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

October 5, 2007
Contract years bring out the best

Two of the best 49ers defenders this season - perhaps not surprisingly --- are in the final year of their contracts. Defensive end Marques Douglas leads the league in a category the 49ers call "stuffs," which they define as tackles behind the line of scrimmage on running plays. Douglas has six stuffs so far this season, one more than Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson. Nolan said Douglas' play this season is all the more remarkable because, as the team's right defensive end, he has been matched up against some of the best left tackles in the league, such as Seattle's Walter Jones.

Another defender in his contract year is Isaac Sopoaga, who also has been adept at breaking into the offensive backfield. When the 49ers went to a 4-3 defense Sunday against Seattle, they sat linebacker Tully Banta-Cain on first and second downs in favor of Sopoaga, who played both defensive end and defensive tackle.

The 49ers would like to have both players back next season and both have said they'd like to remain in San Francisco. So far, though, no deals have been made.

"I'd love to have him on the seam for a while," Nolan said today when asked about Douglas. "But for right now, we're putting that on hold as far as that goes. We'll have an opportunity one way or another unless Marques doesn't want to be here."

Alex Smith ditched the sling he has been wearing since Sunday and let his right arm go free. In fact, Smith shook hands with a reporter and was observed on the sideline flipping a ball -underhanded - a few feet in the air. He can raise his arm perpendicular with the ground, Nolan said, but can't yet raise it above his head. Maybe coming back in time for the Oct. 21 game against the Giants isn't so farfetched after all.

Nolan said that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis likes to watch the opposition's middle linebacker, and the coach said he was sure Lewis would have a few words for rookie Patrick Willis after Sunday's game. Nolan said that rookies are often described as showing "flashes." What that means, he said, is that they play well on one play and stink on the next. So far, he said Willis has been consistently good. "I'll be honest with you, I haven't seen a (stink) play."

Practice-squad receiver Dominique Zeigler has made a few Brandon-Lloyd-esque catches in recent weeks, including one today in which he tipped the ball to himself and made the catch on his back. Appropriately, he was named Nolan's practice player of the week.

Tight end Billy Bajema (ankle) went through a limited practice today and is questionable for Sunday's game. Of the two rookies with hamstring issues, cornerback Tarell Brown is probable while receiver Jason Hill is doubtful.

The team captains for Sunday are Douglas on defense, Trent Dilfer on offense and Joe Nedney on special teams.

-- 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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