Niners notebook

Two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry practiced with the 49ers on Monday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his right knee in June, and it's possible he will be in the starting lineup when the 49ers conclude the exhibition season Thursday night against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

Nolan will wait to see how Newberry feels on Tuesday before making any further decisions about how soon he can get back in the lineup – or if he'll be able to get back in the lineup. Newberry missed 15 games last season with knee and back problems and has had three surgeries on his right knee, which is lacking cartilage.

"We want to take it a day at a time," Nolan said. "He might practice tomorrow, but that will be on his own accord. What I've talked to him about is just doing the one day and going from there. He might say, ‘Look, I want another day.'"

Rookie guard David Baas, the 49ers' second-round draft choice in April, also returned to practice after missing all of training camp with a torn hamstring suffered July 22 while training outside of Wisconsin. Nolan said Baas also has a chance to play against the Chargers if he can make it through practice this week without any setbacks.

Missing from practice Monday was fourth-year veteran Eric Heitmann, who has been starting at center in Newberry's place this summer. Heitmann also has been bothered by knee problems and will be held out of practice this week and won't play in Thursday's game. If Newberry also is unable to play, Nolan said center duties will be split between Scott Peters and Norm Katnik against the Chargers.

THE 49ERS WILL LOOK to give starting quarterback Tim Rattay a lot of help this season.

The club has a dearth of proven NFL talent in the passing game. The Niners' top returning receiver, tight end Eric Johnson, has missed almost all of training camp with a foot injury. And the 49ers are determined to be a run-oriented team.

"We're going to run the ball this year," receiver Brandon Lloyd said. "That's no secret. We're going to run the ball, so there should be a lot of one-on-one opportunities on the outside."

The 49ers owned the No. 31 rushing average in the league last season, just one season after Kevan Barlow gained 1,024 yards while starting only four games. The 49ers made some adjustments on the offensive line they believe will give them more strength to run the ball.

Barlow has maintained the starting job, holding off rookie Frank Gore through the exhibition season. Barlow gained 30 yards on nine first-half carries against the Titans last Friday.

"Obviously, we're not running the ball the way that we want to ... but we are just going to come back out and keep pushing and keep digging," Barlow said.

Rattay is capable of posting huge numbers if he has a running game and the pass protection to keep the heat off him. But he is working with an inexperienced group of receivers. Lloyd caught 43 passes last season, while starting flanker Arnaz Battle had eight receptions.

Rattay entered training camp at No. 2 on the depth chart behind rookie Alex Smith, the top overall pick in the April draft. But Rattay showed the steady hand of a veteran while Smith looked shaky. Smith is scheduled to serve as Rattay's backup when the 49ers open the season at home Sept. 11 against the St. Louis Rams.

QUARTERBACK CODY PICKETT, A fourth-stringer, saw some action on special teams in the preseason, as Nolan looks for a way to get the promising second-year player on the field.

AFTER STRUGGLING IN THE first two exhibition games, the 49ers' No. 1 defense looked as if it's getting the hang of the new 3-4 scheme. In 2½ quarters, the 49ers held the Titans to 150 yards, one third-down conversion and three points.

"I thought they did a very good job," Nolan said. "The defense as a whole was very focused during the week of practice. They wanted it in the worst way."

NOLAN SAID HE IS leaning toward having training camp at the team's year-round practice facility in Santa Clara, Calif., every summer. On taking the job, Nolan expressed skepticism about the club's previous decision to keep camp close to home. Nolan said he likes that the general public was allowed to watch practices for the first time at the team's facility. He said he was pleased with the condition of the practice fields.

"I can't even say I'm 50-50 on the fence anymore," Nolan said. "I like it here. I really do."

WIDE RECEIVER P.J. FLECK, who was in line to be the No. 4 wideout, had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Defensive end Chris Cooper, who was placed on injured reserve Monday, also is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.

QUARTERBACK CODY PICKETT, A fourth-stringer, is virtually assured a spot on the 53-man roster. But Nolan is trying to see if he can find a way to suit up Pickett for games. Pickett is taking part in special teams on the punt, punt return and kickoff return teams in non-ballhandling roles.

FULLBACK TONY FICKLIN HAS moved into the backup role behind Fred Beasley. Ficklin is a converted defensive end from San Jose State. If he does not make the active roster, Ficklin will almost certainly be invited back to the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER FRED AMEY is making a strong bid for a roster spot. Amey, an undrafted free agent, is currently the No. 4 receiver and he might be the team's most reliable punt returner, other than starting receiver Arnaz Battle. Amey returned two kickoffs for 59 yards in last week's win over Tennessee and also had a key 12-yard reception in overtime on San Francisco's drive to the game-winning field goal.


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