Silver lining in a bad deal?

There are not a whole lot of encouraging aspects of the 49ers' season. The club is struggling with a 2-11 record, and the offense ranks last in the league, averaging just 209.6 yards per game. But coach Mike Nolan said there is reason for optimism because the offensive line and the quarterback are young and should get a lot better.

"There are things to be learned from that experience that should make our offensive players better as we go forward," Nolan said when discussing Sunday's 41-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. "You can say that's the silver lining in a bad deal."

Rookie quarterback Alex Smith continues to struggle, and he does not have a group of competent veteran offensive players on whom to lean.

"We not only have (a rookie quarterback), but the offensive line is being put together at the same time, and that makes it tough," Nolan said. "If you have an experienced line in front of you, at least you have the time to sit in there and go where you want to.

"For us, there was a lack of continuity at the quarterback position but on offensive line as well."

The 49ers are starting two rookie offensive linemen whom the organization expects will be solid players in the future. Adam Snyder generally has played well in his four starts at left tackle after taking over for veteran Anthony Clement. Also, right guard David Baas has shown some improvement in his two starts.

"The offensive line is getting better and better," Nolan said. "A lot of that has to do with playing together the last few weeks. Snyder has been a real plus, and (guard) Justin Smiley's getting better. And Baas is getting in there. He's had his mistakes, but he's moving in the right direction.

"What leads me to be optimistic about the future? I know what maturity and experience and continuity bring. You can't get it overnight."


--- Smith experienced more trouble holding onto the football Sunday against the Seahawks. In two road games, Smith has fumbled six times, two of which resulted in turnovers. In Seattle, the ball slipped out of his hands four times, one of which was ruled an incomplete pass.

Smith seems to be at a loss why he has trouble keeping his grip.

"You know, that is something that I have to fix," Smith said. "I am going to be playing in away games in cold places. I am going to be playing wherever. I don't care what the ball is like or what the environment is, it is something I have to fix."

The temperature was 36 degrees at kickoff with humidity at 97 percent at Qwest Field. Nolan said he never considered Smith's hand size as a problem when the club was evaluating him prior to last year's draft.

"I'd say Alex is just above medium, if I were guess," Nolan said. "But he was not a guy coming out that you'd say had small hands - just normal-size hands."

--- Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago at Utah, was thrilled that his former Helix High (La Mesa, Calif.) teammate Reggie Bush was named the winner of the award Saturday.

Smith said he spoke with Bush last week but had not spoken to him after the USC tailback earned the honor as college football's best player.

"I'm happy for him," Smith said. "I know he's worked really hard to get where he is today. He's excited about it. It's a great honor."

-- Smith has compiled a meager 24.7 passer rating this season. He has completed just 50 percent of his passes (48 of 96) for 462 yards with no touchdowns and nine interceptions.

--- RB Kevan Barlow has not been very productive in his two seasons as the team's featured back. Last year he rushed for just 822 yards with a 3.4-yard average. This season, he has gained 581 yards with a 3.3-yard average.

--- DE Bryant Young might be able to return to practice this week after missing three games with ligament and cartilage tears in his right knee. He still leads the 49ers with eight sacks.

--- CB Bruce Thornton, who has started nine games this season because of injuries in the secondary, recorded his second interception Sunday. He picked off Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck inside the 49ers 5-yard line.

--- WR Arnaz Battle, who has missed five games this season and two other starts because of a stress fracture in his right knee, might be able to return to the lineup this week. The 49ers are working on a contract extension for Battle, who is scheduled to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

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