Niners notebook

All eyes continue to be focused on the 49ers' quarterback competition. But now it's going to take another set of eyes to keep track of all the happenings.

Alex Smith and Shaun Hill were the only two competitors for the starting job through the first five days of training camp. Now, J.T. O'Sullivan has emerged as a candidate to start the season opener, Sept. 7 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Sullivan continued to get snaps with the first-unit offense during the 49ers' two sessions Monday during a joint practice with the Oakland Raiders at Oakland's summer training facility in Napa. The 49ers are conducting only a one-hour special teams practice session on Tuesday, with the rest of the day being filled with team meetings and a team function.

When the 49ers return to two-a-day summer practices on Wednesday, the three-way competition a quarterback will continue in full force. That competition continues to heat up now with the Friday's exhibition opener against the Raiders looming.

"I'm open to all three right now, and that's where my mindset is," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.

Nolan originally said he would like to decide on the team's starting quarterback by the third exhibition game, Aug. 21 against the Chicago Bears. But now he said he is willing for the competition to run its course -- no matter how long it takes.

"We're all anxious to get to one. I know I am. And, then again, I'm not," Nolan said. "It's early in camp, there's a lot of work to get done. I want to know if we do have to go to another, if we get to a second quarterback, or a third, something like that. What is he capable of doing? So, this is a valuable time for us. This is not just trying to find out who's No. 1, this is also trying to find out who gives us a chance, our very best chance, to win."

For the first time, O'Sullivan has emerged as a real possibility.

O'Sullivan has endured a nomadic six NFL seasons, spending time with New Orleans, Green Bay, Chicago (twice), Minnesota, New England, Carolina and Detroit. He signed with the Lions last summer after then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz liked what he saw from watching film of him during NFL Europe. O'Sullivan won a job as the backup to Jon Kitna.

Nolan hired Martz as offensive coordinator in January. And Martz insisted that the 49ers sign O'Sullivan as a free agent. O'Sullivan and the 49ers settled on a one-year, $645,000 contract.

O'Sullivan's experience in Martz's offense gives him an edge over Smith and Hill, both of whom are trying to learn the intricacies of the system.

"There is a sense of familiarity with the offense and I'm trying to grow from that," O'Sullivan said. "What I really try to do is get better and better every day. My job is to be ready."

Said Nolan, "It's evident that he's been in it because with the limited reps he's had so far, if it was all new to him this year, he wouldn't be where he's at," Nolan said. "So he is further ahead. That is one of the reasons, too, we felt early in training camp in fairness to the other two guys, we needed to get them up to speed because J.T. does have a year under his belt."

O'Sullivan has gotten off to a strong start in training camp, based on his knowledge of the system. Nolan remains committed to giving each of the three quarterbacks a fair opportunity to win the job.

"It's early in training camp," Nolan said. "We've only been here a week. So it's still early. But that's an important decision. I don't want to sell us short. It's going to happen on the field, it's going to happen in fairness, and three guys are competing for it.

"It's not going to be 100-percent fair with reps (practice snaps), but we're doing the best we can."

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O'Sullivan has a much different personality than the other two quarterbacks with whom he's competing. He is not nearly as laid back and affable as Smith and Hill. Nolan said that's why it's a good mix of personalities.

"There's a pretty big difference between all three of them with their personalities," Nolan said. "It's probably why they get along as a group pretty well. If two of them were like J.T., there might be some in-house duking.

"And if there were two of them like Alex or Shaun, it's just not enough competition. It's a good complement for one another. Kind of like opposites attract."

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Jerry Rice gave receiver Isaac Bruce his permission to wear No. 80 when Bruce signed with the 49ers. Although the 49ers have not officially retired Rice's old jersey, the club plans to follow through with that plan in the coming years. Ultimately, the 49ers and Bruce decided it was best to go with No. 88.

That is why Bruce drew some attention Saturday when he went out to the practice field -- in front of more than 2,000 fans -- wearing No. 80. (It is the jersey number that Bruce wore for 14 seasons with the Rams.)

When a reporter asked about wearing No. 80, Bruce abruptly walked away without answering. Coach Mike Nolan said Bruce has not changed his number -- he was just wearing a practice jersey.

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Not only do the 49ers employ tight end Vernon Davis, an imposing vertical threat, but Mike Martz is tinkering with ways to get backup Delanie Walker better involved in the passing game, too.

"I consider myself an H-back," Walker said. "I'm been studying fullback, tight end, slot wide receiver. I can do all those things. I can line up in the backfield, the wing or the slot. I'm fired up because I'm in the rotation a lot more. I expect a lot out of myself this season."

Walker caught 21 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown last season after being held to two catches as a rookie. The 49ers rewarded him with a three-year, $6 million contract extension through 2012 in the offseason.

"Just because our offense wasn't productive last year doesn't mean that we can't see who a good player is," Nolan said. "He's a good character guy -- the kind of guy that you want to sign early and keep him around."

