'The future is today'

Outside the 49ers' locker room hangs a banner that reads: "Win the West." The 49ers, 2-9 after another dismal loss at Tennessee, will not compete for the NFC West title this season, but coach Mike Nolan said he's not taking the banner down. After all, he said, the sign does not state which year he's talking about. And, with Jeremy Newberry headed for the IR list and rookie Alex Smith taking over again at QB this week, the 49ers certainly are a team that's now playing for next year and beyond.

The 49ers might be building for the future, but Nolan said he the best way to get the team in position to make some noise next season is to take care of business in the final five games of this season.

"The future is today," Nolan said. "Everything we do today will lead to what will happen in the future."

The 49ers face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and Nolan announced Monday that he is going back to rookie Alex Smith as his starting quarterback.

Third-year player Ken Dorsey started the past two games because Nolan said he believes Dorsey gave the team the best chance to win. But now Nolan said it's time to get the team's projected QB of the future back on the field.

"When he got back to practice the week before last, he was rusty," Nolan said. "I thought he was still a little last week, not just in his quarterback play, but with his knee and wearing the brace and setting up in the pocket. He's healthy now. That won't be an excuse. Before it could have been one. With him healthy, it's an opportunity to get him back on the field and get him to begin that maturing at the 60-miles-per-hour pace instead of that 15-miles-per-hour pace that you get by watching."

Dorsey had perhaps the best game of his career against the Seahawks a week ago and played adequately against the Titans on Sunday despite dealing with weak protection when he attempted to pass. Both of Dorsey's interceptions weren't his fault.

But Nolan didn't hesitate Monday to go back to Smith instead of waiting later in the week to announce his starting quarterback, as he did last week.

"The future is Alex, to some degree, but right now it's about winning," Nolan said. "I have 10 other guys who want to win and see themselves getting better with that goal in mind. If I pull that goal away from those guys, that takes away from what they want to do to begin with."

The 49ers have lost four consecutive games, and three of their final five games are on the road. The 49ers are in danger of owning the No. 1 pick in the draft for a second consecutive season.

Nolan said he is not going to just play younger players for the sake of getting them experience. He said when a change has been made to go young, it has been because of injuries or because he believes the inexperienced player will make the club better.

There will be an injury change this week, even though Nolan began slowly transitioning rookie Davis Baas - the team's second-round draft pick - into the lineup last week before he suffered a concussion.

Baas will make his first NFL start this week against the Cardinals, with Eric Heitmann moving to center to take Newberry's place the remainder of the season.

Newberry, after starting 10 games this season on a right knee that has virtually no cartilage, finally had taken about all the pounding he could absorb this season. He stopped practicing with the team in September, but still has been able to play reasonably well in games. He did not have a good game against the Titans, however.

Nolan said Newberry will have surgery this week or next. Newberry will need a major microfracture procedure that could end his career, though the possibility remains it also could allow him to return to action next season without the problems he has endured this year.

"We've spoken the last couple of weeks several times," said Nolan. "It's J's decision. His knee buckled a couple of times (in Tennessee) on him. It's an extremely difficult decision, but going forward, this week or next is the best time to get his knee worked on so the time clock in the future is better for him."

In other player news:

--- CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed seven games after arthroscopic ankle surgery, dressed for Sunday's game against the Titans but did not play. He is not expected to regain his starting job from second-year player Bruce Thornton.

--- RB Kevan Barlow had 40 yards rushing on 14 carries against Tennessee but had an impressive 75-yard scoring run nullified because of RT Kwame Harris' holding penalty.

--- CB Shawntae Spencer returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown against the Titans and had a career-high five passes defensed.

--- K Joe Nedney missed the Tennessee game with a groin strain, a condition he has been nursing most of the season. His availability for the Cardinals game is in doubt. The 49ers will stick with Jose Cortez to handle the kicking chores if Nedney is not ready, Nolan said.

--- WR Arnaz Battle is healthy after begin bothered by a right knee sprain for most of the past seven games. Battle had seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Titans.

--- LT Adam Snyder had a rough opening at Tennessee, getting called for a false start and then getting beaten badly in pass protection on two of the first three plays. But Snyder settled down and played much better after making some pass-set adjustments, he said.

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