Positive signs for the Nolan plan

Coach Mike Nolan could have taken a short-sighted approach to the 49ers'rebuilding in the offseason. The 49ers had a lot of room for improvement, but Nolan said he does not believe in "quick fixes." He was reluctant to sign a handful of veterans who would've given the 49ers immediate upgrades but would not have fit into Nolan's long-term plans. The 49ers gave some hope last week that Nolan's plan is working with an upset victory over the Buccaneers.

"It reinforces what we've been saying all along, not only to the team but to the outsiders as well," Nolan said. "Our guys believe in what we're doing. There is an atmosphere and attitude in this building that is going to stay."

Now, they're looking to make it two victories in a row when they face the Giants on Sunday at Monster Park in San Francisco.

But the 49ers will be starting their fourth quarterback in five games, as second-year Cody Pickett is likely to get his first career start.

Rookie quarterback Alex Smith, who replaced Tim Rattay as the starter after four games, and Ken Dorsey are both injured. Although Dorsey practiced Wednesday and Thursday and could be available, he will not start due to a left ankle sprain. Rattay was traded to the Buccaneers on Oct. 18, leaving Pickett as the next in line.

The 49ers even signed free agent Jesse Palmer this week, and he might enter Sunday's game as the backup, though that role is likely to go to Dorsey if his ankle continues to hold up as it did earlier this week.

The 49ers have equaled the number of victories they achieved last year under the regime of general manager Terry Donahue and coach Dennis Erickson. But even after finishing with a league-worst 2-14 record, the 49ers did not make significant offseason upgrades to the unit.

"We didn't have a tremendous amount of (salary-cap) money," Nolan said. "More importantly, I didn't know about the whole team. So instead of saying, 'He's out, he's in,' and 'Let me get the guys I know' ... I wanted to give our guys a chance.

"It wasn't a situation where I had a lot of money to do things. That's where the quick fix comes along, and I don't believe in that because you don't build a foundation. I knew when I came in here, the building was gutted and we had a lot of work to do."

The only starters the 49ers acquired through free-agency were left tackle Jonas Jennings, who signed a seven-year, $36 million deal, and defensive end Marques Douglas, whom the 49ers awarded a three-year, $4.5 million deal.

They also signed veteran receiver Johnnie Morton to be the team's No. 3 receiver, and kicker Joe Nedney replaced Todd Peterson, who signed with the Falcons.

"Marques has done a great job for us," Nolan said. "Unfortunately, Jonas has been out. He would've kept doing well for us, and Johnnie has worn down just because of the amount of reps he has to take. Johnnie is a 15- to 20-play-a-game guy."

Each of those acquisitions is expected to have more than just short-term benefits for the organization. Douglas and Jennings figure to be with the 49ers for a while. Morton signed a two-year deal and is on the down side of his career, but his familiarity with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan enables him to take on a role as a mentor to the team's young wideouts that could have benefits long after he leaves.

Douglas said he suspected that the 49ers would have some rough days, but he stands firmly committed behind the direction of the organization under Nolan.

"When you lay that first brick to the house, you want to wait around and see what the house is going to look like," Douglas said. "This year is the first brick. I think we have many more games and more bricks to that house. Once we're done, we'll be happy."

Likewise, Morton said he would like to stay with the 49ers for a while. He said he definitely wants to come back to the 49ers next season and beyond.

"After being around the guys and the coaches and the way they run the program, it'll be good," Morton said. "It's just a matter of time. I hate to say that. I know people want to be a little more optimistic and say we can turn it around and have a winning season real fast. That's what we're striving for, but at the same time we're going to have to take our lumps."

SERIES HISTORY VS. GIANTS: 32nd meeting. The 49ers lead 17-14, including victories in their last six meetings.


-- Quarterback Cody Pickett has seen very little action at his chosen position this season. Since the middle of the team's exhibition season, Pickett has worked on special teams. He has also spent a lot of practice time at wide receiver.

On Sunday, he was summoned as the "personal protector" on the 49ers' punt team. He then ran the field and made a tackle against the Buccaneers. Then, he had to go into the game at quarterback because Ken Dorsey had been injured on the play leading up to the punt.

Now, Pickett will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Giants.

"It's been a crazy process," Pickett said. "From when Alex (Smith) was drafted to being the fourth guy and not getting many reps during the preseason. Then, I was asked to cover punts, block for punts and having to play at receiver has been fun. It's been a roller coaster. Now I'm getting an opportunity to play, and I'm looking forward to it."

