Nolan hopes to build 49ers through draft

Mike Nolan hopes he doesn't have to go on another shopping spree again. While the San Francisco 49ers head coach acknowleded it was necessary to go out in the free agent market the way the team has done during the off season, he hopes it won't have to do that again.

"The objective is to have continuity on the team," said Nolan, who's entering his third year as the 49ers coach. Nolan was at Squaw Valley on Friday as he's at the resort this weekend for the 49ers Foundation seventh annual charity Celebrity Winter and Wine Fest.

Under Nolan, the 49ers have made steady improvement, going 4-12 in 2005 and 7-9 in 2006. To continue the improvement, the 49ers have been busy during the offseason, signing six new players.

The 49ers took significant measures to improve its defense, signing five players and also signed receiver Ashley Lelie.

The two signings that have made the biggest splash were cornerback Nate Clements and safety Michael Lewis, who are both expected to start this season. Clements is considered by many to be the best coverage cornerback in the National Football League.

Nolan said he would prefer in the future that the Niners would only have to sign no more than three free agents during an off season. He said the key to that is having strong drafts.

While Nolan said he's been pleased with the first two drafts the 49ers have had since he's been the coach, previous drafts have forced the team to make more moves in the offseason. He noted that many of the players who were drafted high before he became the coach are no longer with the team.

The other free agents who were signed by the 49ers were defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and linebackers Colby Bockwoldt and Tully Banta-Cain. Nolan said all six free agents should have a chance to start or at least receive significant playing time.

He also said the free agents will create more competition for playing time. "I believe all these guys will help us," Nolan said.

Nolan said the 49ers are hoping Lelie will become the team's No. 2 or even No. 1 receiver. Nolan noted Lelie has a high average yards per catch.

"If he can do that, that will be great for us," said Nolan about Lelie becoming the team's No. 1 receiver.

It's important to have strong drafts, Nolan said, because that creates a solid salary cap situation, allowing a team to go after the best available free agents.

"You can't get enough good players," Nolan said. "I think we've done great in the drafts."

The 49ers will continue their philosophy of stockpiling players in the draft. The 49ers could have as many as 10 picks when the NFL draft is held April 29-29 and as many as eight in the first four rounds.

Right now, the 49ers have six picks in the first four rounds. "One player isn't going to take you to the promised land," Nolan said.

The 49ers have the 11th overall pick in the draft. Nolan said the team plans to keep the pick, but could trade up or down if another club approaches it.

Nolan noted outstanding players have been taken at No. 11, including Jay Cutler by the Denver Broncos last year. Nolan said the "worst" player who's been taken at No. 11 in recent years has been Ron Dayne.

"We will take the best player available," Nolan said. "We'll take the best available player in our minds anyhow."

Nolan stressed that no matter the position, the 49ers will take the best player available. With the depth of defensive backs that could be a defensive back and even though the 49ers have signed Lewis and Clements, Nolan said the team would take a defensive back.

"It's too early to tell," said Nolan about who the 49ers could take. "Their could be any number of players that could get to 11."

Nolan said you don't want to "get ahead of yourself" when talking about goals, but he said the goal remains the same and that's to win the division and make the playoffs.

He said once a team makes the playoffs it can change its goals. "I don't think talking about the division is getting ahead of yourself," Nolan said.

A player who could figure in the 49ers plans this year is offensive lineman Harvey Dahl of Fallon. Dahl played in NFL Europe for a year and then made the 49ers 53-man roster. He was activated for four games.

Nolan said the plan is to have Dahl go through the team's offseason program so he can become "bigger and stronger" and that he won't be playing in NFL Europe this year.

One word that describes Dahl is "toughness," Nolan said. "He's done a great job," Nolan said. "He came back last year a better player."

Nolan said Dahl has a chance to make the active roster, but added depending on what the team's needs are, could be traded after summer training camp begins.

"He's got some real promise," Nolan said. "Harvey will play in this league. Right now I'd like him be with us."

The 49ers stayed in the hunt for the NFC West Division title last year and could have made things even more interesting with a win in St. Louis against the Rams. The decision Nolan was most remembered for last year happened when he decided to kick a field goal late in the game instead of going for it on fourth and an inch inside the Rams 10.

The field goal gave the 49ers a 17-13 lead. The Rams proceeded to drive down the field for a touchdown, winning 20-17. "I hear about it from time to time," Nolan said. "Hindsight is always 20-20."

Nolan said his decision was affected by the Rams kicking a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half.

"What I didn't think they could do was get in position to make a touchdown," Nolan said.

In virtually any other scenario, Nolan said, "We would have gone for it for sure. Knowing what I know now I would have gone for it. I twould have bee a great win if we would have won it."

Nolan wore a suit in two games last year and said he would like to do that again this season. He said about wearing a suit in every game, "if they allow me, I would."

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