49ers training camp: The week in review

In his first exhibition game of his second season in the NFL, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith looked a lot more like a No. 1 pick in the draft than he did at any point in his rookie season. This time, he had some help.

"I wasn't around last year, but I know one thing: He can play," wide receiver Antonio Bryant said. "It's easier when you have people out there to make plays for you and help you along the way."

Smith seems to have adapted well to offensive coordinator Norv Turner's new system. It's an offense that, in effect, tells every eligible receiver exactly which route to run in the play call.

"Coach Turner has done such a great job," Smith said after completing 16 of 21 passes for 137 yards in the 49ers' 28-14 preseason victory over the Bears. "We now really spread things out and have done so many different things this year, like throwing the ball on the run. We're moving the pocket and throwing more screens. We're still pounding the ball with the run, but he has added such a great balanced attack to our offense."

Coach Mike Nolan said his goal for the coming season is to have the 49ers run the ball approximately 60 percent of the time. The offensive line is looking much better than a year ago, as left guard Larry Allen has brought his power game to the organization.

However, the 49ers received some bad news last week when two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry continued to experience significant pain in both knees. After having season-ending surgery on his right knee last season, he opted for surgery on his left knee.

Newberry was scheduled to be placed on injured reserve, thus ending his season. Since 2004, Newberry has played in only 11 games because of his bad knees.

Eric Heitmann is slated to start at center. He started 10 games there last season as Newberry's backup.

The 49ers expect to rely heavily on their run game this season to take the pressure off Smith, as well as their defense. If the 49ers can run the ball successfully and work the clock, it means they will not have to keep sending their questionable defense onto the field.

Second-year running back Frank Gore appears to have taken a slight edge over incumbent Kevan Barlow, based on the exhibition opener. Gore accounted for 81 yards of rushing and receiving, while Barlow played just four snaps before sustaining a thigh contusion that ended his night. Barlow is expected to be ready to return to action for the 49ers' next exhibition game, Sunday against the Raiders.

"It helped him," Nolan said of Gore's performance. "We still have a ways to go. I wouldn't get too excited too early because Kevan had to come out. Frank's a good back. Frank looked like he did last year."

Gore led the 49ers in rushing last season with 608 yards on 127 carries – 49 fewer rushes than Barlow, who gained just 581 yards in his second season as the featured back.

--- Newberry's bid to return to the 49ers' starting lineup ended when he decided to undergo season-ending surgery on his left knee. Newberry, who had the same surgery last year on his right knee, was experiencing intense pain in both knees after just a week of training camp.

"Jeremy needs the surgery and it's the best thing for him that he gets it," Nolan said. "He has been a true warrior for us. Last year, he played injured and did an outstanding job for us. He fought through a lot of pain. I am very grateful for what he did."

Newberry entered training camp as a backup to Heitmann, as Nolan was adamant that Newberry had to prove he could remain healthy for an extended period of time before he would even consider moving him into the starting role. Newberry agreed to a $2 million pay cut in the off-season. With his base salary of $1.5 million, he could have made the additional $2 million in playing-time incentives.

Now, with Newberry out for the season, the job appears to belong to Heitmann. The 49ers feel as if they have enough depth to compensate for the loss of Newberry.

"Certainly, Heitmann is the best of the guys right now," Nolan said. "(David) Baas is very capable of being the center. That's one of the reasons we drafted David, was to be a center/guard player."

Baas was a second-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2005, chosen with the No. 33 overall pick. Newberry's latest problems cast serious doubt on whether he will ever play football again. Missing this season will mean Newberry, 30, will have missed 37 games in the past three seasons because of his knees.

--- The 49ers got a scare earlier this week when second-year offensive lineman, one of the team's most versatile players up front, experienced problems with his shoulder and biceps and needed to get a MRI exam. Snyder was injured in Friday's game, and the condition flared up in practice two days later.

"It's just a strain, but we are going to limit him, because we want to make sure that thing heals up" Nolan said. "he's going to wear something on his arm. We're going to limit him in practice, but he'll be out there every day."

Snyder may be held out of Sunday's game against the Raiders, but Nolan said, "We'll wait and see. (Snyder has) got the toughness to play and probably will want to play, but we want to be smart about it."

