49ers Blog and Q&A

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

May 29, 2009
Early signings underscore sense of urgency

I was asked yesterday why the 49ers seem so intent on signing their draft picks early. There isn't any practical concern. They're not saving money, and this is something they'd likely be able to do, without too much stress, in the week leading up to training camp.

But like everything Mike Singletary has done in recent weeks, it sets a workmanlike tone. Why put off until tomorrow what can be done today? Singletary spent the 49ers' first OTA session last week establishing a it's-time-to-buckle-down mentality with his team, and it will be interesting to see whether that has sunk in when the second OTA begins Monday.

One other thing to note - I have yet to see any 49ers draft pick miss more than a couple of hours (Kwame Harris) of training camp because he had not signed a contract. My stint as a beat reporter roughly coincides with the time that Paraag Marathe has been the team's negotiator, so he deserves credit for making sure his players are in on time.

The trickiest member of the 49ers' seven-member draft class to sign, of course, will be No. 10 pick Michael Crabtree. That's mostly because of Crabtree's draft status. But he's also represented by Eugene Parker, whose clients - Steven Jackson, Jason Peters, etc. - have not been shy about withholding their services in training camp. None of those players, however, held out as rookies.

Wanna improve your view at Candlestick Park this season? The 49ers tomorrow will hold a Select-A-Seat event from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m in which fans can get an up-close-and-personal look at the best available season tickets for 2009. Available seats for the 2009 season will be tagged throughout the stadium and 49ers ticket representatives will be on hand to help the process.

Fans also will get to tour the 49ers locker room and will be automatically entered in a drawing to win two season tickets for the 2009 season. Parking for the event is free at the main entrance at Gate A. Fans interested in attending should RSVP on 49ers.com.

-- Matt Barrows

May 28, 2009
Niners sign Bear Pascoe to four-year deal

Paraag Marathe must have a big vacation planned for mid-July. The 49ers' chief negotiator just signed another draft pick, sixth rounder Bear Pascoe, to a four-year deal. Pascoe, a prolific pass catcher at Fresno State, will step into the role of blocking tight end this season.

Most teams begin signing their draft picks in June and finish up the task as players are reporting for training camp in July. The 49ers already have four players signed to four-year deals : Pascoe, fifth rounder Scott McKillop and seventh rounders Curtis Taylor and Ricky Jean-Francois. Those who have yet to sign are first-round pick Michael Crabtree, third-round pick Glen Coffee and fifth-round pick Nate Davis.

At Fresno State in 2008 Pascoe started 12 games and recorded 40 receptions for 400 yards and four touchdowns. He had a career year in 2007, catching 45 passes for 553 yards and four touchdowns in 12 starts. Pascoe started 12 games in 2006, finishing with 22 receptions for 307 yards and two touchdowns. As a redshirt freshman, he played in 13 games and caught five passes for 34 yards. After being recruited as a quarterback out of high school, Pascoe made the switch to tight end and redshirted as a true freshman.

-- Matt Barrows

May 27, 2009
Something for your 49er fix

As I'm sure you've noticed, things are a tad slow in 49erville these days. (Just wait until late June/early July). Here are a couple of small items that might dull your 49ers fix and get you through the week.

I'm told that safety Mark Roman is "close" to getting back on the field after offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle When Roman first was given permission by the 49ers to seek a trade, his agent told me that if no trade could be worked out by June, Roman would happily return to the 49ers. On that note, Roman is expected to rejoin his teammates, either at the next OTA June 1 and 2 or at the mandatory minicamp that runs June 5-7.

When Roman returns, he will be the back-up free safety to Dashon Goldson who - as he has in previous offseasons - has looked great in practice. Roman's return also likely will bump seventh-round draft pick Curtis Taylor down to the third string.

Mandatory minicamp: June 5-7.
Upcoming OTAs: June 1-2, June 8-11, June 15-16.

NFL owners recently voted to allow teams to have partnerships with their state lotteries, a rule change the Patriots and Redskins already have taken advantage of. I'm told by lottery officials that the 49ers, Raiders and Chargers are all working on similar deals with the California lottery. The plan, however, is in its infancy and no details have been worked out at this time.

Finally ... I often lament the demise of the written word. Television - bad television - has taken over as our dominant art form. Newspapers have lost their authority and gravitas, and they are quickly becoming dinosaurs. People still write, but it seems like text-message speak - OMG! - is threatening to become our new language. But every now and then I read something so heartfelt and so well written that it gives me hope and makes me believe again in the power of the pen. That happened to me this morning when I read this. Nicely done, sir ...

-- Matt Barrows

May 25, 2009
X marks the spot for Morgan, Crabtree

Question: I want to ask you about the 49er receiver situation. Considering Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree lineup at the same spot, what do you think will happen? I mean, Morgan is incredible, but we drafted Crabtree with our top 10 pick. How do you see this playing out? I mean, I don't see a point in having Morgan be Crabtree's backup or vice versa. It seems to me to make a lot more sense to move one of them over so they can play side by side as a really dangerous combo. Your thoughts?
Harjit, Oakland

Answer: First of all, it's a great problem to have. Just a few years ago, the team's top three wide receivers were Cedrick Wilson, Brandon Lloyd and Curtis Conway. As for the current situation ... while Morgan and Crabtree currently are slated to play the "X" position this season, all the 49ers receivers are taught to play multiple positions. For example, Morgan lined up and both "X" and "Z" during the recent OTAs. Which is to say, if those two end up being the team's top two receivers, the 49ers will find a way to get them on the field at the same time.

Having said that ... Keep in mind that Crabtree (foot) won't be able to practice with the team until training camp. So he's not only a rookie learning how to play against big, physical cornerbacks, he's also getting a late start on the learning process. In other words, there's no guarantee he'll be a starter in Week One.

Something else to keep in mind ... Very rarely does a receiving corps make it through an entire season unscathed. Heck, the 49ers couldn't make it through non-contact OTAs without an ankle injury to Jason Hill and a concussion to Dominique Zeigler. I can almost guarantee that at some point injuries will force the 49ers to reshuffle their receiving corps and allow someone who is a Week One backup to have a larger role later in the season.
-- Matt

While we're on the subject, here's a quick - very quick - Q&A with Crabtree ...

Q: Do you have a better read now on when you can start running around on your foot?
MC: Not at all. I just know I'll be ready for training camp.

Q: Are you able to the full routine in the weight room?
MC: I do everything everybody else does except run.

Q: What was it like hearing Jerry Rice (on Wednesday)? What was his message to the team?
MC: He always has basically the same points every time I meet with him - talking about elevating your game and getting better, really powerful points. (Rice visited with Crabtree prior to the draft in the Dallas area).

Q: During practices, do you watch the player who is playing your position?
MC: I watch everybody. Right now, I'm just trying to learn the offense. That's what I'm doing right now, so ...

Q: Do you watch Josh Morgan more than the other players?
MC: Yeah, Josh is playing X and Z. Whoever's in the X, that's the spot I'm watching. I've got to get that down first.

Q: The team has signed three draft picks already. Do you want to get your contract completed so you can report on time?
MC: I'm just waiting on whatever, man. Right now, I don't really have anything to say about doing that. As long as it gets done and I'm ready for training camp ...

Q: Is your goal to be on time for training camp?
MC: Oh yeah. No doubt.

-- Matt Barrows

May 22, 2009
OTAs: Who stood out ...

