Bounce-back time for 49ers

Taking a look inside the 49ers entering Sunday's home opener against the St. Louis Rams.

Perhaps the 49ers were more competitive in their season opener against the Cardinals than most people had envisioned.

The team's offense put up more yards than in any game last season, and their defeat was not sealed until the final play of the game - a desperation pass from quarterback Alex Smith into the end zone.

"I'm certainly disappointed in the loss," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said of the 34-27 defeat to the Cardinals. "We're about winning, we always talk about winning and that's our main objective."

The 49ers on Sunday face the Rams, a team they posted two wins against last season. So the 49ers expect to win Sunday's game, as they bounce back from a loss that was both encouraging but also disappointing.

"Obviously, losing the game is the adversity," Nolan said. "We have to do a great job responding to that adversity, identify why we lost the game and get better at those things. That will be our objective, then we get ready for St. Louis this week."

The 49ers' youth demonstrated itself in both the good and the bad that showed up in the season opener.

Tight end Vernon Davis showed his incredible physical skills when he took a short pass and exploded down the left sideline on a 31-yard touchdown play. He later fumbled and dropped a third-and-2 pass deep in Cardinals territory that would have kept a drive alive.

There was also a costly penalty on right tackle Kwame Harris, whose holding infraction nullified a 52-yard touchdown pass to receiver Antonio Bryant. The defense was called for having 12 men on the field, giving the Cardinals a better red zone opportunity in the first quarter.

"We had more mental errors than you would like in a game," Nolan said. "You don't forgive it because it's a young team, but you recognize it. So that you don't frustrate yourself and you don't frustrate your players, you continue to teach them the right things to do and how to do them.

"It is typical when you have a lot of young guys playing together. We want to build on the positives and learn on the negatives. We've got both. We've got a 50 percent positive thing to build on and we've got a 50 percent negative thing to correct from a mental error standpoint."

The 49ers are encouraged with the progress Smith has made from a year ago when he threw 11 interceptions and just one touchdown, while posting a passer rating of 40.8.

But the 49ers certainly have a number of things on which they can improve. The offense called three timeouts because they were slow getting up to the line or there was confusion in the huddle.

"Overall, there were a handful of those in the game where we had to call a timeout, for whatever reason," Smith said. "That's something we have to become more efficient at, just getting lined up."

But overall, the offense looks to be in much better shape than a year ago, when the 49ers ranked last in the league.

Smith appears to have benefited greatly from offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whose system is easier to pick up initially. Smith passed for a career-high 288 yards against the Cardinals, while equaling his touchdown-pass total from last season.

"It was not a completely clean game, as it wasn't for anyone, but again statistics do tell me where specific players are headed," Nolan said. "I thought that was a good indication of the direction that Alex is going in."

Turner showed some imagination in the opening game, with a couple gadget plays. Running back Frank Gore took a direct snap on one running play, and the 49ers pulled off a double reverse with receiver Bryan Gilmore shaking free for a 22-yard gain.

--- Although he is just 22 years old, Smith is being called upon to assert himself as a leader on the team.

"Age has nothing to do with it," backup quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "It's the nature of the position, regardless of age."

Smith said he has a fine give-and-take relationship with veteran receiver Antonio Bryant, who is known to be one of the team's most high-strung personalities. While the two have a very good rapport, Smith said he realizes that there might be times this season when they don't see eye-to-eye.

"I anticipate there might be times, absolutely, that he and I might butt heads," Smith said. "Who knows? If we're struggling or something and not getting things going, absolutely, something might happen. In the heat of the game a lot of things get said and happen."

While Smith said he is open to receive some feedback and wants to play with receivers who want the ball, there comes a point when he does not want to hear constant jabbering on the sideline or in the huddle.

"The last thing I want to see and hear is someone continue to tell me how open they are and that they want the ball," Smith said. "I have enough on my plate."

Nolan said he carefully considered all the attributes that Bryant brings to the team. But he admits that Bryant's temper is something he will always monitor. When asked if he has concerns about Bryant's temperament, Nolan answered bluntly, "From the time I first sat down with him until as long as we're together, yes."

--- The 49ers were penalized in their opener for having 12 men on the field against the Cardinals. It was a first-and-goal from the 5, and the 49ers stopped Cardinals running back Edgerrin James for a 2-yard loss on the play.