--- Defensive coordinator Billy Davis, who was the Giants' linebackers coach last season, says Giants quarterback Eli Manning is doing a much better job of using all of his offensive playmakers this season.

"He can spread the ball to all his weapons, just like his brother does," David said. "The job of a great quarterback is to give the ball to the weapons. They got (Jeremy) Shockey, Tiki (Barber), Amani (Toomer), Plaxico (Burress) ... they got some weapons now. That team's been put together well. We can't put all our emphasis on stopping one because Eli will find someone else."

--- K Joe Nedney won Special Teams Player of Week honors for the seventh time. Nedney became the first player in NFL history to win the award with five different teams (Miami, Arizona, Carolina, Tennessee and San Francisco).

"I could write a book on how to get cut," said Nedney, who is in his ninth NFL season with seven different teams.

--- Quarterback Alex Smith is the only rookie who has started this season for the 49ers despite the club selecting four players in the first three rounds of the draft.

Two of the other first-day picks were offensive linemen David Baas and Adam Snyder. Running back Frank Gore, chosen at the top of the third round, has done well when given a chance. Gore has gained 238 yards on 44 carries for a 5.4-yard average.

Coach Mike Nolan stated that generally it is easier to get defensive players on the field right away.

"When you do it on offense, particularly like we did, taking a quarterback and offensive linemen, those are two of the more difficult positions to get on the field," Nolan said. "When I look at the draft, we drafted guys high position-wise that take a little longer to get on the field."

But that is not necessarily the case. Thirty-seven rookies across the league started recent games for their teams, and 22 of them play offense. Ten of the rookie starters were on the offensive line.

--- Nolan traded away linebacker Jamie Winborn and quarterback Tim Rattay, and then the team became short-handed at those spots because of injuries. But Nolan said his only regret is that he didn't make those trades sooner.

"Obviously, if I had known everything I know now, I would've dealt a couple players quicker," Nolan said. "If I could do it all over I'd do a lot of things. There have been several things I've learned."

--- Because there is not a lot of talent across the board, the team has decided not to throw some of its young, promising players onto the field to develop - such as rookie offensive linemen David Baas and Adam Snyder.

"If we were a good football team and we had a Baas and Snyder behind a really good line, you can put them in with those other guys because it's already solid," Nolan said. "The offensive line is actually one of the areas as we go forward is going to get good. But secondary is an area that was very evident that we didn't have any depth early."

BY THE NUMBERS: In three games with Alex Smith, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett at quarterback, 49ers receivers have just nine catches for 99 yards. One of those completions was a 43-yarder to Brandon Lloyd against the Redskins.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're at 2-5, but 2-5 is a lot better than 1-5, which is where we were a week ago. It allows us to stay on track. One is our purpose, which we will never get off of. That's the personnel, structure and chemistry. It's also with our goals; our goals being to take command of the division" -- Nolan on the importance of the 49ers' victory last Sunday over the Buccaneers.


--- QB Jesse Palmer, released by the Giants prior to the start of the regular season, was signed Tuesday and has looked good during sparse practice opportunities as he gets a crash course on absorbing the San Francisco offense.

--- QB Alex Smith's knee brace finally came off Thursday and he is aiming to return to practice next week. He sustained a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during the Oct. 23 game against the Redskins. He'll miss Sunday's game and also could miss the Nov. 13 game at Chicago.

--- QB Ken Dorsey will not start this week's game against the Giants because of a left ankle sprain. The club is hoping that he will be in good enough shape to serve as the backup quarterback behind Pickett, and Dorsey has looked healthy enough in practice this week to fill that role.

--- LB Derek Smith is more than halfway to another 100-tackle season. He leads the 49ers through seven games with 58 tackles. He had 100 or more tackles in each of his first eight seasons, joining Miami's Zack Thomas and Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks as the active leaders in that category.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer is likely to miss another two games, Nolan said. Plummer underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his ankle last month. He has missed the last three games.

--- S Jeremy Thornburg, who was released to make room on the roster for Palmer, was claimed off waivers by the Packers. The 49ers hoped to sign Thornburg to their practice squad.

--- DE Bryant Young had his third multi-sack game of the season against the Buccaneers, recording both sacks in the closing two minutes as the 49ers held onto a five-point victory. He is tied for the NFL lead with eight sacks through seven games.

--RB Brian Allen, originally a sixth-round pick of the Colts in 2002 from Stanford, was added to the practice squad earlier this week.

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