Nolan: Playoffs 'a reachable goal' for 49ers

The sign still hangs outside the 49ers' locker room at their practice facility in Santa Clara. The helmets of each of the 49ers' three NFC West opponents are displayed on the banner with red X's through them. On their way to the practice field every day, the 49ers' players see the words, "Win the West."

The 49ers, who have won just 13 games over the past three seasons, open the regular season Sunday against the Cardinals, who christen their new $455 million retractable-roof-and-grass-playing-surface dome.

Mike Nolan, in his second year as 49ers' head coach, still has his team aiming high. Winning the division was the stated goal a year ago, but the 49ers had the league's last-ranked offense and defense and might have been lucky to win four games.

"My first goal is to try to make the playoffs," Nolan said. "It's a reachable goal. The outstanding goal is the win the division with the competition we have. Seattle, obviously, is a very good football team. At same time you never now what the season brings."

There are serious questions about the 49ers' defense, which did not show much during the exhibition season. In fact, the 49ers showed signs that they might struggle even more defensively than a year ago.

When asked if he truly believes the 49ers own a playoff-caliber defense, Nolan said all that's important is that the club turns into a playoff team.

"We don't want to be just a playoff defense," Nolan said. "I've been a part of a lot of playoff defenses that weren't in the playoffs. So I want to be part of a playoff team. The strengths of our team right now lie in offense and special teams, but that's not to say that our defense can't be a playoff defense."

One key to the defense this season will be the ability of the 49ers' running game to control the ball and the clock. The 49ers like the position they're in with running back Frank Gore, who is now the featured back. The club ended any doubt about who is the featured back when they traded away Kevan Barlow three weeks ago.

The 49ers want to keep their defense off the field, as the Cardinals battered the 49ers a year ago with the big play. The 49ers' defense just does not have the athletes with which to compete against receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

And now the Cardinals are even more potent with the addition of running back Edgerrin James.

"They're a very strong receiver group," 49ers defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "They're a big group. They're fierce competitors. They're good run-after-the-catch guys. They catch the ball in traffic well. It's a big versatile group."

The Cardinals did not show much in the exhibition season, as far as how they plan to utilize James. He carried just seven times for 1 yard, and caught two passes for 11 yards. Davis said the 49ers will be ready for just about anything the Cardinals exhibit.

"I think they're going to plug him into their system and have him do the things he did best, which is similar to what he did in Indianapolis," Davis said.

NINERS NOTEBOOK

--- Left guard Larry Allen was fined an undisclosed amount last week for being over his weight goal for the season. Nolan declined to say what is considered overweight for Allen. But on the fourth day of training camp, he said Allen was close enough to his target of 325 pounds that he was held out of an afternoon practice. Allen will have three weeks to trim to his goal weight or risk being fined again.

The 49ers are pleased with what Allen, a 13-year veteran, has brought to the team. He was especially impressive in the run game during the three exhibition games he played this summer.

--- Running back Maurice Hicks considered changing his uniform number from 43 to 22 to honor Terry Jackson, who was released on Saturday. But Hicks ultimately decided to stick with 43. "I've kind of made my name in the NFL with 43, so I've decided to keep it," Hicks said.

The 49ers had four players who did change their numbers this week after the team's final 53-man roster was determined.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Hudson changed his number from 41 to No. 23, rookie safety Vickiel Vaughn changed from No. 40 to No. 32 and fullback Moran Norris switched from No. 41 to No. 40. Hudson and Norris both wore No. 41 throughout training camp and the preseason.

Rookie running back Michael Robinson switched from No. 35 to No. 24 earlier in the week because he did not like the number he was assigned when he joined the 49ers as a fourth-round pick.

Robinson takes the number that belonged to CB Mike Rumph, who was traded three weeks ago to the Redskins. Hudson now wears the number that was worn earlier this year by cornerback Derrick Johnson, who was released at the final cutdown last week. Vaughn now wears the number previously worn by running back Kevan Barlow, who was traded last month to the New York Jets.

