IN THE ZONE Coach Mike Nolan had a few surprises for his team early Thursday afternoon as the 49ers spent a late-practice session touching up their playbook in the red zone in preparation for Saturday's preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders. "We had some drills in there that I didn't tell the coaches or the players about," Nolan said. "Some of those plays were in the red zone, because we need some work down there. It went well. Typically, most things are scripted by the coaches and the players. It's just to put a little break in there, because then it becomes a little more like a game. In games you're not really sure what the next situation might be. So I was pleased with the way they responded." It was mostly defensive players responding. With safety Tony Parrish and linebacker Jamie Winborn making plays, the defense stiffened whenever the offense sniffed the goal line. The latter's best chance to score came when quarterback Alex Smith zipped a pass to rookie Fred Amey between two defenders in the back of the end zone. But Amey couldn't hold onto the pass. IMPRESSIVE ROOKIE But Amey, who burned starting left cornerback Ahmed Plummer for an 80-yard touchdown catch on Wednesday, again showed his stuff during team drills at the end of practice when he tiptoed along the sideline to keep his feet in bounds for a lunging catch on a comeback pattern. The undrafted rookie from Sacramento State is in the thick of the competition for one of the team's final roster spots at receiver, and he should get more playing time Saturday with one of his chief competitors – seventh-round draft pick Marcus Maxwell – out with a heel injury. Amey also might get a look returning kicks, which ultimately could make or break his chances of forging his way onto the final roster. INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS The Winborn/Andre Carter tandem at right outside linebacker continues to look like a combination that will cause opponents fits this season. Though the Niners would like to get both playmakers on the field at the same time, they feel pretty good about what each can do when they're in the game with Julian Peterson manning the left side. "It changes the structure around them a little bit when they're in," Nolan said. "But it still works. That's the beauty of the scheme. When Andre's in there, he'll probably do a little more rushing than we'll drop him. And Jamie will do a little more dropping when he's in there as opposed to rushing. It's a versatile part of the package." Winborn was second on the team last year with 4½ sacks in 14 games. Carter had 6½ sacks or more in each of his first three seasons before being limited to seven games last year because of back problems that required surgery. Even though he won't be an every-down player, the 49ers feel Carter can get back closer to his 12½-sack form of 2002 in the new scheme. PLAY OF THE DAY Rookie Rasheed Marshall displayed his athleticism while pulling in a long touchdown pass from Smith that almost was intercepted by cornerback Willie Middlebrooks before Marshall took it the distance. Middlebrooks initially was stride for stride with Marshall down the left sideline as Smith aired it out, and the veteran cornerback appeared to pull the ball in as it came down toward the two players. But as Middlebrooks attempted to grasp the ball, Marshall reached around and popped it out of his hands, then tipped the ball to himself in mid-air before reeling it in and sprinting into the end zone as Middlebrooks stumbled to the ground, having turned from hero to goat on the play. QUOTE OF THE DAY Nolan displayed his usual off-the-cuff humor when he was asked by a visiting writer if Smith had shown him anything in training camp that the coach didn't already know about the rookie quarterback when the 49ers selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. "I'll tell you, that's a tough question," Nolan responded. "In our process in evaluating the guy, when you take the first guy in the (draft), with the exception of sleeping with him, I kind of knew most things about him. So, really, there have been no surprises." After that remark received a round of laughter, Nolan followed that innuendo with, "I didn't go that far. … I should have just shut up." PETERSON WILL PLAY There has been some speculation that Peterson, the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker, will be held out of Saturday's game, but Nolan indicated that it's almost certain now that Peterson will start against the Raiders, saying, "Right now, in my mind it is. He'll play about a dozen snaps." It will be Peterson's first game action since he tore his left Achilles tendon against Arizona last October 10, ending his 2004 season. INJURY UPDATE Starting tight end Eric Johnson won't play against the Raiders after a Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam revealed a partial tear in the arch of his right foot. "It was a very slight tear in there," Nolan said. "That causes some pain, but it shouldn't be very long or extensive (of an injury). I don't know how long just yet." … Also missing practice again because of injury were Maxwell, FB Steve Bush (shoulder),CB Randee Drew (foot), RB Frank Gore (shoulder), S Arnold Parker (shoulder), G Justin Smiley (calf) and CB Shawntae Spencer (hamstring).
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