Niners notebook

Niners coach Mike Nolan is excited about the prospect of having 11 picks in the NFL Draft, including the top selection in each round. And there is little doubt where the 49ers will need the most help.

"Most of the focus will be on the offensive side of the ball," Nolan said.

If the 49ers keep the No. 1 overall pick, the club will likely pick an offensive player. There is a chance they could choose a running back. But the names most often talked about are quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers of California and Alex Smith of Utah, and wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan.

With the start of free agency nearing, Nolan said it makes a lot more sense to address needs at some positions, such as quarterback, left tackle or cornerback, through the draft because of economics.

"You're going to have to pay a lot for those positions in free agency," Nolan said. "So if you really had your druthers, you'd like to be drafting those players to play for the squad, and go after the free agents at other positions because then you wouldn't have to pay as much and you could keep your (salary) cap under control."

Nolan said the 49ers have focused on four or five players they believe are worthy of the top overall draft pick. He has not said which players are on that short list, but he has stated the quarterback position will be a focus as the draft approaches.

The new coaching staff has tried to evaluate incumbent Tim Rattay, who started only nine games in his injury-plagued 2004 season. Rattay battled a variety of injuries, and he did not receive good pass protection during his time on the field. He was sacked 37 times while attempting 325 passes.

Nolan has not anointed Rattay the starter -- and has not even spoken with him since taking the job more than two months ago. Nolan said he expects "good competition" at the quarterback position.

--- Defensive end Andre Carter might have had reason to feel as if his future with the 49ers was on shaky ground upon hearing of the club's desire to shift to a 3-4 defense. Carter is considered a smallish defensive end, yet he has no experience dropping into coverage. Nolan said Carter's pass-rush skills make him valuable regardless of what defense the team installs.

"If there was anybody that might be the odd-man out in a true 3-4, it would be him," Nolan said. "But the more we've looked at what we can do with him, I've been very pleased and that is really not the case. We can utilize him and his strengths and be pretty strong at it."

--- The 49ers virtually filled out their coaching staff with the hirings of Bishop Harris from the Jets as running backs coach; Pete Hoener, formerly of the Bears, as tight ends/assistant offensive line coach; Vance Joseph as defensive assistant/secondary; and Ben McAdoo, who was with the Saints last year, as offensive quality control.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to make sure that we do a good job in free agency to the point that we also sign the solid players so it takes that pressure off of us in the draft. Even though we got a lot of picks and we have high picks, it would be nice to be able to sit there and every pick say, 'Here is the best guy.'" -- Nolan on the 49ers' philosophy in free agency and the draft.


1. Defensive back. The 49ers expect CB Mike Rumph, who missed most of last season with a broken forearm, to return at full strength. They can't be too sure of CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed 10 games with a bulging disk in his neck. If the 49ers acquire a good corner, it might allow them to move Rumph to FS, where they have a need.

2. Wide receiver. The 49ers did not have any big-play threats from this position last season. Their roster is filled with mediocre NFL receivers, and they need to find somebody who can consistently get open and make plays down the field.

3. Offensive tackle. With new decision-makers, it remains to be seen whether the 49ers envision Kwame Harris at LT or RT. Also, RT Scott Gragg's future with the club is up in the air after a rough season. The offensive line might not be as big a priority as some might think because many onlookers believe a lot of its problems can be fixed with coaching.

4. Running back. Halfback Kevan Barlow was a disappointment last season, and it remains to be seen how he reacts to a new coaching staff. Regardless, the 49ers need to find a backup halfback who can take some of the pressure off him.

5. Quarterback. Is Tim Rattay the answer at this spot? Can he remain healthy for an entire season? The 49ers might be in the market for veteran help via free agency.

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