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Nolan said he has not decided which defensive player will wear the radio device in his helmet. The logical choice is linebacker Patrick Willis, who played every defensive snap of every game last season. He does not want to reveal his thoughts on the subject.

"We'll let somebody else learn how it helps them," he said. "I'd like to know what the 31 other teams are doing with it. It would help me.

"Obviously, the whole premise of the thing is to make sure people quit stealing (signals), as we saw last year. What occurred last year (with the New England Patriots) is not right. So this will eliminate all that and stay focused on the game and the way it should be played -- with integrity and sportsmanship."

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The 49ers are generally thought of as playing a 3-4 defense. But Nolan said it's not that simple. Some opponents might view the 49ers as a 3-4, while other see them as a 4-3. He considers it a hybrid 3-4 defense.

The distinction is, when the 49ers are in a 3-4, Ray McDonald plays right defensive end and Justin Smith lines up, primarily, at right outside linebacker. In a 4-3, McDonald plays right defensive tackle and Smith plays right defensive end.

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TRAINING CAMP CALENDAR: After conducting just a one-hour special teams practice Tuesday, the 49ers will practice twice on Wednesday and conduct a morning practice Thursday leading up to their first exhibition game against the Raiders in Oakland on Friday evening. The 49ers practice most mornings, beginning at 8:50 a.m. Every other day, they have a second full-squad practice in the afternoon. On the other days, they hold special-teams practices in the afternoon. The 49ers break camp on Aug. 22, the day after an exhibition game at the Chicago Bears.

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QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to talk numbers, nothing. I'm just going to go out there, try to stay healthy, try to play hard and just give it all I have, you know?" -- RB Frank Gore on avoiding making a lofty prediction, such as saying last year he expected to rush for 2,200 yards.

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB J.T. O'Sullivan -- A week ago he was not even being talked about as a candidate for the starting job. Now, he looks better than Alex Smith and Shaun Hill. O'Sullivan had a couple solid days of practice to become a factor in the race. His big advantage is that he has been in Mike Martz's system for a year. It shows in his command of the offense. If the 49ers were to play a game today, he would give them their best chance to win.

ROOKIE REPORT: DE Kentwan Balmer missed most of the week of practice with a right ankle sprain. He is listed as day-to-day. Before getting injured he lined up with the second-team defense at left defensive end. ... RG Chilo Rachal is working with the second-team offense. Tony Wragge appears to be comfortably ahead of Rachal. Wragge is working with the first team because David Baas will miss training camp with a torn pectoral tendon. ... CB Reggie Smith has looked good in training camp, but it might not be enough to work his way into a significant role during the season because of the 49ers' improved depth in the secondary. ... WR Josh Morgan continued to show a lot of good things during training camp. He has picked up the offense well, and appears to be in solid position to make the 53-man roster. ... C Cody Wallace appeared to struggle early in camp during one-on-one blocking drills. But as he has become more comfortable, Wallace's play has picked up. The 49ers are not second-guessing their decision to select him in the fourth round.

INJURY REPORT: G David Baas is not expected back until late in the exhibition season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pec tendon. He is on PUP. ... NT Aubrayo Franklin (calf) was activated off the PUP list and is back practicing at full speed. ... LT Joe Staley was removed from the non-football injury list after missing four days with a foot infection. He is back working at full speed. ... WR Ashley Lelie (calf) has missed a week with his strain but appears to be ready to return to action. ... Rookie DE Kentwan Balmer sustained a right ankle sprain, but is running and is expected to return to the practice field in the coming days. ... OT Damane Duckett (knee) missed four days with a sprain. He is back working with the second offense. ... S Mark Roman (hamstring) has been out since the middle of the week with a hamstring strain. He is still listed as day-to-day. ... S Lewis Baker (thigh) missed most of the week with a contusion. His return is listed as day-to-day.

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PLAYER NOTES:
--- OL Jeb Terry was waived/injured after sustaining a foot injury in training camp. Terry was competing for a roster spot at guard before seeing his camp cut short.
--- OL John Booker, an undrafted free agent from San Jose State, was signed to take Jeb Terry's place on the roster. The 49ers originally signed Booker after the draft but they released him leading up to camp to create room to sign their draft picks.
--- WR Robert Jordan, a promising undrafted free agent, was waived during the first week of camp to enable him to grieve over the death of his grandfather. Coach Mike Nolan said he would like Jordan to rejoin the team when he's ready.
--- WR Robert Ortiz was signed to take the roster spot of Robert Jordan. Ortiz (6-1, 188) was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Chargers in 2006. He caught 27 passes for 255 yards and two TDs for the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europa in 2007. He signed with the Seahawks last summer, but was waived in training camp. He signed with the Patriots in May and was waived last week.
--- FB Moran Norris is in a battle to win a roster spot. A starter the past two seasons, Norris is competing with Zak Keasey. The 49ers might keep only one fullback this season because of the overlap that exists in the Mike Martz offense with the tight ends - or H-back position.


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