Notebook: Offseason program begins March 17

Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill are expected to be ready to take part in the 49ers' offseason program, which is scheduled to begin March 17. Both players are coming off surgeries. With new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the competition for the starting job begins early.

Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, will have to earn the position this offseason. Therefore, the competition for 2008 should be fierce from the get-go.

Hill was scheduled to be a free agent, but the 49ers signed him to a three-year, $6 million contract that included a $1.95 million signing bonus. If he hits all his playing-time and performance incentives, his deal would be worth $11.5 million over three seasons.

Hill underwent surgery the first week of January on a broken and dislocated right index finger. He played with that injury late in the season and still managed to give the 49ers their best quarterback play of the season. Hill completed 68.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception in 2.5 games. The 49ers won both of his starts.

The 49ers got off to a 2-1 start with Smith healthy. But he sustained a separated right shoulder in Week 4, missed two games and was ineffective when he tried to return to the lineup.

Moreover, Smith and coach Mike Nolan publicly feuded. Nolan said Smith's poor play had nothing to do with his shoulder injury until Smith broke his silence and admitted his shoulder was injured. Several weeks later, Smith underwent season-ending surgery.

The rehabilitation from Smith's surgery was expected to last three months. When the offseason program begins, it'll be a little more than three months since his surgery. The 49ers will likely work Smith back slowly to ensure he will be ready for the minicamps, organized team activities and training camp.

Smith and Hill will compete for the starting job. The team will also look to add a No. 3 quarterback with the club expecting veteran Trent Dilfer to retire. Dilfer did not play in 2006 because Smith took every snap from center. Last season, Dilfer struggled mightily in his backup role. He completed just 51.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

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One reason Hill is looking forward to playing for new offensive coordinator Martz is because he sees similarities in his game and another quarterback who thrived under Martz.

Hill said his style is a lot like Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.

"I play the same kind of game he does," Hill said. "He has a quick release. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he gets the ball out on time and in rhythm."

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The 49ers own the No. 29 draft pick in the first round, and so far they have 16 or 17 players ranked with first-round grades. They usually have 20 to 22 players ranked as first-round talents.

The club had yet to assign grades to quarterbacks, defensive ends and wide receivers, so they appear to be in good shape as far as getting a player they like with the No. 29 pick. The 49ers have selected two players in the first round both of the past two seasons.

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Trent Baalke was promoted to director of player personnel, taking the title previously held by general manager Scot McCloughan.

Baalke will oversee the college and pro personnel departments. Baalke, who is entering his 11th season in the NFL, spent the last three seasons as a Western region scout for the 49ers.

Baalke joined San Francisco as an area scout after serving four years on the Redskins scouting staff, including the 2004 season as the Redskins college scouting coordinator. He joined the Redskins in 2001 and spent three seasons as Washington's national scout. Before joining the Redskins, he spent three seasons (1998-2000) as a scout with the New York Jets.

"Trent has outstanding knowledge of the game and has shown a successful track record in identifying talent," McCloughan said. "He has tremendous experience in all aspects of player personnel. Trent's promotion is a direct result of his knowledge, hard work and passion for this profession."

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Coach Mike Nolan has completed the process of filling out the club's coaching staff. Unlike last season, the 49ers will have a full staff available when they travel to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Longtime coach Ted Tollner will guide the quarterbacks, while the club hired Tony Nathan as running backs coach.

The 49ers also hired Chris Foerster as the team's offensive line coach. He will share the offensive line coaching duties with George Warhop, who has coached the offensive line the past three seasons.

Foerster enters his 16th NFL season, having spent the past three years (2005-07) as the offensive line and assistant head coach for the Baltimore Ravens.

Prior to joining the Ravens, Foerster served as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins (2004), tight ends coach for the Indianapolis Colts (2002-03), offensive line coach for the Tampa Buccaneers (1996-2001) and offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings (1993-95).

With a total of 26 years coaching experience, he also coached in the collegiate ranks, serving as the offensive line coach for the University of Minnesota (1992), assistant offensive line/special teams coach for Stanford (1988-91) and offensive line coach for Colorado State (1983-87).

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The 49ers have signed first-year punter Ricky Schmitt to their roster.

Schmitt (6-2, 192), was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Arizona Cardinals in 2007. He spent training camp with Arizona last year before being released during the final roster reductions.

A graduate of Shepherd College, a Division II school in West Virginia, Schmitt set numerous records as both a punter and kicker. The 49ers continue to work on re-signing some of their own free agents. They are expected to continue to trade proposals for nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who appears to be the club's top priority.

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MEDICAL WATCH
--QB Alex Smith (right shoulder) is rehabbing after December surgery. He is expected to be fine for the first post-draft minicamp and OTAs.
--- QB Shaun Hill (dislocation/fractured right index finger) should be able to participate in all the team's offseason workouts after undergoing surgery in the first week of January.
--- OLB Manny Lawson (torn left ACL) is running and expected to minicamp and OTAs.
--- NT Joe Cohen (torn right ACL) should be ready for the entire offseason program.
--- OG Justin Smiley (dislocated/torn labrum right shoulder) is a free agent who believes he'll be able to pass a physical at the end of the month. He will not have any contact until training camp, the team says.
--- DE Melvin Oliver (torn right ACL) should be ready for the entire offseason program.
--- OLB Jay Moore (high left ankle sprain) is healthy and ready for the offseason program.
--- OT Jonas Jennings (high ankle sprain) is ready for the offseason program.
--- CB Tarell Brown (partial tears of right ACL and MCL) did not require surgery. He is expected to participate in the full offseason program.



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