How does the playbook compare to the offenses you've run in the past?
The coaches have kind of been on the ball here, it seems like, and really gotten the playbook together in a timely manner and gotten it out to us. Definitely similarities to the systems we've had in the past, especially with the terminology at this point. Going over a lot of that, the language we're going to be using for motions, formations and the organization of the offense. A lot of that is very similar to some of things we've done in the past. There are definitely differences here and there. But I think the overall sense of it is very similar to what we've done in the last couple of years.

To which is it most similar?
I guess I would say more similar to the things we did with Norv, especially as far as the language is concerened. But there are some things that were taken from things besides that. But I guess I would say that's the most similar.

Have you spent much time with Jimmy Raye?
Yeah, a little bit. I've been around here (so) I've been with him a little bit. Nothing major. I think just getting geared up for when we start up next Monday. So other than that, nothing major. But I've gotten a chance to get acquainted with him a little bit, got a chance to introduce himself.

With the way Shaun Hill has played the last two years, do you feel you deserve a chance to compete for the starting job?
You know what -- I guess I don't really know on either of those. All I know is that I'm going to get a chance to compete and I'm excited about that. You know, Shaun has played well and we're really good friends. I think he's done a great job when he's stepped in. I think that's obvious. ... I guess I don't really know. I do know that they are giving me the chance and I'm excited about that. I'm glad it's against Shaun. He's a great guy. I can't think of a better guy to compete against. I'm excited about that -- excited that with me and him it'll all be on the table, and I don't have to worry about anything behind closed doors because we are so close. So, excited to compete against him.

You spoke in the past about the baggage that returning to San Francisco would bring with it. Is that still the case?
Well, I guess I think that's one of the things I referred to earlier when I said I feel like I'm in a better place, I have a better focus on things. ... you know, this is my fifth season, gonna be my fifth season, which is hard to believe. Yeah, I came in here with a lot of expectations. When you're the No. 1 pick that's kind of part of the territory. But in that sense, I guess I have a better focus. You know, I'm not going to really worry about that. It's going to come and I'll handle it when it comes. But until then, I'm just going to work hard and kind of work my tail off and get to where I need to be and compete. I'm not going to worry about the fans right now and what they're thinking. I guess I'm hoping that I get my chance to re-prove myself to them. So I'm not worrying about that right now.

You said you were in a better place. But what makes you think the 49ers are in a better place than they've been the last few years?
I think it's pretty easy to see when you're out here. I think back to my first couple of years and what was going on here and the changes that have been made -- I think from top to bottom I feel like this organization is headed in the right direction. You know, I definitely get that sense, I get that feeling around here, especially with coach Singletary and some of the new things he's added, the people he's brought in. It feels like we're close. And when you look at last season, look what happened with Arizona and it's such a great example of the NFL and what can happen and the parity in this league. I think that's exciting. I definitely think this is the best team that I've been a part of since I've been here.

Was there a risk in signing before the draft? Worried the 49ers will draft a QB at No. 10?
I guess it didn't really factor in for me. Like I said, they told me that I'll get a chance to compete for the starting job and that's all I really wanted, all I really asked. I really wanted that chance. Because I knew that if I got healthy and got back on the field, I just wanted a chance to reeprove myself and not worry about who else is out there and who they might draft, so it really wasn't a consideration of mine.

Some athletes might react negatively to a lower contract. Is there any ego involved in this with you?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I guess I don't measure myself with my contract, what I'm making. I'm out there to play some football. Having gone through what I've gone through the last couple of years, to be on the sideline, I guess I've had a chance to have a different perspective on this game. I feel fortunate to get another chance and to get back on the field. You know, I'm tired of watching, I'm tired of being in that training room and I'm ready to get back out there. I'm thankful I got the chance, so when it came time to restructure the contract it wasn't anything that had to do with ego or how much money I'd be making, I just wanted the chance to compete.

What have you been doing, throwing-wise in recent weeks?
I've been working with trainers since the season ended, been here rehabbing, implementing into a throwing program. At first it should obviously starts with playing catch and then you start backing up and you increase the length and velocity to the point now where -- you know, I try to set those guys up out there so I simulate some routes and spot throwing so to speak. So I try to get as much as I can done out there with them. And I feel pretty good. I feel like I am where I need to be at this point. I feel like I can make quite a few of the passes that I'm asked to make and, you know, it being March now, there's no real point to stress it to the point where something can go wrong, not that that could happen. But staying within mylimits I feel pretty good. I'm out there throwing passes. I probably throw anywhere from 50 to 80 routes dpending on the day I throw. And I end up usually throwing a few days a week.

Is it your understanding that this competition between you and Shaun begins in a couple of weeks with this mini-camp?
I'm sure. I don't think there's any reason to delay it. I think it'll start from day one and obviously I think it will continue to heat up as we move toward the season. But yeah, I expect it to start right away.

Is it safe to say that if there had not been a coaching change that you would not be back with the 49ers?
I don't know. I've never thought about that. The coaching change happened so luckily I didn't have to go down that road. But right now, with Coach Singletary here, the decision was easy. I wanted to stay. I wanted to be a part of this. And luckily they wanted me back.

-- Matt Barrows

March 10, 2009
Alex Smith, 49ers agree on new deal

Alex Smith has signed a reworked, two-year contract that will allow him to compete for the 49ers' starting quarterback job this offseason. Terms of the contract were not announced, but it is significantly less than the nearly $10 million in base salary Smith was scheduled to earn this year.

Said 49ers General Manager Scot McCloughan in a press release: "We have reached an agreement with Alex and his agent to keep him as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Alex expressed a deep interest to remain with the team and that feeling was mutual."

Shill.jpg ASmith.jpg

As the 2008 drew to a close, Smith said he was interested in returning to San Francisco because he felt an obligation to finish what he started. Smith was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, and he struggled during his rookie season. The 2006 season was better with Smith leading a second-half resurgence that included come-from-behind wins in Seattle and Denver. Smith posted career-highs that season, starting all 16 games, completing 257-of-442 passes for 2,890 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions

The following season, however, was a disaster. Smith's shoulder was separated early in Week Four when Seattle defensive lineman Rocky Bernard burst through the 49ers' offensive line untouched. Smith tried to play with the injury, but the attempt only led to a feud with then head-coach Mike Nolan. Smith had surgery at the end of the season to re-attach the shoulder. He suffered a small fracture in the shoulder before the start of the 2008 season and had surgery in late October to remove the offending piece of bone.

