Starting jobs up in air at safety

After the 49ers' defense was ravaged for 489 yards by the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night – 309 coming in the opening half alone against San Francisco's first unit – Mike Nolan is ready to make more changes, and he made it clear Sunday that 2005 starting safeties Tony Parrish and Mike Adams aren't guaranteed those spots this year, and each could be in danger of losing their jobs as regulars.

Parrish, a ninth-year veteran who has been one of San Francisco's top defenders since joining the team as a free agent in 2002, suffered a broken leg last November that ended his streak of 121 consecutive starts to begin his NFL career. He showed signs that he had returned to form during training camp, but he has not been particularly impressive during the preseason and was late getting to the ball a few times in deep coverage during Sunday's 17-7 loss to the Cowboys.

The Cowboys rolled up 200 yards passing by halftime, and 52 of those came on a long bomb from Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn, a play during which Parrish looked a little slow breaking on the ball in two-deep coverage. Parrish has been rusty in coverage during the preseason, occasionally giving the appearance that perhaps he has lost a step.

"I don't want to make excuses for anyone," Nolan said Sunday after reviewing game film of the Dallas debacle. "I don't know if it was that or a slow recognition. Whatever the reason, it plays into our decision of who starts and who doesn't."

Nolan then indicated Parrish, a mainstay of the San Francisco defense in recent seasons who is entering the final year of his contract with the team, was in a battle for his starting position with veteran free-agent newcomer Chad Williams and perhaps even others.

When asked if Parrish doesn't already have a starting berth wrapped up, as some other veteran defenders of his stature obviously already do, Nolan responded, "No, I wouldn't say so. You have (Mark) Roman, Chad, Mike Adams and Tony working to get two starting positions."

When asked if Parrish knows he's fighting to hold onto his role as a starter, Nolan responded, "I hope so. I hope they all do. We try to create as much competition as possible on the entire roster as we can. I don't suspect that Tony is shy of competition. He is a pretty good competitor."

Nolan has expressed some disappointment in the play of his safeties since training camp began in July. The Niners brought in Roman – a seventh-year veteran who started the past two seasons in Green Bay – at the start of camp to heighten the competition at safety, but he hadn't done much to push Adams out of the starting position – until Saturday.

Roman had three tackles, knocked away a pass and had an interception near the goal line that he returned 30 yards against the Cowboys. Adams also had three tackles in the Dallas game as both safeties saw time with the first unit.

"(Roman) and Mike Adams probably performed at a higher level than the other two (safeties), Chad and Tony," Nolan said.

Not many San Francisco defenders performed at a consistently high level for the 49ers on Saturday as the Cowboys averaged 6.7 yards per offensive play – including 4.6 per rush – and held the ball for more than 38 minutes while producing 27 first downs.

Running backs Tyson Thompson, Julius Jones and Marion Barber bounced off or ploughed through San Francisco defenders for a combined 170 yards rushing, with Barber and Thompson each averaging 5.4 yards per carry or better.

"On defense, the tackling is what stands out as the most disturbing thing," Nolan said. "We often had a lot of guys around the ball. It was unfortunate, but when we are there, we have to make the plays. The only remedy is hard work. That's the only thing you can do. We have to do a better job. The disappointing thing is that I have never seen so many guys around a ball carrier and then the ball carrier comes out clean."

Nolan also said that when Brandon Moore returns to practice this week from a minor knee sprain, the team will move him from outside linebacker back to his more natural position inside.

Moore, who led all San Francisco linebackers with five sacks last year, signed a five-year, $8 million deal with the team in March and has been running with the first-team defense at left outside linebacker since late in the spring. He was injured during the Aug. 20 preseason game against the Raiders.

"We are going to move him back to inside linebacker," Nolan said. "He is going to compete with the other guys for the starting position. Brandon is better inside than outside. We are going to get our best 11 (defensive players) out there."

And who that 11 will be, nobody really knows for sure with the season opener now just two weeks away.


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