Notebook: 49ers lining up draft visits

The 49ers own the No. 10 overall pick in the draft and they are busy lining up visits with some of the candidates. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez is one of the top-flight prospects scheduled to meet with the 49ers in the near future – he's coming to the team facility next week – and team officials got a look at Sanchez during USC's Pro Day earlier this week, where Sanchez was extremely impressive.

Sanchez stole the show with a stunning throwing session. The workout also featured the athleticism and toughness of a trio of Trojan linebackers, sticky hands and impressive route-running by wide receiver Patrick Turner, and, unfortunately, pulled hamstrings by two of USC's most underrated defenders.

Sanchez impressed scouts with his willingness to throw at the combine in February. But a lackluster performance there had scouts diving back into film of Sanchez's season and appeared to open the door for Kansas State's Josh Freeman – who also is scheduled to visit with the 49ers next week – to potentially be the second quarterback selected after Georgia's Matt Stafford.

Sanchez put a stop to that Wednesday during USC's Pro Day. His performance there was considerably better - which was clear even to the media members allowed to view the workout.

Top 10 better? Probably. And that may take him out of reach of the 49ers, even if they would consider him – or Stafford, for that matter – with their precious No. 10 pick.

Sanchez had dinner with representatives of the Seattle Seahawks (owners of the fourth overall pick) and Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 8) on Tuesday. Officials for both clubs laughed off the dinner as "just guys having dinner together," but the implications are significant, especially after Sanchez's performance Wednesday.

"I though he threw the ball well," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "Watching (Sanchez), watching the receiver (Turner), I thought it was a good workout. A real good workout."

Of the 70-plus throws Sanchez made Wednesday, only eight hit the ground. Of the eight, only three were misfires. Sanchez was poised, technically sound, efficient in his setup and release and deadly accurate. His passes were thrown with significantly more accuracy and velocity than at the combine.

How high can Sanchez move up considering the workout was staged on his home campus and didn't feature defenders? Higher than you might think.

"Outstanding workout. He threw the ball well," said one prominent member of the staff of the Detroit Lions, who own the No. 1 overall pick.

When asked to compare the workout to the one he and the rest of the Lions staff put Stafford through Tuesday, he said, "It would be really tough to differentiate between the two. Really. It was an impressive workout. We're going to have a hard time making this decision."

Though the Lions reportedly will not ask for a private workout with Sanchez as they did Stafford, Detroit did extend the Trojan's workout Wednesday.

Sanchez had thrown 55-60 passes, completing all of the passes in the typical NFL passing tree. He finished the workout and began shaking the hands of his receivers, Turner and former USC tight end Dominique Byrd among them, before Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan – yeah, that's the same guy who interviewed twice to be the 49ers' offensive coordinator earlier this year before taking himself out of consideration for the job – asked Sanchez to throw a few more.

Sanchez convened with Trojans coach Pete Carroll and the two men who helped orchestrate the workout - Sanchez's former high school coach Bob Johnson, and his son, Rob, a former USC standout - and then threw the requested passes.

First, there were several quick horizontal throws to the receiver (wide receiver screen type) so that scouts could see his complete throwing motion from the left and right sides. He was also asked to throw several vertical go-routes - throws he had not attempted during his earlier throwing performance. The first few passes were a bit deeper than Turner could get to. After putting too much air under his first three, Sanchez nailed the final three, including two deep down the seam to the tight end.

To say the least, Sanchez has piqued the 49ers interest, and they'll get an up-close-and-personal look at him next week at the team facility.

The 49ers, who were believed to have had an interest in acquiring Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler before he was traded to the Chicago Bears, could look to select a quarterback at some point in the draft even if they don't go for one of the premier candidates at the top of it.

"Anything can happen on draft day," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "We're still evaluating and looking for the best athlete available. The quarterback position, we're very thankful to have Shaun Hill and Alex Smith competing for the No. 1 spot. I feel very good about what they're doing."

The 49ers have a lot of flexibility in the draft. The club has nine draft picks, with the first two coming at Nos. 10 and 43 overall. There really is not a position that the 49ers can be ruled out from selection, other than punter and kicker.

One 49ers source said the team will seriously consider trading back in the draft. But that decision would not be made until the morning of the draft - if the players the club has targeted have already been chosen.

Other top candidates for the team's No. 10 pick – Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree and Mississippi offensive lineman Michael Oher among them – also are scheduled to visit with the team in the next few weeks.