Smith, who recently returned from his honeymoon in the Maldives, is in good health and his arm is expected to return to normal. He is scheduled to take part in the 49ers' first minicamp this month and will challenge friend Shaun Hill for the starting role. Smith's throwing arm is not yet 100 percent back to normal but is strong enough to take part in the minicamp. Smith will take part in a conference call at 12:30 p.m. today.

Smith's signing likely slams the door on the team adding another free-agent quarterback, such as former 49er Jeff Garcia. The 49ers still could add a quarterback in the draft. ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 9, 2009
CB Paymah to visit Wednesday

The 49ers will host another free-agent cornerback when Karl Paymah, most recently of the Denver Broncos, pays them a visit Wednesday. Paymah, 26, has been a popular guy of late. He visited the Ravens last week. He was in Tampa Bay today and will meet the Browns tomorrow. Another cornerback, Cardinals free agent Eric Green, was in Santa Clara on Friday. Green also has several suitors.

Paymah (6-0, 195) ran a 4.35 40 at the 2005 combine and was a third-round pick by the Broncos that year. His best season was 2007 when he beat out Dominique Foxworth for the role of nickel cornerback and started three games. Like the rest of the Broncos defense, Paymah struggled last season and the Denver pass defense finished 26th in the league.

According to Paymah's agent, Paymah specializes in press coverage. If you'll recall, the 49ers drafted Reggie Smith in the third round last season to be a physical corner who plays close to the line of scrimmage. The 49ers are looking for an heir to Walt Harris, who turns 35 in August.

-- Matt Barrows

March 9, 2009
Tackle-ing a tough issue

The 49ers certainly haven't been burning up the phones lines in search of a new offensive tackle, and as many readers pointed out, maybe that's a wise financial move. The top offensive linemen - and even the so-so ones - get paid very handsomely on the free-agent market. Heck, last year Kwame Harris got a three-year, $16 million deal. Some other free-agent deals so far this year:

OT Max Starks, one-year $8.45 million
C Jason Brown, five-year $37.5 million
G Brandon Moore, four-year $16 million.

As I wrote yesterday, it sure seems as if the 49ers feel they can land a tackle in the draft. And maybe that's smart. The player picked at No. 10 a year ago, New England linebacker Jerod Mayo, got a five-year deal worth $18.9 million.

Still, it's a bit of a gamble, even at No. 10. For one thing, you're banking on a rookie, which is always a dicey proposition. And you're also assuming there will be a good tackle available, something that failed to materialize for the 49ers last year. Yes, the Jaguars snagged Tra Thomas off the free-agent market today, a signal that they could pass on a tackle at pick. No. 8. But it also appears the Raiders won't be pursuing OT Khalif Barnes. The Raiders have pick No. 7 and they definitely could use a tackle. Theoretically, so could Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Cincinnati.

And maybe it's too soon to give up on free agency. There have been rumblings that some notable veteran tackles, like Orlando Pace and Levi Jones, could possibly be hitting the market in coming weeks. Stay tuned ...

Best-guess OL depth chart

LT: Joe Staley, Barry Sims
LG: David Baas, Adam Snyder
C: Eric Heitmann, Cody Wallace
RG: Chilo Rachal, Tony Wragge
RT: Barry Sims, Adam Snyder

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: It seems that free-agent CB Karl Paymah could be paying the 49ers a visit. Paymah started five games for the Denver Broncos over the last two seasons and had three INTs over that span. Another cornerback, Eric Green, visited last week.

Football in Sacramento? Not according to this video by UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue, who mentions San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles and Hartford as sites for the league's inaugural season that begins in October, but not Sacramento. I'm told that the league still hopes for its SF franchise (the Sea Lions? Who's with me?) to play one game in Sacramento but that working out the details on a site/date has been difficult. Huyghue will be in San Francisco Wednesday when, according to Howard Balzer
of the Sports Xchange, Dennis Green will be introduced as the head coach of the San Francisco franchise. Interesting indeed ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 8, 2009
Q&A: QB scenarios

Question: Singletary has stated that he wants a team that can run at will. He has re-signed Moran Norris, they have listed Pat White on their website. Alex Smith has done well when healthy. Huard was signed so that they would have a second Quarterback for training camp not as a starter. Do you think that they will have Smith as their starting Quarterback this year with Hill as a backup, Sanchez third QB and Draft White exclusively for the Wildcat formation? Could they draft Sanchez and White both?
Louis, Sacramento

Answer: I don't think the 49ers would go into the season with four quarterbacks ... unless one of them is White, who could provide value on special teams and who would be dangerous as a Wildcat QB. But I also don't think White would be added if the 49ers went with a quarterback at No. 10. These are the scenarios I see going into the season:

1. Hill, Smith, Huard (White?)
2. Hill, Garcia, Huard, (White?)
3. Hill, Smith, rookie (White or other rookie)
4. Hill, Garcia, rookie. (White or other rookie)

Question: Hi Matt, is Balmer developing like McCloughan & Singletary envisioned, and what do you think we can realistically expect out of him in 09 and over the next few years? Obviously we'd like to see him contribute in a starting capacity. Is this a realistic expectation?
G.Parker, Auckland, Nzl

Answer: I see Balmer being a backup to Demetric Evans at the start of the season with the hope that he could supplant Evans by season's end. I don't see him moving to nose tackle.
- Matt

Question: N.O. to T.O. Love it -- nice line. And I agree -- the man is a cancer to team unity. That said, just an observation: Eric Green. Brandon Jones. D. Evans... Just wondering -- is "John Smith" available? Is it just me, or are mediocre role players seemingly the order of the day for SF in FA? And since they're batting about .350 at best the last four years, uh, do they really think they already have enough "impact" players?
Mike, Montclair, N.J.

