More work to do as 49ers return to camp mode

The Niners return to the practice field of their Santa Clara headquarters on Wednesday with just three days to prepare for Saturday's Battle of the Bay exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, they won't spend that time preparing for the Raiders. They'll still be in "camp mode," coach Steve Mariucci said early Tuesday evening, and will start focusing on the upcoming season rather than the wacky preseason schedule the NFL has thrown at them.

"We'll put the pads back on and practice against each other, thinking about things we need to accomplish for the sake of this season before we start thinking about the Raiders," Mariucci said.

And Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry will be among them. Newberry, who missed all but two days of training camp in Stockton with a calf tear and has not played in the preseason, is expected to return to full drills this week and will be listed as probable for the Raiders game, Mariucci said.

The Niners also might get All-Pro guard Ron Stone back in the practice swing this week. Stone is listed as questionable to play Saturday against the Raiders.

In place of Stone, some of San Francisco's top young lineman have been getting some battle-under-fire experience during the preseason. Dave Costa started there last Saturday against Kansas City, and rookie Eric Heitmann started Monday. Heitmann, who also has played left guard and has taken snaps at center in training camp, "seems to be stout and strong at the point of attack," Mariucci said. "We were very encouraged by him."

The backup offensive line continues to be a primary area of concern for the Niners, who are attempting to develop young players there to step in if necessary behind their quality veteran starters. There are several areas in which the team still is hoping to show marked progress before the season begins, and some of that progress surfaced in Monday's 12-7 win at Denver - San Francisco's first victory in three preseason games.

"It was our best preseason game so far this year," Mariucci said. "We felt we made some improvements. But we still have a lot of work to do. We still have some concerns. We have to be able to hold up against better personnel. But I do think we made some progress. Now we'll just keep coming."

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