Niners notebook

As coach Mike Nolan studies film of his team, one thing has become increasingly clear to him: Linebacker Julian Peterson has to be on it in 2005.

The 49ers will tag Peterson as their franchise player, if they are unable to work out a long-term contract extension for the potential unrestricted free agent. Moreover, Nolan is prepared to change the defensive scheme to make better use of Peterson's skills.

"If he is our best player and he will be healthy, there is a good chance, whether just on third down or on regular downs, (the 3-4) is going to be part of our package," Nolan said. "You can count on it at least on third down being part of the package because you have to be versatile on third down."

Peterson underwent surgery to repair a torn left Achilles' tendon on Oct. 12. His rehabilitation has progressed well, Peterson said recently. Beginning Feb. 8, the 49ers can apply the franchise tag to Peterson, virtually assuring themselves of preventing the scheduled free agent from leaving for another team.

"I think we're prepared to do that," Nolan said.

Nolan ran the 3-4 as Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator. The 49ers have not used the defense as its every-down scheme since the middle of the 1993 season.

"When you're in a 4-3, it restricts good players like Julian to just pass coverage, unless you're going to blitz and put some secondary players in situations that don't fit them," Nolan said.

--- With Nolan in as head coach and Scot McCloughan as vice president of player personnel, 49ers owner John York expects to avoid the power plays that have characterized the relationship between 49ers coaches and front office since he took control of the team in 1999.

Coach Steve Mariucci was rarely on the same page with either general managers Bill Walsh or Donahue, and Donahue also did not mesh well with Erickson, whom Donahue hand-picked to replace Mariucci. The organization was without a general manager from the time Dwight Clark resigned late in the 1998 season (to follow Carmen Policy to Cleveland) until York brought in Walsh during the 1999 offseason.

On Jan. 5, York fired both Donahue and Erickson, leaving the team's top two positions vacant. More than anything, it was important to find a coach and a general manager who work together.

York said he believes Nolan and McCloughan will get along famously, as they both hold roles they've never held before. Nolan is a first-time head coach, and McCloughan spent the last five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks as director of college scouting.

"Mike was intimately involved with the interview process," York said. "I think there is already a chemistry there."

The organization has undergone a youth movement among its top executives. Nolan, 45, is the elder statesmen of the group. McCloughan is 33. York's top aides in helping him interview for the head coach and player personnel positions were Paraag Marathe, who turns 28 next week, and Terry Tumey, 39.

"I also see a chemistry between Scott, Paraag and Terry, and that is going to be necessary throughout the building," York said.

--- The 49ers hired a player personnel director who is intimately knowledgeable about the draft-eligible prospects. McCloughan said he is excited about the upcoming draft. The 49ers will have the No. 1 overall pick. They also have picks at the top of each round, and a sixth-round pick from the Eagles in the Brandon Whiting-for-Terrell Owens trade. Additionally, the 49ers are expecting three or four compensatory picks.

"By the time this draft comes around with all of us being together and working toward the right goal, we're going to be ready to go," McCloughan said. "It's not going to be any Saturday morning panic here and there. Now, some trade stuff might evolve, who knows? But we're going to be ready to go and we'll take the best player."

--- The 49ers have 10 of their 17 assistant-coaching positions in place. One of those vacancies is at defensive coordinator. Nolan said he has spoken to three candidates for the job, one of which is known to be Leslie Frazier, formerly of Cincinnati.

Nolan said he might also pursue one or more assistant coaches off the staffs of the two Super Bowl teams, New England and Philadelphia. Nolan said he would likely wait until the NFL Combine to name an assistant for the running backs and tight ends.

Nolan said his core coaches are already in place. He called the other coaches he plans to hire his "complementary" coaches.

--- Nolan said he is looking for position coaches to fit with the identity of those positions. The most demanding job might be for the running backs coach, who has to deal with feuding teammates Kevan Barlow and Fred Beasley.

"The whole dynamics of that position, that is a tough spot only because you have two very good players, two different personalities," Nolan said. He added that he is looking for a coach who commands respect.

--- Nolan is planning to hold his first minicamp prior to the draft, perhaps within 10 days after the team launches its offseason workout program on March 21. The minicamp will also provide Nolan an opportunity to see some of the returning veterans in person before prioritizing which positions need help in the draft.

--- The 49ers will be $17.9 million under the projected $85 million salary cap for 2005 after cornerback Jimmy Williams' contract voids the day after the Super Bowl. This will be the first offseason since the early years of the salary cap that the 49ers do not have to make last-minute contract adjustments to get below the salary cap.

--- Five years after his playing career and with a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame likely to be coming his way on Saturday, former 49ers quarterback Steve Young finally disclosed the real reason for his retirement after the 1999 season.

It was stated at the time that Young was forced into retirement because of multiple concussions. The real reason, he said, was because the 49ers were not going to apply the win-at-all-costs attitude of the past.

"A lot of the reason I retired was that it was made clear to me that we weren't going to do that any more," Young said. "That's what they told me."

Young said his history of concussions had a "very small" impact on his decision.

"I had to deal with it in terms of what people perceived it to be, rather than what it was. I didn't have any (concussion) symptoms," Young said.

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