Answer: Every team overpays to land free agents, and the 49ers basically concluded that the free agents available this year - unlike the Nate Clements and Justin Smith years - were not worth their price tag. At some point, you have to trust that the players you drafted will step forward and become impact players. The 49ers seem to be reaching that crossroads - allowing Dashon Goldson to enter the season as a starter at free safety, sticking with Alex Smith, etc. Which is why the whole Kurt Warner saga was so baffling to me. Why would you place such a high value on a guy who already is talking about retirement and who is one hit away from doing just that?
- Matt

Question: Barrows, what are your thoughts on the Niners going after Leftwich and giving him a shot to compete for the QB job?
J.R., Antioch

Answer: It's noteworthy that the only place where Leftwich doesn't have a great reputation is Jacksonville. In fact, the majority of fans there insist he stinks. Leftwich has a nice arm, but he has mobility and accuracy issues. ... That being said, if the 49ers don't rework Alex Smith's contract, I can see them considering Leftwich. He and Smith have the same agent ...
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, love the blog. What do you think about the Niners picking up the other Cowboy that was just released, safety Roy Williams? Now, I know that he's more of a linebacker type safety rather than a ball hawk safety, but he would be an upgrade, right?
Bobbak, L.A.

Answer: Well, his skill set would seem to make him a good fit at strong safety behind Michael Lewis. But you have to believe his price tag is too high for a back-up role...
- Matt

Question: Matt, It's great that the 49ers added some depth on the D-line with Evans but I don't believe that the 49ers are done in FA. That being said it's shocking that the 49ers haven't acquired what they really need in FA & that is an OT, there so many out there. By shoring up that position it allows the 49ers more flexibility in the 1st round possibly moving down in the draft & acquiring more picks. Or honing in on a specific need like pass rusher (Orakpo) or WR (Maclin / Bey) Your thoughts Matt?
StonerLab, Folsom

Answer: I'm a little surprised about OT, too. Their lack of interest at the position basically tells me they are confident they can land a good one in the draft. And if I can figure that out, Lord knows the other 31 teams can, too ... Also, are you worried that the name "Stoner Lab" might prompt a visit from the ATF?
- Matt

Question: Torry Holt? I'll take that guy any day! He would be a great fit along with Isaac Bruce and would also work as a mentor for our young WRs J. Hill, Morgan and Zeigler.
If he hits the free agent market, he'll likely have lots of suitors around the league. Do you think the 49ers might look for a trade? Like offering a 4th round pick or maybe Shawntae Spencer (he lost space for Tarrel Brown last season)
Rodrigo, Rio

Answer: This is always the conundrum when teams are shopping a player. Do you trade for that player and absorb the contract that made it so difficult for his other team to keep him? Or do you wait for his team to inevitably cut him? Doing that would allow you to craft a more palatable deal, but you'd also be competing with myriad other teams for his services. ...
- Matt

Question: How do I find out who the Niners are playing in future years? For example, you said next time 49ers play the Bengals is in 2011.
Daron, Fresno

Answer: Easy - you can do it in your head. The 49ers play one full division in the AFC every year. Last season, they played the AFC East. Because there are four divisions, it will be four years before the 49ers play the Jets, Pats, Dolphins and Bills again. They played the Bengals, Browns, Steelers and Ravens in 2007. So they won't play them until 2011. ... It's the same thing for the NFC, except that because there are only three other NFC divisions, the 49ers play a full division every three years. This season it will be the NFC North. The last time the 49ers played the North was 2006.
- Matt

March 7, 2009
Erie sight: T.O. lands in Buffalo

Terrell Owens is a Buffalo Bill. Get yo' popcorn and wings ready! I've gotta say, I thought Owens would land somewhere. But I never thought it would be Buffalo. I mean, Buffalo? Along with Green Bay and Jacksonville, it has to be the lowest-profile NFL town. And after watching its citizens tailgate for three hours before and after a game this year in a cold and steady rain, I would say they are just about the toughest, blue collar-est people in America. How will they accept a man who has left three locker rooms burning in his wake over the last five years? Is Buffalo big enough? Who's he going to hang with, Teppo Numminen?

In San Francisco, there will be no T.O. to drive a wedge into what is currently a united locker room. And even better for the 49ers, there's no T.O. in the NFC. He's been a 49er killer since he left town in 2004. To wit:

9/19/2005. Eagles v. 49ers. 5 rec., 143 yards, 2 tds
11/23/2008. Cowboys v. 49ers. 7 rec., 213 yards. 1 td.

Assuming Owens sticks with the Bills - and given his track record, that's a massive assumption - the next time the 49ers would face him would be 2012 in San Francisco when Owens is 39 or 40. Unless, of course, the two teams meet in the Super Bowl. And wouldn't that be a helluva story line?

-- Matt Barrows

March 7, 2009
Evans: Looking forward to a 3-4 defense

I have a feeling that Demetric Evans' signing is a little bit bigger than we may initially have thought. His departure from the Redskins was disappointing to their fans, and I'm sure it was disappointing to his teammates. The Redskins once again are butting up against the salary cap and didn't even make an offer to Evans, who was on ESPN 980 radio in Washington D.C. this week. I transcribed the 49ers-specific parts.


On the difficulty of moving west when his wife is finishing up her medical residency at George Washington University in D.C."To me, that was the most important decision because ... now I'm going to be six hours away by flight. And knowing that she only came to Virginia to come be with me. That's why she took the opportunity to go to the George Washington program. And now for me to leave her at the end of this month and to be doing it until June. That's tough, and I actually could have signed on Monday. But I told (the 49ers) I've got to get back and talk to my wife and make sure that she understands the significance of this move and understands that this process happens fast and I'm going to be leaving in the next two weeks. And that's what I did and she got kind of emotional about it. But at the same time she understands it's only a year and she'll be done. It'll all work out for the best."

On whether moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense made his decision difficult?"It is going to be different. But San Fran actually brought me in for a visit the last time I was a free agent, and they definitely wanted me to come in on a one-year deal. But I told them it was too far for me to come for that. I had other interests. This time around it was the same thing, but what really made me more comfortable is that they wanted me and that I'm going out to compete for the starting job. And they put some money on the table, and it was worth my while this time around. ... A 3-4 - you know, Richard Seymour told me before free agency started, he said, man, if I was you, I definitely would try to go to a 3-4 team because you thinking you're sitting their two-gapping (but) a lot of times you're just hitting the gap. And that's what San Fran is doing. They're not just sitting there two gapping... (Note: Both Seymour and Evans played at Georgia. Both entered the NFL in 2001.)