The 49ers got their first glimpse at their entire squad - give or take a couple of players - this weekend, and the bottom line is that the team is more talented top to bottom than it's been since 2003. It was also clear that Mike Singletary was intent on setting a tone for his new players. He stopped Monday's practice midway through and gave the players a tongue lashing. From that point on the practices had greater energy and urgency. Singletary, however, was not about to declare himself content. He characterized Monday's sessions as "not very good", Tuesday's as "a little better," Wednesday was "a lot better" and Thursday was "OK."

"The most important thing is the guys have a feeling and an understanding of what we're trying to accomplish," Singletary said. "And it's about getting better, taking advantage of every opportunity that we have to come out here to get better. And that's what it's really about, and they're competing. I think they have a good feel for where we want to go, and we're just going to build on it."

What's also clear is that this year's offense fits the players' strengths more so than last year's version. Shaun Hill has said as much. So has Frank Gore, who is once again running between the tackles instead of outside them. Vernon Davis also is being used more like a tight end (10-, 15-yard routes) in the passing game instead of like Lynn Swann as was the case a year ago.

Here are some player-specific observations from the OTAs ...

A couple of the receivers who stood out were Josh Morgan and newcomer Brandon Jones. Morgan probably practiced a lot more than expected given injuries and absences at the position. He didn't seem to mind. He was effective at both the "X" and "Z" receiver spots and with both long and short passes. Jones, meanwhile, appears to be every bit as fast as advertised. I don't recall him dropping any passes over the four-day session.

All of a sudden, one of the most interesting roster battles is between Tarell Brown and Dre' Bly for starting cornerback. (Could Shawntae Spencer win the race? Yes, but I think he begins in third place) The catch is that Brown and Bly are very similar players in that they are quick but undersized and are not known as physical players. Which makes you wonder how they'll fare against 49ers' nemeses Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. A cynic (not me) might even say that the 49ers have two nickel cornerbacks dueling over a starting role.

Dashon Goldson's ball hawking skills were on display once again during the OTAs, especially on his leaping sideline interception of an Alex Smith pass. It was the kind of play that has been missing from the 49ers' secondary in recent seasons. Physically, Goldson is everything a team would want in a free safety - big, tall, long arms. Again, the only thing holding this guy back is his health. ... Speaking of free safeties, I expect to see Mark Roman back on the field when the team meets again in June. Singletary made it perfectly clear that Roman is welcome back.

If it wasn't for rookie Alex Boone, Marvel Smith would be the biggest guy on the team. Smith is mammoth, and unlike Boone, he moves that weight around with ease. Smith was limited to individual drills while he continues to recover from back surgery, and Adam Snyder was the de facto starter at right tackle during 11-on-11 situations.

Lots written about tight end Bear Pascoe this week, and why not? The rookie from Fresno State has a very unique background. But don't go to sleep on fellow tight end Joe Jon Finley, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma last year who has done a nice job of filling out his 6-6 frame in the offseason. I'm not saying Finley beats out Pascoe for a roster spot. But he is turning into a solid player.

I'll be darned if my guy, Ahmad Brooks, didn't look pretty sharp in the OTAs. Remember, the 49ers did not draft any OLBs in April. So they are counting on Brooks and free-agent addition Marques Harris to provide depth behind Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson. Of that group, Brooks is the biggest, and size is something the 49ers covet. Brooks seemed to have an extra bit of zing this week, and it will be interesting to watch him in one-on-one blocking drills against guys like Marvel Smith and Joe Staley when training camp begins. Brooks missed the final day of OTAs. I'm told he had to fly home to take care of a personal matter. He is not injured.

Glen Coffee is not a smooth runner. He gallops more than glides, and that's just fine with the 49ers. He's a violent runner, who takes one cut and starts pumping his knees as if he's running through a shallow pool of water. In other words, no breaks for the defense when Frank Gore comes out of the game this season ...

-- Matt Barrows

May 21, 2009
Niners sign Bly to 1-year deal

Well, that didn't take long. Veteran cornerback Dre' Bly must have aced his physical and his interview with Mike Singletary today because the 49ers have signed him to a one-year contract. Both Bly, 31, (he turns 32 on Monday) and Brian Kelly, 33, were brought in today after it was learned that starting cornerback Walt Harris tore the ACL in his right knee in practice Tuesday. Bly, who has played for the Rams, Lions and Broncos, is scheduled to speak on a conference call at 5 p.m.. Check back to this post if you're interested in what he had to say ...

In a release, GM Scot McCloughan said it was important to get Bly signed so he can learn the 49ers' system as quickly as possible. McCloughan also noted Bly's durability. Bly has not missed a start in the last three seasons.

"We lost a Pro Bowl caliber player in Walt Harris this week, and we were able to fill that void today with another Pro Bowler in Dré Bly," McCloughan said. "We added a player with a passion for the game, tremendous productivity and proven durability who knows what it takes to compete at a high level in the NFL. It was important to get Dré in here quickly so that he can get acquainted with our system, our coaches and his new teammates."

Here's how Scouts, Inc. assesses Bly:

The 10-year veteran still has some years left in his body. He is an excellent athlete with good foot quickness, agility and excellent speed. He is fluid and smooth in his hip turn and can mirror most receivers all over the field. He has good route awareness when in off coverage, but has a tendency to gamble and jump on routes at the wrong time, which can cost him.

He is not a big cornerback and struggles against some of the larger receivers in the league. The Broncos generally try to match him up with the inside, smaller receivers when in the red zone. He has awareness and good ball skills when in position to make a play on the ball. He is not very physical and not much of a force in run support. He lets himself get blocked too easily. He would probably be a better fit as a nickel back, if the Broncos were able to find a top level cornerback in the near future, but can still play effectively even as a starter.

Bly was at the airport when he got on a conference call with reporters a moment ago (5:15 p.m.). He said his first order of business was picking up the playbook and that he had a copy of it in his carry-on luggage. Bly said he'd be back the next time the 49ers assemble for practices in early June.

Bly said one of the first people he called when he learned of the 49ers' interest was Isaac Bruce, a former teammate with the Rams. "He's a guy that sort of raised me when I was with St. Louis." Bly said Bruce had good things to say about the 49ers and about San Francisco.

As for replacing Harris as the starter at cornerback, Bly said it was easy to assume, given his history in the league, that he would step into the starting role. "That's not the case," Bly said. "I'm going to come in and compete." ... "What coach Singletary told me was 'You're going to have a chance to compete. All 53 are going to compete.'" Bly admitted he didn't know much about the two players he will have to compete with on the 49ers, Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer.

Bly said that when cornerbacks start to fade in this league it's either because they're injured or overweight. He insisted he's neither. In fact, Bly said he weighed less now than he did as a rookie. Back then, he went about 192 pounds. Today he's about 188 pounds.

Asked how, at that weight, he would handle the Anquan Boldins and Larry Fitgeralds of the division, Bly said that he's been matched up against top tier receivers his entire career. "I thrive during competition and situations like that," he said.

Bly said one of his best assets is his ball skills. His 40 interceptions since entering the NFL as a second-round draft pick in 1999 are the fourth-highest total among all NFL players, while his 18 forced fumbles are the most among cornerbacks during that span.

-- Matt Barrows

May 21, 2009
Vick in a league of his own?

I think there's a one in four chance Michael Vick will be playing in San Francisco this fall. But it will be for Dennis Green and the San Francisco/Sacramento UFL franchise not Mike Singletary and the NFL 49ers. The UFL seems like the perfect situation for both Vick and the NFL:

  • The four-team league's inaugural season doesn't begin until October, which would give Vick more time to readjust and get his affairs in order.

