Niners notebook

Aside from a quick strike in the free-agent market, the 49ers have taken things slowly this offseason.

Coach Mike Nolan has preached the importance of building up the team's offensive line, which surrendered 52 sacks last season, and the 49ers signed free-agent Jonas Jennings shortly after he went on the open market.

Now, the team is working on gaining some depth along the line. The 49ers have shown interest in signing 12-year veteran Chris Gray, who has started the last 90 regular-season games for the Seahawks at right guard.

There is some uncertainty along the line because both Eric Heitmann and Kyle Kosier are restricted free agents. Heitmann started all 16 games at left guard, while Kosier started nine games at left tackle and seven at right guard. The 49ers have not started negotiating long-term contracts with either player, as they are afforded the luxury of owning the rights of first refusal if either player should sign an offer sheet with another team. The 49ers gave both players low-level tenders of $656,000.

With the 49ers showing interest in a right guard, it opens the question of what the team plans for Justin Smiley, who was chosen in the second round last season. Smiley impressed the team in training camp but struggled while starting nine games as a rookie. Some believe Smiley is better suited to play left guard.

The 49ers already have been able to move a lineman to a position that is more of a fit. Kwame Harris, the 49ers' top pick in 2003, played nothing but left tackle his first two seasons in the NFL after playing right tackle exclusively in high school and college.

But with the signing of Jennings, the 49ers were able to switch Harris to his more natural right side, where he will take the place of veteran Scott Gragg.

Gragg, who started all but two games in five seasons with the 49ers, will not participate in the team's early spring minicamp that begins Friday and runs through next Sunday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

The team plans to release Gragg after June 1 for salary-cap and performance reasons. The move will save the 49ers $3 million on the 2005 cap, and supply enough cap space for the team to sign its draft picks.

--- CORNERBACK AHMED PLUMMER, who missed the final 10 games last season with a bulging disk in his neck, has been cleared to participate in the team's upcoming minicamp.

However, Plummer sounds as if he is still not completely recovered from the condition that some in the organization last year believed might threaten his career.

"It feels good to be able to participate a little bit, as far as my injury," Plummer told 49ers.com. "It's the type of injury where you have good days and bad days. But I'm encouraged with the energy I feel from the locker room. It's helping to push us, to push me a little more."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is a big game against a division rival in prime time. We have all heard about the rabid sports fans in Mexico and they will fill that stadium. It's going to be an exciting environment." - 49ers coach Mike Nolan on playing the Cardinals in a regular-season game Oct. 2 in Mexico City.

49ERS DRAFT NEEDS/PRIORITIES

1. Quarterback. Is Tim Rattay the answer at this spot? Can he remain healthy for an entire season? Coach Mike Nolan said there would be competition for the starting QB job this year. The 49ers might use the No. 1 overall pick in the draft on Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith.

2. 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.

3. 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.

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.

49ERS PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Steve Bush; WR Curtis Conway; OT Jerome Davis (not tendered as ERFA); C Brock Gutierrez; FB Jasen Isom (not tendered as ERFA); DT Daleroy Stewart (not tendered as RFA); CB Jimmy Williams.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OG Eric Heitmann; OT Kyle Kosier; LB Brandon Moore; LB Saleem Rasheed.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: CB Rayshun Reed.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DT Tony Brown; S Dwaine Carpenter; DT Chris Cooper; RB Terry Jackson; OG Rob Murphy; LB Julian Peterson; LB Ray Wells.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Jonas Jennings; PK Joe Nedney.

PLAYERS LOST: FS Ronnie Heard; PK Todd Peterson; DE Brandon Whiting; WR Cedrick Wilson.


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