How much impact did Mike Singletary have? Did he have an influence on you?"Yeah, for one he's a Christian guy and not only did he meet with me privately, he met with me in front of some of the defensive players. He was just cutting it clean and dry (with them) saying, 'Hey, we're bringing Demetric to compete for the starting job. Hey, I want you to meet him. Hey, this is Takeo Spikes, Walt Harris.' So that made me feel more welcome when the team knows why you're coming in there and to have somebody there introducing you to some of the guys, it was very personal."

-- Matt Barrows

March 6, 2009
As the T.O. Turns ...

Welcome to "As the T.O. Turns," which earlier in the week was "Warner Watch" and before that was "Vague on Vick." Who else sees a pattern here? Though GM Scot McCloughan yesterday seemed to leave the barn door wide open for Terrell Owens and the circus he would bring, team officials over the past two days have been privately slamming that door shut. It's N.O. on T.O. In other words, don't take that vintage No. 81 jersey out of the bottom of your clothes chest just yet.... And yet, if I were a betting man, I'd say the T.O.-to SF rumors won't go away anytime soon. After all, it's in the best interest of Owens, his agent and the ESPN's of the world to keep it alive. Brace yourselves, 49ers fans ...

What is accurate is that CB Eric Green is in the building today for interviews, physicals, etc. Green also has visited the Titans and his home-town Miami Dolphins. I don't imagine he'd sign a contract today, but you never know.

The 49ers are taking a wait-and-see approach on tight end Billy Bajema. Bajema visited the New York Jets this week and also is drawing interest from the Rams. The 49ers like Bajema, but they are wary of paying too much. The team remains interested in Cowboys free agent tight end Tony Curtis, who also is being eyed by the Rams and Cleveland. There also has been some interest by the 49ers in Cleveland free agent Darnell Dinkins. The Seahawks recently signed their own blocking tight end, John Owens.

The 49ers hired Jason Michael as the team's offensive assistant. Michael was the tight ends coach at the University of Tennessee in 2008. He spent the previous two years with the New York Jets where new 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye also worked. Michael served as an offensive quality control coach and video assistant for the Raiders in 2005 where Raye was the offensive coordinator.

-- Matt Barrows

March 5, 2009
Niners to look at CB Green

The 49ers plan to kick the tires on Arizona cornerback Eric Green, a third-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2005. Green is due into 49ers headquarters tomorrow, according to his agent. The Florida native visited the Dolphins Wednesday and the Titans today.

Green has had mixed results in Arizona. He started 11 games in 2007 and seemed to be securing himself as a permanent starter. Last season, however, he lost his starting job to rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Green attributed his struggles early in the season to nagging calf and knee injuries.

If the 49ers somehow landed Green, they would have one of the deepest cornerback corps of any team in the league. Nate Clements and Walt Harris are the starters. Shawntae Spencer has starting experience and Tarell Brown seemed to be progressing nicely late last season. The team also spent a third-round draft pick on Reggie Smith. Marcus Hudson, a sixth-round pick in 2006, was on the bubble last year and needs to make a splash this summer. He also could be moved to safety, where he practiced occasionally last year.

FA update: New Orleans, Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, New England, Carolina, Detroit, San Francisco and now ... Cincinnati. J.T. O'Sullivan is now the No. 2 for the Bengals, a good spot for him. The next time the 49ers play the Bengals is 2011 ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 5, 2009
QB situation hinges on Smith

Alex Smith is due back from his honeymoon later this week, and at that point the 49ers' fuzzy quarterback situation should get into focus. With Smith on the far side of the world, contract negotiations have been difficult. When he gets back, there will be roughly two weeks to rework his contract before the 49ers hold their first minicamp. The 49ers will not allow Smith to participate in the camp under his current contract.

The first question is whether Smith, who had surgery in late October to have a nettlesome piece of bone removed from his shoulder, would be able to participate in the minicamp anyway. The answer is, yes. Smith's throwing arm was not yet back to normal when he left for his honeymoon, but it was progressing nicely. The 49ers have little doubt his throwing arm will be back to full strength. The fracture that occurred just before the season had nothing to do with the mechanics of his shoulder. Now that the offending piece of bone has been removed, Smith no longer has the pain he experienced last summer and his confidence has grown. Smith also has grown. I hear he's at 225 pounds.

Smith must rework his contract in order to remain with the 49ers. Both sides believe that will ultimately happen, but there is still enough doubt to make the 49ers uneasy. The 49ers would have liked to have had resolved Smith's contract by the start of free agency and before Smith left on his honeymoon. What kind of leverage does Smith, who hasn't played in a meaningful game for a year and a half, have? For one, the 49ers only have two quarterbacks - Shaun Hill and Damon Huard - who are certain to take part in the March minicamp, and recent actions suggest the 49ers don't have full confidence in Hill.

It's also likely that other teams would take a run at Smith if the 49ers are forced to release him. Which teams? This is purely a guess at this point, but Tampa Bay was interested in Smith in 2005 and they have plenty of questions at quarterback. Bill Parcells liked Smith coming out of college, and the Dolphins certainly have room for another QB. Scott Linehan knows Smith and tried to recruit him at Louisville. Linehan could use a quarterback or two in Detroit. (Rumor alert: I'm hearing that the reason Linehan turned down the 49ers' OC job was because he balked at the 49ers' insistence that he commit to multiple years).

And what about the 49ers' leverage? They've made no secret that they want Smith back, but Scot McCloughan also has said that he won't let Smith's contract override the best interest of the team. If the negotiations with Smith's agent drag on, look for the 49ers to bring in another veteran quarterback. The best one out there should be familiar to 49ers fans - Jeff Garcia. Garcia turned 39 last month, but he had a delayed start in the NFL and has played only 10 full seasons. He finished 2008 in Tampa Bay with a 90.2 passer rating, the third straight season he has been above 90 in that category. There also would be a nice bit of poetry in someone beginning and ending his career in the same spot.

