Niners notebook: Bear-ing bad memories

The day after the Bears' remarkable victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 16, 49ers coach Mike Nolan walked into a team meeting and asked for a show of hands. How many players watched the Bears game? Every hand in the meeting shot up.

The 49ers have spent two weeks preparing for the unbeaten Bears, and the Cardinals gave them a pretty good blueprint to follow. Although the Cardinals lost 24-23, they provided some glimpses of what it might take to beat the Bears.

The Cardinals held a 23-3 lead late in the third quarter, and despite losing limited Chicago to 168 yards and no offensive touchdowns. The Bears rallied for the improbable victory with two defensive touchdowns and a long punt return for a touchdown in the final 16 minutes of the game.

"We watched the game," Nolan said. "There are certainly things from a scheme standpoint that we looked at. I won't say much as to what it is. I don't want to tip my hand as to what I thought they did well or not. There were some things that Arizona did a nice job on."

The 49ers (2-4) will be a much different team than the one that the Bears faced a year ago at Soldier Field, a 17-9 loss that still brings back unpleasant memories for the Niners.

The 49ers of 2005 owned the league's worst offense and defense. Moreover, they were playing without their top two quarterbacks, and there were wind gusts up to 47 mph that made passing nearly impossible.

"I wasn't even playing in it and I was miserable," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "It was like playing in a hurricane. Those were tough conditions, especially throwing the ball. It wasn't a lot of fun. Any quarterback would have to be sympathetic toward another quarterback playing in those conditions."

Former 49ers quarterback Cody Pickett, making his second NFL start, completed just one pass - the lowest total for a starter in team history - on 13 passing attempts. Bears quarterback Kyle Orton had just 67 yards passing.

On Sunday, Smith will be at quarterback, while the Bears go with Rex Grossman. So there is not a lot of carryover from last year's game between the teams.

"We look at it from a scheme standpoint," Nolan said. "There were a lot of runs in the game, as you all remember. They had the same offense, the same coordinator, the same structure. They're a year more experienced. They've got a lot of the same players. I put some stock in the game, just to look at it, to see what people's plans were to do.

"Then we have to remember that there was a limitation as to how many passes were going to be thrown in the game. From a down-and-distance situation, you probably wouldn't use it much, but from a scheme standpoint, we certainly look at how both teams ran the ball."

The 49ers also spent their bye week looking in the mirror.

Nolan has decided to make some minor adjustments on defense, most notably the elevation of special-teams captain Keith Lewis into a prominent role on defense. Lewis is expected to split time with starting free safety Mike Adams in hopes of providing a more physical presence in the secondary.

"I'm looking for the best football players I can find and Keith is a guy that is a good football player," Nolan said. "Whether he's in that top 11, he needs an opportunity and we'll see how it goes."

The 49ers own the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense, and their defensive backs do not strike fear into opposing receivers. Virtually every area of the 49ers' pass defense is lacking, including third downs. The opposition has converted 51.2 percent of third-down opportunities on the 49ers.

Nolan would like receivers to have to think a little before going over the middle to catch a pass, and perhaps Lewis can strike a little fear or uncertainty into the opposition.

"If they (opposing receivers) look at the games, obviously, we haven't had a lot of big hits and we haven't had a lot of passes denied," Nolan said.

He said he believes big hits and good pass defense are intertwined.

"Those receivers watch the film, and the quarterbacks, too," Nolan said. "If they see their guys getting hit a lot down the middle, quarterbacks will be more leery of putting the ball out there because they don't want their guys to get blown up, either."

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Smith seems to have a better grip of his position this season. He also seems to have a better grip of the football. Thanks to an NFL rule adopted this season, road teams can travel with 12 footballs to be used in the game.

Last season, Smith struggled getting a handle on the football in road games at Washington and Seattle. In those two games, the ball mysteriously slipped out of his hands six times. He said many of his passes that fell incomplete also slipped out as he was throwing.

While Smith has fumbled four times this season, none can be attributed to a poor grip on the ball. Smith is pleased that the rule was adopted during the NFL annual meeting in the spring.

"That sounds pretty small, especially to the average person, but that's just one less worry for me, especially since I had some problems," Smith said.

