Notebook: Chicago visit on preseason slate

It begins with the annual summer Battle of the Bay against their neighborhood rival, but the real highlight of the 49ers' 2008 exhibition season comes in the third week when San Francisco plays a nationally-televised game at Chicago - a game that ought to get the blood boiling at a higher temperature than most preseason contests.

It was the Bears, after all, who turned the 49ers into the NFL office for alleged tampering with Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs during the season last year. Chicago's formal complaint with the league resulted in strict penalties for the Niners, who were stripped of their fifth-round selection in this year's NFL draft and also were forced to swap places with Chicago in the third round.

The 49ers, understandably, are not too happy about that, and that will add a bit of flavor to a game in which the front-line starters will play longer than in any other preseason contest as they prepare for the regular season.

San Francisco's front office was angered when the Bears filed tampering charges against the club, claiming the 49ers illegally contacted Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during the season. The 49ers were irate when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sided with the Bears and docked the team the fifth-round draft pick and forcing the 49ers to move down five spots in the third round as well.

That game will be nationally televised Aug. 21 on the FOX network. San Francisco's other three preseason games can be seen locally on CBS.

The first of those will be the Week 1 opener across the bay at Oakland, the date of which will be announced later this month. It will be the eighth consecutive year the 49ers have met the Raiders in the preseason since the teams resumed their summer rivalry in 2000. The 49ers and Raiders had met during the exhibition season 27 consecutive years beginning in 1967 before that string was snapped in 1994 due to acrimony between then-49ers team president Carmen Policy and Raiders owner Al Davis.

The 49ers then will travel to Green Bay in Week 2 for a rare preseason matchup against the Packers. It's just the third time since the 49ers entered the NFL in 1950 that the team has faced the Packers in a summer exhibition.

The 49ers return home on Aug. 29 for their preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers, the sixth consecutive year the Niners have ended the exhibition season against the Chargers and the 21st consecutive season they've played San Diego in the preseason.

The exhibition season will hold particular meaning for the 49ers this year as the team evaluates the play of quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill in what is expected to be open competition for the starting slot at that position this spring and summer.

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Smith is back where he started a year ago - only with a little more change and a whole new set of obstacles.

It was a lost 2007 season for Smith, who helped the 49ers compile a 2-1 record before sustaining a separated throwing shoulder on the third play of the fourth game of the season. Smith will be under increased scrutiny this season, his fourth year in the NFL after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

He underwent surgery on his shoulder in November and he reports his rehabilitation is going well. He also has reason to be excited about his fourth NFL offensive coordinator in four years - Mike Martz. Also, Smith has drawn some inspiration from Eli Manning.

"I've talked to (Eli) several times - we have the same agent - so I hear a lot about what goes on with him and his situations," Smith said. "I guess you just realize what a short memory this game has and that's the exciting thing. As long as you've got the year ahead of you, that's such a great opportunity.

"If you look at Eli two years ago and what was being said and what was going on there in New York, and if you look at it now, a lot has changed in that time. That's the exciting thing about this game, you have a chance to do that and erase last year."

Smith appeared to be on track to becoming a solid NFL quarterback toward the end of the 2006 season under offensive coordinator Norv Turner. But Turner left to become head coach of the San Diego Chargers, and inexperienced Jim Hostler took over as coordinator.

The offense got off to a slow start, and then Smith went down with the injury.

Smith will now compete with Hill for the starting job, but most believe Smith will win the position. For the first time in his career, Smith might not have to worry about playing while wearing shackles.

Although the run game with Frank Gore will continue to be a major part of the offense, Martz has a history of putting the ball in the quarterback's hands and letting him throw it around.

"Just look at the track record he had with all those quarterbacks and the way they've played and the numbers they've put up and where they've taken their game," Smith said of Martz. "I'm just excited for the chance to really continue trying to reach my potential. I feel like I haven't even been there yet since I've been in the NFL. With coach Martz's help and all the guys around here, I hope to get there."

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Outside linebacker Parys Haralson picked up an extra $226,221 through the NFL's "performance-based pay" system, which rewards some of the league's lower-salaried players for playing time. Haralson's amount of additional pay ranked him 25th in the league.

