Offensive makeover

The 49ers were in need of an offensive makeover after ranking outside the NFL's top 13 in total offense last season for the first time since 1978. Owners of the league's 26th-ranked attack in 2004, the 49ers put most of their attention into revamping the offensive line, but also bolstered every other position on that side of the ball with draft picks and - at a few spots - also with veteran newcomers.

The club expects no primary starters from last season's offensive line to return at the same spot this year, as the 49ers hope to make dramatic improvements in their run and pass games. The big free-agent acquisition was left tackle Jonas Jennings, who signed with the 49ers on the first day of free agency.

Jennings' signing allows the 49ers to move 2003 first-round pick Kwame Harris to right tackle, where he takes the spot of Scott Gragg, who was released after a disappointing season. Rookie David Baas, a second-round draft pick, will likely start at right guard, and Justin Smiley - last year's second-round pick - is penciled in as the starter at left guard.

The key to the offensive line is the health of center Jeremy Newberry, who played just one game last season. Newberry underwent offseason knee surgery and his chances of playing this season are roughly 50-50. Eric Heitmann has been working out at center as an insurance policy. Heitmann will be working with the first team there when training camp practices begin July 29.

Most eyes will be on the quarterback situation, as Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, will compete against Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey for the starting job. Smith, who is still unsigned, should get plenty of chances to win the job outright during the exhibition season.

The 49ers made few significant changes at the other skill positions. Rookie Frank Gore, a third-round selection, is expected to compete with running back Kevan Barlow for some playing time. Barlow was a disappointment in his first season as the featured back.

The only new face expected to get involved in the passing game is Johnnie Morton, who signed a two-year deal as a free agent three weeks after the Chiefs released him in a salary-cap move. Morton, a split end, will try to unseat Brandon Lloyd for a starting job. At worse, Morton should settle into a spot as the team's No. 3 wideout.

Third-year player Arnaz Battle, who has just eight career receptions, moves into the starting lineup at flanker. He takes over for Cedrick Wilson, the team's top wideout last season. Wilson signed with the Steelers as a free agent.

The team also drafted receivers Rasheed Marshall (fifth round) and Marcus Maxwell (seventh round) in addition to seventh-round tight ends Billy Bajema and Patrick Estes, the latter of which the team will try to convert to tackle.


ALEX SMITH'S AGENT, IMG's Tom Condon, said he has reason to expect a huge contract for his client. After all, the salaries of No. 1 draft picks as quarterbacks have not risen proportionately through the years, according to USA Today.

In 1998, Peyton Manning's average yearly salary of $6.33 million represented 12.02 percent of the Colts' salary cap, according to the report. Last year, Eli Manning's deal with the Giants represented just 9.3 percent of the team's cap.

"Although everyone says, 'Look at those monster deals,' they really have regressed relative to the salary cap," Condon told USA Today. "But now all of the passing numbers are up and they're going to be up. Quarterbacks have taken on more importance than they ever had before. It's just easier to pass the football than to run it, and we're going to do a deal that reflects that."

THE 49ERS WILL HOST a family day at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco on Saturday, July 23. Kezar was the 49ers' home stadium before the club moved to Candlestick Park in 1971. The event will include contests, games and appearances by members of the team.

A 35-YEAR-OLD SECURITY guard sustained gunshot wounds early Sunday after a party hosted by 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson and Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington. Reports out of Gambrills, Md., said neither Peterson nor Arrington were involved in the incident.

"It is our understanding that Julian hosted a party with LaVar Arrington as part of a charity event," coach Mike Nolan said in a statement. "It is also our understanding that Julian had nothing to do with the incident in question."

MARSHALL BECAME THE THIRD of the team's 11 draft picks to sign contracts when he put his name on a four-year deal last week. The 49ers also have signed Bajema and Estes.

Marshall is learning a new position, as the 49ers converted him from quarterback at their offseason camps. After initially having some problems, Marshall began showing some of the promise that gives the team reason to believe he can contribute on offense.

The 49ers would like to use Marshall as an all-everything kind of player. In addition to being a threat at receiver, he is learning how to return kicks. He could also line up in the backfield on certain gimmick plays.

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