Net loss on defense; Harris not being shopped

The 49ers' defense was ranked worst in the NFL last season, and 2006 has not started off so well, either. San Francisco saw two of its top defenders leave in March, making it three starting linebackers who've departed since the 2005 season began in September. But the Niners figure those players can be replaced in a LB-rich draft or at some point later in free agency. They're also looking to fortify the secondary in the same fashion after releasing their top cornerback of the past six seasons.

Linebacker Julian Peterson, regarded as the team's most talented player for several years, left the 49ers to play for the Seahawks, an NFC West opponent. The 49ers were not willing to come anywhere near what the Seahawks awarded Peterson -- a seven-year deal worth $54 million -- to retain Peterson.

"I would say it affects our team," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "J.P. is a good player, is well-liked and is very athletic. He had a lot to do with the success they've had here. It affects us in a way that we have to get a player to fill the linebacker position. It could be addressed in the draft or it could be free agency. There are a lot of linebackers in the draft, and when somebody drafts them, they could turn a veteran guy loose."

Since the beginning of the 2005 season, the 49ers have traded starting linebacker Jamie Winborn for a seventh-round draft pick, cut oft-injured starting cornerback Ahmed Plummer and lost Peterson and defensive end/linebacker Andre Carter to free agency.

The team's top draft picks in 2000 and 2001, respectively, Peterson is a two-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2003, and Carter has been one of the team's top pass-rushing threats since leading the team with 12.5 sacks in 2002. Neither player has done much to help the team win the past two seasons, however, and the 49ers allowed both to leave to big-money contracts elsewhere.

The only potential defensive contributor the 49ers have signed is Walt Harris, a 10-year player who started 12 games for the Redskins last season but is best suited as a third cornerback at this stage in his career.

The 49ers will undoubtedly turn to the draft to bolster their defense. The club has 11 draft picks, including five selections in the first 100 picks. They are in particular need of pass rushers and help for the defensive backfield.

Peterson and Carter were expected to carry much of the team's burden last year in getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But Carter recorded just 4.5 sacks, and Peterson chipped in with only three - including just half a sack in the team's final 15 games.

But without Peterson and Carter, the 49ers are currently lacking anyone with the potential to put up big sack numbers.

Defensive end Bryant Young thrived in the first half of the season in the team's new 3-4 scheme after moving from defensive tackle. Young led the team with eight sacks, but was shut out in the final nine games, three of which he missed due to a knee injury.


--- Amid a report that the Falcons are interested in acquiring 49ers tackle Kwame Harris, a first-round pick who has played three less-than-impressive seasons, Niners coach Mike Nolan said the team is not shopping him.

"He is our starting right tackle," Nolan said.

But for how much longer? Harris will receive competition to hold onto his starting job from Adam Snyder, a third-round draft pick in 2005 who started the last seven games at left tackle as a rookie. Most onlookers expect Snyder to win the starting job.

Jonas Jennings, a high-priced acquisition a year ago, missed the final 13 games of his first season with the club due to a shoulder injury. But he is expected to return as the starting left tackle in 2006, where he could form a formidable left side with newcomer left guard Larry Allen.

--- Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo did not disappoint.

In commemoration of the organization's first Super Bowl season, DeBartolo reserved 300 rooms in Las Vegas for more than 500 individuals associated with the team's five Super Bowl titles under his command. Upon checking into their rooms, each couple received $500 in gambling chips and a $300 gift card.

DeBartolo also awarded an abundance of prize money for the top 20 finishers in golf, poker and slot tournaments. The guest list included Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig and Deion Sanders, as well as former head coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert, and former assistants Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden.

One of the highlights was when Seifert bemoaned that he never got carried off the field after either of his two Super Bowl titles as head coach. At that point, several players rose, hoisted Seifert on their shoulders and carried him around the lavish ballroom at the Paris Hotel.

--- Allen, who recently signed with the 49ers after spending his first 12 seasons in the NFL with the Cowboys, is scheduled to return to face his former team in the third exhibition game during the week of Aug. 24-28.

Generally, the next-to-last exhibition game is when the starters see their most action. The game is also notable because this time, when the 49ers play in Texas Stadium, receiver Terrell Owens will likely to be affiliated with the home team.

Barring an injury or the always-possible scenario that Owens might not suit up due to disciplinary reasons, the 49ers will face Owens at the scene of his most infamous antic. In 2000, Owens twice ran to midfield to pose on the Cowboys star. Then-49ers coach Steve Mariucci suspended Owens for a game for conduct detrimental to the team following that incident.

--- Running back Terry Jackson, an eight-year player with the 49ers, recently completed his first of two academic sessions at Harvard as part of the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program.

"It was a great experience," Jackson said. "The days were long and we had homework and reading to do every night, but it was a great refresher. You can never get enough education."

--- Howard Wayne "Red" Hickey, who posted a 27-27-1 record in more than four seasons as head coach of the 49ers, died this week.

Hickey was best known for implementing the shotgun formation with the 49ers in 1960, devising the offensive formation to give his quarterbacks more time against the Colts' fierce pass rush. The 49ers won that game 30-22 over the heavily favored Colts with third-string quarterback Bob Waters filling in for injured Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie.

"We were saddened to hear of the passing of Red Hickey," the 49ers said in a statement. "Red was an innovator and pioneer, and his contributions to not only the San Francisco 49ers but to the football community will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hickey family at this difficult time."

The family is requesting donations be made to the Hospice Caring Project of Santa Cruz County, 940 Disc Drive, Scotts Valley, CA, 95066.

--- QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're working on everything. We're not resting. I wish we were. I might get a weekend off" -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the 49ers' work toward hiring a high-level executive, remaining involved in free agency and continued preparations for the draft.


1. Pass rusher: The 49ers have already lost Andre Carter to the Redskins through free agency, and OLB Julian Peterson signed with Seattle. The 49ers need to find players to put heat on the quarterback, whether he is a DE or an OLB in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme.

2. Defensive back: The 49ers added CB Walt Harris through free agency, but they're not through at this position. Harris is ideally suited to be a nickel back. The 49ers need another good CB. They also are in the market for a free safety to take over for Mike Adams, who started 10 games last season and struggled.

3. Tight end: Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle appear set as the team's starting receivers, but the 49ers need to find some help in the passing game from the tight position. Tight end Eric Johnson is expected to return after missing all of last season with a foot injury, but they need to find someone who is not so injury-prone to be a factor as a pass catcher.




UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Marques Anderson; TE Steve Bush; OT Anthony Clement; DE Travis Hall; LB Saleem Rasheed.



PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: FB Chris Hetherington; RB Maurice Hicks; TE Terry Jones; WR Jason McAddley; LB Brandon Moore; PK Joe Nedney; S Kris Richard; LB Derek Smith.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OG Larry Allen; WR Antonio Bryant; WR Bryan Gilmore; CB Walt Harris; QB Jesse Palmer.

PLAYERS LOST: FB Fred Beasley; LB Andre Carter; DE Chris Cooper; WR Brandon Lloyd; WR Johnnie Morton; LB Julian Peterson; CB Ahmed Plummer.

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