--- Frank Gore had an impressive opener, rushing for 49 yards on 10 carries in the team's exhibition game against the Bears. Still, Gore was none too impressed with his own work. "Frank looked today like he did last year, although Frank wasn't all that pleased," Nolan said. "He told me on the sideline, 'Did you see me a couple times unsure where to go?' I said, 'Yeah,' even though I didn't."

--- Rookie tight end Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2005 draft, saw a lot of action in the first half, playing every snap during the 49ers' 13-play touchdown drive in the second quarter. Davis did not catch any passes –nor did he have any thrown his way – but did his fair share of blocking. "No, I'm not disappointed," Davis said. "As long as we won, that's all that matters." Veteran Eric Johnson played all 13 snaps in the 49ers' first two offensive possessions. Davis got onto the field for eight of those plays. Davis played 31 snaps in the game.

--- Barlow was not pleased with Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher, who went after Barlow's knees after an incomplete pass. Vasher ended up getting the worse of the deal, as he remained on the field for a while. Although Barlow got up immediately, he did not return to action. "It looked like he was shooting for my knee," Barlow said. "He just hit me in my quad."

--- Nolan said he had a talk with newly acquired defensive lineman Lance Legree about his practice habits. Legree had just joined the team as a free agent when Nolan said he told him what was expected of him in practice. Nolan said he had several talks with rookie lineman Ronald Fields about his work ethic.

"That motor shows up because he's been told many, many times that if you want to make it in the NFL, you have to have a good motor. And I think he got that message," Nolan said of Fields. Nolan said Legree has to do the same things to win over the coaching staff and stick with the 49ers this season.

"He's been in the NFL for a few years, but I told him the same thing I told the rookies," Nolan said. "I said, 'What we're looking for is to see you work while you're out here. I don't want to see you last to the drills. I don't want to see you walking anywhere. I don't want to see you jogging.' All of the veteran guys or the very good players will tell you that the first thing is hard work."

--- Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich made a notable return after missing 11 games last season with a torn biceps muscle. He accounted for the first touchdown of the exhibition season with a 32-yard fumble return in a 28-14 victory over the Chicago Bears. "It feels great to be out here, playing in front of the fans, getting my first touchdown," Ulbrich said. Bears quarterback Rex Grossman bobbled the snap from center. Niners defensive end Marques Douglas stripped Grossman of the ball, and Ulbrich was there to pounce.

"It's just one of those things, being at the right place at the right time," Ulbrich said. "I got the ball, saw my spot, made it around the corner and took it in."

CAMP CALENDAR: The 49ers break training camp on Aug. 22. The remaining open practice for the general public was Tuesday's afternoon session.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He damn near killed that guy." - 49ers coach Mike Nolan on tight end Delanie Walker, who leveled Bears special-teamer Craig Bragg with a devastating stiff-arm on a 38-yard kickoff return.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--- The 49ers are incredibly thin at receiver, but they made a move Monday to bolster their depth by acquiring fourth-year veteran Taylor Jacobs from the Washington Redskins in a trade for cornerback Mike Rumph, San Francisco's disappointing first-round draft pick from 2002.

The current 49ers can point to the past regime's failures in the 2004 draft for having a depleted corps of receivers. Then-general manager Terry Donahue used first-day picks on Rashaun Woods and Derrick Hamilton. Woods, a first-round selection, would have been released last season, but the 49ers had to keep him around for salary-cap purposes. This offseason, Woods was dealt to San Diego for cornerback Sammy Davis.

On Thursday, the 49ers cut ties with Hamilton, a third-round selection who failed to catch a pass with the club. "When I first saw him I did think he had talent and he did some good things," coach Mike Nolan said.

But Hamilton sustained a torn ACL in the 2005 off-season and injured his hamstring on the first day of training camp two weeks ago. "It's unfortunate. Anytime your first-day picks aren't on the squad, that's a disappointment. Hamilton was waived with an injury settlement. Hamilton did not participate in any off-season drills after sitting out last season with a torn ACL. But the day after the 49ers' final off-season workout, in which Hamilton was not cleared to participate, Hamilton played in a charity basketball game and was seen dunking during the event. Hamilton sustained a strained left hamstring on the first day of practice this camp and did not practice with the club again.

--- LB Bobby Iwuchukwu was signed to the 49ers' roster. Iwuchukwu is an undrafted rookie from Purdue whom the Saints released Aug. 2.

--- LB Sarth Benoit, from Southern Connecticut State, was signed on Monday.

