2009 training camp: 49ers' top goals

The countdown to training camp has begun for the 49ers, who certainly have some issues to resolve this summer in their quest to take back the NFC West and end a franchise-worst string of six consecutive losing seasons. Here are the objectives that top the list of the team's goals to accomplish once camp practices begin on Aug. 1.

Decide on a starting quarterback: Shaun Hill finished the season strong as the 49ers won four of their final five games. Hill played well after taking over for turnover-prone J.T. O'Sullivan at midseason. But Alex Smith, who was inconsistent in his first two NFL seasons and has not played a healthy game since early in 2007, remains in the picture for a starting job. Smith has looked strong during spring drills and is back in play for a possible starting bid that used to be his. Coach Mike Singletary said Hill and Smith are in a virtual dead heat. He also acknowledges that Hill's performance at the end of last season carries some weight in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of the NFL. After all, without Hill's steadying influence, Singletary might not have won the permanent coaching job. Smith got himself back in the conversation this offseason after accepting a significant pay cut to return to the 49ers. His shoulder came around quickly after season-ending surgery. During the team's offseason camps, general manager Scot McCloughan said he thought Smith was throwing the ball with the best velocity and accuracy he has shown since coming to the 49ers as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft. While Hill ostensibly is in the lead entering training camp, Smith is closing in and has a legitimate shot take the job away from him before the season begins.

Produce a consistent pass rush: In the 49ers' 3-4 scheme, they expect the bulk of the pass rush to be supplied by the outside linebackers. Parys Haralson led the 49ers last season with eight sacks, but the 49ers had difficulty finding anyone competent on the other side. Outside linebacker Manny Lawson will finally be given the opportunity to remain on the field in pass-rush situations. The 49ers cut ties with Roderick Green and Tully Banta-Cain, who combined for four sacks last season. They did not add a big-name veteran or a draft pick. The club is showing a lot of trust in Lawson, who added some weight in the offseason with the idea that it will help his versatility with pass-rush moves. Lawson came to the 49ers as a first-round draft pick in 2006 with the potential to be a big-time pass rusher, but that did not materialize in his first three NFL seasons, one of which was almost totally wiped out by a knee injury. The 49ers drafted Lawson based mostly on his ability to rush the passer in college and be a good fit on the edge in their 3-4 defensive scheme. However, Lawson showed tremendous versatility after coming to the 49ers. Last season when he was coming off a 2007 torn knee ligament, Lawson was used primarily for his coverage skills on first downs.

Follow the leader: Singletary definitely has a unique coaching style. It is not uncommon for him to stop practices to deliver long sermons to motivate his players to work harder. His foot is always on the accelerator, as he sees every practice as an opportunity to improve the team. Singletary is a head coach for his first full season. His players have spun unfailingly positive about his influence. But Singletary must also master other parts of the game, in addition to the motivational aspect. How will he manage a game? Will he be able to keep his emotions in check when times get difficult? And how much influence will he exert when it comes to the offensive side of the ball? Singletary had difficulty finding an offensive coordinator after he fired Mike Martz from that position two days after the season. He reportedly had his sights set on three other candidates before finding what he was looking for in veteran coach Jimmy Raye. Under Singletary's direction, Raye has installed a power-running attack that is likely to use heavy doses of play-action passing.

CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies report Tuesday, July 28. Veterans report Thursday, July 30. First practice is Saturday, Aug. 1. Joint practices with Raiders in Napa, Calif., scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 19, and Thursday, Aug. 20. Team breaks camp Friday, Aug. 28.


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