Niners notebook

Alex Smith continued to take most of the repetitions with the first-team offense Tuesday, and the prized rookie appears to be closing in on nailing down the 49ers' starting quarterback role, which will be announced by coach Mike Nolan after Wednesday's morning practice. All Smith has to do now is prove he can handle the job during the exhibition season.

Since Smith has taken the first snaps with the first team for 10 consecutive days of practice since training camp began in July, it appears unlikely Nolan will make a sharp detour from the path the team has taken so far with its quarterbacks and name someone other than Smith the starter for Saturday's exhibition opener against the Oakland Raiders.

Smith has gotten approximately 50 percent of the practice snaps, with backup Tim Rattay taking 30 percent and Ken Dorsey most of the other 20 percent.

"It doesn't please some of the guys, in Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey, but I'm not here to please," Nolan said. "I'm just here to find the best guy."

To that end, Nolan plans to get a comprehensive look at his top quarterbacks against the Raiders, regardless of who starts.

"If a quarterback does play," he said, "you want to get him to the point where they have enough reps so that they can get warm and get in to the flow. For him to go one series and then pull him out or even go out two series and pull him out, it's usually more than a quarter that a guy needs. Maybe not a half, but he needs more than a quarter. So whether it's Alex or someone else, I'm looking to give them all enough time on the field where it's not just that they have to show up at the end of a game that's already won. When we put them on the field, we're tying to accomplish something and give him opportunities to accomplish it, too."

Smith is certainly the most athletic of the quarterbacks competing for the job. He has also shown good accuracy on the short to intermediate routes. With Smith behind center, the 49ers are able to use more plays that take advantage of his mobility.

"We didn't draft him to sit him on the bench," Nolan said. "So I want to find out."

Smith, who receives $24 million in guaranteed money as part of his six-year, $49.5 million contract, has impressed many of his teammates on both sides of the ball, too.

"He's looking like the No. 1 pick," linebacker Julian Peterson said. "He shows something new every day. He's going to be like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia and the 'Million-Dollar Backfield'. He's going to be a part of 49ers history."

LEFT TACKLE JONAS JENNINGS might not be on the field to protect Smith's blind side for the exhibition opener. Jennings sustained a broken right index finger and a torn tendon. He underwent surgery last week and is expected to miss the rest of this week of practice.

Now the responsibility of looking after Smith will likely fall on the shoulders of rookie Patrick Estes, who was selected in the seventh round as a tight end. When asked last week who is No. 3 on the depth chart, Nolan asked to look at a roster. Even then, he still couldn't come up with an answer.

Estes, wearing a protective cast on his broken left hand, continued to work Tuesday with the first-unit offense, which practiced without four of its five projected starters.

In addition to Jennings, center Jeremy Newberry (knee) and rookie right guard David Baas (hamstring), second-year left guard Justin Smiley also is on the shelf with a calf injury and appears unlikely to play against the Raiders. Smiley had his left leg heavily wrapped and could barely walk Tuesday.

JENNINGS WAS MAKING AN impression as the team's enforcer before breaking his hand.

Jennings has been a central figure as the 49ers show a new attitude on the practice field. Last summer, there was not one skirmish during training camp. This year, Jennings got into on-field dustups two of the first three days. On one occasion he went after defensive lineman Corey Smith, who took a swipe at quarterback Ken Dorsey.

"I'm a left tackle," Jennings said. "That's our job as offensive linemen. I don't get any incentives for that."

At 325 pounds, Jennings is not the kind of guy people want to cross. Off the field, however, he displays an easy-going personality and a loquacious style.

"I'm the nicest guy in world," Jennings said. "My job description calls for me to be mean sometimes. You got to know when to kick it in and turn it off."

Nolan spoke with Jennings about not getting carried away with being too mean with his teammates. Nolan is trying to build a family atmosphere within the team, so he wants to see limited fisticuffs during training camp.

"He's competing and playing hard," Nolan said. "There is a point where you can go too far with it, but we've talked and he'll be fine. It's kind of like going out to the 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. You just want to make sure it doesn't get out of control."

NOLAN SAID IF ANYTHING happens to Jennings, he will not resort to moving Kwame Harris back to the position he tried his first two seasons in the league.

