Getting ready

Four days and counting until the season opener against Atlanta, and things are beginning to take shape for the 49ers.

--- The Niners looked bigger all of the sudden along the defensive line when they returned to practice Wednesday, and there was a good reason. End Otis Leverette (6-foot-7, 278 pounds) and tackles James Atkins (6-5, 325) and Tony Brown (6-1, 280) were patrolling the middle interior in their first practice with the team, and coaches weren't shy about putting them to work as they attempt to get the trio up to speed for Sunday's opener.

--- Not only did the Niners look bigger along the DL, they also looked better. Of course, that's not saying much. "We have to better this football team," coach Dennis Erickson said of the line shuffling that sent away Riddick Parker, Josh Shaw and Michael Landry, who all were released Tuesday. "We really felt that we were going to take a good look at the wire when the final cuts were made because we knew there were going to be some good football players that have played in this league at that position on the defensive front. So we did that. Terry (Donahue) and all those people in personnel have been looking and have been working very hard to look at these players that can better us there, so we made the move. We just felt that to better our football team, we just had to make this move. We have to find a third tackle that can hang in there. That's the direction that we decided to go in. And that will change. We'll continue to try to upgrade this team all the time."

--- Atkins, who started four games for the Tennessee Titans last year, is the likely candidate to take over Sunday as the third tackle behind starters Bryant Young and Anthony Adams, even though he is still in the basic stages of learning calls and terminology with his new team. "Right now, it's a little bit of a frenzy," he said, speaking also for the other line newcomers. "But as the week goes on, we'll pick up those things and hopefully they'll come second nature to us and we'll fit in really well. Once Sunday, comes, you just play ball, you protect yourself. Even if you mess up, you mess up full speed."

--- Atkins and Leverette are here to offer help immediately. Said Atkins: "I can play ball. I can give them a presence inside they need. If I'm in there, you're all going to see something because if I couldn't play, I wouldn't be here. They want a pass rush up the middle, they want to stop the run, I can do that. I'm just ready to go and play ball."

--- Said Leverette, "I do know I was brought here as an upgrade for this situation. I feel like I've been kind of playing back fiddle for the bulk of my career and all I really just need is a chance to get out there on the field and prove to people. Upon learning the defense, and getting ample opportunities and getting reps and getting my team camaraderie down, getting to trust these guys and learning the calls and things of that nature, I feel like the sky's the limit for me."

--- Leverette, who was released by the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, played extensively against the 49ers in last Thursday's exhibition finale. He became expendable since the Chargers are moving toward more 3-4 defensive sets. "I said, jokingly, they should have left me up here if they were going to do that," Leverette said. "At least I could have learned the defense."

--- The Tim Rattay-Brandon Lloyd connection looks good and ready to take flight. Near the end of team drills Wednesday, Rattay let sail with a deep spiral down the middle of the field. Lloyd, having beaten cornerback Joselio Hanson on a post pattern, caught up to the pass as it fell from the sky. But he had to lunge to tip it with his left hand to keep it alive. In stride, he tipped the loose ball a second time with his left hand before making an effortless one-handed grab near his hip with his right hand. Lloyd does this kind of thing all the time, but that one sort of took the breath away.

--- Rattay, by the way, says he's just about back to full health with the opener looming. "I'm starting to feel close to 100 percent with my arm and everything," he said. "I'm feeling I'm where I need to be in terms of me throwing the ball arm strength-wise and doing certain things. I threw a lot of balls today and had the velocity that I used to have."

--- Arnaz Battle – once a starting college quarterback at Notre Dame – did his best Michael Vick impression while running the scout-team offense Wednesday against the Niners' front-line defense. Erickson joked that one thing about Battle that probably can't live up to Vick is his paycheck.

--- Fullback Fred Beasley didn't practice Wednesday, and it appears he'll sit out Sunday's game, though Erickson wouldn't say that for sure until he sees how he feels Thursday. Beasley ran close to full speed earlier this week but said he still is experiencing some sharp pain with his high ankle sprain.

--- If Beasley doesn't play, it will be mostly as a precaution as he looks at the long-term ramifications of going hard on an ankle that's not quite ready yet. "It's nothing I can't tolerate," Beasley said. "If it were a do-or-die game, I'd be able to go. But it being the first game of the season, I'm looking at it for the long run."

--- Jasen Isom, out with a knee injury himself the previous three weeks, has slid comfortably into the first-team fullback role this week and looks to be an adequate replacement if Beasley doesn't go.

--- Jimmy Williams still is getting used to playing with a cast on his right hand and forearm, but he is able to catch the ball well and it doesn't appear that it will limit his effectiveness when he debuts this weekend in his new role as the Niners' third cornerback.

--- Just the same, rookie Shawntae Spencer is getting a lot of work in coverage packages, particularly on the edge against receivers that are split wide.

--- Jeremy Newberry's knee – on which he had arthroscopic surgery last month to remove cartilage – is acting up again and he didn't practice Wednesday. Erickson said Newberry will start against the Falcons and there's no cause for alarm. "They gave him a shot yesterday and it just bothered him this morning so we just gave him the day off. Jeremy is going to be like that. We're going to have to manage him. We had to last year and they had to before that. With the injury problems that he's had, we just have to manage him and make sure he's ready to go on Sundays."

--- Tony Parrish looks like he'll be ready to go Sunday. After discovering he had a torn calf muscle after the second preseason game – and resting since then – Parrish returned to practice Wednesday without incident and appears ready to pick up where he left off last season, when he tied for the NFL lead in interceptions.

--- All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson is ready, too. "It took me a good two weeks," Peterson said after Wednesday's practice. "But I'm doing good now. The first week (back from his holdout) you just kind of get your feet wet, make some of the wrong reads, get the feel for the new plays being called. The second week was getting into the preseason and getting used to the speed of the game again. I'm getting everything down now and knowing where I need to be."

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