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
T.O.tally out of the quesT.iO.n?

Admit it. You're thinking about it, mulling the possibility over in your mind. But before you even ask, the answer is no. Terrell Owens would be an awful fit for the 49ers. Yes, they need a No. 1 receiver and yes, Mike Singletary certainly has the guts and the gravitas to stand up to a prima donna. But that's far outweighed by the 49ers relatively youthful locker room, its inexperience at quarterback and its new devotion to the running game. Owens complained mightily that he didn't get the ball enough in the Cowboys' wide-open offense. How would he react in a run-first offense? Singletary is trying to make the 49ers into a family. Adding the biggest me-first player in the game would dismantle everything the 49ers are trying to build. So why are you still thinking about it?

Ok, you're right. The 49ers could stand to add a veteran receiver, especially if Isaac Bruce decides he doesn't want to be a 49er next year. A better option than Owens might be another St. Louis Ram, Torry Holt, who today asked St. Louis to release him. Holt is three years younger than Owens, he hasn't missed more than two games since 2002 and you have to believe he'd love to play against his soon-to-be former team twice a season. Feel better now?

*UPDATE* I know Scot McCloughan said on KNBR this morning that the 49ers don't close the door on any player, including Owens. However, the team is privately saying that the door is, in fact, closed. With a padlock. And a "keep out" sign. Who else has Michael Vick deja vu?

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
Niners add Evans to defense

Demetric Evans left the Bay Area Wednesday morning. By the end of the day, he had agreed to terms with the 49ers. Evans (6-4, 284) is listed as a defensive tackle but he actually ended up playing a lot of defensive end for the Redskins last season when Phillip Daniels went down with an injury this past season. The Redskins wanted to retain Evans, but as is usually the case in Washington, the team didn't have enough room under the salary cap to do so. Look for Evans to challenge last year's first-round pick, Kentwan Balmer, for the starting spot at left defensive end and for Isaac Sopoaga to slide inside to nose tackle.

When it comes to free agency, the 49ers closely study teams that don't have a lot of room under the salary cap. The theory is that those teams often have to give up better players than the ones being discarded by teams with cap space. As a result, the 49ers' often are studying up on the Redskins' roster. Perhaps the best example of this is Walt Harris, who was acquired in free agency after the Redskins released him in 2006.

By the way, I'm watching the classic 49ers-Packers "The Catch II" playoff game on NFL Network. Don't tell me how it turns out ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
Warner wrap

Before Damon Huard and Mark Roman start stealing the headlines, a final post about Warner Watch, which reached its merciful end today when Warner signed on the dotted line in Arizona ...

One interpretation of this saga - and the one I'm sure the 49ers favor - is that it showed the team is willing to do anything to improve. They gave it the old college try. They saw an opportunity and decided that in one fell swoop, they could alter the balance of the precarious NFC West. The worst that could happen is that the Cardinals end up paying more than they would have liked for an aging and injury-prone quarterback. Which is how things turned out.

Or you could argue that the 49ers were naïve. From the beginning, this seemed like a transparent attempt to squeeze more money out of the Cardinals, and the 49ers played along. They were the stooge forking over $5 in a game of three-card monte. The 49ers have been linked to everyone from Lance Briggs to Michael Vick in recent seasons. They were docked a fifth-round pick last year. What is the common thread here?

Mere hours after the Warners were in Santa Clara, Warner's agent faxed a contract proposal to the Cardinals that was less than the 49ers were wiling to pay. Usually, the con works like this: Player feels no love from Team A. So he flirts with Team B and Team A ends up increasing its offer. The Warner tale went like this: Player flirts with Team B and then goes running back to Team A. Then he tells everyone that he knew he didn't want to be a 49er a mere 45 into the visit. On the heels of Scott Linehan - and perhaps Dan Reeves and Rob Chudzinski - rejecting the 49ers, this isn't exactly a public relations home run.

The 49ers' front office also is sending mixed messages. Before free agency began, there was a vow from the team that they would not make a big splash in free agency. They were a team that builds through the draft and uses its salary-cap cushion to extend its own players. Telling Warner's agent that they were willing to meet his demands - something around the $30 million mark -- for the 37-year-old is not exactly sticking to that message.

The 49ers essentially showed their cards to everyone sitting at the table. Though they've been hinting at this since the end of the season, the brief, one-sided courtship of Kurt Warner essentially announced that they don't have faith in Shaun Hill and that they need another quarterback. That's not a great message to send to Hill or to season-ticket holders: Come watch the 49ers and Shaun Hill, the guy we have lukewarm feelings about. The 49ers are trying to negotiate with Tom Condon about lowering Alex Smith's contract. The Warner wooing tells Condon the 49ers need Smith. So much for leverage.

And what if the 49ers had somehow landed Warner? He's a great quarterback, someone who warrants hall-of-fame consideration. But some observers (see: me) wonder how much better he would have been than Hill in the 49ers' offense. I keep thinking of that gutsy, helmet-less play Hill made on Monday night. There's no way Warner comes within 30 yards of making that play. At 37, the guy has the agility of the Tin Man. He couldn't buy enough time to throw a hail Mary in the Super Bowl. He takes the bulk of his snaps in Arizona in the shotgun. He would have had real difficulties under center in San Francisco, and you have to wonder how healthy he'd be behind a line that has put up double nickel sack numbers the last two seasons. I knew that. You knew that. Kurt knew that. And he knew it all along.

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
Roman allowed to shop himself

Interesting item from The Sporting News' Albert Breer. The 49ers have given safety Mark Roman permission to seek a trade. The 49ers have been open about wanting to upgrade at the position. Mike Singletary said as much at his end-of-season press conference. The problem for the 49ers -- and a benefit for Roman -- is that this is a down year for free safeties in both free agency and the draft.

Roman's agent, Albert Elias, said that the process of shopping Roman only began today. "This is the very early stages and teams are just getting the information about him," Elias said. Elias said that the shopping process could extend through the draft. He said that if it gets to June and Roman hasn't found a home, he'd return to San Francisco. "He doesn't want to leave," Elias said. "He'd like to stay with the 49ers. But he wants to be a starter."

