Nolan continues to stick by his target

As Mike Nolan talked about changing starting quarterbacks and other injury-related issues Thursday, and how those injuries impact the 49ers' chances of success, he sounded like a coach resigned to battling his usual weekly dose of adversity. But when somebody suggested Nolan was sort of talking like a coach that doesn't really think his team stands a chance to win its division this year – Nolan's stated goal for the Niners since April – he refused once again to make that kind of admission.

"Wait a minute now," Nolan responded. "There are two areas to look at to me. There is the goal aspect of it, and certainly our goal slips away as we lose games at 1-5. But it's not gone."

With his team struggling through injuries and inexperience, among other things, Nolan's Niners rank last in the NFC in total offense and last in the NFL in total defense. They've been outscored 187-68 during their current five-game losing streak.

Most observers think the 49ers have a better chance of finishing 1-15 than they do of capturing a NFC West crown.

Still, Nolan is sticking by his earlier statement – which he has reiterated several times this year – even though evidence is mounting that suggests otherwise.

"We're developing a lot of young players," Nolan said. "Is that how you win the division? Maybe not. But in the meantime, that's our choice. The other things that you can't control, you don't control. When you have more of a depth football team and your starters aren't the real young guys, then when you go to those backups you're still a little stronger. Obviously, for us, we go to a different player than some teams might. I'm staying on target what with the goal. I haven't changed in that respect. Guys, there are no reasons to change."

Nolan went on: "Why do you change? Tell me what good it would do? Is it going to motivate your team? You know what it does, it makes an excuse for everybody on the outside to say, ‘OK, now he's finally admitted it, and now we can all hang our heads down.' You're not going to do that to these guys. These guys truly believe, and I truly believe still. So that's what I'm going to say. It's the right thing to do. That's what you do. You don't do the other. It's that simple."

It may be the right thing to do from Nolan's view, but is it realistic?

"In my mind it is," he said. "It is realistic. Is it lofty? Like I said in the beginning, it's a lofty goal. Did I say it was attainable? Yes it's attainable. It's lofty but attainable. Why would I get off that now? It might be even a little loftier than it was, but it's still attainable."

WALSH'S WISDOM: The 49ers are looking for something - anything - to show that there's some life in the organization and that Nolan isn't being foolish in stating his lofty goal still is attainable.

Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh knows all about the challenges that face Nolan, a first-year coach. He inherited a 2-14 team in 1979. In his first year, Walsh also had a 2-14 season.

He offered some advice to Nolan this week in an interview with the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat's Lowell Cohn.

"Don't talk about wins and losses; talk about the team's performance and areas where it's improving, be supportive of the players," Walsh said. "Give no false accolades about great performances by the quarterback, for example. People won't buy into that. If you win a game, it doesn't assure you of winning the next one. You can win and the next week have a total collapse. It takes time.

"I never stated my goals, winning the Super Bowl or winning the division. I'd have been embarrassed to talk about goals. All I wanted was to be competitive, to have pride and credibility."

Even after their thoroughly humiliating 52-17 loss to the Redskins on Sunday, Nolan was not backing down from his assertion that a trip to the playoffs is attainable, and he repeated that assertion in detail again after Thursday's practice.

But the 49ers have not show any reasons for that kind of hope.

In six games, the opposition has recorded 84 more first downs and 1,428 more total yards. Rookie Alex Smith, the franchise's future at quarterback, has struggled to a passer rating of 17.5.

"I believe it's difficult right now for everyone in what we're going through, but I do also believe that in the end it will make us stronger," Nolan said. "We are not the first team to go through difficult times, and we certainly won't be the last."

RETURN OF RATTAY: It might be a good thing for the 49ers this week that they will not be facing the former teammate who was traded to Tampa Bay last week. But they could also probably use his services this week against the Buccaneers, too.

Quarterback Tim Rattay, who tore apart the 49ers' first-team defense when he practiced on the scout team, will enter his first game for the Buccaneers as the No. 3 man on the roster. The 49ers face the Buccaneers this Sunday at Monster Park after dealing Rattay for a conditional sixth-round draft choice.

Smith, who took over for Rattay as the 49ers' starter after four games, isn't expected to play because of a right knee sprain. Backup Ken Dorsey will get his eighth career start, Nolan announced Thursday. Dorsey will be the third different quarterback to start for the Niners in their last four games.

While the 49ers have had some problems at quarterback this season, they've had an even more difficult time with opposing quarterbacks. The 49ers' defense has allowed the opposition a passer rating of 110.0.

