Niners' pass rush going back to drawing board

If Mike Nolan could make a deal today for a player who could improve the 49ers' pass rush, he would. "We're always talking about it, but no one is willing to give those people up," Nolan said late Monday after his team's deficiency in getting heat on the quarterback was magnified during Sunday's 23-7 exhibition loss to Oakland. So, Nolan said, the 49ers are going back to the drawing board.

"We're going to start looking at our roster and things we can do to help generate some pass rush, not only scheme-wise, but also personnel wise," Nolan said. "We've got to get the right players in the right places to give ourselves a chance. I don't think we'll correct it all right away, because I believe in some places we're a little shorthanded from a depth standpoint on defense. But we're going to try to make as strong an effort as we can in trying to create something."

After finishing 31st in the NFL last season in sacks per play, the 49ers haven't been much better so far in the preseason – and maybe they've even been worse.

The 49ers have just one sack in two preseason games, and that came from an inside defensive lineman – veteran Lance Legree – who shook free on a passing play Sunday when it was mostly reserves in the game. But the pressure on Oakland quarterbacks actually was worse than it had been the week before against Chicago, when the 49ers recorded zero sacks despite cruising to a fine defensive effort.

There was no fine defensive effort Sunday as the Niners allowed 394 total yards, including 248 through the air. In particular, Oakland's first two quarterbacks – Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter – had all day to throw, often sitting in the pocket several seconds before finding open receivers downfield.

It brought back visions of last year, when a weak pass rush allowed opponents time to pick apart an even weaker secondary. The 49ers recorded only 27 sacks last season, and players who created 8.5 of those sacks no longer are with the team.

The 49ers are going with a new set of starters – fifth-year veteran Brandon Moore and rookie Manny Lawson – in the all-important outside linebacker positions in their 3-4 defense, which typically are the featured rushing positions in the system. But those two players will need time to become effective in their spots, which means the 49ers have to resort to other measures to immediately upgrade their heat on opposing quarterbacks.

"We can create it, which we did (Sunday)," Nolan said. "The first third down (Sunday), it looked like a jailbreak. We had three guys right there to sack him (Brooks), and he just gets out of it. That's one that we should have gotten. There were, I would say, at least four opportunities in the game where we had him. I can't even explain how we would miss the guy, but we do.

"There are some things we need to adjust in our personnel and how they're lining up, and who is actually doing the particular job. We need the guys who can actually make the plays in position to make them. We don't need to have some other guys in there that may not be suited to play that role. If we design something to put you in position to make a play and you can't make the play, we've got to put somebody there that can. Those are a couple of things we're going to try to do to try to generate some things."

The 49ers will be trying to generate things this week without Moore, who led all San Francisco linebackers last year with five sacks. He is unlikely to practice this week or play in Saturday's preseason game at Dallas because of a knee injury, though he's not expected to miss much more than a week of action.

So the Niners will be mixing and matching their personnel this week to see who can provide a spark in their pass rush, along with trying to optimize the personnel they do have while putting players in a position to make plays in the scheme.

"What I'm talking about is getting the guys that we have here in a better position," Nolan said. "We have about three weeks left to do it. I don't know how much stronger we'll get, but if we just make the plays we're supposed to make, that will give us some hits on the quarterback we need."

Monday notes
--- The 49ers released rookie linebacker David Dixon, a free agent who was not selected in the July supplemental draft. Dixon, who last played in junior college in 2004, had fallen to the bottom of the depth chart at inside linebacker and was not going to challenge for a backup role behind starters Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich.
--- Nolan confirmed that the 49ers received a fourth-round draft pick from the New York Jets in Sunday's trade that sent running back Kevan Barlow to New York. "There's no compensation other than that," Nolan said. "It's clear cut, is what it is. I know there was a report that it could go to a two or a three and all that, but I'll clear that up. It's a four."
--- Bryan Gilmore started at receiver Sunday and will continue to run with the first unit until Arnaz Battle's knee condition improves. "If Battle were healthy, he'd probably be ahead of Gilmore," Nolan said. "But he's not. Right now, it's Gilmore, but we'll see how it goes. Arnaz is responding pretty well to what we're doing practice-wise as well as to the treatment he's getting. That's a good thing. Hopefully, if he stays on this course, he will be full-go. Then we will be able to see who the best player is as far as our No. 2 guy."
--- The 49ers will have their last two-a-day summer practice session Tuesday, with training camp officially ending Wednesday.


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