Nolan, 49ers go through offseason changes
SQUAW VALLEY – The San Francisco 49ers made steady progress in Mike Nolan’s first two seasons.
But under the head coach, the 49ers took a step back and that led to many offseason moves that included the addition of six free agents, offensive coordinator Mike Martz and Nolan losing his title as general manager.
The 49ers improved from 2-14 to 4-12 in Nolan’s first season, then improved to 7-9 in Nolan’s second year. But last year the 49ers finished 5-11.
During a chalk talk on Friday at the Squaw Valley Resort where Nolan was attending the 49ers annual charity ski event, he said his expecation for last year’s team was to win 8-10 games.
“The first couple years we thought we made very good progress,” Nolan said during the chalk talk. “I’m not one for excuses.”
Then Nolan admitted he had “to make a couple of excuses” for what happened last year. Nolan actually still didn’t want to make excuses for last year, but brought up two circumstances that led to the 49ers downfall.
First, then offensive coordinator Norv Turner left in February to become the San Diego Chargers head coach. Then quarterback Alex Smith was injured early in the season.
And the end result was a 49ers team with a sputtering offense that left an otherwise solid defense under first-year defensive coordinator Greg Munasky on the field too long. Munasky is back and to make sure his defense has plenty of help, the 49ers brought in Mike Martz to be the offensive coordinator.
The track record of offensive success under Martz as a coach and a coordinator with such teams as the St. Louis Rams and most recently the Detroit Lions is well-known.
Nolan noted that Smith is 7-5 as a starter. “He can do the job,” Nolan said.
But the 49ers also discovered another quarterback at the end of last year who can do the job in Shaun Hill.
“Shaun Hill has the capability to be the guy also and start, so we have competition,” Nolan said.
A key for the 49ers will be for both Smith and Hill to stay healthy. When asked if it’s important for a team to have at least two capable quarterbacks to make it through an entire season in an interview after the chalk talk, Nolan said, “Without question. We were a good example of that last year.”
The 49ers also added depth at running back, signing veteran DeShaun Foster to go along with Frank Gore. Receiver Isaac Bruce, who’s obviously familiar with the system of Martz, was also brought in to bolster the offense.
In addition, quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, who was the backup at Detroit, was brought in to be the third string quarterback and since he knows the system of Martz, it figures he should be a big help to Smith and Hill.
The defense returns mostly in tact, but the 49ers made an effort to bolster their defense as well with the additions such as defensive lineman Justin Smith.
And the 49ers will look to add more depth – and at least two starters – when it has six picks in the NFL draft on April 26 and 27. Nolan has been a coach in the Senior Bowl the past three years and when asked which is a better judge of talent, the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine, he said there was no comparison.
“The combine is the worst place to go to watch a guy play football,” Nolan said. “If you want to put a track team together, go to the combine.”
He also said “The Senior Bowl is without question the very best” way to evaluate talent.
At the Senior Bowl, several USC players were among those he was most impressed with, Nolan said. Linebacker Keith Rivers, defensive lineman Cedric Ellis, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and cornerback Terrell Thomas are among USC’s top draft prospects.
Rivers had a phenomenal pro day recently at USC, running a 4.51 40 and had a vertical jump of 36 inches. Rivers and Ellis won’t be around when the 49ers pick as both are expected to go in the first 15 picks.
The 49ers won’t pick until 29th in the first round and then will pick 39th. Jackson and Thomas could be players who are picked at one – or both of those spots.
But Nolan said “there’s a number of great players, they’re really are” who should be available when the 49ers pick. “If it goes as we hope we’ll get two starters at 29 and 39.”
Nolan relinquished his general manager position to Scott. But Nolan said the only thing that has changed in the arrangement is that Scott now has the final say on draft choices.
In the past, Nolan had the final say. And Nolan still has the final say over the 49ers 53-man roster.
“As long s we’re on the same page that will be my issue,” Nolan said. Nolan said since he and Scott have worked together, they’ve had only a couple of “minimal” disagreements.
Nolan last year was allowed to wear a suit more frequently. The next logical step for tradition is for the 49ers to go back to their old-style uniforms.
The possibility of going back to the old uniforms was discussed, Nolan said, but in the end the ownership decided to stick with the current style. If and when the 49ers wear throwback jerseys is the NFL’s decision.
“I’d be all for it,” said Nolan about going back to the tradition uniforms. “(At least) something close to it.”