  • It would be a perfect compromise for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is torn between giving Vick a second chance and maintaining his law and order persona. The UFL would be a test run or stepping stone for Vick. If he passes the test, he gets reinstated for the 2010 season.

  • The UFL, not the NFL, would absorb the almost certain backlash that Vick would attract.

  • It would give Vick plenty of time to regain his former form. Those prison-yard games are tough (see: Longest Yard, The; '74 version) but it's doubtful Vick is in NFL shape right now.

I had a chance to talk about Vick with Allen Rossum, who knows Vick better than anyone on the 49ers having played five seasons with him in Atlanta. Rossum said he has sent messages of encouragement in Vick's direction. And he said Vick's possible reinstatement has been a hot topic in the 49ers locker room.

What is your feeling about giving someone like Michael Vick a second chance?
AR: I don't see why he doesn't deserve a second chance. I think a lot of things have been done and a lot of people have made mistakes. One thing about America - we are a country of second chances, especially in the sports arena. I don't want to name the other players' names or the different sports' names, but everyone can think of something that someone's done in every sport and they got a second chance. Now I'm a dog lover. I don't own dogs. Mike knows how I feel about dogs. I think he knows and realizes he made a mistake. He realizes that people who were around him were not in his best interest. I think he's learned from it. Unfortunately, he had to learn behind bars, he couldn't learn from it out here with the rest of it. I think he's coming out of it as a better man, more mature, and I don't see why he doesn't deserve a second chance.

Is there a sense that players want to see him back on the field to see whether he can still perform?
AR: I'm sure he does. It's like riding a bike. It's funny. I've only been in awe of maybe three players I've played against or played with. I played against Barry Sanders and I was just like, 'Wow. Did you see that move?' I played against Deion Sanders and he seemed to take everything back (for a touchdown) against us, including a punt on Monday night in Atlanta, and Michael Vick from the number of plays he made against us not only in practice but especially during the game. Those three guys are the ones that I've played against and have been just like, 'Wow. Did you see that?' He is one of those guys. I think he'll get back in the groove of things. He may be a little bit rusty but he'll be fine."

Are you close enough to him where you have sent him messages of encouragement?
AR: Well, I haven't personally talked to him or texted him, but I have sent messages through mutual friends who we are both very close to. I think we are still close. I still support him as a man. I don't support the action that he did, of course. But just like if I had a brother who made a mistake, I'm still going to love him, still consider him a brother. Hopefully he has learned from it. And I'll try to help him learn from it. If asks me or needs me, I'll try to guide him in the right direction. That's what I think he needs."

-- Matt Barrows

May 21, 2009
Cornerbacks Kelly, Bly in for physicals today

The 49ers currently are entertaining two veteran cornerbacks, Dre' Bly and Brian Kelly, as possible roster replacements for Walt Harris (ACL). Both are in Santa Clara today for physicals. Kelly, 33, is an 11-year veteran who played 10 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and last year for the Lions. He's started only 16 games in the last three seasons. Bly, 31, is a 10-year veteran who's played for the Rams, Lions and Broncos.

The team has some interest in former Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister but McAlister likely would have a hard time passing a physical at this time. McAlister started five games last season before being benched by coach John Harbaugh and later was placed on injured reserve with a right knee injury. He is expected to be fully recovered from that injury by June 15.

While the 49ers were hosting free agent cornerbacks, coach Mike Singletary was dishing out praise to the young cornerbacks on the team. "Tarell Brown has really been working his tail off," Singletary said. "I'm sure Shawntae will come back, and he will be fine. I know he's working his tail off." Singletary said Shawntae Spencer (knee) would be back on the field before training camp begins in late July. He also said there were no plans to move Reggie Smith back to cornerback from safety. Smith has been the de facto starter at strong safety while Michael Lewis rehabilitates from injuries.

"He can do both, but right now he's at safety, and he's making strides there and doing a good job," Singletary said. "Like I said, we're just going to try and find a guy to come in and compete and make us better at the corner position and we'll go from there."

While there are a number of veteran cornerbacks available, Singletary said "there are lot of veterans out there that I'm not really excited about." Asked to clarify, Singletary said: "I'm not going to go into names, but there are a guys out there that I'm not excited about, that I don't think fit what we're trying to do. ... We want a guy that has talent and is willing to come in and work."

Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was back at practice today, but tight end Vernon Davis, linebacker Ahmad Brooks and guard Chilo Rachal were not. Davis said later that he wasn't feeling well. Don't know the reason for the Brooks and Rachal absences, but will pass them along when I do. ... Ray McDonald and Arnaz Battle did some light running with trainers as practice began. ... The only player ruled out for training camp is Walt Harris.

Prettiest pass of the day? I promise I'm not being facetious when I say that it was delivered by Josh Morgan. The wideout had an option to pass, saw that Brandon Jones was uncovered and uncorked a 20-yard, tight spiral to Jones in the end zone.

The 49ers ended their four days of OTAs with some goal-line work. Except the offense wasn't operating on the opposition's 1-yard line but their own one yard line. Back-up right guard Matthew Huners drew the ire of Singletary by false starting.

Singletary was asked about second chances, particularly in relation to ex-Leavenworth, Kansas prison inmate Michael Vick. Singletary said that "obviously" he is someone who believes in second chances. But he also said that he and GM Scot McCloughan have not discussed Vick at all in recent months. "I've thought very little about about Michael Vick," Singletary said. ... "I've been thinking about what we're doing here." Singletary said the 49ers have "enough on our plate right now" when it comes to quarterbacks.

I'll have some final thoughts about the OTA -- who looked good, potential trouble spots -- in a later post ...

-- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2009
OTA observations; options at cornerback

Obviously the big news on Day Three of OTAs was Walt Harris' ACL tear, which will probably knock him out for the 2009 season. The 49ers seem content right now to allow Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer to move up in the pecking order but they also likely will bring in a few free-agent cornerbacks for workouts in coming weeks. One of the best of the bunch available is Roderick Hood, who is a six-year veteran of the Eagles and Cardinals. The 49ers have not yet inquired about Hood, according to Hood's agent.

Maybe it was because his idol - Jerry Rice - was watching from the sideline or maybe it was because he's one of the last receivers still practicing, but Josh Morgan had another prolific afternoon today. In fact, you might say that Morgan has been the offensive star of the team's OTAs this week. He caught deep passes on Monday and Tuesday, and today showed that he could catch a ball in traffic when he outwrestled inside linebacker Mark Washington for a short pass over the middle. Rice, in town to shoot an ESPN show called "Homecoming," spoke to Morgan and his teammates for 12 minutes after practice.

Another receiver who looked good today was tight end Vernon Davis, who seems to be a bit slimmer (read: less muscle-bound) this season. On three occasions, Davis leapt with his arms stretched high to bring down a pass. On one of those catches, Davis was inadvertently knocked down from behind by Washington. This is supposed to be a non-contact practice (tell that to Dominique Zeigler) and the collision was one that Davis, no stranger to practice fisticuffs, might have taken exception to in the past. This time, Davis merely popped back up and continued running down the field with the ball.

Two of those high passes to Davis were thrown by Alex Smith. He has noticeably more zip on his throws than in previous sessions, but a lot of them have been sailing a bit. No doubt this is one of the side effects of regaining your arm strength. All in all, this has to be considered a positive OTA session for a guy who has had two shoulder surgeries in the last two years.

