Niners notebook: Smith set to throw

Quarterback Alex Smith, who has not thrown a football in two weeks, says he plans to test his injured right shoulder and forearm with light throwing later this week. It could determine whether he will play again in 2007 or possibly need surgery on his injured throwing wing.

Smith suffered a separated throwing shoulder in Week 4 against Seattle, then played with pain in three games after returning in late October. The shoulder injury did not heal on its own as anticipated and Smith developed a forearm problem after returning.

He has not played since Nov. 12 at Seattle. On the advice of team doctors and orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, Smith has rested the past two weeks and was not in uniform for last week's game.

Smith said he does not expect his throwing to take place within the team's practice structure. His injuries then will be re-evaluated at the end of this week, with surgery a possible option. Smith does not know if he will play again this season.

"It will kind of be a final evaluation of whether it's going to heal on its own or we're going to get it fixed," Smith said. "We'll have to see how this week goes as far as throwing and take it from there. The way everything's gone, I'd definitely like to come back and play this year."

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Coach Mike Nolan continues to have the support of his players, even as the 49ers have turned into one of the league's biggest disappointments.

In the aftermath of the team's ninth loss in 10 games, several players backed their head coach. Nolan is in the third year of a five-year contract.

When the 49ers fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, Nolan gathered his entire team around him for a spirited pep talk.

"He's been great through all of this," 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "His message was just stay the course and keep believing. Just because things haven't gone our way early on doesn't mean we should stop believing. That's a great message."

The 49ers rallied with two third-quarter touchdowns but were ultimately done in by six turnovers -- including Michael Lewis' muffed punt that the Panthers recovered at the 49ers 11-yard line. On the surface, the locker room has stuck together. While the 49ers continue to make a myriad of mistakes, the club still appears to be working hard for Nolan.

"Coach Nolan, I know how much he wants it," running back Frank Gore said. "I want it for him. Coach Nolan is a hard worker. We'll get there. We just need to keep working and keep focused."

Every indication is that Nolan will be back for a fourth season. Co-owner Denise DeBartolo York recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that she expects Nolan to coach the team next season but he might have to relinquish his control over personnel issues.

Other sources close to John York, Denise's husband, said York intends to bring back Nolan next season to create some continuity and give him a chance to continue to build a winner.

The 49ers are 3-9, and they were mathematically eliminated from the NFC West title race on Sunday with their 31-14 loss to the Panthers. The defeat clinched the 49ers' franchise-worst fifth consecutive losing season.

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After jumping out to a 2-0 record and elevating their hopes for the season, the 49ers have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. That slide has come as a shock to several free agents who came to the organization expecting big things.

"This really is shocking to me," said safety Michael Lewis, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles. "I really studied this team. Then we got off to a good start but we've really faltered. I feel we have the team in place, but we just have to get better overall."

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Rookie Patrick Willis recorded 18 tackles for the second consecutive game in the loss to Carolina. Those tackles felt a bit empty for Willis, who had an identical stat line the previous game in a 37-31 overtime win against the Arizona Cardinals.

"Getting 18 tackles doesn't feel like anything," Willis said. "After losing, those stats don't mean as much."

Willis continues to lead the NFL tackles and strengthen his candidacy for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

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Tight end Vernon Davis has expressed his concerns during games at different times this season. This time, he decided to remain silent while he was being ignored in the team's offense.

Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft, was not much of a factor in the club's loss the Panthers. He caught just one pass for 19 yards.

"I expect to get the ball in the first quarter," Davis said. "But it didn't happen like that. We got to attack and do like we did last week."

On several third-down pass plays, Davis remained in to serve as a blocker.

"It really frustrates me when I'm in blocking," he said. "I take pride in my blocking game, but it isn't anything like catching the ball and making a play. That is more exciting."

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The 49ers have complained about many of the calls that have gone against them this season. Earlier in the season, they received notice from the league office that the officials had erred on several calls.

Nolan believes referee Scott Green made a mistake that forced the 49ers to give up possession inside Panthers territory.

With the 49ers down 24-14 late in the third quarter, Panthers 263-pound defensive lineman Stanley McClover was called for running into the kicker when Andy Lee was punting on a fourth-and-7 from the Carolina 47.

Nolan thought it should've been roughing the kicker, and a 15-yard penalty, because McClover had a free shot at Lee, who still had his leg in the air.

"My argument with that was the way he (Lee) was hit," Nolan said. "It should've been a 15-yard penalty and a first down."

When asked about the explanation the official gave him, Nolan answered, "I don't remember."

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--- PR Michael Lewis muffed a punt that led to a quick Panthers touchdown, giving them a 24-14 lead in the third quarter. In practice Friday, Lewis dropped a couple of punts, which 49ers coach Mike Nolan noticed and remarked on after the session. Lewis has muffed two punts this season, but the 49ers recovered the other one.
--- WR Darrell Jackson's struggles continue in his first season with the 49ers. Jackson caught just one pass for 12 yards and failed to hold onto two other catchable balls Sunday. Jackson has just 29 receptions for 332 yards and one touchdown this season.
--- QB Trent Dilfer, coming off his best game with the 49ers, struggled mightily against the Panthers. Dilfer completed just 14 of 29 passes for 171 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. His passer rating for the game was 50.3.
--- CB Nate Clements had a busy day against the Panthers' Steve Smith. Clements was on Smith most of the day. Smith caught eight passes for 64 yards. Clements recorded eight tackles, added an interception and had two passes defensed. He also returned a punt 41 yards to set up a 49ers touchdown.
--- TE Delanie Walker, the 49ers' No. 2 tight end behind starter Vernon Davis, caught his first NFL touchdown. He grabbed a 21-yard scoring pass from Trent Dilfer in the third quarter. For the season, Walker has nine catches for 58 yards. --WR Arnaz Battle is listed as questionable on the team's preliminary injury report. He sustained a right ankle sprain early in Sunday's game.

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