Vets show little to help Niners with No. 1 issues

He has seen them all on film, many times over. Now Mike Nolan has seen the 49ers' holdover veterans on the practice field in person, too. But nothing Nolan saw during San Francisco's recent minicamp really did anything to help guide him in the all-important and all-encompassing decision he and the team's new brain trust must make in two weeks.

Nolan no doubt entered the three-day minicamp at team headquarters hoping to clear up a few questions in his mind about some players in particular – and especially some positions in particular.

But when SFI asked if the early cram session of orientation, meetings and practice sessions had done anything to help steer the Niners toward what they might do at the top of draft with the No. 1 overall selection, Nolan replied, "Really, nothing."


"For one, (Tim) Rattay didn't practice," Nolan continued.

And there you go. Nolan couldn't get a more distinct take on some pressing issues because perhaps the one player he needed to see most on the field didn't take part in practice. Rattay, the team's incumbent starting quarterback, was sidelined with a minor foot injury.

Obviously, since the Niners are seriously considering taking either Utah's Alex Smith or Cal's Aaron Rodgers with their No. 1 overall selection on April 23, Nolan would have liked to have seen Rattay whipping the ball around the field and taking charge of the offense to get a personal feel for what the guy really can do.

The Niners aren't completely sold on Smith or Rodgers, and Rattay would have had a chance to do some selling on the virtues of going another direction at the top of the draft, which is certainly something Nolan and Co. also are thinking about.

"Even if (Rattay) had (practiced), it wouldn't change because I wanted to look at the receivers," Nolan said. "Obviously, I've mentioned the guys we're kind of looking at at the top of the board as far as that goes – the quarterbacks, the receiver. There is a back and a defensive player that we're looking at, too. But the minicamp, it wouldn't have had much to do with that pick from my standpoint. We're going to take the best guy at that time."

And with "that time" rapidly approaching, the 49ers still are genuinely undecided. "The receiver" Nolan referred to is Michigan stud Braylon Edwards, and there is some belief among the Niners that he is the best player available in the draft, which doesn't necessarily make him the best value or best pick for San Francisco at No. 1 because of the position he plays.

Nolan purposely didn't bring in any receivers for tryouts during the minicamp so that he could get an extensive look at the five youngsters already on the roster at that position – third-year veterans Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd and second-year players Rashaun Woods, Derrick Hamilton and P.J. Fleck.

Those receivers as a whole did well over the weekend and Nolan appeared candid when he said their performance exceeded his expectations. They might have done enough to alleviate concerns that the Niners should take Edwards because of a lack of talent and production potential at the position.

After taking a long look at his roster over the weekend, Nolan said the team's draft priorities remain the same – to get the best available player at their pick to "get the best value for your guy." But he did specify how the team's draft board is beginning to shape up.

"Aside from that, we need to add a couple of linemen from a depth standpoint," Nolan said. "I'd like to add a wide receiver. I'd like to add a running back, if not a fullback, give us some depth there. Now, I can name off just about every position. But again, I'm thinking we've got 11 picks. I'd hope that we can do that.

"Naturally, when you get later in the draft, you don't get the quality that you get at the top – pretty obvious. But it's pretty easy to say that we'll stay true to taking the best player available for a while, because this team needs that. I think New England is probably looking at it a little bit different than we are. But that's where we're at. And that's a good thing for us, as far as drafting goes. The thing I like about it, coming in new, is you get to get your kind of people throughout your football team. And that's important."

How many of those people already are on the roster? Nolan wasn't saying. But it's certain that a good chunk of the players that were on hand during the weekend won't be on the opening-day roster the 49ers take into September.

Will some – or any – of the eight holdover starters who missed practice due to injuries be among that list? They could be. It didn't help Nolan or any of those players that the new coaching regime didn't get a firsthand look at those individuals plying their skills before the draft.

Though Rattay's absence and the less-than-stellar showings by Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett certainly did nothing to make the Niners think a talented new quarterback hopeful shouldn't be their top draft priority, Nolan said the Niners hardly are locked in yet with what they're going to do with the top pick.

"No, we're not," he said. "But I like the choices."

And those choices are looking better now because of what Nolan didn't see from some veterans already on the roster.

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