Singletary pleased as spring drills reach end

Coach Mike Singletary continues to grind away during 49ers' offseason practices. He said he was pleased with the tone that was set after he disciplined the team during practice early last week. The 49ers practiced seven consecutive days, and Singletary said he was pleased with the final three days of work. The team finishes its spring workout schedule with practices on Monday and Tuesday.

"The most important thing for myself and the guys is we're going to come out here and get better," Singletary said. "Every time we're not getting better, we have to take a step back and look at what we're doing and redirect some things and rethink some things."

The 49ers' better performance in practice might have something to do with better play from the quarterbacks, as the team gets more and more familiar with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's system.

Alex Smith has looked as good as ever on the practice field. He appears to be completely recovered from the shoulder injuries that plagued his last two seasons.

Shaun Hill, who ended last season as the starter, has also continued to show improvement.

While Singletary said he is encouraged with what he's seen from Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, he said it is way too early to read anything into the improvements.

"When you look out here at times it looks as if he does," Singletary said. "But at the same time, nothing means anything until he's out there facing some live bullets. All of a sudden, all form and technique goes when you got guys coming at you."'

Singletary said he needs to see Smith carry over his practice-field success to the exhibition season. The 49ers' first exhibition game is Friday, Aug. 14, against the Broncos.

Veteran quarterback Damon Huard is currently the No. 3 quarterback. He is not getting many reps during practice. As a 13-year veteran, Huard's role is to remain ready with limited practice time.

Huard said Raye's offensive system is similar to the offense he ran four of the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

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As the offseason program winds down, the quarterback competition appears to be picking up.

Hill was considered the frontrunner to win the starting job when the offseason began based on his solid play in the second half of the season which helped guarantee Mike Singletary's promotion to permanent head coach.

But Smith is shaking off the effects of two seasons cut short from shoulder injuries. General manager Scot McCloughan said Smith's recent practices are the best he has seen from him since the 49ers selected Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.

Smith has improved his accuracy, arm strength and tightness of spiral, McCloughan said.

"You see more confidence," McCloughan said. "The players have to see it, too, to be a leader at that position."

With Hill at quarterback, the 49ers finished the season with five victories in their final eight games. Hill is not as physically gifted as Smith. Hill's strengths are his accuracy in the short-passing game and intangibles, such as leadership and game-management skills.

Smith said Singletary will likely consider a lot of factors, aside from passing ability, when deciding the starter. While nobody questions Hill's ability to lead, there are questions about Smith.

"I think leadership is respect, and I don't think anybody respects false leadership," Smith said. "I think you have to earn respect. You have to earn your teammates' respect. Just because you play quarterback doesn't mean they're going to respect you.

"I think guys respect you going about your job the right way - work ethic, attitude toward the game and your commitment level. Those are the things guys look at and see and respect. I think that's how leadership is formed."

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McCloughan finally put an end to speculation quarterback Michael Vick might resume his playing career with the 49ers.

Appearing on Sirius NFL Radio, McCloughan ruled out the possibility of Vick joining the 49ers – if and when he is cleared to play in the NFL after serving a prison sentence on dog-fighting charges.

"Coach (Mike Singletary) and I have sat down," McCloughan said. "We sat down and talked last week. We had an off-week of OTAs and we discussed about Michael Vick, and we're not going to go that route. We will not do it."

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Veteran receiver Isaac Bruce said he is fine with a role as a mentor, as long as he keeps his conversation to a minimum. He said the best advice he can give a youngster is just to watch.

"When I came in, there were guys who had been in the league for a while, guys like Flipper Anderson, and if I was interested in being a good receiver in the NFL, I think he was a good guy that I could watch," Bruce said. "I didn't really have to talk to him, I could just watch what he did and just do the same things that he did and get the same results. So, if I'm a mentor, I'll be that. If I'm not, I'm not."

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Defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer, who had a less-than promising rookie season, is a player Singletary has been raving about.

