Return of Rattay

It's a thin line between a smile and frown for Tim Rattay at 49ers training camp. For the second consecutive day, Rattay looked sharp in passing drills Saturday, but then he watched from behind the huddle once the squad came together for team drills. That's the way it's going to be for a while as the Niners take a cautious approach with their starting QB, whether Rattay likes it or not, which he obviously doesn't. "But that's the smart thing for us to do," offensive coordinator Ted Tollner said.

"Tim's not happy right now," Tollner said. "He doesn't like to be standing over there, watching. He was grabbing at our shirts, ‘Hey, I need more work.' Tim wants all the work he can get. But we're trying to be on the conservative side, to bring him along at a pace, so that he's on top of his game for Atlanta."

That would be Sept. 12, for San Francisco's regular-season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

But it's still July. September 12 still is a long, long way away in the eyes of Tim Rattay.

"It's tough standing around and watching," Rattay said. "It's real important for me to be out here, just for myself. I just don't like standing out there and not being involved, like in minicamps."

Rattay had to stand around and watch during San Francisco's spring minicamps because he was nursing an adductor tendon in his left groin that had torn completely off the bone, a freak injury that occurred May 7 during the very first practice of the team's very first spring session. Rattay had surgery to reattach the tendon on May 11, and he spent the next 11 weeks rehabbing in anticipation of returning to the field on the first day of training camp.

He made it, beating some conservative projections that had him missing the first few weeks of summer camp and, possibly, even the exhibition schedule and some regular-season games. He made it, at least in part due to a rigorous and detailed rehabilitation commitment that had him practically living at the 49ers complex in Santa Clara during June and July and also traveling three times weekly to San Francisco's Active Care Sports Medicine Center for workouts he described as "brutal."

So, after traveling that long road, Rattay can at least understand the team's cautious approach during the early stages of training camp, even if he feels ready to step up his level of activity.

"I feel good and I was able to do a lot out here and it felt fine," Rattay said. "I'm hoping to do more, just get more and more reps as it keeps doing good. I want to keep doing more. But I've got to be careful, obviously, to not do too much. I have to communicate with trainers and the coaches to let them know how it feels. But I'm definitely happy with where I'm at."

The hard part is being so close, yet still being held out of the full-tilt pace of 11-on-11 exercises while second-year player Ken Dorsey takes his place with the first team.

"He's one of those guys that's like anybody that wants to be a starter," Tollner said. "They want all the work. They don't want anybody else to get the work. Tim knows what's at stake for him. He's got an opportunity that he's worked for for five years to be an NFL starter, and it's sitting there for him. He doesn't want it to get away from him. That's the way it is; that's the reality. You want to get the snaps. That's how you grow, that's how you establish yourself."

Not that Rattay actually needs the snaps, in a mental sense. Nobody doubts his grasp of the system and command of the offense.

"I don't think I'm way behind because I didn't go through those minicamps," Rattay said. "Going into my fifth year, I've been around, I've been here and done a lot of reps and got a lot of work."

Said Tollner: "Tim's a smart guy. He knows what we want to do. Tim understands the game. That's one of his strengths. For a guy that hasn't played much, he feels the game and understands what he's supposed to do. Now he needs work, though, so he can do it. But mentally, he's good."

That work should be coming Rattay's way in steady increments over the next two weeks. Coach Dennis Erickson is pointing toward the team's second exhibition game – Aug. 21 at Chicago – as the target date for Rattay's return to live action. But Rattay would like to be ready even sooner – for the exhibition opener Aug. 14 against Oakland, for instance, even if he doesn't play in that game.

"I think we're just going to kind of see how practice goes and just kind of wait and see," Rattay said. "I'd like to be ready to go for that first game, then we've got to decide if I'm going to play or not. I'd like to be where I feel I could play by that first game. Then make a decision. It just kind of depends. Every week during this process, I've gotten better, and so I'm hoping that every week it will keep gradually getting better, then it should feel good right around that time."

How does it feel now? When SFI asked Rattay how close he is to being 100 percent, he admitted that he might not be there yet. But he's getting ready to find out.

"I don't know," Rattay said. "It's hard to put something (a percentage) on it. But I've been running straight ahead, about real close to full speed. And I've been doing drops close to full speed. I guess it's combining the two – running full speed, throwing – that I might not be quite there yet, you know, I haven't tested it."

"But," he added, "it's pretty close."

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