Perhaps the prettiest throw of the day came from Shaun Hill, who launched a perfect touch-pass rainbow down the right sideline to Michael Robinson, who caught it in stride. Hill celebrated the pass with a huge fist pump.

Davis out leaped Dashon Goldson for one of his receptions. On the next play, however, Goldson stepped in front of the receiver for his second INT in as many days. Again, this is precisely what the 49ers, who had ZERO interceptions from their safeties a year ago, are hoping for from Goldson in the regular season. ... Goldson also appears to be one of three defenders who could wear the radio receiver for the 49ers this season. The other candidates are Michael Lewis and Patrick Willis. So far this spring none of those guys have experimented with the receiver although all three had a chance to wear it last offseason.

Jeff Ulbrich was excused from today's session. He was replaced by rookie Scott McKillop and first-year linebacker Justin Roland.... Zeigler, Lewis, Arnaz Battle (foot), Michael Crabtree (foot), Jason Hill (ankle) and Kentwan Balmer (knee) observed today's practice. Zeigler suffered a concussion in yesterday's non-contact practice. None of those guys will practice in tomorrow's OTA finale ... Crabtree says he is able to do everything that his teammates are doing as far as the weight-room regimen. The only thing he is not doing is running. He said he plans to be running again by the start of training camp, which likely will be July 30, although the date has not yet been settled.

-- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2009
OTA uh oh: Harris has ACL injury

The knee injury to cornerback Walt Harris that was described yesterday as "nothing major" has the potential to be quite major. It turns out that Harris, 34, injured his ACL in yesterday's practice when he became tangled with receiver Dominique Zeigler along the sideline. Harris stayed down for several minutes after the play and had to be helped by a trainer to a nearby cart. Harris will have surgery on the knee either next week or the week after. The 49ers have not given a prognosis, but we all know that when the ACL is involved there's a very good likelihood that it will be a season-ending injury.

If that's the case, third-year cornerback Tarell Brown likely would step into Harris' role opposite Nate Clements. Brown mostly played in the slot as the team's nickel cornerback a year ago. Brown certainly doesn't lack confidence. Today he held court with reporters and insisted that his combination of strength and quickness made him the most athletic player on the team.

"My quickness, my speed in and out of breaks," Brown said when asked about his athleticism. "Agility. Just the way I move. Changing direction. I can hit top-end speed pretty quick. I bet every guy feels like that. To be a good football player you have got to have confidence in yourself. Not arrogance, but confidence. But, I definitely feel like the most athletic guy on the squad."

If Brown is a starter at corner, Shawntae Spencer -- recovering from an ACL injury suffered last season -- likely would be the third or nickel corner. Beyond that, that 49ers have problems. They drafted Reggie Smith last year in the third round but have since moved him from cornerback to strong safety. Mike Singletary said earlier this week there was a strong possibility that Smith would remain at safety. There's no word yet on whether Harris' injury alters those plans. Another cornerback, Marcus Hudson, has seen scant playing time in his first three seasons and mostly has been used on special teams. The team also did not re-sign Donald Strickland, who started 10 games for the 49ers the last three seasons and who became a free agent this year. Strickland signed with the Jets.

In today's practice, return man Allen Rossum played on the outside at cornerback while Brown played the slot. The other cornerbacks currently on the roster are undrafted rookies Carlos Thomas, Jahi Word-Daniels and Terrail Lambert.

Harris, meanwhile, has been one of the 49ers' best free-agent pickups in recent years. The former Bear, Colt and Redskin joined the 49ers in 2006 and made his first Pro Bowl that year. Harris, who is the oldest member of the defense, has missed two starts in the last three seasons and has a team-high 15 interceptions over that span.

-- Matt Barrows

May 19, 2009
OTA: Bumps and bruises at WR, CB

Remember how loaded the 49ers seemed at wide receiver heading into the OTAs? Well, the team suddenly needs every bit of that depth to get through practice. One receiver, Isaac Bruce, is not attending the OTAs. Three more spent the day watching from the sideline. They are Arnaz Battle (foot), Michael Crabtree (foot), and Jason Hill, who suffered a minor ankle sprain on Monday.

When the first-team offense took the field, the starters were Josh Morgan at "X" and Dominique Zeigler at, appropriately, "Z". Zeigler, however, had to leave the field after colliding with free safety Dashon Goldson (who, by the way, looked really good today). Zeigler doesn't have a lot of cushion to absorb blows but the early report is that he was merely shaken up. The healthy receivers in practice: Morgan, Brandon Jones, Maurice Price, Michael Spurlock, Mark Bradford and Dobson Collins.

Earlier in the practice, Zeigler also got tangled up with cornerback Walt Harris and Harris bore the brunt of it. Zeigler made the diving catch along the sideline and Harris stayed on the ground for several minutes. Trainers were looking at his right knee and he had to be helped to a cart on the side of the practice field. The early report is that the injury is a sprain and that it's "nothing major." Tarell Brown took over opposite Nate Clements. Shawntae Spencer already is sitting out the OTA and Reggie Smith has been moved to safety.

Second-year defensive end Kentwan Balmer got caught in the wash on a Glen Coffee running play yesterday and sprained his knee. He sat out today's practice. Rookie Ricky Jean-Francois took over for him at LDE with the second-team defense.

I listed the first-team O and D in yesterday's blog. Keeping in mind the injuries and absences noted above, here's what the second team looked like:

RB: Glen Coffee
FB: Zak Keasey
QB: Alex Smith
WR: Brandon Jones
WR: Maurice Price
TE: Bear Pascoe
LT: Barry Sims
LG: Joe Toledo (didn't he play tackle exclusively last year?)
C: Cody Wallace
RG: Tony Wragge
RT: Jacob Bender

NT: Isaac Sopoaga
RDE: Demetric Evans
LDE: Ricky Jean-Francois
MLB: Jeff Ulbrich
TLB: Mark Washington
WLB: Ahmad Brooks
SLB: Marques Harris
CB: Marcus Hudson
CB: Tarell Brown
SS: Lewis Baker
FS: Curtis Taylor

Overall, the practice seemed to have better tempo than yesterday's, which drew the ire of Mike Singletary. I'm not going to chart the quarterback play, but it's safe to say that it continues to be a tad rusty. But, hey, it's only mid May.

Alex Smith tried to throw a pass underneath to Frank Gore, but rookie inside linebacker Scott McKillop sniffed it out, stepped in front of Gore and got a pick-six type interception. It's not the kind of play one expects from a rookie.

Shaun Hill attempted a deep pass down the middle of the field to Josh Morgan. The ball had more wiggle than Shakira, but Morgan was still able to maneuver underneath rookie CB Carlos Thomas to make the reception.

Perhaps the best play of the day was Dashon Goldson's leaping sideline interception of an Alex Smith pass to Morgan. It was a well-thrown ball but Goldson's athleticism allowed him to make the play. That's precisely what the 49ers are looking for from Goldson come September.

The 49ers will get a visit from Jerry Rice tomorrow. Rice is in town to shoot an ESPN show called "Homecoming" in which a former star pays a visit to his home town, high school, college, former team, etc. Rice is scheduled to speak to the team after practice.

-- Matt Barrows

May 18, 2009
OTA observations on Alex Smith, Jimmy Williams

One day of OTAs is in the books. Here are some of the observations I jotted down ...

As usual, Alex Smith was asked about his throwing arm. What was unusual is that Smith said the arm was completely back to normal. In the past, Smith has said something along the lines of, the arm feels good but that the deep passes still give me some trouble or, the arm feels good but there is still some soreness after I throw. He wasn't complaining, but merely saying that the comeback process was not yet complete.