Singletary said he tried to keep the veterans away from the minicamp after the draft that was designed for rookies and first-year players. "He was the only veteran I could not run off," Singletary said.

Singletary said he spoke with Balmer's defensive line coach at North Carolina, John Blake, who told him Balmer was "very raw." Singletary said that was an understatement. But toward the end of last season, he said he began to understand why 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan selected Balmer at the end of the first round.

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The 49ers are serious about returning to more of a power-running attack this season under offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. That is the main reason the club brought back fullback Moran Norris.

With Norris as the lead-blocker in 2006, running back Frank Gore rushed for 1,695 yards, a franchise record. Gore fully endorsed the move to re-sign his good buddy.

"As a team, we're trying to be physical, and that's what he is," Gore said. He also said the two have developed a good rapport on the field. "If he does something wrong, I give him a look," he said. "If I do something wrong, he give me a look. I know his technique and how he blocks."

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Typically this is a time of year when roster activity is minimal. But the 49ers have witnessed two developments recently that could have major impacts on the team's defensive backfield.

Safety Mark Roman, who was given permission to seek a trade this offseason, said he is happy to return to the 49ers, a team for which he has started the past 48 games. Roman is slated to be a backup to Dashon Goldson, the new starter at free safety, and strong safety Michael Lewis.

Roman underwent surgery in February to remove bone spurs from his foot. He has started participating in the 49ers' offseason program after his status with the club remained in limbo after the 49ers allowed him to seek a new home – provided he could find a team that viewed him as a starter.

In the end, Roman decided the best situation for himself was back with the 49ers.

"For the last 10 years, I've been Mark Roman, football player," he said. "And that's what I do best. And I'm going to continue to do that. Starting, backing up, it doesn't matter to me because through it all, I'm going to still be who I am anyways. I'm a football player, and I'm going to be that first of all."

Roman was removed from the starting lineup to allow Goldson a chance to show what he can do. Roman went two full seasons without recording an interception.

"It's like I never left," Roman said.

The other big development with the 49ers is at cornerback, where veteran Dre' Bly signed a one-year contract to replace veteran Walt Harris, who is expected to miss the season with a torn knee ligament.

Bly appeared at the 49ers' organized team activities to begin competing for a starting job. He said he is excited about joining his new team.

"This is a team with a lot of potential," he said.

He said another selling point for him to accept the veteran minimum salary was to play for coach Mike Singletary.

"The sense I got from the guys is they respond to him," Bly said. "They like who they have leading the team and I'm glad to be a part of it. Championship teams start with a great leader, a great guy at the top and that is what we have in coach Singletary. He's a guy that's won, he's a Hall of Famer, a guy with a lot of passion about the game and just a great man and that's what you need when you are going to be a good football team. You need somebody great to lead you."

Bly has a game circled on his calendar, even if it will not count in the standings. The 49ers open the exhibition season against the Denver Broncos, the team that released Bly in February.

"Oh, I'm looking forward to that," Bly said. "I'm going to be licking my chops, because anytime you leave a team, you look forward to competing. It's nothing personal and I have a lot of good friends: Brandon Stokley, Brandon Marshall, if he's still a part of the team with all that trouble he's gotten into lately. But I look forward to competing with those guys and seeing how things go."

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When Bly arrived on the scene with the St. Louis Rams, he regularly went against Isaac Bruce in practices. But it took time before Bruce would even speak to Bly.

"I was very successful in college and had a lot of hype and stuff like that, but Isaac, his thing was, that stuff is in the past," Bly said.

Once Bly started to prove himself, Bruce started to speak with him.

"From that point on, my DB coach told me just listen to everything he says. He's a perennial Pro Bowl player and he knows what he's talking about and I did and 10 years later."

Bly and Bruce are reunited this season with the 49ers. In fact, when the 49ers contacted Bly about flying in for a free-agent visit, one of the first calls he made was the Bruce.

"So I'm glad to be here and still have a chance to compete with him, because I know Isaac, we know how to push each other and he knows how to get the best out of me and I'm glad to be here," Bly said.

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