No future for Pickett in pocket with 49ers?

Cody Pickett, who once was seen as a promising prospect at quarterback with the 49ers, might have to earn his job with the team in 2006 at a different position. Coach Mike Nolan does not see much hope for Pickett in the immediate future with the Niners at quarterback because 2005 top overall pick Alex Smith and veteran backup Trent Dilfer are ahead of him on the depth chart.

Moreover, the 49ers signed free-agent quarterback Shaun Hill, who has yet to attempt a pass in four NFL seasons, and five-year veteran Jesse Palmer has thrown the ball as impressively as anyone during the team's offseason program.

When asked if Pickett's future in the NFL might be at a different position, Nolan answered, "I don't know that. (But) it will be difficult here, right now."

The 49ers plan to use Pickett as a slot receiver during training camp, the spot in Norv Turner's offense that is similar to the H-back position used around the league. Last season, Pickett looked impressive on the practice field for the scout team against the No. 1 defense. Pickett also saw action in three games on special teams.

"I like Cody," Nolan said. "He's competitive, he's tough and he makes us better for competing for those jobs. He's a versatile guy, he works and he's accountable."

Pickett started two games at quarterback last season, including a game played at Chicago's Soldier Field, where wind speeds reached 47 mph. Pickett completed just one of 13 passing attempts for 28 yards in a 17-9 loss, setting a record for the fewest completions in a game in the franchise's 60-year history.

Niners vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan had hoped to send Pickett to NFL Europe this spring for some seasoning, but Pickett preferred to remain in the Bay Area, where he has demonstrated perfect attendance in the offseason program. Nolan said he initially favored Pickett going to NFL Europe but says he later changed his mind.

Hill comes to the 49ers after spending four seasons with the Vikings. Hill saw action in just one game, entering last season's finale against the Bears long enough to take two snaps at the end of a 34-10 victory.

"Any time we can have the competition, that's the biggest thing," Nolan said. "(Hill) is a guy who can do that. He'll challenge, for sure, for that second and third spot."

The 49ers might keep four quarterbacks on their roster this season Pickett adapts to a role in which he plays some receiver and special teams, Nolan said. With Palmer apparently pushing ahead in the battle for the No. 3 role, Pickett might have a lot more on his plate this season.

"We've met with him (about an expanded role)," Nolan said. "Some of the passing days, he went out and played a little wide receiver. We're trying to give him a role of 'slash.'"

Nolan said about the only way that Pickett will get a chance to play this season, barring injuries to the players in front of him, is if he can become a contributor as a spot player on offense and special teams.

--- Quarterback Alex Smith has shown some improvement during the 49ers' offseason program. How much? Everybody will just have to wait and see.

"He's got a ways to go, but I see improvement," Nolan said.

Smith completed just 50.9 percent of his passes and threw 11 interceptions and just one touchdown while starting seven games. Nolan said nobody will be able to determine just how far Smith has come along until the games begin for real.

"For example, the decision-making process in a game is a lot different than in practice," Nolan said. "In practice, you know nobody's going to hit you. You can see some of it (the areas in which he has improved), but you can't see the total thing. I'd love him to be a grown up, mature adult at the quarterback position."

--- The 49ers will hold their final sessions of organized team activities at their Santa Clara, Calif., practice facility this week. The 49ers hope their new synthetic field is completely installed so they can get a couple practices in on the turf before the first training camp practice on July 28.

--- The 49ers claimed linebacker Andre Torrey off waivers from the Texans. Torrey originally signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent last year. He spent time on the Texans' practice squad after the Patriots released him. Torrey recorded 55 tackles with two sacks and two forced fumbles with the Berlin Thunder this spring in NFL Europe.

--- NFL Europe was not kind to a couple players the 49ers allocated to the league. Quarterback Bryson Spinner and tight end Trent Smith are rehabilitating shoulder injuries in Birmingham, Ala., and Nolan said neither is expected back any time soon.

--- Strong safety Tony Parrish, who has been out since sustaining a spiral fracture on his left lower leg in mid-November, might be able to return to the practice field for the final week of OTAs. As long as Parrish is healthy, he is a starter. The free-safety spot, however, is up for grabs. Mike Adams, who started nine games at free safety, is the front-runner to win the job. Free-agent acquisition Chad Williams, who is seen more as a strong-safety type, also is competing for a starting job. Rookie safeties Marcus Hudson and Vickiel Vaughn are too raw, Nolan said.

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