"It was so different to use the balls we practiced with and to go somewhere else and they're fresh out of a box. It was tough to make those adjustments on the fly and it's nice just to know what I'm going to be playing with."

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The 49ers had four free-agent kickers in for tryouts Tuesday at team headquarters, and one of them left the facility after signing a contract with the team.

Shaun Suisham is the newest addition to the San Francisco roster after being signed to the team's practice squad. Suisham originally was signed by Pittsburgh as a rookie free agent in 2005 out of Bowling Green. After being waived by the Steelers in training camp, he joined the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. He later was signed to the 53-man roster and played in three games. Suisham went to camp with Dallas this past summer and played three games with the Cowboys before being signed to their practice squad. He was waived by Dallas on October 17.

"He's someone we've been looking at and talking about for quite some time," Nolan said. "Joe (Nedney) had an injury situation a little bit last year. You just want to keep it safe."

The 49ers also gave tryouts to kickers Billy Cundiff, E.J. Cochrane and Josh Huston.

The Niners had room on their practice squad to sign Suisham after quarterback Gibran Hamdan was signed from San Francisco's practice squad to the Seattle Seahawks 53-man roster on Tuesday.

Hamdan was signed by the 49ers in late August after being released by the Seahawks, who now are looking for some backup help at quarterback after the loss of starter Matt Hasselbeck to a knee injury.

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Sometime in the late 1980s, 49ers long-snapper Brian Jennings visited the Bears' training camp at University of Wisconsin-Platteville and he said he had an epiphany.

Jennings was 12 or 13 years old, he said, and Bears linebacker Mike Singletary stopped on his way off the practice field to sign some autographs. Jennings said Singletary spoke three or four sentences directly to him.

"Here was the fiercest competitor in the league and he was a nice guy, but when he competes he's ruthless and mean," Jennings said. "It had a tremendous impact on me. From that point on, I wanted to play in the NFL because I saw he was a normal guy off the field."

Jennings, a seventh-year player, is considered one of the best long-snappers in the business. He relayed this story to Singletary last year, during Singletary's first season on the 49ers' coaching staff. Singletary returns to Chicago for the second time as a member of the 49ers' staff.

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The 49ers hope Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher sees a lot of fullback Moran Norris on Sunday. Norris has taken over for Chris Hetherington as the team's starter because of his impressive blocking.

"He's done a good job and that's kept him in the lineup," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He's continued to do a nice job. I expect him to continue, and each week he's been called upon to do a lot of that seek-and-destroy blocking."

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Linebacker Derek Smith's helmet has been equipped with a visor to help compensate for a problem with his left eye. Smith has experienced difficulty changing his sightlines up and down in his left eye, he said. A small portion of the clear visor over his left eye has a prism, which enables him to have a larger vertical field of vision.

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Safety Tony Parrish returns to Soldier Field, where he played the first four seasons of his NFL career and last season sustained a broken left ankle and spiral fracture of his fibula. The injury ended his streak of 121 consecutive starts to begin his career.

"Oh, yeah, I've seen it many times," Parrish said when asked if he has seen replays of the injury. "It's one of those freak things. I don't get squeamish or have flashbacks. I knew it was broken. I heard it. I felt the pressure and heard it break."

Parrish said the first thing that went through his mind was that he might be able to finish the game. he even started bouncing up and down on the leg. When asked if that might have exacerbated the problem, Parrish answered, "Anything's possible. When you have a couple breaks in the leg and you start jumping, you can definitely damage yourself."

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The 49ers expect to have their offensive line together for the first time since the season opener on Sunday against the Bears. Left guard Larry Allen (knee) will be starting, alongside left tackle Jonas Jennings (hand). Right tackle Kwame Harris will retain his starting job over Adam Snyder.

"Adam would swing at the tackle positions," Nolan said. "He'd be the backup at those two positions right now. If they're all healthy, it will look like it did when we opened the season."

However, Nolan said Snyder will rotate into the game at one of the tackle positions during the course of the game against the Bears. He did not say which side Snyder will play.

Harris, the lone first-round draft pick from the Terry Donahue era still on the roster, is considered the shakiest of the 49ers' starting offensive linemen. Almost all of Harris' miscues arise in pass-blocking. Quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 13 times in six games. Harris' pass protection has been partially or entirely to blame for six of those sacks.


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