Future will be on display rest of way

The 49ers might start as many as six rookies again when they face the Rams on Saturday in their penultimate game of the season. In recent games, the 49ers have gotten a chance to see more of their younger players, and those youngsters have generally played well.

"Those young guys really stepped up and made some plays," veteran defensive end Bryant Young said. "The way our young guys are playing is promising for our future."

The future of the franchise might rest on the shoulders of quarterback Alex Smith, but he has struggled in his first five starts. However, last Sunday a couple of other rookies looked solid in a loss to the Jaguars.

Running back Frank Gore made a bid to keep the starting job from Kevan Barlow, whose left knee bruise kept him out of the starting lineup. Gore, a third-round draft pick from the University of Miami, rushed for 79 yards rushing on a career-high 19 carries. He also caught a team-high three passes for 57 yards.

Derrick Johnson, making his first start since the fourth week of the season, played well at right cornerback. He broke up two passes in a strong showing from the 49ers' young secondary.

The 49ers started four rookies on offense, including linemen Adam Snyder and David Baas. Ben Emanuel, another rookie, started at strong safety. In addition, first-year player B.J. Tucker saw significant action as the team's third cornerback, as starter Shawntae Spencer was sidelined with a quadriceps strain.

"They're fighting their tails off," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Some of them will be future backups; some might continue to be starters. We'll see. But they're getting a lot of work on the job."

GAME REPLAY VS. JAGUARS

The 49ers pulled into a tie with the Texans for the worst record in the league while providing their most competitive showing in a road game this season. The 49ers were held without an offensive touchdown for the eighth time in 14 games this season in their 10-9 loss to the Jaguars at Alltel Stadium. Kicker Joe Nedney scored all of San Francisco's points in a game for the seventh time this season.

Smith completed just eight of 24 passes for 123 yards with one interception. The 49ers converted just one of 13 third-down attempts. The 49ers did not register a first down on their final five offensive possessions, as the club managed just 5 net yards during those series.

"We're getting to the point where we were thinking we can win this game," Nolan said. "They can feel good about little victories along the way, but it's the big one you want."

PLAYER NOTES

--- DE Bryant Young returned to the starting lineup Sunday after missing three games with ligament and cartilage tears to his right knee. Young's return provided inspiration for the team, coach Mike Nolan said.

--- WR Arnaz Battle, who missed his sixth game of the season with a right knee problem that was recently diagnosed as a stress fracture, is closing in on a contract extension with the club. Battle is scheduled to be a restricted free agent.

--- LB Julian Peterson sustained a slight separation of his right shoulder against the Jaguars. He admitted that the condition prevented him from being as physical as he wanted to be. Peterson whiffed on a tackle attempt of Jaguars QB David Garrard on a play that resulted in the game's only touchdown.

--- CB Shawntae Spencer missed his first game of the season, as he sat after sustaining a strained quadriceps during practice last week. Spencer was the team's only defensive back to start the first 13 games of the season.

--- WR Brandon Lloyd caught one pass for 6 yards at Jacksonville before leaving with a neck strain. Lloyd was listed as questionable on the team's preliminary injury report, but he said he expects to practice Wednesday and be available for the game against the Rams on Saturday.


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