Today he didn't hedge when asked if his arm was full go. "Yeah. Absolutely. No question," he said. "I feel really good. I don't feel like there's many throws on the field I can't make right now."

Smith was also asked whether he'd like to see the full retinue of receivers on the field for OTAs. Isaac Bruce is the only 49ers veteran who is uninjured and not taking part in the OTA. Arnaz Battle (foot) and Michael Crabtree (foot) are attending the four-day session but not participating.

"You can't show up in the fall and expect to be winning games," Smith said in response. "I think, especially with where we're at, it takes everybody to be here. We've got to push it right now. You can't just show up and expect to win games in this league - at any level, that doesn't happen."

That's about as powerful as anything that Smith has said - to the media, at least - since he was drafted in 2005. One of the criticisms of Smith is that he is too nice, that he doesn't have that certain jerk-ishness (I want to use another four-letter word that ends in "k") that seems to be a prerequisite for running a huddle. Perhaps this is an indication of no more Mr. Nice Guy from Mr. Smith.

About Jimmy Williams ... Some of you have asked if I sensed there was something else that may have prompted the safety's release. I have to admit that, yes, the b.s. detection needle inside my head started flickering when I learned he was waived. But I have no information right now to suggest that his release was due to anything other than what Mike Singletary said - a numbers situation. ... Weight was an issue in Williams' release from Atlanta last year. When the team drafted him in 2006, he weighed 213 pounds. He had risen to 230 or so pounds prior to the Falcons releasing him. Williams told me earlier this month that he had been as heavy as 240 pounds but that he currently weighed 225. He said he was hoping to drop down to 218 or so pounds by training camp.

If I was asked to pick a long shot to make the team, my mid May pick would be "Mike" linebacker Justin Roland. Roland certainly has plenty of competition at inside linebacker, but he has great presence on the field. He was also one of a handful of lbs who stayed after today's practice to run up and down Singletary's newly built hill. The others: Takeo Spikes, Jeff Ulbrich, rookie Scott McKillop, Mark Washington and Manny Lawson.

Here's how the first-team offense and defense looked today:

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

NT: Aubrayo Franklin
RDE: Justin Smith
LDE: Isaac Sopoaga
MLB: Patrick Willis
TLB: Takeo Spikes
WLB: Parys Haralson
SLB: Manny Lawson
CB: Walt Harris
CB: Nate Clements
SS: Reggie Smith (Michael Lewis was observing)
FS: Dashon Goldson

-- Matt Barrows

May 18, 2009
Niners waive Jimmy Williams

Remember the interesting experiment to see whether Mike Singletary could resurrect Jimmy Williams' football career? Well, it's over. The team announced today that it has waived Williams, who had been playing second-string strong safety over the last two months. Singletary cited the depth at safety for releasing Williams.

"Right now, it's just ... we just felt that it was the best thing to do," Singletary said. "It is a numbers game. It is one of those things. We feel good about the guys we have. We wanted to give it a look and see how it would work out, and just felt like, 'You know what, right now's the best time to make that decision.'"

I asked if Williams' departure increases the liklihood that Reggie Smith will remain at safety. Singletary said it's a "strong possibility." With Michael Lewis observing today's practice, Smith again was the de facto starting strong safety. (Dashon Goldson was the starter at free safety).Williams' release also increases the chances that Mark Roman could return. Roman has been shopping himself -- unsuccessfuly -- for a trade. But Singletary revealed today that Roman has been a frequent visitor to the team facility, both meeting with coaches and getting treatment on bone spurs in his ankle. Roman has not taken part in any minicamps or OTAs. Singletary said that Roman probably couldn't practice anyway because of his injury. Singletary said that Roman is welcome -- always has been welcome -- to return to the 49ers.

"There's always been room for Mark Roman on the roster," Singletary said. "We talked to Mark and let him know that he's important to what we're trying to do. There was never a time that we said, 'We don't want Mark. He doesn't matter to us.' We want him. And we're very interested in keeping him. That's something that's not a secret to him."

In other safety news, the team has signed the first of its seventh-round draft picks, Curtis Taylor, to a four-year deal. That means three of the seven draft picks are now under contract.

-- Matt Barrows

May 18, 2009
Four-day OTA kicks off today

Here's a story I wrote for today's Bee about the roster competitions that, practically speaking, begin today with the opening of a four-day minicamp. Space issues in the paper required me to stop where I did, but I could have thrown at least one more position, defensive end, into the mix. Isaac Sopoaga and Justin Smith are the starters right now at left and right defensive end respectively. Behind them, Demetric Evans, Kentwan Balmer and Ricky Jean-Francois are jockeying for playing time. Ray McDonald will be tossed into the mix when he recovers from knee surgery, which likely will be some time in the preseason.

The OTAs are not mandatory, so I don't know yet which vets are here and which aren't. The rookies who can't participate are Ohio State OT Alex Boone and Stanford DE Pannel Egboh. Kicker Alex Romero also is not here.

***update*** Two of the vets that aren't here are Isaac Bruce and Mark Roman. Bruce is a 16-year vet, the most experienced player on the team. However, this is his first year in a new offense and he missed the previous minicamp. Roman has been given permission to seek a trade. I'm told receiver Arnaz Battle is here, but he was not on the field during morning drills. Several players will attend the OTA but will have light or little participation. They are: Michael Lewis, Shawntae Spencer, McDonald, Marvel Smith (he looked good in individual drills) and Michael Crabtree.

-- Matt Barrows

May 17, 2009
Eddie D tapped for Niners hall of fame

A week after creating a team hall of fame in honor of his grandfather, 49ers owner Jed York today announced that the first inductee would be his uncle, former team owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. Eddie D, as he is known to legions of adoring fans, will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame at halftime of the team's home opener against the Seahawks on September 20.

"I can't think of a single person that is more deserving of this honor than my uncle," York said in a statement. "With a distinct vision, he took over an average team and transformed it into arguably the greatest dynasty in professional sports over a 20-year span. We are excited to have an opportunity to recognize all of Eddie's contributions to the 49ers organization during the upcoming season."

Said DeBartolo: "This is such a great honor for me. I would like to thank my nephew Jed and the entire 49ers family for selecting me to be the first member of the 49ers Hall of Fame. I was truly fortunate to have had so many great people around me, starting with my dear friend, and the greatest coach of all time, the late Bill Walsh, and the Hall of Fame players who one day will be inducted alongside me into the 49ers Hall of Fame. I always say I was born in Youngstown, Ohio, but I was really born 32 years ago in San Francisco when my family acquired the 49ers."

For years DeBartolo was considered the premiere owner in professional sports. He took over one of the NFL's woebegone teams in 1977 and helped transform it into a perennial playoff power. In 23 years as owner, the 49ers had a 22-11 postseason record, 13 division titles and five Super Bowl championships (1981, '84, '88, '89 and '94).

In 1998, however, DeBartolo pleaded guilty to a federal felony involving a casino license in Louisiana. Two years later, he relinquished control of the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, and her husband, Dr. John York. DeBartolo had no involvement with the team with John York in charge of day-to-day operations. The Yorks recently have given more control to their son, Jed, who is close to his uncle and who speaks him regularly. In fact, Jed York said last week that he consulted DeBartolo before forming the new 49ers hall of fame.

