Survivors of the purge

The 49ers became a roster of short-timers the moment Mike Nolan took control of the franchise in 2005. Now, 28 months after the Nolan regime arrived, just 14 holdover veterans remain on a team that's expected to challenge for the playoffs in 2007. Here's a look at the status of each player before Nolan, after Nolan and where he fits into the team's plans for the upcoming season.

WR Arnaz Battle
Before Nolan: The team's sixth-round draft choice in 2003, Battle established himself as the team's punt returner and a special teams standout (16 tackles) in 2004 while contributing a 17.9 average on eight receptions as a backup receiver before his second NFL season was cut short by injury after 14 games.
After Nolan: Battle moved into the starting lineup in Nolan's first season, but only played 10 games because of injuries. He emerged last season as San Francisco's most dependable wideout, leading all 49ers' wide receivers with a career-high 59 receptions to go along with 686 yards and three TDs. He also averaged 15 yards on six punt returns, including a 60-yarder.
2007 status: Despite his breakout 2006 season, Battle may be relegated to the No. 3 WR role with the roster additions of Ashley Lelie and Darrell Jackson. But he won't give up his starting role easily, and he figures prominently in the team's future plans, which may include more work as a kick returner.

OT Kwame Harris
Before Nolan: The team's 2003 first-round draft pick struggled during his transition into the starting lineup in 2004, when he started seven games at left tackle, including the last five.
After Nolan: Has started each of San Francisco's 32 games during the Nolan regime at right tackle, with mediocre results as a pass blocker but strong performance as a run blocker.
2007 status: In the final analysis, Harris probably has been better than many of his detractors give him credit for, but he ultimately has not lived up to his first-round status and the 49ers would like a more complete player at his position. His contract is up after this season, and if the team does not move him in a trade, he will face strong competition for his starting spot this summer from Adam Snyder and first-round rookie Joe Staley.

C Eric Heitmann
Before Nolan: Heitmann started all 16 games at left guard in 2004 while establishing himself as a fixture on the offensive line, where he also started 12 games as a rookie in 2002 and nine during an injury-plagued 2003 season.
After Nolan: The 49ers moved Heitmann to right guard during the 2005 offseason, and he started 10 games there before moving to center late in the season when Jeremy Newberry's injured knee finally gave out. Heitmann was playing at high level as the team's starting center last season before breaking his right tibia in Week 15.
2007 status: Heitmann appears to have made a full recovery from his leg injury and is entrenched as the team's starting center for the near future, with his best NFL seasons still possibly to come.

RB/KR Maurice Hicks
Before Nolan: Hicks, an unheralded undrafted free agent, spent two seasons in the NFL without playing before making a contribution with 362 yards rushing and a 20.1 average on 31 kickoff returns in 2004. In his first career start in place of an injured Kevan Barlow, Hicks gained 139 yards on 34 carries against Arizona to lead the 49ers to one of their two 2004 victories.
After Nolan: Starting three games, Hicks rushed for 308 yards as the third-string running back behind Barlow and Frank Gore in 2005. He also was a valuable player on special teams with a 20.3 average on 34 kickoff returns and 16 tackles on those units. Last year, Hicks' backfield role was diminished by the emergence of Gore and rookie Michael Robinson, though he still contributed 219 yard rushing and receiving. He also led the team with 20 special teams tackles and was among the NFC leaders with a 25.1 average on kickoff returns.
2007 status: After turning down a contract extension last season, Hicks was hoping to get a better offer on the open market than the one-year, $850,000 tender he ultimately signed this spring with the Niners as a restricted free agent. He's a versatile player who can help the 49ers in several ways, though he'll face a battle for his roster spot from sixth-round pick Thomas Clayton. If Hicks continues to contribute, he may get a new extension offer from the team sometime this year.

LS Brian Jennings
Before Nolan: Was the 49ers' only representative in the Pro Bowl after the 2004 season, reaching the NFL's all-star game as a need player after establishing himself as one of the elite long-snappers in the game.
After Nolan: Has continued to perform as one of the best in the business in the two seasons since Nolan arrived, and also has been strong in punt coverage, recording 10 special teams tackles last year.
2007 status: One of just two players remaining on the roster from the team's strong 2000 draft, Jennings is entrenched as one of the game's best at his position and could just be in the middle of a long career with the 49ers.

P Andy Lee
Before Nolan: A sixth-round draft pick in 2004, Lee grabbed the punting role as a rookie and produced a 41.6 average while tying a team record for punts in a season with 96.
After Nolan: Lee set a new team record for most punts with 107 in 2005, again producing a 41.6 average, before making big strides last season to finish with a 44.8 average - the best by a San Francisco punter since 1965.
2007 status: Is entrenched as the team's punter of today and tomorrow after signing a six-year, $7.1 million offer sheet with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a restricted free agent that was quickly matched by the 49ers.

S Keith Lewis
Before Nolan: Another 2004 sixth-rounder who caught on fast as a rookie, Lewis was one of the team's top special teams players that season with 17 tackles and also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and blocked a punt on those units.
After Nolan: Got a starting opportunity in the team's injury-depleted secondary at the end of the 2005 season, then moved into the starting lineup on merit at midseason last year and played a significant role in the team's improved defense over the last half of the season. Finished second on the team with two interceptions and sixth with 72 tackles, while also finishing second in special teams tackles to Hicks with 16.
2007 status: While Lewis proved to be an upgrade in the secondary as a starter last year, the team brought in free agent Michael Lewis to pair with Mark Roman as the starting safeties this year, leaving Keith in the role of swing safety. But Lewis, after signing a three-year contract extension during the offseason, has earned himself a key role on this team as San Francisco's special teams captain, something he can now focus on with fewer defensive responsibilities.

