Niners dump TE Smith; bring in former Raven

Disappointed with a player they had hoped would add some spark to their floundering passing game at the tight end position, the 49ers waived second-year veteran Trent Smith on Tuesday, replacing him on the roster with another tight end that coach Mike Nolan had worked with during his days as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.

The 49ers claimed and were awarded tight end Terry Jones off waivers from Baltimore. Jones (6-3, 260) was originally drafted by Baltimore in the fifth-round out of Alabama in 2002.

Jones will take the roster spot vacated by the release of Smith, who dropped almost as many passes as he caught with the 49ers since being picked up off waivers from Baltimore before the beginning of the season.

The most consequential of those drops came in the first quarter against the New York Giants, when Smith got behind the New York secondary and dropped a perfectly-thrown pass from Cody Pickett on a play that would have given the 49ers an early scoring opportunity deep in Giants territory.

When asked last week if he had talked to Smith about the drop, Nolan said cryptically, "I have not spoken to him directly, but I said a couple of words to him. Most of them have given him a few looks. That's about it. He'll get another chance. It's not quite like parenting with a family where you can drive something home. You have so many players, so you tell them once or twice and if they don't get it then you just let them know that we only have so much time for them. I hope he knows."

Smith's time, obviously, ran out when he did nothing to help the passing game again in last week's 17-9 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Smith has the speed to beat linebackers in coverage, and the 49ers had hoped he would be able to help compensate for the loss of Eric Johnson as the team's receiving tight end. But Smith didn't come close to adequately filling that role. He finished his career in San Francisco with three receptions for just seven yards in the five games he played with the 49ers (he was inactive for four games), including starts in Week 8 against Tampa Bay and Week 9 against New York. Rookie Billy Bajema replaced Smith in the starting lineup last week at Chicago.

Jones has been a part-time starter for the Ravens over the last two seasons, making 10 starts in 2004 and 13 in 2003. The Ravens utilized his blocking ability in their three-tight end sets. Jones played in three games in 2005 with the Ravens but did not have any receptions. He has 50 receptions for 417 yards with five touchdowns during his four-year NFL career.

Smith was claimed off waivers from Baltimore by the 49ers on September 4. Smith (6-5, 245) was originally drafted by Baltimore in the seventh round in 2003 out of Oklahoma. He missed his first two NFL seasons after suffering a broken leg during his first preseason game as a rookie in 2003. He had complications from the injury in 2004 and spent the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Smith was waived by the Ravens following training camp in 2005.

In another roster move, the 49ers also re-signed center Norm Katnik to the practice squad. Katnik was waived from the 53-man roster Monday.

SEARCHING FOR A PASSING GAME

The 49ers' passing game has been abysmal in the past six games, as the team has tried four quarterbacks.

San Francisco has managed just two offensive touchdowns in the past six games. Nolan said he won't be sure until later in the week who would play quarterback in Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks.

In fact, Nolan left it wide open. Fourth-stringer Jesse Palmer is the only quarterback Nolan did not mention as a potential starter for Sunday's game.

Pickett got his second straight start in the 49ers' loss to the Bears. He completed a franchise-low one pass in 13 attempts for just 28 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.

"It's hard to say with a young quarterback that it's a step back because they start at such a low level as it is," Nolan said in evaluating Pickett's performance. "He didn't play as well as a week ago, but there's always a lot of things that contribute to that."

So who starts against the Seahawks? It's anybody's guess at this point. Pickett started because backup Ken Dorsey was still hobbled by an ankle sprain. Dorsey started one game after rookie Alex Smith went down with a sprained right knee on Oct. 23 against the Redskins.

"The only healthy one we had last week was Cody, so that's why Cody got the start," Nolan said. "There's a possibility that Ken will start if he's healthy. And if Alex is healthy, there's a possibility he will as well. So we'll wait and see on Wednesday which of the group is healthy."

The 49ers' depth chart remains Smith as the starter, followed by Dorsey and Pickett, Nolan said.

Since the 49ers banished starter Tim Rattay, the club has struggled with its quarterback play. Smith, Dorsey and Pickett have combined for a passer rating of 24.7 this season. The 49ers have not thrown a TD pass since a Week 3 loss to the Cowboys.


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