--- Nolan and his coaching staff is looking to get defensive end Roderick Green on the field as a pass rusher as soon as possible, including Sunday's opener against the Cardinals.

"On the football field, if a guy can play, it's our job to get him to do what he can do," Nolan said. "On defense, you get him lined up and tell where to go, that's the key."

Green was claimed off waivers on Sunday after he was released by the Ravens. He said he was surprised when the Ravens released him, but now he's viewing his move to the 49ers as a blessing. He has a chance to make an immediate impact with his new team.

"I can be plugged in pretty quickly, coming from the Ravens and coming from college, this is what I'm used to doing," Green said. "Defensive end, defensive tackle, I can do anything they want me to do. Chase the quarterback down, that's what I do."

--- Punter Andy Lee won the job over veteran Tom Rouen, as Nolan cited Lee's pressure performance in the final exhibition game as a pivotal moment. Lee was called on to punt from the 49ers' end zone midway through the fourth quarter with the 49ers leading the Chargers 23-14. He delivered a 49-yard effort with good hang time.

Nolan said Lee was under more pressure in that exhibition game than he is likely to face with any one punt this season. If he didn't hit a good punt, he might not have a job the next day.

"He knew ... the coach is watching and this is an area we need to get better," Nolan said. "He did well. Andy is our punter."

--- At the final roster cutdown, the 49ers released receivers Otis Amey, Jason McAddley, Rasheed Marshall and Marcus Maxwell, tight end Terry Jones, cornerback Derrick Johnson and linebacker Jim Maxwell - all players who were brought into the organization last season.

"Those players were on our squad last year and this year they've been beaten out," Nolan said. "We're getting better. We're not just swapping out the old for the new."

--- Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer did not get a lot of action in the exhibition season, but he promises he will be prepared as if he is starting the game.

"I understand that there's a bigger picture than just me," said Dilfer, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Browns to serve as Alex Smith's backup. Dilfer, who begins his 13th NFL season, played well in his two appearances this summer. He completed 13 of 17 passes for 135 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

The 49ers are devoted to Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. But at this stage in Smith's development, there are a lot of questions if Dilfer might give the team the best chance to win.

"I don't know that he (Dilfer) does give us the best chance right now," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He might. I (will) certainly feel good if Trent has to get in the game, but I feel confident that Alex can do the job well, also."

--- Former 49ers tight end Monty Stickles died Sunday after a brief illness, his daughter said. Stickles was 68. The colorful Stickles played for the 49ers from 1960 to '67. He was a first-round draft pick of the club out of Notre Dame.

--- Kicker Joe Nedney and linebacker Derek Smith have once again renewed their support of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Nedney is pledging $250 for every field goal made season and Smith is donating $100 for every tackle. Team Tillman raises awareness and funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation's Leadership Through Action Program, which enhances youth leadership skills.

--- The 49ers will be inviting a former legendary player to each home game to serve as the honorary captain. Included among the players that will serve as honorary game captains throughout the season are Steve, Young, Joe Perry, Dave Wilcox, Jimmie Johnson, Joe Montana, Hugh McElhenny, Bob St. Clair and John Henry Johnson.

Leo Nomellini's family served as captain during the Chicago preseason game, and Y.A. Tittle served as a game captain in the San Diego preseason game.

--- Tony Parrish and Mike Adams entered training camp as the team's starting safeties. But Adams was expected to get some major competition. Early in camp, the 49ers signed veteran Mark Roman to compete against Adams.

Parrish's job never seemed to be in jeopardy, but then after the third exhibition game coach Mike Nolan said Parrish's play had to improve. But, as it turns out, Parrish and Adams will be in the starting lineup when the 49ers take the field to open the regular season against the Cardinals.

However, Roman will see action as he rotates onto the field, Nolan said, and he has seen action with the first-team defense during practice throughout the week.


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