Inside the 49ers

The most disappointing individual aspects of the 49ers' loss a week ago to the Carolina Panthers was the play of quarterback Tim Rattay and running back Kevan Barlow. Both players' roles will be unchanged this week when the 49ers return to action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but both will also be under scrutiny to perform much better.

Rattay committed five turnovers -- four interceptions and one lost fumble -- as the 49ers squandered a 17-point lead.

"I've got a great deal of confidence in Tim Rattay," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "I believe that he didn't play well. Do I think it is a concern that is going to happen all of the time and the rest of the season? No, I don't."

Erickson even gave Rattay a vote of confidence, not only for the remainder of this season but for 2005 as well.

Responding to a question about the possibility of getting third-string quarterback Cody Pickett some playing time before the end of the season, Erickson said it wasn't in his plans because he views Rattay as the long-term answer at the position.

"There would be no reason for it that I could see," Erickson said during his weekly press conference. "Tim Rattay is our quarterback and will be our quarterback next year."

Last week, Erickson said he would have to watch Rattay over the final eight games of the regular season to determine whether he is capable of being the team's long-term answer at the position. Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, who now works in the Stanford University athletic department, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat last week that Pickett might have the most potential of the three quarterbacks on the 49ers' roster.

"It could be the Washington quarterback," Walsh said when asked if the 49ers' long-term quarterback is currently on their roster. "What I saw of him is very impressive. He's bigger and stronger and more mobile (than Rattay or backup Ken Dorsey). He's a better athlete. Tim Rattay is a really great passer and I think he'll have a really good year, but Pickett in my opinion could be the guy."

But Erickson said any playing time Pickett might get late in the season would be only a snapshot and not enough to be able to form an enlightened decision.

"I don't know if we'll get an evaluation (on Pickett) for the next couple of years," Erickson said.

Erickson also said he does not foresee any major changes at running back, where Barlow has struggled this season.

Barlow was benched in the fourth quarter after five carries netted minus-13 yards and he drew the ire of Erickson with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Barlow gained 47 yards on 21 carries, while backup Maurice Hicks rushed for 46 yards on eight tries.

Immediately after the game, Erickson predicted that Hicks would be more than eight carries in this week's game against the Buccaneers. But he has since backed off those comments. He said the rotation at running back will remain unchanged.

"Kevan is our starter and Maurice will come in and play," Erickson said of Sunday's game. "It will be the same situation as it was this last week."

Barlow said running backs coach Tim Lappano laid into him for some of the comments Barlow made to the media after Sunday's game.

When asked about getting benched, Barlow repeated several times, "Ask the coach."

"I feel like I'm the starting running back and I'm the guy they should depend on," Barlow said afterward.

SERIES HISTORY: 17th meeting. The 49ers lead 13-3, with the 49ers winning the last meeting between the teams, 24-7, last year at Candlestick Park.


--- Former 49ers offensive lineman Derrick Deese, who spent 12 seasons with the organization and now plays for the Buccaneers, is quite critical of the 49ers' thinking in releasing him and some other offensive starters after last season.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia, running back Garrison Hearst, and offensive linemen Ron Stone and Deese were released; receiver Terrell Owens was traded; and receiver Tai Streets and tight end Jed Weaver were not re-signed as free agents.

"The bottom line is, really, if you are going to release players, you can release two or three a year and (coach Dennis Erickson) might be able to recover from that," Deese said. "But if you are going to release seven, eight or nine starters from one year, come on! Who are you fooling? You aren't playing for next year. You are playing for four years down the line."

General manager Terry Donahue pointed out that the 49ers returned nearly all of their defensive starters from last season. The team placed the franchise tag on linebacker Julian Peterson and granted $11 million in guaranteed money to cornerback Ahmed Plummer. Yet, the 49ers' offense has performed better than the defense. The offense ranks No. 18 in the league, while the defense is 19th.