Haralson was a fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft. He earned $360,000 in base salary last season. Haralson saw action in all 16 games and started the final 11 games of the season for the 49ers at outside linebacker after Manny Lawson's season-ending knee injury. He finished 12th on the team with 52 tackles while recording 2.5 sacks with 21 quarterback pressures.

Steelers tackle Willie Colon was the top earner in PBP, as he picked up an additional $309,534.

Approximately $100 million of performance-based pay was distributed to players in the system, according to the league. The system was created as part of the NFL's 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement extension with the NFL Players Association. The system creates a fund used as a supplemental form of player compensation based on a comparison of playing time to salary.

This program will stay in place through the remaining years of the CBA in which a salary cap exists. The fund increases by a fixed amount of five percent each year.

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Joe Staley, who played every snap for the 49ers his rookie season as a right tackle, has been moved to left tackle. Meanwhile, Jonas Jennings has been officially moved to the right side during the team's offseason program.

The 49ers might not have much depth on the offensive line, but they have a starting unit they feel good about.

Veteran Larry Allen is a free agent, and he has given the 49ers no indication whether he plans to play this season. The 49ers could re-sign him to a one-year deal at a lowered salary, but they're not waiting around for a decision.

Adam Snyder, who started 11 games at left tackle in place of an injured Jennings and also has experience playing both tackle and guard positions, has been moved to left guard, with David Baas at right guard. Eric Heitmann is the center along what appears at this point to be the team's 2008 starting line.

"We are still a little thin at guard, but we expect Snyder and Baas to get the job done," 49ers offensive line coach Chris Foerster told the team's official website. "It's a good group. They are a young group, and they are still developing, but they love to play football. They have a great attitude and they are good guys."

Another big change on the offensive line is the coaching. Foerster joins George Warhop as a co-coach. Warhop's unit struggled last season, mostly in pass protection.

It was not uncommon for defenders to come free on stunts and blitzes. At times, the 49ers' offensive line looked disorganized. New offensive coordinator Mike Martz has placed Warhop in charge of the run-blocking, while Foerster will handle the club's pass protection.

Foerster said he envisions a young offensive line that will continue to get better.

"George has done a nice job getting them to this point and we'll continue to work with them until they develop as really solid starters in the league," Foerster said. "They've got some experience and we'll look for them to develop further."

Coach Mike Nolan has not made a firm decision on which player will be designated to wear the radio device on defense, but he is certainly leaning toward linebacker Patrick Willis.

Willis figures to be in the middle of the 49ers' defense for a long time. Last season, he did not come off the field once on a defensive play during the entire season. One defensive player from each team can wear a radio transmitter to receive defensive calls from the sideline.

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Only 35 of 1,898 players in the NFL played every snap last season, according to FoxSports.com. And the 49ers had five of those players, including two rookies: Willis and Staley. Others who played every snap for the 49ers last season were offensive linemen Allen and Heitmann and cornerback Nate Clements.

The 49ers' big ticket item in free agency this year, defensive end Justin Smith, ought to fit in fine with this theme. Before signing him to a six-year, $45 million deal in March, the Niners were considerably impressed with the durability of Smith, who played a remarkable 97.9 percent of the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive plays. He played more than any other defensive lineman in the league last year.

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Smith won't be just a defensive end. The 49ers plan to use him at a number of different spots on defense. Up to this point in his career, Smith has been primarily used as a defensive end in Cincinnati's 4-3 defense. His role will be expanded with the 49ers.

"He's going to be put in situations to make a lot of plays," 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. "We would not have paid him the money we paid him unless we knew how to use him. You'll see him at end, you'll see him at tackle, you'll see him at times standing up. He's a special guy."

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The 49ers have plenty of cap room, so they've started to look into signing of their younger players to extensions. The 49ers officially reached a contract extension with running back Michael Robinson through the 2012 season. Originally signed through 2009, Robinson had three seasons added to his deal.

The next contract extension could be reached with tight end Delanie Walker, who is signed through 2009. Walker and the 49ers have been working on a new deal that might be similar to the new deal Robinson signed.

The 49ers are also believed to be interested in adding years to the contracts of Haralson and Baas.


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