SFI has obtained a full list of 18 prospects who will either visit with or workout for the team before the draft, and the rest of those names can be found in another story on the SFI site.

The 49ers are not focusing on just one position early in the draft. The team now has the flexibility to go in a lot of different directions.

The club recently filled a couple gaps on their roster with veterans when they signed offensive tackle Marvel Smith and veteran receiver Isaac Bruce decided to postpone retirement for at least another season.

Smith, who has missed 15 games because of back injuries the past two seasons, signed a two-year contract with the 49ers. He is slated to return to right tackle, where he played the first three seasons of his career.

The 49ers started three different players at right tackle last season. Joe Staley played every snap at that position in 2007, but he was moved to the left side last season.

Jonas Jennings began the season at right tackle, but he lasted just two games before seeing his season come to an end with a shoulder injury. Jennings was released last week in a move that coincided with the signing of Smith.

Barry Sims and Adam Snyder also played right tackle but did not provide the kind of performance that coach Mike Singletary wants to see.

"Everything they have set in place is geared towards being a physically dominant team on the field and that's the exact type of team I love playing for," Smith said.

Bruce, 36, was clearly the 49ers' top target in the passing game in 2008. He caught 61 passes for 835 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the 49ers in each of those categories. Bruce is entering the second season of a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

The assurances that he will return this season means the 49ers don't feel an immediate need to acquire a receiver via the draft, though they are almost certain to use at least one of their nine selections on a player at that position.

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The 49ers are excited about Bruce's return. He led the team in receiving last season and also won the team's most prestigious honor, the Len Eshmont Award, for courageous and inspirational play.

Although the 49ers wanted Bruce to return to the team, they began to make contingency plans for life without him. The club signed receiver Brandon Jones from the Tennessee Titans to a five-year, $16.5 million contract during the first weekend of free agency.

Bruce is one of the most productive receivers in NFL history. He ranks second all-time with 14,944 receiving yards; fifth with 1,003 receptions; and ninth in touchdown receptions with 91. Former 49er Jerry Rice is the all-time leader in each of those statistics.

With Bruce returning, there will be heightened competition for the starting position opposite Bruce, where Jones will challenge Josh Morgan, who's tentatively penciled in as the starting split end after his auspicious debut season last year, when he was one of the NFL's top rookie receivers as a sixth-round pick.

The 49ers also return solid veteran Arnaz Battle and rising youngster Jason Hill, along with youngster Dominique Zeigler, who was impressive in limited opportunities after being elevated from the practice squad.

Though the team is finally establishing some stability at one of its weakest positions of the past four years, the 49ers will look to add more impact at receiver during the draft, perhaps with a first-day selection.

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Marvel Smith said he does not care whether the 49ers plan to use a high draft pick on somebody who plays his position.

The 49ers will be taking a look at Oher and several of the other premier tackle prospects who could be available at their No. 10 pick but aren't likely to slide much farther down the draft board.

"It doesn't matter to me at all. I don't have any control over any type of decisions like that," he said. "To me, competition is great. If it's something you want bad enough, it's worth fighting for. The biggest thing is for me to go out there and perform and do the things I know I can do. Outside of that, I don't worry about anything else."

Smith grew up in Oakland, and now he is returning close to home to play for the 49ers. He said it was a major priority to play in California after spending the first nine years of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I didn't want to necessarily go play in the snow somewhere else at the end of my career," he said.

He said everybody in his family has been forced to switch allegiances now that he's with the 49ers.

"Everybody's really excited," he said. "I mean, it's crazy how many phone calls I've been getting from people I haven't talked to in years. I grew up in Oakland, so my family was all Raider fans growing up, but now they are all 49er fans now."

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Former 49ers coach Mike Nolan will make his debut as Broncos defensive coordinator when the teams meet in the exhibition opener for both teams at Candlestick Park. The 49ers fired Nolan as head coach in the middle of last season.

The other games on the 49ers exhibition schedule are at home against the Raiders in Week 2, then on the road against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3 and at the San Diego Chargers in Week 4.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me, he's the perfect type of coach to play for - somebody who's played in the NFL and did it at its highest level and he's been successful as a coach already. It's hard to find a coach with his qualities for the most part, and I'm looking forward to working with him" -- Marvel Smith on playing for coach Mike Singletary.


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