The 16 49ers who are either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or have had their jersey numbers retired by the team have been automatically inducted into the team hall of fame. One player not on that list, receiver Jerry Rice, is a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

-- Matt Barrows

May 14, 2009
Niners sign two draft picks

Wow, that didn't take long. The 49ers announced today that they already have signed two of their seven draft picks. Fifth-round draft choice LB Scott McKillop and seventh-round draft choice DE Ricky Jean-Francois have been inked to four-year contracts. The only other draft pick in the NFL that's currently under contract, according to the team, is Lions QB Matthew Stafford. Detroit, which had the no. 1 overall pick, signed Stafford prior to the draft.

"It says a lot about these young men that they have made it a priority to get their contract negotiations out of the way early," GM Scot McCloughan said in a press release. "Now they have the ability to focus solely on helping to make this team better and starting their professional careers off on the right foot. The cooperation we received from their agents was tremendous."

By comparison, the first draft pick to sign last year was Josh Morgan. He inked his contract on June 19 ...

-- Matt Barrows

May 14, 2009
Niner HOF an homage to team patriarch and ...

Step into Jed York's office at 4949 Centennial Boulevard and you'll find a framed dollar bill on the wall. The dollar was the first he ever made while working for his grandfather's company, The DeBartolo Corporation, and is an homage to his grandfather, an immigrant's son who became a construction tycoon and who also kept the first dollar he ever earned. In fact, most conversations with the young 49ers owner touch on Edward DeBartolo, Sr.

York clearly reveres his grandfather, who passed away in 1994, is inspired by him and is driven by the man's accomplishments. York notes that the team's practice facility is named after his grandmother, Marie P. DeBartolo, and that he wanted something that honored his grandfather. Hence the newly created Edward DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame. "In talking to my parents and my uncle, we thought this was a good idea," York said. "My grandfather is why my family was able to buy the 49ers. Without my grandfather, none of this would be possible."

Here's the inaugural list of 49ers in the team's HOF. All of them either have had their jersey numbers retired or are in the Pro Football HOF:

John Brodie
Dwight Clark
Fred Dean
Jimmy Johnson
John Henry Johnson
Charlie Krueger
Ronnie Lott
Hugh McElhenny
Joe Montana
Leo Nomellini
Joe Perry
Bob St. Clair
Y.A. Tittle
Bill Walsh
Dave Wilcox
Steve Young

If your favorite 49er is not on the list, you'll have an opportunity to do something about it. Every year, the team will enshrine at least two new members to the team's HOF. A selection committee, which will include a member of the media, will winnow down a list of possible inductees, and fans will be able to vote on the most deserving members. Independent of that, the team also will select non-players to the list, such as former owner Tony Morabito, former personnel guru John McVay and Franklin Mieuli, who owns a stake in the club.

The inaugural inductee already has been decided and will be announced soon. York declined to reveal the inductee's identity to me, but I think I have a pretty good idea who it is. Can you guess?

-- Matt Barrows

May 13, 2009
Almost full house expected for OTA

The 49ers begin a four-day OTA on Monday. Every year there are some rookies who are unable to attend this mid-May session because either their school has not yet graduated or they have not taken their final exams. The only 49er who definitely falls into that category, however, is Stanford DE Pannel Egboh. Fresno State has a late graduation, but because TE Bear Pascoe graduated in December, the team believes he will be able to attend. Ohio State OT Alex Boone's status is still up in the air. Boone has a chance to make the 53-man squad at right tackle.

Good news for the reporters. Last year, many of the OTA sessions were closed to the media which upset some people's feelings (see: me). All four days will be open for the initial session.

The team waived QB Kirby Freeman, who was added to the roster prior to the team's rookie minicamp. The 49ers will have four passers at the upcoming OTA. If the season began today, the depth chart would look like this: Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, Damon Huard, Nate Davis.

-- Matt Barrows

May 11, 2009
Addendum to 49ers uniform story

The 49ers unveiled their new unis on draft day, which was great for the fans attending the team's draft party at the Santa Clara Convention Center, but not so good for reporters who primarily had to cover Michael Crabtree and the draft. In short, I thought I gave the uniform story short shrift and decided to follow up with an item that appears in today's Bee. Some tidbits that were not in the story:

  • The 49ers won't wear any "throwbacks" this season. But they probably will in coming seasons. And when they do, look for the 49ers to go way, way back. Here's one vote for the 1962 silver and red duds.
  • The 49ers got rid of the shadowed numbers and nameplates. But they kept the shadowing behind the logo on the helmet. Why? Because it provides a good foundation for the logo when it's on television, according to team officials. During the two-year process of designing the new unis the team actually filmed the new helmets at Candlestick Park to see how it would appear on television. The black background makes the logo "pop" better.
  • Why not return to the broad stripe down the leg that the Joe Montana-era uniforms had? The stripes don't have a lot of give, and players found them too restrictive. The broad stripe also looked funny on some of the thinner-legged players. When ex-49er Brandon Lloyd wore the throwbacks, for instance, the stripe nearly wrapped around his entire leg.

If any of you who read my previous post were wondering whether a city slicker like me could catch anything while spearfishing, check out the leviathan Barrows landed off the shore of Ko Olina. I'm thinking of having it mounted and placed over my fireplace ...

05092009114 from http://sparrow280.vox.com/

-- Matt Barrows

May 9, 2009
Q&A: Brooks, Williams interesting case studies

As you may have noticed, Barrows is taking a little blog break. I've actually been in Hawaii (what recession? What pay decrease?) since Tuesday. You might assume that means I'll be relaxed and energized upon my return. Not so. The childhood friends I'm staying with don't realize Barrows has become half man/ half sloth in his old age. We've been going non-stop - basketball, golf, spearfishing - and my body, amorphously shaped by watching "30 Rock" reruns and NHL playoffs while supine on a sofa, is beginning to revolt. I feel like I've tumbled down a hill inside a metal trash can while Manny Ramirez whacks it from the outside. I need a vacation from my vacation, which is why I'm writing this post ...

During slow periods, I typically lean on the Q&A portion of this blog. Alas, that function isn't working correctly as it has been inundated with thousands upon thousands of spam e-mails offering me everything from cheap prescription meds to girls with thick thighs. (No, but thanks for asking.) That issue should soon be cleared up. In the meantime, here are some Qs I imagine you're asking ...

Question: Matt - love the blog, bro. Which players are you most interested in watching this offseason?
Kyle, Tupelo, Ms

Answer: Two players with similar pasts - Ahmad Brooks and Jimmy Williams. Both have off-the-chart talent, but have been hurt by off-the-field issues and lack of motivation. I'm wondering if the Mike Singletary magic will work on these guys. If it does, and Singletary can get Brooks and Williams to realize their potential, then the 49ers suddenly have excellent depth at OLB, where they are thin, and at strong safety where Michael Lewis isn't getting any younger. It also might embolden Singletary to take chances on other so-called high-risk players ...
- Matt

Question: Matt, you got everyone all jazzed up about a possible trade for Julius Peppers and then nothing happens? What the hell, dude?
- Ronald, Oakland

Answer: Patience, Ronald. Patience. I don't imagine anything would happen too soon. The Panthers and Peppers are currently engaged in a staring contest. Those situations typically don't get resolved until training camp at the earliest. If the Panthers end up blinking and look to trade Peppers, the 49ers have as much ammunition as any team to make a deal. That's all I was saying in the original post ...
- Matt

Question: The 49ers used a third-round pick last year on Reggie Smith so he could be their press cornerback of the future. So why the heck is he playing strong safety?
J.D., Falls Church, Va.

