49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

June 4, 2007
Rookie Hill is catching on

SANTA CLARA - Jason Hill has a long way to go toward winning the trust of 49ers coaches and quarterbacks.

But the rookie receiver took his first small step in that direction Monday with a diving catch along the sideline. Quarterback Trent Dilfer had nowhere else to go with the ball, so he threw a dart down and away in a spot where no one but Hill had a shot at it. The San Francisco native not only caught it, he sprung up and raced downfield toward the end zone.

When he got back in the huddle, Dilfer gave the rookie a thumbs up, telling him plays like that build confidence in the mind of a quarterback.

Said Hill: "My eyes lit up when Trent told me that."

During the 49ers' minicamp last month, Hill's eyes were mostly glazed over. Like most rookies, he didn't know where to line up and had trouble digesting even the limited game plan the coaches fed the newcomers. As a result, he was in on only a handful of plays during the three-day camp.

"It was like learning French, man," Hill said. "It was totally new to me."

He ought to get far more work during the team's current organized team activities, or OTAs, which last until June 22.

The 49ers' top receiver, Darrell Jackson, is out until training camp with a toe injury while the player ahead of Hill on the depth chart, free-agent addition Ashley Lelie, is slowed by a quadriceps injury. Lelie missed nearly all of the minicamp with a strained quadriceps and was held back Monday when he felt the muscle tighten.

"I definitely see an opening," Hill said. "This is my time to shine. Whether the (other receivers) are injured or not, this is my time to shine."

Coach Mike Nolan is hesitant to evaluate players in the spring when, in his words, "they're running around in shorts." But he said he thought Hill already was better than he was a month ago.

Still, that can change.

"If you ask me tomorrow, I might be on his (butt)," Nolan said.

Injury updates - Center Eric Heitmann and tight end Delanie Walker are being eased back into practice after missing the team's May minicamp. Heitmann broke his leg early in the team's Dec. 14 game in Seattle but has made a quick recovery. Walker, meanwhile, had offseason shoulder surgery after suffering a dislocated shoulder last summer.

Jackson (toe), tackle Jonas Jennings (shoulder), guard Justin Smiley (shoulder) and cornerback Shawntae Spencer (bone spurs) are being held out of OTAs and will return for training camp.

Right tackle Kwame Harris, meanwhile, suffered back spasms early in Monday's practice. Rookie Joe Staley stepped in for him.

New kid on the block - Thin at fullback, the 49ers got a bit deeper at the position when rookie Steve Dildine, a linebacker at Washington State, decided to try his hand at blocking. The 6-foot, 238-pound Dildine is following in the footsteps of Zak Keasey, a Princeton linebacker who switched to fullback upon joining the 49ers last year.

As of now, Keasey and Dildine are the only fullbacks backing up starter Moran Norris.

Pick again - Personnel chief Scot McCloughan said the 49ers will do their due diligence on Paul Oliver, a cornerback out of Georgia who intends to enter the supplemental draft.

"He's an intriguing guy," McCloughan said. "He started every game in the SEC (last year). There's something to be said for that."

So far, Oliver is the only player to declare for the supplemental draft, which is scheduled for July 12.

Many happy returns - Brandon Williams, Arnaz Battle and Nate Clements all took turns returning punts Monday. Battle or Clements likely will be Williams' backup. As far as returning kicks, Nolan said he'd like to see how rookie cornerback Tarell Brown, who performed the duty at Texas, handles the role.

Not well suited - Nolan said he has been informed by the NFL and Reebok that he will be permitted to wear a suit on the sideline only twice this upcoming season. Nolan wants to honor his father, former 49ers coach Dick Nolan, as well as other coaches of that era, by wearing a suit and tie every game.

- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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