Time coming to go young along offensive line?

The 49ers spent their bye week getting some of their younger offensive linemen into the mix, and they may become more prominent in the team's plans as the season progresses.

The Niners practiced Wednesday and Thursday this week before coach Mike Nolan gave his team a three-day weekend, and guard/center David Baas - the team's second-round draft pick – spent a lot of the practice time at both positions. Guard/tackle Adam Snyder – the second of the team's two third-round picks – saw a lot of work in practice on the right side.

Baas might have been a starter for the 49ers, but he sustained a torn hamstring muscle a week prior to training camp. He missed almost all of camp, which set him back and made it impossible for him to win a starting job at the start of the season.

"If he had gone through training camp, we might be talking differently about it," Nolan said. "He missed six weeks. That's a lot of time."

But now the youngsters along the line – including seventh-round pick Patrick Estes, who's being converted to tackle after playing tight end in college – have knowledge of the 49ers' system and some experience at the professional level. Their roles could increase depending on how things shake out elsewhere along the line, where both left tackle Jonas Jennings and center Jeremy Newberry are hurting with serious injuries.

"It could look very different than it does now," Nolan said. "Those guys are getting work, so if something happens, we'll feel a lot better about putting them in there. They're big, strong, athletic guys that are going to be good players. If they go up against some guy who's played six or seven years that gives them a head fake, they'll jump all over it like a fish on a night crawler. They have to learn to hold their water. Guys in college couldn't do that to them. They were mauling everybody, but there's a difference at this level. They meet their match."

Nolan says the 49ers are fortunate he hasn't had to push the youngsters into action sooner than the team wanted. Snyder practiced all summer as the starter at right guard, but went to the bench for the season opener when Newberry was able to make it to the opening bell of the season. Eric Heitmann, who had played all summer at center in Newberry's place, moved back to become the starter at right guard.

"There's been some (rookie) offensive lineman that haven't had to play, which is good," Nolan said. "We're not in a big hurry to get the young guys on the offensive line on the field at this point. But our young guys are getting work. They're going to be good. They could show up at some point."

The 49ers also remain high on Estes, who started the preseason opener at left tackle when Jennings was injured. However, the 49ers have since signed Anthony Clement, who will start as long as Jennings is out of action.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--- WR Brandon Lloyd, who had two consecutive 100-yard receiving games, started to see some increased attention against the Colts last Sunday. Lloyd did not have a reception, which was partly a result of his inability to get open and partly because rookie QB Alex Smith had a difficult time getting the ball down the field.

--- TE Trent Smith has one catch for no yards this season, but Nolan said the team is spending the bye week looking for ways to get possibly their best pass-catching TE on the field and making more of an impact.

--- RT Kwame Harris has not shown the consistency the team would like to see out of him, but nobody is giving up hope he can be a solid player. He spent his first two seasons as a LT. "It's too bad that he hasn't been there for three years," said. "He went there this year, so it's like a rookie starting again."

--- P Andy Lee is having a pretty good season, with a net punting average of 38.7 yards. His gross average is 42.9. The 49ers have not had a punter with an average better than 42 yards since Tom Wittum had a 43.7 average in 1973.

--- WR Arnaz Battle is not expected to be ready for the Oct. 23 game against the Redskins due to a right knee sprain. Battle did not play against the Cardinals on Oct. 2 and saw limited action last Sunday against the Colts, as he was held without a catch. He is second on the team with 15 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns.

--- LB Saleem Rasheed, who started against the Colts in place of Julian Peterson, will make his fifth career start when the 49ers face the Redskins. Rasheed takes over for Jeff Ulbrich, the team's second-leading tackler, who has opted for season-ending surgery to reattach his left biceps tendon.

--- RG Eric Heitmann has been grading out better than any of the team's other offensive lineman. Heitmann has been good in pass protection, as well as a player the 49ers have had some success running behind.

--- WR Johnnie Morton, the team's No. 3 wideout, caught the only pass in Smith's starting debut to someone other than a back or tight end. Morton has 10 catches for 112 yards in the 49ers' first five games.

--- CB Bruce Thornton might get his second career start Oct. 23 against the Redskins. Thornton was impressive in his starting debut against the Colts. He held Marvin Harrison to two catches for 17 yards and added an interception. The 49ers are hopeful rookie Derrick Johnson will be available after missing a game with a thigh strain.

INJURY UPDATE

--- LB Jeff Ulbrich was placed on injured reserve after scheduling surgery to reattach the left biceps tendon his arm. Ulbrich plans to spend much of the remainder of the season working with assistant head coach Mike Singletary as a quasi-coach. Singletary has a lot of respect for Ulbrich's approach for the game.

--- LT Jonas Jennings has missed two games with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The injury could lead to season-ending surgery, though Jennings said he is determined to try to return to practice next week and return to play later this month. If his shoulder isn't strong enough by the end of this month, he probably will have surgery and miss the rest of the season.

--- LB Julian Peterson (right hamstring) is questionable for the Oct. 23 game against the Redskins. He saw about five snaps last week against the Colts after missing the previous week's game against the Cardinals.

--- CB Willie Middlebrooks should be able to return to action after the bye week. He missed last week's game with a groin strain.

--- C Jeremy Newberry has a chronic knee problem but is expected to play Oct. 23 against the Redskins. His status remains week to week, though he has held up reasonably well playing on a right knee that has virtually no cartilage.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer is expected to miss two or three more games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery two weeks ago on his left ankle.

--- WR Derrick Hamilton is on the physically unable to perform list, which makes him ineligible for the first six weeks of the regular season. It is unlikely he will play this season due to a torn ACL he sustained in the offseason, though Nolan says, "At some point he'll be able to come out and practice for a few weeks, and then we'll make a determination of where he's at - whether we put him back on IR or take him off PUP."


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