Elias said that Singletary was up front with Roman about having Roman in a backup role this year, presumably to third-year player Dashon Goldson. "They were honest with me and with him and to their credit, they were accommodating in allowing Mark to test the market," Elias said.

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
Niners sign Huard, officially sign Spikes

Damon Huard passed his physical and was officially signed this afternoon. The 49ers now will have at least two quarterbacks when they assemble for their first minicamp later this month. Whether they have a third, Alex Smith, depends on if the team can re-sign Alex Smith before the camp begins. The 49ers have said they have not been in contact with Smith recently because he was recently married and on his honeymoon. (What? Did Tom Condon join the happy couple?) At this point, the two sides are not believed to be close, although that could change quickly as other teams solidify their quarterback position.

Also, linebacker Takeo Spikes officially signed his two-year deal. Of all of the 49ers' own free agents, Spikes was the one the team really needed back. As I've written before, the 49ers have struck out several times in trying to develop a young linebacker to play next to Patrick Willis. Spikes filled that role well last season, but the 49ers still could stand to bring in a young linebacker either through free agency or the draft.

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
QB Damon Huard in for visit

Quarterbacks are like taxi cabs -- if you miss one, don't worry, there'll be another along soon. Such is the case for the 49ers, who entertained Damon Huard, 35, today at team headquarters. Huard entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 1996. He has played for the Bengals, Dolphins, Patriots and, most recently, the Chiefs, who acquired Matt Cassel this week.

Huard has started 27 games over his career, including three last season in Kansas City. His most prolific season came in 2007 when he completed 206 of 332 attempts for 2,257 yards, 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and a 76.8 passer rating. Huard had one of his best games (thanks, bsawyer) against the 49ers in 2006. He was an efficient 18 of 23 for 208 yards, two touchdowns and a 133.3 passer rating in the 41-0 route in Kansas City. If the 49ers signed Huard, it would not rule out the team signing another free agent and/or selecting a quarterback in the April draft.

In other free agency news, J.T. O'Sullivan is getting a hard look from the Cincinnati Bengals. If the Bengals sign him, you gotta believe that O'Sullivan would be able to edge out Carson's bro, Jordan, to become the No. 2 in Cincy. Good luck to UC Davis' finest ...

-- Matt Barrows

March 4, 2009
Warner agrees to terms with Cardinals

The ending everyone and their brother saw coming before this movie (bad romantic comedy?) was minutes old has finally played out: Kurt Warner and the Cardinals have agreed to terms on a two-year deal for $23 million, $19 million of it guaranteed, according to agent Mark Bartelstein. Warner has yet to sign on the dotted line, but the expectation is that he will do so later today. The contract is essentially the one Bartelstein faxed to the Cardinals hours after Warner and wife, Brenda, were wined and dined by the 49ers.

Bartelstein said that the $23 million is signficantly less than what the 49ers were willing to pay, although the 49ers never made a formal offer. "The 49ers and I talked conceptually about things, about the range we wanted to be in," Bartelstein said.

Bartelstein added: "I didn't feel right getting into specifics with them until Kurt was ready to pull the trigger. I didn't want them to feel used. ... I really do respect that the 49ers handled this in a first-class way. They really gave a good presentation and gave Kurt something to think about." Note: Warner didn't spend very long ruminating over this. The Warners flew back that night and Bartelstein faxed an offer to the Cardinals the next morning.

In fact, the last two free-agent visitors to Santa Clara have left town without signing a deal with the 49ers. Defensive tackle Demetric Evans flew back to the Washington D.C. area this morning and now must decide between the Redskins and the 49ers. As a Redskin, Evans would line up next two Albert Haynesworth (read: no double teams) and continue to play defensive tackle. For the 49ers, Evans likely would play left defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. His responsibilities would be similar to those of a 3-4 4-3 tackle. Another DT-DE the 49ers were eyeing, Kenny Peterson, has decided to remain with the Broncos. No other free-agent visits are scheduled at this time.

-- Matt Barrows

March 3, 2009
Warner to Cardinals: Take me back

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that Kurt Warner's agent has faxed the Cardinals a new contract proposal - one that is worth less than what the 49ers have offered. According to Somers, Warner and agent Mark Bartelstein are proposing a 2-year, $23 million deal that includes $12 million in guarantees. Warner also has told the Cardinals that he would sacrifice $1 million in each year of the deal if the team re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin to a restructured deal.

The $23 million doesn't seem very far from the $20 million deal the team reportedly offered initially. The initial offer called for $10 million guaranteed. The new proposal asks for $12 million and makes it more difficult for the Cardinals to release Warner in the second year of the contract. I don't know about you, but this doesn't seem like a very big gap, especially for a quarterback who was in the Super Bowl a month ago. The $23 million total also is significantly lower than the $28 million to $32 million Warner was reportedly seeking.

So if the Cardinals accept this offer, how do the 49ers come out looking? Not good. They were effectively used to determine a market value for Warner, and according to Bartelstein, the new proposal is below that value. One of the rationales for hosting Warner was that at the very least it would force the Cardinals to up their offer and would mess with their salary cap. But if, at the end of the day, the Cardinals have Warner under wraps at a salary not dramatically different than the one they were offering, and they also have Boldin on board for the long term, it all seems to work out very well for the Super Bowl runner-ups....

Demetric Evans currently is at team headquarters. He's going through the usual routine for a free-agent visitor: arrive at the facility, quick hello, physical at Stanford, chat with Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan and - if all of that goes well - a contract offer. Evans played DT tackle for the Redskins but projects as a left defensive end for the 49ers. Of the two players currently penciled in at LDE for the 49ers - Isaac Sopoaga and Kentwan Balmer - Sopoaga is more apt to move back to nose tackle. Last year, however, defensive line coach moved Sopoaga from nose tackle to defensive end and Sopoaga is on record as saying he prefers that position to nose tackle.

