49ers Blog and Q&A

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

March 29, 2010
Smith: Niners much further along this offseason

Alex Smith says he's prepared to do something this year he's seldom done in the past - give input into the offense. "Having had a year with (the offense), obviously I'm more comfortable giving my insights, stronger opinions about it," Smith said after the team's first practice this year. "In year one (of the offense), you kind of don't know and kind of want and see how things go."

Smith is more at ease this season for two reasons. First, his right shoulder is no longer a concern. Yes, he said similar things during the offseason last year, but he revealed today that the injury was still very much in the back of his mind in 2009. This spring, it's ancient history. The second reason Smith has a boosted self confidence is that for the first time in his career, he's running the same offense he ran the year prior. Smith noted that the 49ers practiced blitz pickup today, a phase of the offense they normally wouldn't have had until the summer. "I can't tell you how nice it is to come out here and how much further ahead we are then a year ago," Smith said.

Smith was the first quarterback to take throws in all the drills today. That's partly because David Carr still is in learning mode. But it's also obvious from team officials in recent weeks - Jed York, Mike Singletary, Trent Baalke - that the starter's job is Smith's to lose. And though these early OTA practices are non-contact and relaxed, Smith kicked off the season well - with four straight completions to Michael Crabtree.

Some other nuts and bolts from today's practice session:

* The sessions are not mandatory, although most of the top players are attending. Frank Gore, for instance, works out in Miami during the offseason but flew in for the two-day session. Those who did not attend Monday were CB Nate Clements, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Shawntae Spencer, LB Patrick Willis and linebacker Manny Lawson. Willis is recovering from surgery on his knee. Brooks is a restricted free agent and Franklin has been designated as the 49ers' franchise player. Neither has signed his tender offer, i.e., neither has a contract at the moment.

* Guard David Baas also is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender. Baas, however, has signed an injury waiver and is covered should he get hurt. Baas has been a full participant in the team's offseason program so far and seems very determined to hold onto his starting job at left guard. Both Baas and tackle Joe Staley spoke very highly of incoming offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Ray Brown.

* Staley on possibly moving to the right side of the 49ers draft a tackle: "They haven't talked to me about that at all. I'm preparing this year to be the left tackle for the 49ers. That's my mindset going in. Obviously it's the coaching staff and front office's job to put the best 11 guys out there on offense. Wherever I'm the best fit is where I'll play. But I'm going into the offseason with the mindset of being the left tackle."

* Why haven't Brooks, Baas and Franklin signed their tender offers? Because they still can negotiate with other teams until they do. (However, there has been little action for any RFAs so far in free agency.)

* With Franklin out, second-year player Ricky Jean-Francois was the first option at nose tackle today. I'll have more information about Jean-Francois later in the week, but the team seems curious as to whether he can be the No. 2 option behind Franklin this year.

* With Lawson and Brooks absent, the starting outside linebackers were Parys Haralson and Diyral Briggs. Martail Burnett also saw a lot of time at OLB. Matt Wilhelm filled in for Willis at "Mike" linebacker while Scott McKillop spent a lot of time at "Ted" linebacker. With Clements and Spencer not in attendance, Keith Smith "started" at cornerback, but newcomer Karl Paymah saw a lot of time as well. The back-up safety tandem of Reggie Smith and Curtis Taylor also saw a lot of action. Depending on what happens in the draft, both players could have increased roles this season.

* Carr looked a bit frazzled, just like you would expect from a quarterback who was going through his first practice with new teammates and a new offense. He certainly has a stronger arm than the guy he replaces, Shaun Hill, but he also has a peculiar throwing motion in which he seems to shove the ball from his chest rather than wind up and throw it.

* Smith seemed to take a measured approach to the news that his best friend on the team, Hill, had been traded. "Obviously once they signed David, it looked like Shaun was going to be on the move. ... It's kind of the deal. I guess you get used to it a little bit. It's hard when you you build relationships with guys, especially at the same position."

* Asked about a three-running back situation -- a possibility raised by Baalke on Friday -- Gore said he might be worried about getting into a rhythm if he wasn't the running back of first-third downs. "Personally I wouldn't like it," he said.

-- Matt Barrows

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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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