Circling over camp

Looking up, down and all around Monday at 49ers training camp:

GARCIA DRIVING THIS TEAM: The Niners still are limiting quarterback Jeff Garcia somewhat in practice, but he was running the offense at full throttle Monday in team drills and is back in the swing of things after his recent spell of 11 consecutive inactive days.

Niners general manager Terry Donahue, for one, doesn't attempt to downplay just how important Garcia's return is to this team.

"I feel a whole lot better," Donahue said. "And so does everybody in this organization, frankly. And Jeff's looked very good. But, boy, are we happy to have him back. There's no question that Jeff Garcia drives the bus." BACK TO STAY: The Niners will continue to monitor Garcia on a daily basis, but the three-time Pro Bowler says he doesn't plan on taking any more extended breaks from practice.

"Without a doubt, I plan on practicing every day this week," Garcia said. "Obviously, it's taking it one day at a time, and hopefully I can continue to go out and feel (good) and not have any relapses of what occurred a couple weeks ago. I feel pretty confident that that's going to be the case. If I continue to treat and listen to my body and not overdo it, that's going to be the most important thing right now."

BACK TO PLAY: Even after seeing Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick go down with an injury last weekend that will keep him out months into the season, Garcia says he wants to play in the final two preseason games, and feels it's important that he does so even if he doesn't see much time. "It's important to play to get some of the rust off," Garcia said. "I think just the fact that you're out there and competing, potentially going to be hit and having to make decisions in a more up-tempo type of situation is very important for a quarterback. I think that going into the regular season, I would much rather prefer to have some reps in the preseason just so I can get those kinks out and get the feel of the speed of the game. I don't feel that I need to play a whole game or anything like that in the preseason, but I feel that a few series would be good for me."

FLANIGAN AT WORK: Jim Flanigan is back at practice in a limited fashion, though he didn't look so limited during Monday's practice in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. If Flanigan can make a quick return, it might be a bit premature to say he has lost his starting position at defensive tackle to Anthony Adams, though Adams recently was moved to the front of the depth chart at the position during Flanigan's lengthy stay on the sideline.

THIN ROSTER: The Niners held 15 players out of practice Monday and 14 others practiced to the tolerance of their injuries.

KIRSCHKE IMPRESSING: With Bryant Young out, Travis Kirschke has solidified his standing on this team with some great effort in practice sessions and solid showing in the preseason. Kirschke started in Young's place last week against Oakland and had a sack against Kansas City in the team's preseason opener. In practice, his quickness, experience and hard-working style has moved him past other candidates and could keep him in the tackle rotation once projected starters Young and Flanigan return to full health.

"We're really happy with that acquisition," Donahue said. "He's been a nice addition to the team. He's doing well and he's played well in the preseason." BATTLE RESTED: The Niners continue to rest sixth-round draft pick Arnaz Battle in practice due to his sore quadriceps and right groin injury. It's possible Battle will be held out of practice most of this week so that he will be able to play in Saturday's exhibition game against New Orleans. Despite his injuries - which had him on the physically-unable-to-perform list to begin camp - Battle has played, and played well, in every preseason game. "We think it's really important to try to get him in these next two games, so we just decided to let him rest and get him healthy," Donahue said. "He's done quite well; we're very impressed with him. Every time he practices, he continues to shine. The biggest problem with him is he's had some injury situations since minicamp, and seemingly just hasn't been able to get over them."

HOW MANY RECEIVERS? Despite his injuries, Battle seems to be winning a roster berth. When asked how many receivers the team will keep this year, Donahue indicated it would be either five or six. Battle is battling James Jordan and Arland Bruce for the No. 5 role, but he has been the most impressive receiver of those three in preseason games. The Niners kept four receivers last year. BIG WEEKS FOR DAVIS: Offensive tackle Jerome Davis, converted late last year from the defensive line, is back at full speed in practice after missing a lot of valuable time with a hip flexor injury. Davis did not appear in the first two preseason games, and how he performs the next two weeks in both practice and exhibition games will decide if he can squeeze onto the final roster. That is appearing unlikely since Derrick Deese, Scott Gragg, Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier are ahead of him at tackle.

The Niners plan to keep between 8 and 10 offensive linemen, Donahue said, but that number figures to be closer to 8 than 10 because the Niners intend to go heavy at other positions.

FOURTH STARTER?: Jamie Winborn might not break the starting lineup for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Bears, but the Niners already are figuring him in as a starter in the linebacker rotation with Julian Peterson, Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich.

Winborn, who has been impressive in camp, is listed second on the depth chart behind Ulbrich.

"What we're doing with (Winborn) is we're rotating those four guys, basically," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "We feel like they're all four starters and that we will rotate them and play them so that they're fresh, and they all would be considered starters in our scheme of things."

TOUGH DECISIONS AT SAFETY: Tony Parrish has been a star in camp at safety, and Zack Bronson - despite battling injuries - isn't far behind. But the Niners have some difficult decisions to make behind those two starters as Ronnie Heard, John Keith, Scott Frost and Dwaine Carpenter each have had their moments in practice and preseason games.

Heard appears to be the leader among that group, and it's possible the Niners will keep only three players at the position, as they did at times last year. The others are so close - and each has their strengths and weaknesses - that it would be difficult to distinguish the fourth safety at this point. "We have six of them sitting back there, the two starters who are playing well and the other four who are battling like heck," Erickson said. "It's pretty good competition. Special teams is going to have something to do with it, because whoever those other safeties are, (they) are going to be very much involved in it."

WILLIAMS SHARP: It remains to be seen how his surgically-repaired knee will hold up once he starts playing in games, but Jimmy Williams doesn't appear to have lost anything in speed, quickness or agility now that he is practicing again at full speed.

Williams, who returned to practice two days, looked sharp returning kicks during Tuesday's afternoon special teams practice. The explosion that allowed him to lead the NFL in punt returns with a 16.8 average last year still is there as Williams cut upfield and hit holes with burst and precision.

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