This just in. Upon signing his contract today, one of the first people Kentwan Balmer spoke with at the team facility was Bryant Young. Before you get your hopes up, no, BY has not come out of retirement. Instead, he was spending the day at headquarters as so many esteemed ex-49ers do. When Balmer saw Young, he said he made a bee-line to the 14-year veteran. "I walked straight up to him," Balmer said. "... He's a polite guy, a great guy. I was glad I got a chance to talk to him. I wanted to hug or jump on him. It was like, 'That's Bryant Young!'" Young's advice to Balmer, who just signed a five-year deal, $6 million of it guaranteed: "He said take it slow. Make sure I ask a lot of questions." According to Balmer, Young assured him that he would be available to him as a sounding board throughout the season. Indeed, that may be Young's role this season for all the 49ers.
It doesn't seem as if Balmer needs a lot of mentoring. When it was pointed out to him - jokingly - that he had just signed a multi-million-dollar contract and yet was wearing a plain white t-shirt with small dirt spots all over it, Balmer said he wasn't going to change his style. After all, he said, he's only had that particular t-shirt for two years. "Just because you have money doesn't mean you need to spend money," he said.
Balmer seems like a very genuine guy. A lot of players, understandably, are guarded or put on a front when talking with reporters. Balmer doesn't do that. He admitted he teared up when he was putting his signature on his contract today. When he and the team reached agreement on the deal last night, he called his father, Charles. If you read the story I wrote on Balmer last month, you'll recall that Charles is a long-haul truck driver. Kentwan said he caught Charles on the road in Mississippi and that the two shared a few tears. "It was a very emotional time."
And there was more good news. Balmer didn't want to say anything negative about his spring number, 67, but he was relieved when he saw a new number, 96, in his locker today. That number, of course, belonged to Melvin Oliver, who was released last week.
Alex Smith also popped out of team headquarters - players are getting their physicals today - and was immediately swarmed by four reporters. What was perhaps most significant about the exchange is that Smith acknowledged the fine line he and the other quarterbacks must toe this preseason. He said that offensive coordinator Mike Martz wants the quarterback to relax and take chances with the ball. Smith called it "cutting it loose." But at the same time, the quarterbacks are learning the new offense and are engaged in a tight, position battle. Is that hard to balance? "Yeah, and you're trying to do everything right," Smith said. Still, he said he thought there was plenty of time in training camp to split repetitions with Shaun Hill and still learn the offense in time for training camp. "Camp is so long and there are four preseason games," he said.
Smith also said the quarterbacks have been given no time table as to when Martz and Nolan will make a decision on a starter. Nolan has said the tentative plan is for Smith and Hill to start one preseason game and to pick a long-term starter by the Aug. 21 game in Chicago.
As far as his shoulder injury, Smith said it will be a work in progress, perhaps for a long time. Not only is he learning his fourth offense in four seasons and is engaged in a position competition, but he is continuing the rehabilitation process that started in January. If he doesn't continue that rehab - he called it "maintenance" - he said he risked losing some of strength and mobility he worked hard to gain over the last six months. Everything is about back to normal, although he said he is still working on his deep passes. He didn't have his normal depth on those throws during last month's OTAs.
-- Matt Barrows