Well, apparently, that defense was so successful, the 49ers are switching. According to the team's official depth chart, the 49ers have 12 players listed as starters: four linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs.

Actually, the club plays a 3-4 and 4-3 almost interchangeably, so it lists each of those positions on the depth chart.

--- Strong safety Tony Parrish has started all 122 games of his NFL career, but 49ers coach Mike Nolan has not warmed to him completely.

Parrish and Mark Roman split time at safety, while free safety Mike Adams played the entire game at free safety. Nolan said Parrish and Roman would continue to split time until one of them seizes the job.

"I think they're both capable of playing and I don't have a clear-cut starter at the position right now," Nolan said. "As (former Cowboys coach) Tom Landry once said, 'You don't have two starters, you always got two backups.' Until somebody takes it, that's what we got."

--- Guard Tony Wragge was celebrating his status on the 49ers' 53-man roster on the day the final cuts were made in 2005. But three days later, he was waived when the 49ers picked up veteran fullback Chris Hetherington.

When asked if he thought it might be his last best chance to play football, Wragge said, "Yeah, in the NFL, yeah."

Wragge knew he could return to play for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, but he thought his NFL dreams might be over. He played three games late in the 2002 season for the Cardinals, so three seasons without seeing action would appear to be a sign that he had no future in the NFL.

But the 49ers called Wragge in late November and signed him for the final five games of the season, then sent him to NFL Europe, where he said his confidence grew immeasurably.

Wragge played 53 snaps in Sunday's season opener after left guard Larry Allen was injured. He might get his second career starter against the Rams this week, as Allen is expected to miss up to a month.

--- The left side of the team's offensive line was considered one of the strengths of the 49ers heading into this season, but injuries to left guard Larry Allen and left tackle Jonas Jennings have made things a bit uncertain.

Allen will miss up to four weeks with a left knee sprain, while Jennings is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Rams with a high ankle sprain. It is still a little unclear how the 49ers plan to reconfigure their offensive line.

Nolan said the team has not decided what to do with its offensive line this week. And, he admitted, even if he knew, he wouldn't divulge the details of his plans.

Adam Snyder is considered the team's best backup offensive lineman. He could play guard for Allen, but would shift to left tackle if Jennings is unavailable. Wragge and David Baas are also in the mix to play at left guard. Wragge entered Sunday's game when Allen was injured on the sixth play of the game against the Cardinals. Wragge played the rest of the game. Snyder entered for two possessions after Jennings went down with his injury. Jennings returned in the second half to finish the game.

Because of their shortage on the offensive line, the 49ers signed tackle Sam Wilder to the practice squad. The team waived fullback Zak Keasey to make room for Wilder.

--QB Alex Smith said there is little carryover in getting prepared to face the Rams, against which he started one game last season. Smith will be challenged with the variety of blitzes that new Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has brought to the organization.
--WR Antonio Bryant was held without a catch in the first half and had just two passes thrown his way. But in the second half, he caught four passes for 114 yards. He also had a 52-yard TD grab negated by a penalty.
--LG Larry Allen is expected to miss 2 to 4 games with a sprained left knee. Allen sustained the injury to his medial collateral ligament on the sixth play of the 49ers' season opener against the Cardinals. Allen missed 16 games in the first 12 seasons of his NFL career, including 11 games in 2002 due to an ankle injury.
--TE Eric Johnson is expected to see more action than in the opener, when he was limited to just 10 plays in the game. Coach Mike Nolan said Johnson was kept off the field because the club decided to go with more three-WR formations, instead of two-TE sets.
--K Joe Nedney, who set a team-record for field-goal accuracy last season, was 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts Sunday. He made a 22-yard field goal, making him 57 of 57 in his career inside 30 yards. Nedney also executed his sixth successful onside kick of his career. He is three of five on onside kicks since coming to the 49ers last season.
--S Mike Adams has won the starting free safety job, while Tony Parrish and Mark Roman are still splitting time at strong safety. Adams recorded a team-leading 10 tackles in the season opener.
--LB Manny Lawson, the team's No. 22 overall pick in the draft, had seven tackles in his first NFL game. Lawson, a defensive end in college, also showed his speed when he raced 20 yards down the field to defend a pass to Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald that fell incomplete.

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