Niners notebook

Quarterback Alex Smith has begun competing for a starting job during his first minicamp with the 49ers this weekend, and coach Mike Nolan said the competition is wide open.

"It's a long process and how fast we go with it will be determined by him," Nolan said.

During the team's first full-squad minicamp Smith and incumbent Tim Rattay have been sharing two-thirds of the practice snaps. Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett are sharing the other 33 percent of the time.

Dorsey and Pickett participated in the team's first minicamp for holdover veterans in early April and have been regular participants in the team's quarterback school. Rattay has been out of action this offseason due to an injured right foot, finally returning to on-field activity during Friday's opener of the three-day minicamp.

When asked if he thinks Smith will start for the 49ers this season if he digests the new offense, Nolan said, "If he digests it better than Tim Rattay, I do."

Nolan said his preference is to get Smith ready to play early in his rookie season.

Though Nolan and new offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy have indicated the battle for starting duties will be waged between Rattay and Smith, Nolan also threw Dorsey in the mix for the starting job.

"Sure, he's competing, too," Nolan said. "Cody is behind the others, just from an experience standpoint."

Smith said he feels like it is an advantage to be competing for a job against other quarterbacks who are also experiencing a new offense. McCarthy is installing a version of the West Coast offense that has few similarities from what the 49ers have run in the past.

"Absolutely," Smith said. "Obviously, they've been here a month or two and I think coach Nolan did the right thing by giving them a minicamp so there is a veteran feel. But it's much different than coming into a team where the coaching staff has been here for two years and they've been in the system for a couple years now. That's not the case."

--- THE NFL DECLINED permission to Nolan to wear a suit and tie on the sideline during games, he said.

"They're not going to let me do it," Nolan said. "I wish they had, but it's a no go."

Nolan wanted to eschew the league-sponsored apparel in favor of the more traditional look styled by some of the coaches of the past, such as Tom Landry and his father, Dick Nolan.

--- MCCARTHY HAS BEGUN installing the 49ers' offense during the minicamp, and the entire offense will be in place prior to the start of training camp, he said.

There is a lot of work for even the returning quarterbacks. The 49ers got away from the West Coast roots during Dennis Erickson's two years.

"Tim (Rattay) said there's very little carryover, and Dennis (Erickson) went in a different direction," McCarthy said. "So we're starting from scratch - A to Z."

--- NOLAN IS TAKING a liking to just about everything he is seeing this weekend.

"Whatever happens, good and bad, as far as the execution of it, it's all good in our perspective, because it gives us an opportunity to evaluate our players," he said. "I was pleased with the energy going on, and from there, that's a good start."

Speaking of the high energy, a marked contrast to the final months of the Erickson regime, Nolan said, "It's typical of when you start in a new regime, it is, I understand that and I see that. We can point that out. I do. I play off it a little bit because it's a positive thing, but the real test is that that's what we're doing at the end of training camp, and going into the season, because that is what we want it to look like. We'll continue to stress that and, when we don't get that, we'll do it over again."

--- NOLAN HAD AN EXPLANATION why the team only signed five undrafted rookie free agents in the two weeks since the draft.

Typically, in recent years, the 49ers have signed between 15 and 20 such prospects to add depth to the training-camp roster and compete for berths at the bottom of the 53-man roster and practice squad.

"We're about 82 on our roster because of our World League guys, we can have 87 because we have senve guys over there (in NFL Europe)," Nolan said. "We are at our max. If we had less of a roster, we'd have signed more free agents, but we are pretty much maxed. We are very close to where we want to be going to training camp. And having 11 draft choices, as you know, that's bumped us up to not having to go get the free agents."

Though these undrafted rookies usually can be considered longshots to make the roster, that might not entirely be the case this year with a young team that's in transition.

Last year, the 49ers signed 18 undrafted rookie free agents, and four of them - receiver P.J. Fleck, defensive end Josh Cooper and cornerbacks Rayshun Reed and Mike Adams - saw playing time on the team's 53-man roster. Center Norm Katnik also spent the entire season on San Francisco's practice squad. In recent years, linebacker Brandon Moore and safety Zack Bronson are other examples of players who went undrafted but became key contributors with the team.

Each of the five prospects signed this year - Sacramento State receiver Fred Amey, Oklahoma State kicker/punter Cole Farden, Stanford defensive tackle Scott Scharff, Colorado running back Bobby Purify and San Jose State's Tony Ficklin, whom the Niners are hoping to convert from defensive end to fullback because of his athleticism - all have at least a shot at sticking on the practice squad.

--- MIKE RUMPH, WHO is not participating in this minicamp after undergoing surgery on his right forearm in April, said he is fully committed to winning a starting job at cornerback.

But, just in case, he is also spending time studying the safety positions as he spends a lot of time in the film room this offseason learning the team's new 3-4 defense. Nolan asked Rumph more than a month ago if he would consider moving to safety this season.

"I told him that I thought I could be a great safety, but I also feel like I'm a great corner," Rumph said. "I want to compete for a starting corner job."

Rumph will compete for a starting job with second-year player Shawntae Spencer. Veteran Ahmed Plummer is also on the team, and returning after missing 10 games last season due to a bulging disk in his neck. The 49ers also spent two late-round picks on cornerbacks, Derrick Johnson of Washington and Daven Holly of Cincinnati.

--- DEFENSIVE END JOHN Engelberger (right wrist), tackle Kwame Harris (right shoulder), tight end Eric Johnson (left knee) and linebacker Julian Peterson (left Achilles) are not participate in this minicamp as they rest injuries.

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