"For every player we let go, with the exception of (Owens), we thought we had a player that was ready to play and should get an opportunity to play," Donahue said.

--- Rookie right guard Justin Smiley has started seven games this season with mixed results, but he is certainly not lacking in the confidence department. Smiley said he has seen some of the top rookie offensive linemen play this season, and he ranks with the best.

"I've improved every week," Smiley said. "I have a ways to go. But I've been watching (Robert) Gallery and some of those guys play, and I'm as good or better than those guys."

Smiley was the 49ers' second draft pick, selected in the second round at No. 46 overall. According to STATS, Inc., the NFL's official statistical provider, Smiley is responsible for a team-leading 5.25 sacks this season. He has yet to be called for a penalty.

"When I first started playing it was trial by fire," he said. "But now I see the field opening up to me. The main thing is being comfortable. I want to see myself getting better because I'm not happy just being on the team. In the future I want to go to Pro Bowls."

Coach Dennis Erickson virtually echoed Smiley's comments, saying that he sees the rookie getting better.

"He's just starting to see things," Erickson said. "It's just with the experience that he is getting better. He's tough, competitive but he's learning the game and he is getting better all the time."

--- Defensive lineman Chris Cooper, whom the 49ers signed after the Dallas Cowboys released him earlier in the month, made a solid debut with his new team. Cooper played in about 10 snaps against the Panthers and registered three tackles. He saw action about defensive tackle and defensive end.

--- Among Deese's other comments on a conference call with Bay Area reporters, he said he feels badly for coach Dennis Erickson, who is in his second season with the club after compiling a 31-33 record in four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks in the late-1990s.

"It's kind of funny because when Erickson first got there, he and I talked about his time in Seattle and how the rug had basically been pulled from underneath him," Deese said. "He came on as the 49ers coach thinking that things would be different and that he was coming to an organization that really cared. I think once again the rug was pulled from underneath him."

The 49ers finished 7-9 last season, then decided to tear the team apart in the offseason.

"I don't believe that," Erickson said when asked if the rug was being pulled out from under him. "We have a plan. It's the same thing I've said a million times. We have a plan here with Terry and Dr. York and it's a long-term plan. That's where it is at right now."

BY THE NUMBERS: 104.0 -- The passer rating the 49ers' defense has allowed through the first nine games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The head coach doesn't take any loss well at all. It's a sick feeling. You deal with it and try to win the next one. I've always done that. Are they fun? Hell, no. Do you deal with it and go on? You have to." -- 49ers coach Dennis Erickson on dealing with the 49ers' 1-8 record.


--- LT Kwame Harris, who saw 17 snaps in the 49ers' loss last week to the Panthers, might get more playing time this week out of necessity. Starter Kyle Kosier is bothered by a left ankle sprain, and it is unclear whether he will be able to start Sunday's game against the Buccaneers. Harris has been responsible for four sacks in his limited playing time this season, and there are some who question whether he might be better suited to play right tackle.

--- DE Andre Carter played 37 snaps last week and showed vast improvement in his play from the previous week. Carter will start at right end, where he will be matched against former teammate Derrick Deese, the Buccaneers' left tackle. Carter has seen action in just three games this season and has a half-sack.

--- LT Kyle Kosier is nursing a left ankle sprain and a left shoulder sprain. Although he did not practice in the early part of the week, the 49ers hope he will be able to play Sunday against the Buccaneers. He will likely split time with second-year player Kwame Harris.

--- QB Tim Rattay's throwing arm is feeling better than it has in a while. Rattay has been nursing a right forearm strain that kept him out of action Oct. 31 vs. the Bears. Last week, he threw four interceptions. Although GM Terry Donahue blamed the interceptions partly on Rattay's arm, Rattay contends the mistakes were solely a result of poor decisions.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer will miss his fourth consecutive game with a bulging disk in his neck. Plummer is expected to be out of action for at least another two or three weeks, coach Dennis Erickson said. However, team officials say they would not be surprised if Plummer is done for the season.

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