Nolan will have 49ers standing at summer attention

When the 49ers take to the field Saturday for their first training camp practice of the Mike Nolan era, an entirely different atmosphere will prevail at team headquarters in Santa Clara. And those players still hoping to be part of San Francisco's rebuilding plans come September better be ready and at attention. "If somebody's watching the birdies," Nolan said Thursday, "they're also going to watch the big plane when they get on it to go out of here." Consider that a message delivered.

Of course, that's the same message Nolan has been feeding his new team in gradual increments since he took over as the 49ers' new guiding light in January.

Nolan's tune has changed little since then as he continues to espouse the same themes that have characterized and dominated his first six months on the job: Accountability, leadership, structure, direction – and a new blueprint of hope for returning this team to the old 49er Way.

It starts right here, right now, as the entire squad reports to the Niners' year-round facility on Friday.

And, significantly, it actually will be the entire squad reporting after rookie running back Frank Gore inked a three-year deal Thursday, becoming the last member of San Francisco's 11-player draft class to sign with the team. In the space of the past four days, the Niners signed each of their top four draft picks – including No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith to a record-smashing deal – to make certain everyone will be on the same page from Minute 1 of Day 1.

And this chapter of the 2005 49ers will read a little differently from Page 1. This won't be like the summer of 2004 – which led to the doomed season of 2004 – when coach Dennis Erickson and his subordinates had trouble rustling energy and momentum from the very start.

When Nolan was asked Thursday about the "crispness" he's looking for in this training camp, his eyes brightened and his words flowed.

"I like what you are thinking," he responded. "I have two things in my mind that I look for on the practice field. That's tempo and detail. And tempo being the first one. That is critical. That's part of identifying the right guys, (who) are guys that have that tempo and understand the importance of that detail on the field. Those are tangible things you can see when you go to practice."

Of course, Nolan was quick to point out, "it's important, in order to allow the tempo to occur that you want, you've got to have some time in between where they can get their breath. So there will be teaching time between team drills that are anywhere from five to 10 minutes long where the coaches will just teach."

Though the team's spring minicamp practices were peppy enough, Nolan isn't expecting his players to fly around the field for two hours each summer session while the 49ers slowly build a crescendo toward opening day.

But he does expect new attitude. He does expect renewed commitment. And he does expect focus and determination on the job of raising the team from the NFL abyss. Those not on board for that part of the program won't be standing around for long watching "birdies" while Nolan and his crew steer the organization in a new direction.

"I know there are a lot of planes that fly over (team headquarters), so there's a lot of those they can watch, but they don't want to be on one," Nolan said. "If they're detailed, they'll take the time to do what they need to do."

And, after 18 seasons as a NFL assistant, Nolan will be doing what he needs to do in his first fling as a head coach, running the show at training camp as grand overseer.

Well, sort of.

Nolan has been around long enough to know that now, after aiming for this position the past decade, he must know when to stand back and when to dive in.

"I will be involved, but I will allow our coaches to coach," he said. "Some (head coaches) get right in the middle of guys' drills all of the time. I never liked that when I was an assistant. If I hired the right guys, which I believe I have, I need to let them do their jobs, and I'm going to do that.

"But I've got expertise in all three areas (offense, defense, special teams), and when I see something that is not right as a whole, I'm going to step in. I'll even step in on some individual things from time to time, but I will see if it's not corrected first before I (decide) the first time I'm going to jump in."

There will be big differences outside the white lines, too, as the Niners have revamped their practice area to accommodate larger groups of fans for their summer practices.

That development will provide a semi-regular audience to perform in front of that the Niners haven't had since moving their training camp from the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton to team headquarters in 2003.

That should only add to the purpose and progress of camp while also, as Nolan might say, keep his players alert and attentive.

Of course, for players who have made it this far, those are a few things they've already picked up from their new coach and his staff.


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