Niners notebook

The 49ers have contemplated position changes this offseason for two of their top four draft picks of the past three years.

Coach Mike Nolan said the club has decided to keep Mike Rumph at cornerback but will move guard Justin Smiley to the left side, where he appears to have been handing the starting job now that Eric Heitmann - who started the past three seasons at left guard - has been moved to the right side

Rumph was the 49ers' first-round pick in 2002, while Smiley was the team's second-round pick last year.

Nolan said earlier this offseason that he was considering moving Rumph to free safety to take the place of departed Ronnie Heard, who signed last week with the Falcons.

"We'll leave him at the corner position because he wants to compete there for now," Nolan said. "I have also stressed to him, which is always my philosophy, that we want our best 11 on the field. If he's one of those best 11 and it happens that we have three corners to play, there is the possibility that he will try safety. He said he was open to it, but right now he feels that he is one of the better two corners for us."

Rumph did not practice at the team's early spring minicamp this past weekend because the team is bringing him back slowly from surgery on a fractured right forearm that ended his 2004 season in early October.

The 49ers are extremely thin at cornerback. Shawntae Spencer started 12 games last season at right cornerback as a rookie. The team's other projected starter, Ahmed Plummer, missed 10 games due to a bulging disk in his neck. The 49ers want to re-sign unrestricted free agent Jimmy Williams, who started six games last season, but Williams did not participate in the weekend minicamp because he still his shopping his services on the open market.

Smiley started nine games at right guard last season with mixed results. Because he's not a bruising kind of run-blocker, Smiley has always been considered more of a fit at left guard. But the 49ers are trying to re-sign Heitmann, who played every snap at left guard last season. Heitmann played only on the right side this weekend.

The 49ers had attempted to sign 12-year veteran free agent Chris Gray to be their new starting right guard, but coach Mike Nolan said Gray has decided to re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks. After Gray's interest in the 49ers waned, the Niners made the move of Heitmann to right guard.

--- THE 49ERS REMAIN interested in free agent David Boston, but coach Mike Nolan said he does not anticipate signing the embattled wide receiver prior to the April 23-24 draft.

Nolan met with Boston a week ago at 49ers headquarters to discuss the parameters of their potential working arrangement.

"This team is going to be a team and not individuals," Nolan said. "And if someone wants to be an individual there are 31 other teams maybe that will have that guy. We won't. So those were some of the things we talked about. David expressed to me that he would not be an individual. He'd be part of this football team, if he came here.

"Our meeting was very good. Having never met the guy, I was expecting a different guy. But I was impressed with him."

Boston has encountered a myriad of off-the-field problems, along with injuries that have limited him to just 22 games the past three seasons. Boston was his most productive with the Cardinals, where his coach was Jerry Sullivan, now the 49ers' receivers coach.

"Having never met him before, I was expecting a whole different guy," Nolan said. "He has been hurt and not been able to play much. That does humble people. In talking with Jerry Sullivan, he said he could see he has been humbled by some of the things that have occurred."

Nolan said he and Boston discussed the topic of steroids during their meeting. Boston was suspended without pay for four games last season after violating the NFL's anabolic steroid policy. Boston missed the entire season with a knee injury.

"One of the big concerns I had with it, does he understand that it does have possibly something to do with (getting) injured?" Nolan said. "That's a big part of it. Put some things in your body and it can affect your performance maybe in a positive way but it can also cause injury sometimes. But we talked about it and he didn't shy away from the truth."

--- THE 49ERS PLAN to bring five players being considered for the team's top pick into their team facility for visits.

Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle will visit team headquarters on April 11. Cal quarterback will visit two days later. Nolan said the Niners would also likely bring in a running back, possibly Ronnie Brown (Auburn) or Cedric Benson (Texas), and possibly another defensive player, likely Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson.

Nolan will take a 49ers contingent to Salt Lake City today for a private workout and visit with University of Utah quarterback Alex Smith.

If the 49ers hold onto the No. 1 pick in the draft, Nolan said it's ideal that the team have a contract agreement in place before choosing him.

