What we're hearing

On Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks, a new deal for Julian Peterson, attention to detail and poor coaching along the offensive line, happy feedback and the search for a new operational chief.

THERE'S TALK GOING around the 49ers that the team will give more consideration to taking a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick now that Mike McCarthy has been hired as the team's offensive coordinator.

McCarthy's reputation is as a quarterbacks guru and the rebuilding Niners wouldn't mind giving him a top young prospect brimming with both potential and physical ability to take under his wing and develop and have ready to make an impact by the 2006 season.

The glitch in that plan is the Niners are serious about shoring up their roster for 2005 and becoming much more competitive this season than they were last year. Taking a quarterback at No. 1 is not seen as the best way to go about doing that.

While both are highly regarded, Cal's Aaron Rodgers and Utah's Alex Smith would not be a top value at the top overall pick. Both are regarded as first-rounders, to be sure, but neither would be a No. 1 overall pick if this draft were stronger at the top.

But it isn't, and indications are the 49ers still would like to trade down to get more worth from their first overall No. 1 selection since 1979 (which, incidentally, they already had traded away in a deal to acquire O.J. Simpson from Buffalo).

But the possibility of the team drafting a quarterback prospect on the first day is much more realistic now, and if the Niners can pick up an extra second-rounder by trading down a few spots in the first round, that is what they will do. Miami, Cleveland, Chicago and perhaps even Tampa Bay – all teams with their own significant needs - may be willing to give up that second-rounder to move up a few spots in the first round to assure they get the player they have targeted.

That ostensibly would give the Niners two high picks in the second round and, while that won't be high enough to get Rodgers or Smith, there would be other top QB prospects still available there that McCarthy can mold for the future. …

… BEFORE MAKING THAT decision – and several others that will come regarding personnel in the next month – the Niners still must evaluate their roster from top to bottom. We're hearing that still won't happen until new coach Mike Nolan has had more time to build his staff of assistants, who will begin breaking down film on their own immediately.

It will be McCarthy's job to do that on offense, particularly with the quarterbacks, and he said he won't have an opportunity to begin doing that until the start of next week at the earliest. McCarthy still has some loose ends to take care of in New Orleans before he can head west.

The 49ers are looking for big improvement from their quarterbacks in 2005, and they need to see if McCarthy thinks he can get it out of the three quarterbacks already on the roster before they make any No. 1 decisions. Having worked previously with former 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac, and another star West Coast system product in Brett Favre, McCarthy has proven success working with West Coast-style QBs. He also developed a raw talent in Aaron Brooks at New Orleans into a productive – if erratic – playmaker.

McCarthy also has conducted a "quarterback school" in past offseasons that some quarterbacks around the league have credited for their development and success.

In any event, Nolan got just what he was looking for in McCarthy – a proven NFL offensive coordinator who also excels in working with quarterbacks. The Niners also were looking at Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who is developing a big reputation for his work with quarterbacks Jon Kitna and Carson Palmer the past two years. Nolan's emphasis was to get an O.C. who would have a quarterbacks-first mentality.

He got that in McCarthy, who was the team's first choice, and gives both Nolan and San Francisco's reclamation project further credibility. …

… IT MIGHT HAVE gotten a little lost in the McCarthy hiring, but the Niners also are excited about bringing in George Warhop as offensive line coach to direct what some insiders feel was the worst-coached area of the team last year.

Warhop has proven NFL experience as an offensive line coach the past seven years with Dallas and Arizona, and the team expects him to make a big difference on a line that regressed in both run and pass blocking last year.

We've heard that last year's offensive line coach, Gregg Smith, was considered by some team insiders as the worst assistant coach the Niners have had in recent memory – or, at least, that the job Smith did with the line last year was one of the worst they've ever seen, with very little attention to detail and the finer nuances of developing blocking skills at the NFL level.

We hear that Smith, who took over from Pat Morris – a very competent offensive line coach who left the Niners after 2003 to join Steve Mariucci in Detroit – was at the top of the list of the 11 assistants owner John York asked Nolan to fire after Nolan was named head coach. …

… AS THEY CONTINUE to interview candidates to replace deposed general manager Terry Donahue in the organization, the Niners still are developing the criteria for what exactly that position will entail within the structure of the organization.

The talk now is it definitely won't be a position that holds the title of GM. The position will be more of an operational chief, or perhaps just a personnel chief, with typical GM duties being spread among others in the organization.

The Niners are going about finding Donahue's replacement in much the same way they found Nolan. York and his underlings – after speaking with top-level NFL chiefs around the league – identified several of the top young personnel people throughout the league, and the team is bringing them in for interviews with York, assistant to the general manager Paraag Marathe and assistant director of football administration Terry Tumey.

We hear that York is confident with this procedure after the success a similar process had in finding Nolan, and the owner also is thrilled with the positive feedback he's getting from the media and NFL observers on the moves the team has made so far in January. …

... WE HEARD JULIAN Peterson say he thinks the shakeup at the top of the organization could improve his chances of getting a long-term contract with the team this year, and – though team personnel has yet to be evaluated – there is little doubt that the 49ers would like to keep Peterson around.

But he shouldn't hold his breath on that long-term contract. Not this year, at least. Though Peterson and his hard-line agents – brothers Kevin and Carl Poston – will love working with somebody other than Donahue in contract negotiations, the 49ers don't even know yet who will be representing them in those negotiations.

And those negotiations needed to get started yesterday, because the Niners must decide by Feb. 22 if they will designate Peterson as their franchise player again. They could do it as soon as Feb. 8.

That will almost certainly happen. It doesn't mean a new deal can't be worked out after that – and, frankly, the Niners would prefer a more cap-friendly long-term deal instead of having to pay Peterson $7.3 million on a franchise tender this year – but any long-term deal for Peterson might be put on the back burner while the 49ers sort out all the multitude of other issues the team faces in this offseason of change.

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