Cody getting cozy

When the 49ers went into 11-on-11 team drills at Tuesday's afternoon practice, rookie Cody Pickett stepped in and took the first snaps with the first-team offense. Can you imagine that? Pickett has come so far during training camp – as evidenced in Saturday's preseason opener – that the 49ers are giving him a serious look with their front-line players. Pickett won't challenge Ken Dorsey for the No. 2 QB role this year, but you can bet No. 3 Brandon Doman is shaking in his cleats right about now.

Pickett's performance in Saturday's 33-30 loss to the Raiders might have been a revelation to some, but it was the kind of thing he started showing in practice last week as he slowly began to grow in the offense as he got more snaps with starting QB Tim Rattay sitting out with his forearm injury.

Now, after he produced a 153.3 quarterback rating in his professional debut – completing 5 of 7 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown while rallying the Niners from behind twice in the fourth quarter – coaches already are being asked if they'd dare consider exposing him to the team's practice squad this year, where he could be signed by any other NFL team.

That's a bit presumptuous. But it's obvious that Pickett throws the ball better than Doman, who finds himself locked in a battle for the No. 3 QB role with the team's seventh-round draft pick for the second consecutive year, having lost that battle to Dorsey last year.

Heck, Pickett might throw the ball better than any quarterback on the team – and that includes Rattay, who delivers sharp ropes. Pickett uncorked a crisp spiral that traveled almost 60 yards in the air Tuesday, and it came down perfectly into the hands of rookie Derrick Hamilton, who had streaked behind two defenders. Hamilton dropped the pass, but Pickett put it on the money, and it's the kind of thing he's starting to do on a consistent basis when given the chance.

Pickett's getting more chances now and making more plays. But he's still far behind on the learning curve – or so it would seem – because an NFL rule didn't allow him to participate in the team's two June minicamps because his college class still was in session. For a young quarterback new to a pro system, missing that learning time can be a killer.

"I have to play catch-up because I'm the rookie quarterback," Pickett said. "When you're a rookie quarterback, there is a lot to learn. Any rookie quarterback has to play catch-up."

But how many seventh-rounders would have caught up as fast as Pickett has in less than three weeks of training camp? It's fair to say Pickett excelled against the Raiders, and that's saying a lot considering all the time he missed this spring, and the fact that he began camp as a fourth-string quarterback who didn't even receive snaps in team drills when the summer session started.

"It surprises you anytime a guy comes out as a rookie and plays like he did," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "You find out a lot about people that play in games at all positions. He did a good job. The biggest thing is that Cody has to continue to improve, learn the system and his sets – all those different things that a young guy has to continue to improve on. The preparation and understanding what's going on is a progress. He's making his best progress right now. We will continue to play him and see what he's learned."

Doman still is likely to be the second quarterback in the game behind Dorsey when the Niners play the Bears in Chicago on Saturday. But Pickett will again get at least a quarter of action to display his progress, and the seed already has been planted in Erickson's head about bumping him up to the No. 2 role before the preseason is over.

"That is something we would think about next week," Erickson said. "We're just trying to get ready for this (Chicago) one right now."

And get this: While Pickett hurls spirals halfway down the football field, the Niners say his arm isn't even at 100 percent yet. Pickett tore his right pectoral muscle in his second game last year as a senior at the University of Washington but played through pain to start every game and earn second-team All-Pac 10 honors.

But it affected his throwing motion significantly. Pickett refused to use it as an excuse, but many observers said that's why his senior season fell short of expectations after Pickett had earned third-team All-American honors following his spectacular junior season, when he threw for a Pac-10 record 4,458 yards and 28 touchdowns.

That's also an excuse used for why Pickett slid to the seventh round this spring, waiting to become the 217th player selected. Some say he could have gone as high as the first round had he come out after his junior season.

"He really didn't throw the ball properly last year and he looked really rough," 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said Tuesday. "We took a chance on him in that we thought (the injury) would get better. And it has. I think that he'll continue to show a lot of upside, because I think it will continue to get better. I think as he gets another year of health, it will even loosen up more."

Anybody watching Pickett throw Tuesday would say his cannon right arm already is looking pretty darn loose right at this very moment.

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