Rattay's shaky status at No. 1

Tim Rattay was on the outside looking in at the 49ers offensive huddle last week during the team's early minicamp, which was not a good place to be for a guy holding a tenuous grip on the Niners' starting quarterback position. With the team getting closer to taking a QB No. 1 overall in the draft, and coach Mike Nolan sending mixed messages about his status, Rattay's job security is in obvious question. But he remains unfazed by the speculation. "I'm preparing like I'm the starter," he said.

"That's my mindset, and that's what I'm going to do be doing," Rattay continued. "So that's where I'm at right now."

Rattay left out the part about the foot ailment that kept him on the sidelines during the team's three practice sessions for veterans last week. He has inflammation in the arch of his right foot, an apparently minor complication of his surgery in late December to repair a torn plantar fascia in the foot.

"The incision where it (the plantar) tore off is good," Rattay said. "The muscle in there just got a little inflamed. It's just a matter of getting this thing calmed down. I'm not really worried about it. A couple weeks of rest and it should be good. It's still April. There's plenty of time."

That is subject to debate, as far as Rattay's No. 1 status is concerned.

With the team seriously considering spending its precious No. 1 pick on either Cal's Aaron Rodgers or Utah's Alex Smith – a situation that could have the Niners handing either one of them the starting job to lose from Day 1 of the 2005 season – Rattay really needed to be out on the field with his teammates to show Nolan and the team's new coaching staff his stuff.

In the past year alone, Rattay has encountered four non-contact injuries that have affected both his playing time and performance. When SFI asked him how important it was for him simply to show the new coaches he can stay healthy, Rattay launched into a long and rather revealing reply.

"It's just important to myself," Rattay said. "I think last year, when I couldn't train for those 12 weeks before training camp (after tearing a groin in May during the first spring minicamp practice), it just started a downhill thing that I obviously never got over. I've been training pretty hard (this offseason). My body's getting bigger and stronger. It's important to be able to train the whole offseason, get your body ready for what's going to happen. I've never been an injury-prone guy, and last year just had some things go on. I just have to prove it to myself and everybody that I can stay healthy."

That's not all Rattay has to prove. He also has to prove that he is good enough to remain the starter and be the man behind center to take the team forward in its rebuilding plans. A great opportunity to do that before the draft came and passed during the first three days of April.

That left Nolan responding to a question about Rattay by saying, "Tim's our starter until, obviously, somebody takes his job from him."

Huh? That could be construed as a very weak vote of confidence. It almost sounds like Nolan expects somebody to take that job away before the 2005 season begins.

But Nolan did go on to give Rattay a measure of endorsement, for whatever it's worth.

"Obviously, there's going to be competition all the time (at quarterback)," Nolan said. "(Rattay) commands the position. He played it a lot. I'll be interested to see him once he's out, once he does get out here on the practice field and see how the guys react around him."

Asked later if he was basing Rattay's current No. 1 status on last year, Nolan responded, "He was the starter here. He lost it due to injury. Just typically, (on) most teams you don't really lose your job due to injury. That's a tough way to lose it. It does happen. But in our situation, that's not the case. I'm looking for them all to compete.

"That could change real fast. I'm not opposed to say it couldn't. But I also know that (Rattay)'s got experience and I watch him carry himself. I do like the way he carries himself. He's very self-confident, which is important for a quarterback. He commands the huddle real well, which is important for a quarterback. I think the guys know that he can move the ball, which is important for a quarterback. All those things are a part of it. I just didn't see it firsthand."

Of course, Nolan needed to see it firsthand to help him in his draft decisions later this month. But Rattay said he's not going to worry that Nolan didn't, and he also won't worry about all the swirling speculation regarding his shaky hold on the job that, before him, had been handled only by Pro Bowl performers the past 25 years.

"Mooch (former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci) told us a long time ago (not to) really comment on hypotheticals," Rattay said. "So I just worry about what I'm doing, and when something happens, it happens. Right now, I'm just worried about what I'm doing, getting myself ready and learning a new offense."

That sounds like Rattay is expecting the 49ers to draft a quarterback to challenge him, whether it is with the top overall pick or somewhere later on the draft's opening day.

Despite what Nolan might say, Rattay has done nothing so far to send the 49ers in a different direction on draft day.

"It's not going to change what I do," Rattay said. "I'm not going to train any different, or get ready any different. I'm just worried about getting healthy – that's all I'm worried about. My attitude isn't any different."

Maybe it should be.

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