-- Matt Barrows

March 2, 2009
McCloughan: It's a work in progress

Kurt Warner's stretch Range Rover just pulled out of the 49ers facility, presumably to deliver the free-agent quarterback at a restaurant where he will have dinner with coach Mike Singletary and GM Scot McCloughan. Warner Watch has ended. Warner's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said that Warner and wife, Brenda, would spend the night in Santa Clara and fly back to the Phoenix area tomorrow morning. "He's going to think about it," Bartelstein said.

McCloughan left before Warner did and was nice enough to stop for reporters. Here's what he had to say:

Is there a time table?
Not yet. As a matter of fact, we're going to meet tonight.

Will Kurt return to the Phoenix area tonight?
Maybe. Maybe. It's still a work in progress.

On today's meeting:
His physical came back good. That's the biggest thing from our standpoint.

On what he felt about Warner in general.
He's a very classy guy. Very classy. And that's a reason he's been so succesful in his career, the way he carries himself. Yeah, it's been good.

On progress of discussions:
Like I said, it's still up in the air. We're very excited he's willing to come visit and possibly be a 49er.

On whether signing Warner would close the door on Alex Smith.
No. No. As a matter of fact, at that position we're trying to add as much good talent as we can because you can't have enough. No doors are ever closed. We're trying to get better.

Are you having dinner with him tonight?
Possibly. Possibly.

Jed York also stopped to chat. He said he stopped in to say "hi" to Warner today and might meet up with him again tonight. He said he would not get involved in the negotiations with the quarterback. "Scot and Mike -- it's their deal." Said York of Warner: "Great guy. Not just from today personally but seeing him over the last 10 or so years. He's a class act."

-- Matt Barrows

March 2, 2009
Warner watch begins

I arrived at 49ers HQ a few minutes ago (9: 51 a.m.) to find a 22-foot black Range Rover with driver parked in front of the building. It was then moved to the back entrance where pesky reporters don't have access. I can tell you it's not for Demetric Evans. The Redskins free-agent DE-DT is delayed by the snow storm that has blanketed the east coast. He won't be in until tomorrow. Moran Norris is due in to sign his contract today. But you don't rent a stretch limo for a 30-something fullback. Meanwhile, the 49ers are being very mysterioso ... Stay tuned ...

10:58 a.m. The mysterious black limo pulled up to the 49ers' building, the driver got out and waited with his umbrella. The odd thing is, no one got in and then the limo rolled away ... We are now awaiting its arrival, presumably with Kurt and Brenda Warner aboard ...

11:52 a.m. The limo just rolled in and we watched the driver escort a blond woman -- Brenda? -- to the door. I thought she was taller ... There's a metal gate that prevents anyone from entering the back parking lot. The view through the gate didn't allow us to see the other side of the car, so I did not actually see Brenda's husband with my own eyes. I'm told he's in the building and that he will be going through the same process any free-agent visitor goes through -- chat with Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan, physical with the team doctors, etc. ...

12:33 p.m. In the interest on full disclosure ... between the limo departing the 49ers' facility and arriving back again, three of us engaged in the world's most inept chase scene to the airport. Popeye Doyle it was not. We figured it would be easy to tail a 22-foot limo in the rain to the airport. Ah, but which airport? The limo gave us the slip at the light. And while we scoured San Jose International Airport (home of the never-ending construction project) for someone waiting with a handwritten "Kurt Warner" placard, the limo was at San Jose Jet Center. So much for the Yorks being cheapskates. They didn't buy the Warners "Anytime" tickets on Southwest. They flew them in a private jet. .. It's your move, Bidwills ...

1:18 p.m. Quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson just rolled into his parking spot. Must mean there's a quarterback somewhere on the premises ...

1:33 p.m. Not the big news you're waiting for, but ... Moran Norris is in the building.

1:49 p.m. SF Gate's John Crumpacker reports that Warner is currently at Stanford Hospital getting his physical. Warner has had pinky (2000), hand (2002), concussion (2003), hand (2004), groin, MCL (2005) and elbow (2007) injuries in the past, so the physical is not a routine event.

2:36 p.m. THERE'S BEEN A SIGNING!!!!!!! Yeah, fullback Moran Norris finally inked his name to his three-year contract. He'll be talking in a matter of minutes ...(Sorry, couldn't resist)

2:46 p.m. Moran Norris is officially back in the fold. Norris, of course, lost his job to Zak Keasey last summer. Now that Jimmy Raye has taken over the offense, it looks like the roles are reversed -- Norris is in, Keasey needs to be a special teams dynamo to make the team. Asked about the offense, Norris said: "They really didn't say. But I know they're looking for a fullback who will go in and stick their nose in there." He said he's scheduled to meet with Raye later today. Meanwhile, Warner Watch continues ...

3:09 p.m. Let's talk receivers. As of now, the only receivers on the 49ers roster who have started a game - and one of them has exactly one start - are ARNAZ BATTLE, Brandon Jones, Jason Hill and Josh Morgan. If the 49ers were to somehow land Warner, you would think that would be enough to coax Isaac Bruce back into the fold. Meanwhile, the Rams are reportedly shopping Torry Holt. They haven't approached the 49ers yet, but with Warner on the roster, that would be a logical team to start with ...

4:07 p.m. Kurt Warner just arrived back from a loooong physical at Stanford. Trainer Jeff Ferguson was behind the wheel of their vehicle but did not stop to allow Warner to talk to reporters. As they paused at the security gate, Warner mouthed the words -- good naturedly, of ourse -- "I'm not talking." He is now set to meet with Mike SIngletary and Scot McCloughan.

6 p.m. Warner Watch has ended. The free-agent QB met with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson late this afternoon. Then his stretch Range Rover whisked him away, presumably to a hotel and then to dinner with McCloughan and Singletary. To read more about the tentative game plan, click here.

03022009096 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

-- Matt Barrows

March 1, 2009
Cardinals not blinking

I spoke with Kurt Warner's agent a couple of minutes ago, and he said that nothing has changed between the Cardinals and his client since news broke yesterday that Warner had scheduled a Monday visit with the 49ers. Which probably means that the Cardinals think Warner's bluffing and that it will soon be time for Warner to lay his - ahem -- cards on the table. Agent Mark Bartelstein has never mentioned the 49ers specifically, at least not to me. But he insists that he is in discussions about Warner with more than one team. "We're going to visit some people and we're just going to leave it at that," Bartelstein said. "I've told the teams that I wouldn't mention them by name."

