Training camp potpourri
Get the passing game going: Quarterback Alex Smith had a miserable rookie season, but he did not get much help, either. The 49ers surrounded the top pick in the 2005 draft with perhaps the worst talent in the league. Still, if the 49ers are going to make a big leap from owning the lowest-rated passing offense in the league, Smith has to adapt quickly to new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system. The 49ers enter training camp with, essentially, a whole new group of pass-catchers for Smith. The club's new No. 1 receiver is Antonio Bryant, whom the 49ers signed as a free agent after he led the Browns with 69 catches for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns. A lot will be expected from rookie tight end Vernon Davis, a speedster who was chosen with the No. 6 overall pick. Additionally, backup tight end Eric Johnson, who led the team with 82 catches for 825 yards in 2004, is healthy again after missing last season with a foot injury. Arnaz Battle is a solid all-around wideout but was healthy for only three games last season because of a lingering knee problem. The 49ers are searching for a reliable No. 3 receiver with rookie Brandon Williams and journeymen Bryan Gilmore and Jason McAddley leading the group. Find a consistent pass rush: The 49ers did not put up much of a fight to retain outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter, who signed lucrative free-agent contracts with the Seahawks and Redskins, respectively. Although neither played well last season, Peterson and Carter represented about the only pass-rush potential on the team. Those expectations will have to be replaced this season, but by whom? The 49ers dealt for a second pick in the first round and landed outside linebacker Manny Lawson with the No. 22 overall selection. Lawson is the only accomplished pass-rusher on the team, and he has yet to put on pads at the NFL level. Twelve-year veteran Bryant Young led the 49ers with eight sacks last season, but he showed signs late in the season of wearing down. He did not record a sack in the team's final nine games, three of which he missed because of a knee injury. Because of the 49ers' unsettled secondary, it is more important than ever that the club generates heat on opposing quarterbacks. Last season, the 49ers recorded a sack once every 21.6 times the opposition dropped back. Settle the offensive line: The addition of future Hall of Fame lineman Larry Allen, who was signed the day after the Cowboys released him, at least means left guard on the 49ers' offensive line is spoken for. The 49ers' offensive line was one of the many weak spots last season. Quarterback Alex Smith was sacked once every 6.7 times he dropped back as a rookie. The only other spot on the line where there does not figure to be any competition is at left tackle, where it's Jonas Jennings' job as long as he's healthy. Jennings missed 13 games in his first season with the 49ers because of a shoulder injury. Former Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry rarely practiced with the team last season, as a knee injury kept him from working with the rest of the unit. He missed the final six games after finally opting for surgery. If he is unable to play this season, Eric Heitmann and David Baas will compete for the job. Heitmann and Baas will also compete with favored Justin Smiley at right guard. The best competition should be at right tackle, where incumbent Kwame Harris will have to work hard to hold off Adam Snyder. CAMP CALENDAR: Full squad reports on Thursday, July 27, with first practice scheduled for Friday, July 28. The 49ers will not hold a scrimmage. Nine dates are open to the public. Each of the nine open practices feature interactive games and player autograph sessions for fans. The free open practices are scheduled for Saturday, July 29 (9:00 a.m.), Monday, July 31 (4:00 p.m.), Wednesday, Aug. 2 (4:00 p.m.), Friday, Aug. 4 (4:00 p.m.), Saturday, Aug. 5 (3:00 p.m.), Monday, Aug. 7 (4:00 p.m.), Wednesday, Aug. 9 (4:00 p.m.), Sunday, Aug. 13 (9:40 a.m.) and Tuesday, Aug. 15 (4:00 p.m.). More than 3,000 people are expected to attend each ticketed practice. To obtain tickets, fans must register online at http://www.49ers.com/. Tickets are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. SANTA CLARA SOLID AS SUMMER HOME: The 49ers will have training camp at their Santa Clara, Calif., practice facility for the fourth year. And with the addition of a synthetic turf practice field, it is doubtful the club will move moving training camp any time in the foreseeable future. With the nine dates listed above open to the public, the Santa Clara site also is becoming more accommodating to the regular crowds the 49ers used to draw at the previous training camp sites at the University of the Pacific in Stockton and Sierra College in Rocklin. "We are happy to once again offer our fans a unique way to see the 49ers in a fun setting," said David Peart, vice president of sales and marketing. "Camp is an exciting way for our faithful fans and players to connect. Fans can expect a wonderful experience as they watch the team practice on their own turf." During the open practices members of the Gold Rush cheerleading team and mascot "Sourdough Sam" also will be in attendance. Participants will have the opportunity to take pictures with one of the team's Super Bowl trophies. NEW STADIUM PLANS FINALLY ON HORIZON? Could it be that the 49ers are finally ready to unveil plans for a new stadium? A team spokesman said things are getting close, and an announcement on a new stadium to replace dilapidated Candlestick Park (or Monster Park, as it's now called) could be coming around the start of the regular season. DEAL WITH DIXON CLOSE: The 49ers did not strike in the supplemental draft, but they were nearing a free-agent contract agreement with raw linebacker David Dixon, who failed to qualify academically for Kansas State after last playing for Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. If Dixon has a good summer camp, he is expected to be a practice-squad candidate.
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