--- LB Andre Torrey was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL he sustained during a special-teams practice last week.

--- DB Marcus Hudson reported to camp as a safety, and now the club is working him at CB, too. Hudson, a rookie, appears to be playing well in his new spot, and now will get an even longer look now that Rumph no longer is with the team.

--- PK Luis Berlanga is the only player who has yet to report to camp. Berlanga, who's from Monterrey, Mexico, was being delayed while he waits for his working visa, team officials said.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Shaun Hill vs. Jesse Palmer for the No. 3 QB job. Neither player has taken a commanding lead, but Hill might have taken a slight edge, based on his play in the 49ers' exhibition opener. Hill completed 4 of 4 passes for 46 yards, and also rushed twice for 14 yards, including a 3-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Palmer wasn't bad, either, completed five of seven passes for 64 yards. Hill spent his first four seasons with the Vikings, appearing in just one game during that time. He took just one snap, a kneel-down in the closing seconds of a victory. Palmer has a little more experience, playing eight games, including three starts, in his previous five seasons.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
--- Kevan Barlow vs. Frank Gore at RB. Barlow saw limited action because of a bruised right thigh, while Gore had a strong showing in the first exhibition game.
--- Offensive lineman Adam Snyder is competing for two starting jobs simultaneously. He is pushing incumbent Kwame Harris for the job at RT, while also seeing time at RG, where Justin Smiley appears to have the inside track for the job. If Snyder is not a starter, he might work into a role as the first player off the sideline at any of the guard or tackle positions.
--- With the addition of safety Mark Roman, it becomes a three-way battle for the starting FS job. Roman is competing for the FS job against Mike Adams and Chad Williams. This is the first time that Adams has played the same position through all of the off-season. He appears to have the lead.
--- With Jeremy Newberry headed for IR, Eric Heitmann appears to have a commanding lead over David Baas at center.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK:Rookie RB Michael Robinson is making an impressive transition from QB, where he earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last season at Penn State. In his first exhibition game, Robinson rushed for 31 yards on 11 carries, caught two passes for 26 yards and made a terrific tackle on special teams. The 49ers envision Robinson as a third-down back and someone who fits Norv Turner's offense well at the F-back, which is a combination of running back, tight end and wide receiver.

ROOKIE REPORT
--- TE Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick, saw a lot of action with the first team offense but did not have any passes thrown his way. Still, Davis blocked well and continues to be on pace to make an impact on the team this season.
--- OLB Manny Lawson had two tackles and was pleased afterward that he made no mental mistakes and was never out of position. Lawson started at ROLB.
--- OLB Parys Haralson showed good instincts while playing a lot in the second half. He made two tackles.
--- WR Brandon Williams did not catch a pass. He handled three punts, fair catching two of them and returning the other for just 1 yard. Williams appears to be well behind in his bid to win the No. 3 receiver job.
--- TE Delanie Walker had an impressive debut. He returned a short kickoff 38 yards, caught five passes for 54 yards, and gained 16 yards on an end-around.
--- CB Marcus Hudson is showing the versatility to play both defensive back positions. He had an impressive first game. He broke up a fourth-down pass and also showed good physical play, coming up from his corner spot to make a nice tackle.

INJURY REPORT
--- DL Jerry DeLoach, who has a partially torn MCL, might be able to return to action this week against the Raiders.
--- WR Arnaz Battle, who has missed time with a knee injury, might miss some practice time with a chest contusion.
--- RB Maurice Hicks has a strained abdominal muscle and may miss some practices.
--- RB Kevan Barlow sustained a bruised right thigh that might keep him out of a practice or two this week.
--- K Joe Nedney sustained an ankle sprain and might rest some during practice this week.
--- LB T.J. Slaughter (concussion) will be held out of practice a few days.
--- LB Renauld Williams (high ankle sprain) will miss 4-5 weeks.
--- CB Derrick Johnson (sprained toe) may miss a few days.
--- G-C Ben Sobieski will be sidelined a couple more weeks with a neck injury after sustaining some stingers last week.
--- CB B.J. Tucker (ankle) did not play in the game but should be able to return to practice soon.
--- QB Trent Dilfer did not play in the exhibition opener, but is fine. The club held him out as a precaution. Dilfer underwent off-season surgery on his knee. He has not missed any practice time due to his knee.


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