Cross Chris Canty off your free-agent want list. The big - 6-7 - defensive lineman will sign a six-year, $42 million deal with the Giants, who are trying to keep pace with the free-spending Redskins. The 49ers, meanwhile, will host Redskins free agent DE-DT Demetric Evans tomorrow. They also have shown interest in Broncos free agent DT-DE Kenny Peterson.

The 49ers will need to add a third tight end at some point, but it is not currently a free-agent priority. The players they are considering include Billy Bajema, Cowboys free agent Tony Curtis and Browns free agent Darnell Dinkins.

-- Matt Barrows

March 1, 2009
Q&A: Tis the season for QB soap operas

Question: Out of curiosity, was Bryant Johnson considered deficient as a blocker? I'm looking at the "new BJ's" size and stats that come with a bigger contract, and in four seasons he's only had one catch for more than 40 yards, and one season with more than 40 catches. Reportedly, he has better speed to stretch the field...but if Shaun Hill is fluttering it to him, does it matter past 30 yards? Has to be that Hill will be replaced with a bigger arm for sure, or Jones is a better blocker.
Mike, Montclair. NJ

Answer: You're hitting multiple nails on their heads. I think speed is the underlying factor here. Brandon Jones has more of it than Bryant Johnson. Remember back in 2007 when the Ravens D-coord asked Mike Nolan why the 49ers didn't play Ashley Lelie? Lelie isn't a great WR, but because he was so fast, his mere presence scared defenses. The 49ers must make sure they have enough speed on the outside so that teams don't stack the box like they did in 2007. ... Now can Shaun Hill make enough downfield plays where that speed becomes effective? That's what the 49ers are asking themselves. That his deep passes tend to flutter is the only thing that keeps from nailing down the starting job and it's what gives life to all these add-a-quarterback - Vick, Sanchez, Warner, oh my! - stories. I hope Hill's doing 50-pound preacher curls right now...
- Matt

Question: I just read on profootball.com that Jay Cutler may be on the trading block. The 9ers need to get in on some of that. I would rather have Cutler than Warner. Do whatever it takes to get Cutler if the Broncos are stupid enough to get rid of him. I'm not sure how much juice 49ers have in a trade. After all, Denver picks right behind them.
Martin, Fort Worth

Answer: I gotta say - I'm also surprised the Broncos were dangling Cutler, who has been - by far - the best of that ballyhooed group of 2006 QBs. Josh McDaniel must have been smitten by Matt Cassel in New England. ... That being said, now that Cassel is off the market, I doubt Cutler's going anywhere.
- Matt

Question: What's the deal with the Chiefs getting Matt Cassel from the Pats at the grand ole cost of a second round draft pick? If that's all it took to get a (seemingly) good QB why didn't we go there? Isn't a 2nd round draft pick a deal compared to paying the 10-12 million Kurt Warner would reportedly go for? What gives??? I thought Cassel was going to go for big bucks, the fact that he didn't and the fact that we didn't go there is really annoying. ps- I vote for Vick over Warner.
Caitlin, SF

Answer: Yes, it seems like the Patriots wanted no part of a Top 5 pick. Maybe that says something about the quality at the top of the draft this year. The Patriots looked at who would be available at the Chiefs' No. 3 and thought - gee, we'd have to pay an awful lot for that guy. The Patriots are more comfortable at the end of the first round and beginning of the second. Watch - they'll draft someone like Brian Robiskie or Connor Barwin and he'll be a perennial Pro Bowler. Dunno why the 49ers didn't jump on that trade. Maybe the Chiefs' second rounder was more appealing. Maybe Cassel felt comfortable with Pioli rebuilding the team. Maybe Pioli has better phone numbers.
- Matt

Question: Do you think a Warner/Boldin package is out of the realm of possibility? Don't the 49ers have enough cap space? Isn't this something that the 49ers have to seriously consider?
Kyle, Lake Stevens, WA

Answer: Boldin is not a free agent like Warner. He's still under contract with the Cardinals, which means that negotiation with him would lead to the "T" word and a loss of a draft pick.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt love the Blog. Do you know if the Niners plan on getting a solid nose tackle either in Free Agency or the draft? Aubrayo Franklin is not the answer since I've rarely seen him eat up more than one blocker and the key to a successful 3-4 is a plug the middle type of nose tackle. Isaac moves around too much to be one so who is the answer? Do you know if the Niners were looking at the Boston College guys at the combine? Thanks
Steve, Bend, OR

Answer: There are still some solid NTs on the market, but the 49ers' approach thus far has been to add to the defensive end position. If that happens, I would assume they would move Sopoaga - or maybe even Kentwan Balmer - from left defensive end to nose tackle. I'm sure the 49ers were looking at B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, but I still think it will be an OT at pick No. 10.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, since the 49ers are bringing back players they once cut, do you think the 49ers would be interested in bring back Kwame Harris? The knock on him was his pass protection but he was an above average run blocker. Since the 49ers are going to be a running team, it may be a good idea to give him another look and he will probably come cheap
Teddy, Kenner, La.

Answer: I hear ya, Teddy, but is Kwame any better overall than Barry Sims or Adam Snyder, two guys already under contract?
- Matt

Question: Quick question. How exactly does an "uncapped year" work? Does that mean that next year there will be no limit to how much each team can spend on players? If That's the case, then two more questions; What's going to stop Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones from paying $200 million per free agent and not leaving anybody out there, and if there's no limit next year, why are the Niners holding off this year? This might be a simple question but I'd appreciate an answer. Thanks in advance.
Carlos, Hayward

Answer: Yes - an uncapped year means teams can spend as much as they want or as little as they want. That's why the 49ers are so intent on getting their own soon-to-become free agents locked down to deals this year. ... I have no doubt that the Redskins and Cowboys will outspend everyone else in an uncapped year. But they've been the biggest spenders in recent years and it hasn't bought them a championship. I think there's a big risk in assembling a collection of superstars who might not be as motivated because they've already landed massive contracts. The crappy economy also might serve as a de facto "cap."
- Matt


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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