Niners notebook: 'The sky's the limit for us'

Bryant Young has accomplished enough during his 13-year career that he could have stepped away from the game after last season without any regrets. But after thinking it through, Young figured there was no reason to retire now. After all, he believes things are starting to get good with the 49ers after four consecutive losing seasons, and he's anxious for his 14th training camp with the team.

"We have something in the making here, and we have to continue to build on that," Young said.

Young won a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers as a rookie after being a first-round pick in the 1994 draft. He has not made it back to the Super Bowl. While the 49ers are long shots to make it to February this season, the club has unquestionably made enough upgrades to position itself as legitimate playoff contenders.

"I really feel like we've addressed our needs in free agency and the draft," Young said. "I really feel like we're in position to go out there and compete. We have to understand from the get-go that we belong. The sky's the limit for us."

That change in attitude was apparent during the offseason program, Young said. The club added one of the game's top cornerbacks in free agency with the signing of Nate Clements. They also signed safety Michael Lewis, a proven winner during his four seasons with the Eagles.

After the 49ers spent the first two offseasons under coach Mike Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughan upgrading the offense, the plan turned to the defensive side of the ball this offseason. There is a possibility as many as five newcomers will open the season in the starting defensive lineup.

"I really like how things have played out and gotten to this point," Young said. "Coach Nolan and his staff came in and had a vision of what they wanted it to look like. They wanted to get back to winning here, and they knew the process it takes to get there."

This is the third season under the Nolan/McCloughan regime. The 49ers were coming off a 2-14 record, prompting owner John York to fire coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue. The 49ers finished last season with a surprising 7-9 record, and Young was a big part of the team's improvement while earning Pro Bowl alternate status.

"The first year we struggled, but they kept bringing in new people," Young said. "The second year we were making a step in the right direction and tasting it. I still think we left something on the table. This year, I feel it's really starting to come together."

Young once again will be a key cog in the team's revamped defense as the starting left defensive end in San Francisco's 3-4 set when training camp begins at the end of this month. The 49ers report to the team facility in Santa Clara on July 28, with the first practice set to begin two weeks from today.

Most practices are closed to the general public, but the club has scheduled 10 free open sessions. (Tickets are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis via www.49ers.com.) There will be an intra-squad, controlled scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 4. Camp breaks Aug. 22.

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The 49ers say they are not concerned about left guard Larry Allen's future. The club expects Allen to report to training camp on July 28, even though Allen did not take part in any of the team's offseason workout program.

The rumor of his retirement started when a reporter asked vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan over the phone if Allen would play this season. McCloughan paused before answering, which appeared to create some doubt. But a 49ers spokesman said McCloughan was probably just taking a dip of tobacco when the question was asked.

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New offensive coordinator Jim Hostler never even played on the offensive side of the ball in college. At Indiana (Pa.) he was a defensive back. That is no big deal, says quarterback Alex Smith.

"First of all, you have to be a good teacher," Smith said. "A lot of times you assume professional athletes already know how to do it. Hoss is a good teacher. You have to be able to communicate. The second thing is you have to know football. You have to know offense to be an offensive coordinator, but you also have to know defense."

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Some team insiders believe rookie tackle Joe Staley will emerge as the starter on the right side, overtaking veteran Kwame Harris during their training camp competition. Staley received a lot of playing time in the offseason camps after Harris was sidelined with back spasms. Staley made a favorable impression on left defensive end Bryant Young.

"Staley is very poised," Young said. "He has the right fundamentals and a solid foundation. And coach (George) Warhop will continue to polish his skills. He'll help us out a ton."

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Veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer sees the Chargers as the model for the 49ers' offense. The 49ers have a long way to go to reach the same heights as the Chargers' offense, but Dilfer said he believes the pieces are in place.

"Like (Antonio) Gates is their No. 1, Vernon (Davis) can be that here," Dilfer said of the two tight ends. "I don't know if San Diego has a receiver like Darrell Jackson. Darrell is going to be a valuable weapon for us. In the more balanced, successful offenses, you can't pinpoint a go-to guy. It's a game-to-game thing.

"Obviously, after you get Frank (Gore) as many carries as you can, the other situations have to utilize the matchups. I think we have enough guys to have different No. 1 (receivers) throughout the season."

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The 49ers did not invest any picks in the supplemental draft, but for the second consecutive year they expect to dip into the free-agent market to grab a player who was not chosen.

The 49ers reached contract terms on a two-year deal with outside linebacker Mark Anderson of Texas State. Anderson, who played defensive end and defensive tackle in college, is expected to make the transition to strong side outside linebacker. If he shows enough during camp, the 49ers could keep him on the practice squad.

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QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys are much more confident. We expect a lot more out of ourselves and each other. Everybody has a better sense of what to expect out of themselves and each other. We were so young the last two years, and you don't know what to expect or demand. It's a nice balance between veteran and young players" -- 49ers quarterback Alex Smith


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