Final objectives

The 49ers must prevail tonight in their exhibition finale to avoid their first winless preseason in 30 years, but there will be a whole lot more going on for the team at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The Niners, after a rocky summer, have manifold objectives in their final test run against the San Diego Chargers before the real thing begins in 10 short days.

Coach Dennis Erickson, obviously, cares less about the final result than making final determinations on who will fill out the final 53-man roster he'll take with him into the 2004 season.

"We still need to see some players in different areas," Erickson said. "It's important when that second group gets in there. There are some things that are very, very close that we need to evaluate. It's not just the scheme, it's the end of a long evaluation during camp."

What positions does there need to be serious discussion about? Erickson rattled off the list.

"Defensive front, offensive front, the backfield secondary ... there really isn't any position that is totally solid right now, when you get down to the end," he said. "And that's how it should be. You should go into the last game with some spots in every area to take a look at. Again, as I've said before, special teams is important, too. As you get down to the end of the roster, it not only becomes positions, it becomes (special) teams and how you perform on special teams, what value you have on special teams."

Erickson also said, because of quarterback Tim Rattay's injury problems this summer, it's important that he plays a little longer tonight than a starting QB normally would in the final preseason game. The Niners want the rest of the first-unit offense out there, too, to develop some continuity with Rattay to take into the regular season.

From a player's perspective, receiver Brandon Lloyd sees that as one of the most important things to accomplish in tonight's finale.

"We have to be consistent, put a couple of drives together and just be happy with ourselves, because we know in these last couple of games, we've been running a limited offense," Lloyd said. "We ran with a limited quarterback in Tim Rattay. He wasn't going to throw deep, he wasn't going to throw out routes. It was just more about getting back in the flow. We're not worried at all. We just want to put a couple of drives together, just for ourselves, just so we can go in there and watch some film and see that we're doing our bread and butter OK."

Rookie guard Justin Smiley, who is in a close fight with Kyle Kosier at right guard in the only starting position that has yet to be determined, echoed those thoughts.

"We need to get some continuity on the offensive line," Smiley said. "We've got a great group. We have plenty of talent on offense. We just have to jell a little bit better and get on the same page. I think (a win) would just be big for pride and stuff like that and kind of get us in the right mindset going into season. It would just kind of carry over to next week."

The Niners had their worst effort of the summer last week in Minnesota, so offensive tackle Kwame Harris says it's important to finish the preseason strong to leave a lasting impression.

"It's important to go and show that we're not the team that we put on film last week in Minnesota," Harris said. "We're a much better football team than that. We have to go out there and show that we're going to be a force to be reckoned with. All those unbelievers are going to have something else to consider after seeing this film. This is the film that everybody is going to be breaking down amongst the other three (preseason games) for the opener. You don't want to give people an idea that they can just come in and do anything to you. We're going to make teams really respect what we can do out there, and I think that's going to be an important part of coming out of this game with a good feeling."

Rookie safety Keith Lewis, who will start for the second consecutive week at strong safety in place of injured All-Pro Tony Parrish, said he just wants to come out with a victory so the Niners can avoid the infamy of their first winless preseason since going 0-6 in 1974.

"We're always trying to get one in the left column," Lewis said. "That's always our goal. We got to get this taste out of our mouth. Three losses in a row, that's kind of tough. Nobody in here is a loser. And we don't want anybody doubting us."

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