Answer: It's a great question. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky recently said that Smith was playing safety in order to get a good understanding of the defense and that it didn't preclude a return to cornerback. In my mind, however, it's not good when a team moves a player from the position at which they originally drafted him. It's like an offensive lineman who is drafted as a tackle and moved to guard. (Gallery's Law). As far as a move from cornerback to safety, there have been some past successes. Ronnie Lott comes to mind. But there have been even more failures. Mike Rumph comes to mind.
- Matt

Question: Matt, you showed tremendous clairvoyance in your pre-draft predictions. Can you use your special ability to predict which rookie will surprise people this year?
Charlotte, Boston

Answer: Well, if I said I thought Michael Crabtree would be good, that wouldn't be much of a surprise. So I'll go with the team's final draft pick, Ricky Jean-Francois. RJF played right defensive end exclusively in the recent rookie minicamp. With Ray McDonald recovering from ACL surgery, RJF promises to see plenty of repetitions this summer and has a golden opportunity to earn a spot on the team and to perhaps Wally-Pipp McDonald for the role of back-up right defensive end.
- Matt

May 4, 2009
Jimmy Williams: Singletary has my back

I had a chance to pull aside Jimmy Williams during the 49ers' recent minicamp. Williams lands in a category with several other players, both rookies and veterans, who were at the minicamp: He's immensely talented but so far hasn't lived up to his potential. Williams, 25, was the 37th overall selection in 2006, but he played only two seasons for the team that drafted him, the Falcons. He did not play in the league last season. Atlanta released him in part because his weight had risen from 213 pounds when they drafted him to 230 pounds at this time last year. Williams apparently has been as heavy as 240 pounds.

You've played free safety in the past but strong safety with the 49ers. Is it a big difference?
JW: Yes and no. Sometimes you're playing in the middle of the field and playing more of a free safety role. But the strong safety is more of a linebacker. It's really like the main guy on the defense because he's calling most of the calls even though the other safety has a lot of calls also. (The strong safety) interacts a lot more with the linebackers, he's more close to the line of scrimmage and gets more chances to blitz. It's a mix of being a linebacker, a free safety and corner.

Does the position require you to be big since you are sort of a quasi linebacker?
JW: I think so. I think it's because in the run game you need to have a little bit more weight to take on the punishment a little bit better than a smaller safety could. I think that's what they want from it.

What are you these days?
JW: I've lost 15 pounds, so I'm down to 225 now.

Is that about where they want you?
JW: Well, coach Singletary ... I want to get down to about 218 before we get into training camp. I'm still working at it.

Won't you lose weight in training camp?
JW: Yeah, but I just want to make them happy. If anything, I want to shock them. It was an issue when I left Atlanta about how I got real big and overweight, which ... well, it was kind of true and wasn't true because when they moved me from corner, I was already weighing 215, 217 then, so I didn't feel comfortable going to safety playing that. I wanted to be like 228, 225. They weren't happy about that, so that's why they put that out there. But I can run. I can still run 4.4, 4.3 if I needed to. That's not the problem. My problem is after not playing (a season), just getting back on the field.

Can you play free safety, too?
JW: Well, coach Sing, Johnnie (Lynn), I think they want me to learn strong safety now. If you can learn strong safety, free safety is easy. Because strong safety is more calls, more down-in-the-box things than free safety. Free safety is usually in the middle of the field, half field or guarding the third receiver.

How much one-on-one interaction do you have with coach Singletary?
JW: For me personally there's been a lot of one-on-one time. Just like I said, me coming off the street last year, I know he's been wanting to be on me, him and coach Manusky, as far as getting me acclimated and making sure I'm ok. I've had a little bit of off-the-field problems. So if I need somebody to talk to, or if he sees something in my body language, he'll just pull me to the side and talk to me. Since I've been here, I've probably met with him eight times.

Do you like that there's someone watching over you?
JW: Oh, definitely. That way you know he cares, that way you know he wants you to be (indecipherable), that way you know that you're not just another guy in his eyes. And that's the main thing. Sometimes you might be on a team and you might not get that interaction with your coach or your head coach and you don't really know where you sit with them. At least I know with coach Singletary and his coaching staff, I know where I'm sitting, I know they're pushing me and I know I've got their support if I need it."

-- Matt Barrows

May 2, 2009
P.M. practice: Pascoe impresses

Rookie quarterback Nate Davis took his first 11-on-11 snaps as a 49er. His first official pass - a quick screen to Zak Keasey - was forgettable. Davis missed his target by a healthy margin. But he also had a couple of completions over the middle to Michael Spurlock and Dominique Zeigler that showed off his impressive arm strength.

Speaking of strong arms ... Shaun Hill had the longest play of the afternoon, a 50 yarder to Jason Hill, which the receiver caught in stride. Shaun Hill also connected with Josh Morgan on a good-looking crossing route and hit Spurlock on a sideline pattern.

The most prolific receiver? How about rookie tight end Bear Pascoe, who caught everything - about half a dozen passes - that was thrown his way. Look out, Vernon Davis ...

The rookie minicamp continues through tomorrow, but there will be no practices, just meetings. There also will be no media availability, but don't worry, I have more in my notebook for later this week ...

-- Matt Barrows

May 2, 2009
Raye speaks: Niners OC addresses media

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had his first face-to-face media session since being hired three months ago. (And, yes, that is weird). The central theme of last year's offseason was the two-way, then three-way, quarterback competition that lasted well into the preseason. Raye was asked if he had a timeline on this year's competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. The short answer is, no. Raye said that he would let the competition "run its course," and if it ran into training camp, so be it.

One key difference is that last year's OC, Mike Martz, didn't think much of the top two QBs that offseason, Hill and Smith. That doesn't seem to be the case with Raye. He seems to have a much more nurturing, fatherly style than Martz had (especially with Hill). "I like them. I like them both," Raye said. "I like the competitive rivalry between the two of them. I think when it's all said and done, the best player will come out of this and we'll have, between the two of them, we'll have the best quarterback for what we're trying to do."

Asked about Hill's reputation as a poor practice player and whether he would take that into account, Raye said he has no issue with how Hill practices. "What I've seen from him in practice, and the things we've asked him to do, if it increases and speeds up and is better in the game, it will be a plus, plus for us."

Asked about Nate Davis and the learning disability that scared off so many other teams, Raye said at this point he saw no difference between Davis and any other rookie quarterback he has had over his career: "Since he's been here ... His entrance into the meetings has been the same as most young quarterbacks I've had: confused, trying to sort things out, anxiety and nervous. ... There's no rush (with Davis). We'll bring him along and we'll let him do what he can as best he can."

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky also addressed the media ...

The team did not draft of a pass rusher like many observers (like me) thought they might, but Manusky said he was content with the six players at outside linebacker. Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson are the starting OLBs, and Manusky said he expects both to be three-down players. Both played sporadically at the start of the 2008 season in Mike Nolan's amoeba system. The 49ers, however, will stick to a 3-4 scheme this year. That, coupled with Lawson's full recovery from a torn ACL, spells more playing time for each player.

Manusky also seemed to be high on Ahmad Brooks, who could be the most physically gifted player on the defense. Brooks' problem has been motivation. It's way too soon to jump to any conclusions, but I will say that Brooks looked focused and energized during yesterday's session. "He's doing pretty good," Manusky said. "He's a bright spot at that position. The other OLBs are Marques Harris, Jay Moore and rookie Diyral Briggs.

