Nolan, Niners ready for NFL Combine

Already this offseason, 49ers coach Mike Nolan and his staff have coached the South squad at the Senior Bowl, which is the best collection of talent of any of the college all-star games. Nolan has also popped in from time to time during two weeks of pre-combine meetings that vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan has held with the club's scouts. All this studying has made Nolan more prepared than he has ever been heading into the NFL scouting combine.

"Even as an assistant, I've never been up to speed as much as I am right now," Nolan said. "If 100 percent is the goal, I'm about 25 percent. In a normal year, I'd be about five (percent), if lucky. Right now, I have a lot more awareness of who the players are going in."

The 49ers will draft either sixth or seventh in the first round, pending the outcome of a coin toss with the Raiders to be held later this week at the combine in Indianapolis.

The Combine, the annual job interview for potential NFL players, is where the 49ers will get a group look at more than 330 prospects. It begins Wednesday and runs through Feb. 28 at the RCA Dome. The Combine consists of on-field drills, medical testing, exams and interviews with team personnel and the media.

The 49ers and their scouting personnel will get a closer look at individual prospects during their Pro Days at colleges around the nation beginning in early March.

The 49ers are expected to enter the free-agent signing period, which begins March 3, from $15 million to $20 million under the NFL's 2006 salary cap. Nolan said the team already has targeted some players to pursue. But he said the lifeblood of the organization will be the draft.

"The big thing for us is to supplement the holes we have with a free agent or two," said Nolan.

More important, Nolan said, is that the club has targeted some of its own players to re-sign. Kicker Joe Nedney and linebacker Derek Smith lead that group. Nedney is nearing a contract extension and is expected to be resigned. Smith is largely an unheralded performer who has led the 49ers in tackles in each of his five years with the club.

The 49ers are not expected to place the franchise tag on any of their players by Thursday's deadline for NFL teams to designate franchise and transition players.

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