This week the 49ers will face Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms, who is making his first start of the season after starter Brian Griese was lost for the year with a knee injury.

Rattay, meanwhile, will probably have to wait a while before getting a chance because of his lack of familiarity with the Tampa offense. He spent the team's bye week cramming to learn the system.

The 49ers have traded away three of their better players from last season because, apparently, they did not fit into Nolan's long-term plans for the organization.

Defensive end John Engelberger was traded to the Broncos for cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, whom the team has released twice but re-signed for this week's game; linebacker Jamie Winborn was traded to the Jaguars for a seventh-round pick; and Rattay was sent to the Buccaneers for a sixth-round selection.

"As I said all along I'm not about quick fixes, but I'm certainly not about 1-5 either," Nolan said.

LEARNING TO SLIDE: Smith could have avoided the hit from Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington that resulted in his sprained knee. He said the coaching staff reminded him that it is OK to slide.

"That conversation did come up," he said. "I've taken a lot of shots and never been seriously injured. There are times when to take a hit and times when not. I probably could've gotten down."

He said things are a lot different than his college days when he would leave the pocket.

"I had a target on me in college, but it's not like the target when an NFL quarterback rolls out of the pocket," Smith said. "You see everybody's eyes light up. Everybody turns and reacts to you. It wasn't like that at other levels."

SEEING RED: Veteran defensive end Bryant Young called every season-ticket holder to deliver a message to wear the color red to Sunday's game against the Buccaneers.

OK, Young did not actually dial the numbers, he made a recording that was sent in phone calls to the team's fan base. The message from the 49ers via Young is that now is the time to show your faith.

"We want to look up in the stands and see a red fog of 49ers fans," Young said.

REFLECTING FONDLY ON NFL ICON: Nolan reflected fondly on his friendship with Giants long-time owner Wellington Mara, who passed away this week. Nolan was a defensive assistant under Dan Reeves with the Giants for four seasons. Nolan's father, Dick, played for the Giants.

"Wellington Mara was one of the finest people the NFL has known," Nolan said. "He really was. He was a great man, he did a lot for a lot of players and took care of a lot of players after they played for him. He contributed so much to the NFL. I listened to all kinds of stories from my father who played for the Giants for eight years. I remember hearing about 'Well' and all the things he did for him.

"I just want to say that he will be missed, and I'll miss him personally because he's remained a friend ever since I left."

LINEMEN WILL LEARN LATER: The 49ers selected two offensive linemen on the first day of the draft, but neither has made his starting debut yet. Both guard/center David Baas and tackle/guard Adam Snyder are players the team believes will turn into solid NFL players, but the time has not been right to get them on the field, Nolan said.

"What you don't want to do is have two young linemen in there with a young quarterback and have them all learn at the same time," Nolan said. "If you can get around that a little bit, you'd like to. That's what we've done. With the young quarterbacks in there, we're trying to keep a little bit more experience in there because it takes a little bit off the quarterback's plate from a mental standpoint."

MORE GORE IN STORE: Running back Frank Gore is the only rookie who has played relatively well in an expanded role for the 49ers this season. Gore is making a pitch to get more playing time as the season progresses.

Gore, a third-round draft pick from the University of Miami (Fla.), scored his first NFL touchdown last Sunday, a 72-yard scamper against the Redskins.

"My time will come to be the man," Gore said. "I just got to keep working and try my best. Every time I get an opportunity I have to make the best of it. Right now, Kevan Barlow is the starter. It's tough for me. But my freshman year at Miami I went through the same thing."

Gore has impressed the 49ers' coaching staff with his running style. While Barlow often hesitates and "dances" too much, Gore hit the hole hard - like a man much bigger than his 5-foot-9, 217-pound frame.

"You'd think he's a 240-pound man sometimes the way he runs it up in there," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He's a tough nut."

Comparing Gore and Barlow, Nolan said, "They're two entirely different types of runners. Frank hits the hole pretty quick. He doesn't dance much, whereas sometimes Kevan will dance around the hole. He can learn from (Gore)."

Nolan said he is limiting Gore's carries because he does not want to overwork him. Gore's promising college career was derailed because of major injuries to both knees.

"Frank's shown a lot of flash, and I like Frank a lot," Nolan said. "I just don't want to go overboard with Frank because he's one of those guys that you have to keep healthy. He's got some nicks and things like that, so we want to make sure we've got him. Another thing is that if one of them goes down, we've got Maurice Hicks. I feel that we have three good backs."


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