At nose tackle, Manusky said three players would be rotated at the position: Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga and, yes, Kentwan Balmer. Manusky said that Balmer, like all rookie defensive linemen, was slowed last season because there is so much technique involved with playing defensive line at the NFL level and because "those offensive linemen are so technique-sound." Manusky said that, as of now, Sopoaga, not Balmer, is the starter at left defensive end. Sopoaga also figures to be the No. 2 at nose tackle.

Manusky said that Reggie Smith would continue to play safety because it was the best way to get him on the field and the best way to have him learn the defense. He did not rule out Smith moving back to cornerback at some point.

As far as Ray McDonald's ACL injury, here's what Manusky had to say: "I am not the trainer but right now we're expecting him hopefully in training camp or the first part of the season to be able to play." McDonald was limited over the second half of the season last year. As of now, Justin Smith, Demetric Evan and rookie Ricky Jean-Francois are slotted at right defensive end.

-- Matt Barrows

May 1, 2009
Tidbits from the opening day of minicamp

Here's the full list of all the veterans who took part in the opening day of the rookie minicamp Friday. A few of the guys who jumped out to me were Dashon Goldson, Kentwan Balmer and Josh Morgan. Goldson goes into training camp as the starter at free safety, but it never hurts to get additional practice at one of the most mentally demanding positions on the field. Balmer didn't wow anybody as a rookie and needs to hold off newcomers Demetric Evans and, perhaps, Ricky Jean-Francois for playing time. Morgan, meanwhile, will have a hard time fending off top draft pick Michael Crabtree for the right to be the starting X receiver. The other vets:

S Lewis Baker, OT Jacob Bender, WR Mark Bradford LB Ahmad Brooks, LB Marques Harris, WR Jason Hill, QB Shaun Hill, CB Marcus Hudson, FB Zak Keasey, LB Jay Moore, WR Maurice Price, G Chilo Rachal, LB Justin Roland, QB Alex Smith, CB Reggie Smith, WR Michael Spurlock, OT Joe Toledo, TE Delanie Walker, C Cody Wallace, LB Mark Washington, S Jimmy Williams, WR Dominique Zeigler

Some observations:

Smith and Hill shared all the snaps. Hill was given the first snaps. Damon Huard is not attending the minicamp. Nate Davis was nursing what appeared to be a hamstring strain. Smith's passes had nice zip, though some were off target. His best pass was a frozen rope to Spurlock down the middle of the field.

Reggie Smith is still at safety. With Michael Lewis absent, Smith was the de facto strong safety while Goldson was the free safety. Seventh-round draft pick Curtis Taylor was playing free safety. Newcomer Jimmy Williams was behind Smith at strong safety. Williams is so big, you wonder if he could play linebacker.

Where did the other rookies play? Scott McKillop was at "Ted" opposite Justin Roland, who was running the defense from the "Mike" position. Glen Coffee was in a rotation at running back along with Thomas Clayton and Kory Sheets. Tight end Bear Pascoe caught a couple of passes and looked good. Ricky Jean-Francois played exclusively at right defensive end while Pannel Egboh lined up on the left. Undrafted rookie Khalif Mitchell (6-5, 318 pounds) played nose tackle. Michael Crabtree was on a stationary bike.

Undrafted cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels picked off a Smith-to-Morgan sideline pass that hung up in the air. Word-Daniels later left practice with a calf cramp.

Cal linebacker Worrell Williams was at camp today on a try-out basis. Williams, however, is hurt and did not work out. No word yet on the injury.

Joe Staley watched practice in street clothes. As Shaun Hill said earlier in the day, when veterans show up at the rookie minicamp it shows good leadership. Staley's a good example.

-- Matt Barrows

May 1, 2009
Selected veterans attend minicamp

So, which 49ers are taking part in the weekend minicamp? All of the team's rookies and selected veterans. Mike Singletary just spoke and said that any veteran whom coaches thought could benefit from the extra session were asked to attend. It wasn't mandatory, Singletary said. If they had previous engagements, that was fine. "It's just those guys we felt would, in another setting, take another step .."

  • These are the veterans I caught sight of prior to the practice: QBs Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, WRs Jason Hill and Josh Morgan, linebackers Jay Moore and Ahmad Brooks, center Cody Wallace, guard Chilo Rachal, defensive end Kentwan Balmer. I'm also told that Justin Smith is in the building. No word yet on whether he'll take part in the afternoon practice.
  • It's a good thing that Moore and Brooks are taking part. The 49ers didn't draft any outside linebackers but they suddenly have a lot of bodies at the position. Two of them are veteran Marques Harris and undrafted rookie Diyral Briggs. Both of them come to the camp with reputations as pass rushers. Briggs said he turned down offers from Tennessee, Indianapolis and the Jets to get a shot at making the 49ers' roster.
  • GM Scot McCloughan now has two No. 1 picks, which means he's playing cards with a pretty good hand. But he's also playing them close to the vest. Asked if he could use one of those No. 1s this offseason, McCloughan said, "Possibly. That's the great thing about having the leverage of two 1s." But he insists that he has had no contact with any of the marquee pass rushers who might be available, Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs. He also said that Peppers' name did not come up during the draft-day trade with the Panthers. "No discussions with any of those guys," he said. "None whatsoever."
  • Not only do the 49ers have new game-day jerseys. They also have new practice jerseys. They differ from the game-days duds in not having any number on the shoulder and no name plates on the back.

-- Matt Barrows

May 1, 2009
QB tango continues ... but for how long?

They're not rookies, but both Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are attending the weekend minicamp. As Hill noted, it sets a good example from a leadership perspective and it's always good to revisit the offense even if it's mostly the same stuff that was installed in the April minicamp. Of course, you also don't want your competition to get a leg up.

In that vein, Smith was asked if there's a timetable on when the 49ers will have a definitive QB starter. One hasn't been set, Smith said. But he also didn't think it would be a good idea for the competition to drag into training camp and the preseason as it did a year ago. "I think the longer you carry it on, the more disadvantageous - is that a word, disadvantageous? - it is for both of us."

Having said that, a quicker decision would seem to favor Hill. He was the starter late last year, after all, and Smith's throwing arm is still not quite back to normal. "Yeah, no question," Smith said. "I've got to get back out there and push as hard as I can."

-- Matt Barrows

May 1, 2009
Rookie minicamp begins today

The 49ers' rookie minicamp is already underway with players going through a walk-through before a practice begins at 12:30. The three-day session is designed for rookies and young players. In other words, linebacker Mark Washington figures to be here, but receiver Isaac Bruce does not. We're told that the team will have at least four QBs for the minicamp: Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, Nate Davis and Kirby Freeman. No word yet whether Damon Huard is in town. The 49ers signed 12 undrafted rookie and fifth-year linebacker Marques Harris yesterday. They signed a kicker, Alex Romero, today.

Here are some jersey numbers for the newcomers:

QB Nate Davis: 7
QB Kirby Freeman: 9
WR Michael Crabtree: 15
S Curtis Taylor: 28
RB Glen Coffee: 29
CB Terrail Lambert: 30
RB Kory Sheets: 30
CB Jahi Word-Daniels: 35
CB Carlos Thomas: 40
LB Diyral Briggs: 47
TE Bear Pascoe: 48
LB Marques Harris: 54
LB Scott McKillop: 56
DT Khalif Mitchell: 60
DE Pannel Egboh: 67
OT Alex Boone: 75
OT Kyle Howard: 76
G Matt Huners: 78
WR Dobson Collins: 82
DT Ricky Jean-Francois: 95

-- Matt Barrows


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

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