LB Brandon Moore
Before Nolan: An undrafted free agent in 2002, Moore contributed as a reserve linebacker and on special teams in his first three seasons with the team, leading the 49ers with 22 tackles on those units in 2004.
After Nolan: With San Francisco's linebacker corps hit by injuries, Moore got an opportunity to start 10 games in 2005 and produced five sacks and 93 tackles, ranking second on the team in both categories. Last year, after moving into the starting lineup to stay near midseason, Moore had a breakout year and finished with team-leading totals of 114 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
2007 status: Moore has worked his way up from humble NFL beginnings to become one of the team's core defensive players and one of the individuals that unit is being built around. After signing a five-year, $8 million extension in 2006, he'll be a key figure in the middle of San Francisco's defense for years to come.

OG Justin Smiley
Before Nolan: The team's second-round pick in 2004, Smiley started nine games at right guard while cutting his teeth in the NFL.
After Nolan: Nolan moved Smiley to left guard, where he started all 16 games in 2005. Then - after the team acquired free-agent Larry Allen - Smiley was moved back to right guard, where he started all 16 games in 2006 while establishing himself as one of the league's young up-and-comers at guard.
2007 status: Smiley turned down a lowball extension offer from the team last season and now appears destined to get more money from another team than he ever will from the 49ers, whether he reaches free agency next season or is traded by the team sometime this year, which is at least a 50/50 possibility. If he remains with the 49ers, Smiley will have to hold off others to keep starting position on a very competitive OL unit, but he certainly has the talent to do that and continue to develop into one of the NFL's better guards.

LB Derek Smith
Before Nolan: Led the 49ers in tackles in every season after arriving as a free agent in 2001, including a franchise-record 189 in 2003 and 167 in 2004 while performing each season as one of San Francisco's top defensive players.
After Nolan: Led the 49ers in tackles again with 160 in 2005, but was limited by an eye condition in 2006 that required offseason surgery and led to a decline in his performance.
2007 status: Smith signed a three-year, $14 million contract extension in 2006 and appears likely to retire at the end of that deal - if he makes it to the end. At age 32 with 10 NFL seasons of wear-and-tear behind him, Smith will have to return to his playing form of 2002-2005 to hold off first-round draft pick Patrick Willis, who is destined to take Smith's place in the lineup, perhaps sooner rather than later. Smith's performance in 2007 will have a lot to say about whether he'll still be playing for the 49ers in 2008.

DT Isaac Sopoaga
Before Nolan: The 49ers traded two draft choices to move up and select Sopoaga in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, but he spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a back injury.
After Nolan: Saw mostly reserve action in the defensive line rotation during each of the past two seasons, making 28 tackles each year. Started the final two games last season and played some of the best ball of his career at the end of the year.
2007 status: The 49ers made a statement they don't think Sopoaga is starting quality at nose tackle when they brought in free agent Aubrayo Franklin in March to anchor that scheme. Sopoaga hasn't lived up to his potential so far in the NFL, but he will get an opportunity to make an impact in San Francisco's DL rotation this season, which figures to be his make-or-break year with the 49ers.

CB Shawntae Spencer
Before Nolan: Had arguably the best rookie season of any of the team's 2004 draft picks, starting 12 games at cornerback and leading the team with 12 passes defensed while finishing seventh with 66 tackles.
After Nolan: Led team with four interceptions and was 10th among NFC cornerbacks with 14 passes defensed while recording a career-high 76 tackles in 2005. Started 13 games at cornerback last season, finishing with 74 tackles and one interception.
2007 status: Despite Spencer's development and the fact the 49ers signed him to a five-year extension early last season, Spencer will enter training camp as the team's No. 3 cornerback after the 49ers landed Nate Clements in free agency with the richest contract ever paid to a NFL defender. After Spencer's play plateaued in 2006, there is some question whether the team believes he can be a first-rate starter on the edge, but Spencer will challenge Walt Harris for the starting role opposite Clements this year and is the heir apparent for that position when Harris - who turns 33 in August - is done.

LB Jeff Ulbrich
Before Nolan: A third-round draft pick in 2000, Ulbrich started at least 13 games in every season from 2001-2004, producing a career-high 167 tackles in 2004.
After Nolan: Was among the NFC's leading tacklers and was headed for a career year before a torn biceps in Week 5 ended his season prematurely. Began 2006 entrenched as a starter, but did not carry over his momentum of 2005 and eventually lost his starting role on the inside to Moore. Finished tied for fourth on the team with 74 tackles, but his season was marked by a decline in performance.
2007 status: There was a perception by some in the organization that Ulbrich didn't get the job done last season, and he may find himself in a battle just to make the roster this year considering the upgrades the team has made at the position. If he can return to pre-2006 form, however, there still is a place for Ulbrich on this roster, though his time with the team appears to be running out.

DL Bryant Young
Before Nolan: A four-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler, Young established himself as one of the premier defensive linemen of this NFL era after being drafted in the first round by the 49ers in 1994. He was the team's MVP in 2004 after recording 79 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
After Nolan: Led the team in sacks with eight in 2005 after being moved from tackle to defensive end, but was limited to 13 starts due to a knee injury. Started all 16 games for the eighth time in his career last year, when he had 60 tackles and 5.5 sacks and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.
2007 status: Now approaching his 14th NFL season at age 35, Young still has something left in the tank and can offer the 49ers a high level of performance, though the team is intent on limiting his snaps to keep him fresh. Young's glorious career with the 49ers certainly is winding down, but he will continue to be a factor along the DL as long as he can play up to his high standards, which could keep him playing with the team beyond this season.


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