Nolan says 49ers are making strides

The suddenly competitive San Francisco 49ers are 4-5 and tied for second place in the NFC West and they play host to the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday at Monster Park. This game, against the defending conference and division champion will be a barometer for how far Mike Nolan's team has come and the second-year head coach has come and how much farther they have to go.

"Back-to-back wins, winning on the road, were obviously things we were struggling against that we were able to accomplish," Nolan said at his Monday press conference. "I'm very pleased about those things as a team. As I look for answers to why things have been the way they have been after a couple of difficult weeks, I believe the answers all come back to me as collective answers. What I mean by that is that I believe we are playing better collectively, in all areas. We've certainly shown that the last two weeks.

"Reasons for that, I would say some of that comes from just the consistency and the persistence of doing some things after practice, as our guys have always done. Things during the day and the evening, the additional film work they get, all of these things are not new to their routine, but again there is a payoff period at some point and you have got to stick with it. Even during the most difficult defeats, the guys have continued to come in with a positive attitude and work hard."

Nolan also credited his players' positive outlook as reasons for their newfound success.

"The attitudes and the work ethic are the two things that stand out the most to me as far as the collective reasons," Nolan noted. "We've got a lot of guys who are lunch pail kind of guys that come in and do that. We want to maintain that kind of work ethic with us.

"I thought that we played our most physical game (vs. Detroit) to date as a football team. It was more physical than others, but at the same time as a collective group I thought we did that well."

From an offensive standpoint, Nolan has one of the best young backfields in the league with QB Alex Smith and RB Frank Gore and they were a big reason the team was able to get the "road-monkey" off their back.

"On an individual level, after watching the film, Alex Smith had a really good game," Nolan said. "He continued to get first downs, moved the ball, and made some plays, whether it was shoving the ball out there or running for a first down. He avoided two or three blitzes in the game and got the ball checked down.

"As we all know that is the most important thing a quarterback can do for your team is managing the offense and staying on the field and getting first downs. He did a nice job in that area.

"I think everyone knows (Gore) had 159 yards on the day, but he had 148 in the first half prior to getting a minor concussion. He did a nice job in the game. He ran hard and the offensive line did a nice job blocking for him. As we all witnessed and saw that at times that on a downhill play, it's not only Frank making people miss, but receivers blocking as well."

Referring back to Smith, Nolan said he is happy about the progress of his second-year signal-caller and he said he expects him to keep improving because of one thing – his work ethic.

"He's got great work ethic," Nolan said. "Everybody sees talent when you go to the combines and watch college football players. Everybody sees athleticism and that's how you get in the arena, that's how you get in the pool. Outside of that, the guys that make the next step are the guys who have some intangibles inside.

"What he has, I would like to think are the types of things of why, just like Peyton Manning, he can get better every single year. I would like to think that Alex will be one of those guys. Now what his ceiling is, I don't know, but I'd like to think that he would get better each and every year, because he does the things that it takes to get better.

"Alex's personality is not one of ‘Hey, I've arrived!' or ‘Boy, wasn't that a great game? Aren't I great?' That's not Alex. Alex was very critical of himself last night. He was talking about the game and he said, ‘I missed some plays.' Yeah, he missed some plays, but he also took his team to a victory and kept first downs coming, and made some real nice plays, whether it was the draw or the missed sack on a key play. He did some real nice things."

As mentioned earlier, Gore had a minor concussion during the Lions game, but Nolan said there are others that concern him heading into this week's game against the Seahawks.

"CB Mike Adams, I think he's fine, I saw him in there on the treadmill, so he must feel pretty good," Nolan said going down the list of possible injured players. "OT Adam Snyder has an inflammation thing that occurred later in the week and began to bother him during the game. I was visiting with head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson last night, and he said he should be fine. He didn't get hit or anything it was an inflammation from something else.

"We'll list Vernon Davis as questionable, and we'll see how the week goes. I'm anxious to get in the meeting today and see where that stands. Hopefully we'll get him back this week. He was another one who was running on the treadmill and sweating pretty well. Hopefully he was running hard. We'll see how that goes, I think he's good."

With young playmakers emerging on the offensive side of the ball, some may forget that Nolan is a defensive-minded coach who brought with him a hard-nosed style of defense to a unit that had struggled to stop anyone in recent years. Nolan didn't hesitate to explain the progression of his young defense and how they are finally starting to "get it".

"As I tell them all the time, there's no magical wand and it doesn't happen on the timetable we'd all like, but when it does happen, you've got to stay with the things that you're doing," Nolan said. "Right now, we can see some good things happening. We'll see where that takes us. It's one of those things where you look back and you'll be able to say where you were and when something happened, but when you're amongst all that going on, whether you're playing well or badly, you really don't know sometimes where you really stand in the final product of what it's going to look like.

"Whether all 11 that are out there playing on defense (right now) are a part of the defense or not next year – it would be nice if they were at least a part of the organization, because they've all busted their tail – they are a huge part in the building of the defense and the success that comes down the road, because they are establishing a standard and a work ethic that when times get tough, you continue to work through them. That's huge, because the young guys, whether it's a Manny Lawson or a Parys Haralson or all of those guys, even the offensive players who view the defense are around it, see that there's a standard being set for how it's supposed to be.

"That's something that was an integral part of the 49ers' success when they got it turned around in the ‘80s. Everybody reflects on the work ethic of a Jerry Rice or Roger Craig or Ronnie Lott, you could probably go down the list. It's the same thing right now. I believe that the guys who are out there right now are going to be an integral part of the success down the road."

Early in the season, the 49ers had some tough losses and when that happens, sometimes a team can lose its focus and mail the rest of the season in. Nolan said he never worried too much about that.

"I never questioned losing the team or not, because our team has not shown any signs of quitting, but I will be honest with you, when we kept turning the ball over, it was hard for me to figure out why it was happening," Nolan admitted. "Why are we playing so poorly? Because the week before we didn't play very well, either.

"Every time there's a loss or a victory, I try to put a reason to it, so that I can help our football team get better. That's my job. It's not my job to feel bad about the loss or even feel good about the win. It's my job to say ‘Here's why it happened and here's how to correct it.' Because otherwise, they just go in the tank with me if I'm in the tank, or they'll stay high and disregard the fact that you got your tail kicked, because they'll say, ‘Coach says to just dismiss the loss and move on.' But that's not the way you get better, and that's why, to some degree, we have some good performances coming after some bad defeats."

The 49ers players have Tuesday off and will hit the practice field tomorrow to prepare for their game against the Seahawks on Sunday.

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Feel free to contact him at Top Stories