"I do not believe that would be what we'd do," Nolan said. "I'm pretty certain of that one. Even if the coaches want to do it, I don't know that I'd want to do it. If a hand grenade wiped out a bunch of (tackles), maybe, but it's going to take quite a lot."

ANYTHING SMITH MIGHT KNOW about the grand history of 49ers quarterbacks has been learned. At 21, Smith said he does not remember seeing Joe Montana play with the 49ers. Smith's memory begins with Steve Young at quarterback.

Young was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canton, Ohio. Because of Smith's stature as the top overall pick in the draft, he has gotten to meet Young. He participated in Young's golf tournament in Utah this off-season. There are obvious similarities in their styles.

"He could make plays with his feet and his arm," said Smith, whose athleticism and smarts are the major reasons the 49ers selected him. "He also wasn't going to slide."

A BATTLE IS SHAPING UP at the 49ers' wide receiver spots, with Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd looking to be set at the starting spots. Even veteran Johnnie Morton's job as No. 3 is looking somewhat secure. But the spots behind those three are wide open.

Currently, second-year player P.J. Fleck, an undrafted free agent who spent most of last season on the practice squad, is the front-runner for the No. 4 job. He is ahead of Rashaun Woods, the team's top pick in '04, on the team's depth chart.

Woods has been a disappointment, as injuries have limited him in his first two training camps. It would not be a shock to see Woods get released, but the 49ers would be taking a gamble. If another team claimed him off waivers, the 49ers would be in line for a $2.5 million hit on the salary cap. Rookies Rasheed Marshall and Marcus Maxwell, as well as veteran Jason McAddley, are also competing for jobs. A lot might hinge on who can contribute on special teams.

NOLAN HAS BEEN PRIMARILY a defensive assistant throughout his coaching career. However, in 2001 he joined Baltimore's staff as receivers coach. "I called it my sex change," Nolan said. "But it didn't work, so I went back to defense."

THE 49ERS TIED A franchise-record with 14 losses last season, but they lost only four (of five games) with linebacker Julian Peterson on the field. Said the ever-optimistic Peterson, "Everybody is looking at that 2-14 from last year and thinking we're going to be a cupcake on the schedule. But we have the talent to come out and dominate."

NOLAN WILL MEET WEEKLY with three or four players to keep open lines of communication with the locker room. He said one of the players will be defensive end Bryant Young but hasn't yet figured out who else will be involved. Twelfth-year veteran Johnnie Morton, even though he just joined the team in late June, is a candidate to part of the council.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp closes at the team's Santa Clara, Calif, practice facility on Aug. 24. Most practices are closed to the general public, but there are two more dates on which fans can watch: Aug. 10 and 15. For more information on the free admission, go to www.49ers.com.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jamie Winborn vs. Andre Carter at OLB -- The team's switch to a 3-4 defense led to Carter's position change. In reality, nothing much changes for him. He will be asked to drop into coverage occasionally, but his main duty will be to rush the quarterback. Winborn's skill set is a little different. He is a good all-around linebacker whose athleticism makes him better dropping into coverage. Still, there will be a competition for playing time, though both should be counted upon to contribute.

INJURY REPORT: C Jeremy Newberry (right knee) said he expects to return to limited practice the week after the 49ers' first exhibition game. Newberry, however, is uncertain whether his knee, which lacks any cartilage, will be able to hold up for the entire season... WR Derrick Hamilton, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the off-season, is very questionable to return to action this season... G David Baas (right hamstring) is out up to another month... Newberry, Hamilton and Baas are on the active/physically unable to perform list... CB Shawntae Spencer (left hamstring), WR Rashaun Woods (groin) and CB Randee Drew (left foot) have been out since Aug. 1 with their injuries. Drew is not expected back for several weeks because of a stress fracture. Woods returned to practice Monday, but then aggravated his groin injury Tuesday morning before pulling out of drills. ... RB Frank Gore and FB/TE Steve Bush are out at least a week with shoulder injuries... S Arnold Parker is out a couple weeks with a left shoulder injury... WR P.J. Fleck returned to practice Monday after sustaining back spasms in practice on Friday and being taken by ambulance to the hospital.


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