Reading signals while 49ers get bullish at camp

Coach Mike Nolan may have spilled the beans regarding his quarterback plans Monday morning when he indicated rookie Alex Smith might continue taking the first snaps with the first-team offense in team drills indefinitely, which is contrary to Nolan's original summer intentions at the position. Here's Nolan's take on that situation, along with other news and notes and our daily observations from training camp after the 49ers conducted two-a-day practices for the first time.

--- Nolan said at the opening of camp Saturday that he would alter his quarterback rotation to give all three of his starting contenders – Smith, incumbent starter Tim Rattay and third-year veteran Ken Dorsey – an equal opportunity at the starting role. But after Smith continued to get the lion's share of snaps with the first unit in team drills – and all drills, for that matter – somebody asked if the rotation could stay the way it has been through the first three days of camp.

--- "It could," Nolan responded. "But we want to give everybody an opportunity to work. I don't think it will, but it could." When pressed about how long the current rotation will last, Nolan said, "There is no set time right now. We're just feeling it as it goes. Some of it will take care of itself as it goes forward. So it will be a little while. I have not set a time."

--- Which sounds a lot like Smith should be getting ready to start his engine for the preseason opener against the Raiders in 12 days.

--- OK, coach, so is Smith seizing control of the No. 1 job or not? "Well, he could be," Nolan said. "But there's a process involved if he's going to do it. He has to do it with his peers as well – not just with coaches."

--- The beauty of Smith – among other things – is the way he instinctively takes off on a scramble as a play breaks down, making his move neither too soon nor too late.

--- He also looks pretty good turning the corner, and is determined to put his shoulder down once he does. Smith is young, and his defined 6-foot-4 frame will be able to take some early-career punishment when the games begin, but the 49ers must teach him immediately to get out of bounds, because the hits he'll take when he turns upfield will be hellacious.

--- Rattay is looking pretty good out there – for a backup quarterback.

--- For the third consecutive day, left tackle Jonas Jennings was mixing it up with defenders and getting spirited in the trenches. Maybe a little bit too spirited. "He's just playing hard," Nolan said. "He's competing and playing hard. It's kind of like going out to pasture. The one bull always stands alone, but he has to make his point at some point. You got some guys out there that are bulls and they make their point, but that's OK. That's not a bad thing."

--- So, it was suggested, Nolan might have to occasionally set the bulls at different corners. "Yes, you have to do that with bulls sometimes," he responded. "You don't want them (bulls) killing each other, because you still want them. We try to draft the bulls. We don't want all bulls, but we try to draft as many as we can. As long as we can keep them bulls, that's what we want."

--- And that's no bull.

--- Willie Middlebrooks ran with the first-team defense for the first time at right cornerback, and that seemed to inspire him to lift his play a notch, which is something everybody has been waiting to see since the start of camp.

--- Middlebrooks was there in place of Shawntae Spencer, who injured a hamstring early in morning drills. The injury is not expected to be serious, and Spencer could return to practice as soon as Tuesday.

--- Defensive back Randee Drew, however, will be out for an undetermined time with a stress fracture in his foot.

--- Rookie Ronnie Fields is a big man in the defensive middle. So is Isaac Sopoaga. Those guys are putting pressure on Anthony Adams at nosegard with their imposing size alone.

--- In a twist, Adams actually was seen sliding out to end in the 3-4 defense during the afternoon practice. That's not a bad idea. Adams, who started 12 games at left defensive tackle for the Niners last year, has the quickness to play end in the new scheme and, at 299 pounds, he certainly has the size.

--- Every time Dorsey sends up a fluttering duck when he attempts to throw down field, he loses ground in the pecking order at quarterback.

--- He doesn't get a lot of opportunities, and he appears to have virtually no chance of making the 53-man roster, but undrafted rookie Bobby Purify shows some sparkle whenever he does get the ball in his hands. This guy could be a practice squad candidate.

--- Between Chris Cooper and Tony Brown, the 49ers should be able to find a more than adequate third cog for their rotation at defensive end.

--- Rasheed Marshall's transition from star college quarterback to NFL wide receiver would be going a lot better if he could catch the ball in traffic.

--- Marcus Maxwell – picked two rounds after Marshall in the April draft – is doing just that, and he made a spectacular grab during afternoon team drills when he came back along the sidelines to pick a Rattay pass off the ground with an all-out diving effort.

--- And, as Maxwell continues to shine in camp on a daily basis, the 49ers are giving him more and more repetitions to show his stuff.

--- The Niners' depth at cornerback appears considerably improved as second-year prospect Rayshun Reed and rookie draft picks Daven Holly and Derrick Johnson all have had some shining moments in camp.

--- With Julian Peterson practicing just once a day, Andre Carter is getting an opportunity to be on the field with the first-team defense on regular downs – but not at Peterson's left outside linebacker position. Carter, who backs up Jamie Winborn on the right side, stays at that position while Winborn flops over to the left side.

--- Right side, left side – it doesn't matter to Winborn. The 3-4 scheme has set him free to be even more of a playmaker than he has been in his first four NFL seasons.

--- The 49ers will have a full-squad practice Tuesday morning and then conduct their first hour-long session devoted specifically to special teams later in the afternoon. From the looks of things so far, those units can use the extra work.


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