"It is important," he said. "You would like to have it done beforehand."

49ERS STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Three weeks prior to the draft, the 49ers have more uncertainty at the quarterback position than they've had since the late 1970s. Not only is the team's starting quarterback job up in the air, but so are the backup spots.

Tim Rattay is the incumbent, but Nolan admitted the club has discussed signing a veteran and trading Rattay. Moreover, the 49ers are entertaining the possibility of taking a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Earlier this offseason they tried to trade for Trent Dilfer, whom the Seahawks dealt to the Browns.

"We want to strengthen that area as much as we can," Nolan said. "Right now, Tim Rattay is our quarterback and Ken Dorsey is our backup. With that being said, we want to create as much competition as we can for the position. You want to make sure you have a quality backup if someone goes down."

With so many questions about the team's quarterback spot, one recent rumor had the 49ers acquiring Philip Rivers from the Chargers for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

"I don't know where that came from but there is no truth to that," Nolan said.

Rattay's name has come up in trade scenarios, though that talk has not progressed past the preliminary stages, Nolan said. "There have been some people inquire about it," Nolan said. "We have talked about it ... but not on a serious note."

49ERS NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

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

2. Defensive back. The 49ers expect 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.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Julian Peterson (signed tender of $7.288M.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

-- TE Steve Bush helped the team's running game over the last five weeks of the season because he is a much better blocker than starter Eric Johnson or backup Aaron Walker.

-- WR Curtis Conway, a 12-year veteran, would like to play another season but it probably won't be with the 49ers, who need to develop some younger players.

-- OT Jerome Davis (not tendered as ERFA).

-- QB Brandon Doman (not tendered as ERFA).

-- C Brock Gutierrez started 15 games after Jeremy Newberry was injured. The 49ers need to find more stout depth at this position in case Newberry's injury problems continue.

-- FB Jasen Isom (not tendered as ERFA) is rehabilitating from surgery to repair a torn Achilles' tendon. Will likely be brought to training camp to see if he can earn a job.

-- DT Daleroy Stewart (not tendered as RFA) is another player whose fate hangs in the balance with the club changing defenses. He probably is worth taking a look at in training camp.

-- CB Jimmy Williams started six games last season, but isn't likely to return to the 49ers after the new regime watches him on film.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

-- OG Eric Heitmann (tendered at $656,000 with 7th-round pick as compensation) played fairly well for the 49ers last season. The former regime was prepared to tender him at first-rounder's money and with the low tender it's unclear how the new decision-makers will evaluate his play.

--- OT Kyle Kosier (tendered at $656,000 with 7th-round pick as compensation) is a versatile player the club would like to keep around. Kosier started all 16 games last season and can play every spot on the offensive line, except center, which makes him a valuable commodity.

-- LB Brandon Moore (tendered at $656,000 with no compensation) saw limited action on defense, but proved his worth with a team-leading 22 special-teams tackles.

-- LB Saleem Rasheed (tendered at $656,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation) has been a major disappointment while with the 49ers after entering the league as third-round draft pick. The fact the club is going to a 3-4 might save him.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

-- CB Rayshun Reed (tendered at $305,000).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

-- DT Tony Brown: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

-- S Dwaine Carpenter: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

-- DT Chris Cooper: UFA; terms unknown.

-- RB Terry Jackson: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

-- OG Rob Murphy: ERFA; $455,000/1 yr.

-- LB Julian Peterson: Franchise FA; $7.288M/1 yr.

-- LB Ray Wells: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

-- OT Jonas Jennings: UFA Bills; $36M/7 yrs, $12M SB; 2005 cap: $1.9M.

-- PK Joe Nedney: FA Titans; $665,000/1 yr; 2005 cap: $455,000.

PLAYERS LOST

-- FS Ronnie Heard: UFA Falcons; terms unknown.

-- PK Todd Peterson: UFA Falcons; $790,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB.

-- DE Brandon Whiting (released/failed physical).

-- WR Cedrick Wilson: UFA Steelers; $8M/4 yrs, $2M SB.


Niners Digest Top Stories