Now that the quarterback situation has been settled, Mike Nolan was asked today what his biggest conundrum was heading into the regular season. His answer: Who he's going to play at split end. Early on, of course, the answer was easy. The team acquired Bryant Johnson in free agency and Johnson was the most prolific receiver during minicamp and OTAs. But rookie Josh Morgan has made a push in training camp, especially after Johnson went down with an hamstring injury on Aug. 4.
Johnson gives the team more experience. Morgan, however, is more of a downfield threat and has had more work with J.T. O'Sullivan. As it happened, both players were out today, Johnson with a hamstring injury; Morgan was under the weather.
Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) were back at practice. Both are expected to play Friday against San Diego. Asked if he would keep five or six receivers this season, Nolan said, "I'm on the fence on that." If he keeps five, it's very unlikely that Lelie makes the team.
Nolan's been consistent all offseason in praising all three of his quarterbacks. His stock answer during the quarterback competition has been, "I think we can win with all three." That's why the quote today in Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" was so eye-catching. Referring to the 49ers' quarterbacks, Nolan said, "Thus far, J.T.'s been better than the other two, and there hasn't really been much of a gray area. His play's been better at the position than what we've had at any point in the last three years.''
That appears to be a slam of Alex Smith, and is remeniscent of his remark last year in which he called Trent Dilfer's game against the Rams the best quarterback performance he's seen since he's been in San Francisco.
Nolan, however, insisted that the idea he was trying to convey to King was that the quarterback play as a whole was better this year than it's been in the past. "These conversations, especially on the phone, they go all around in different directions," Nolan said. Later he said. "I can't answer for (King). But I know what I said and I know what I was thinking." Asked if he had explained that to Smith, Nolan said he had the team spokesman explain his intent to the quarterback. He said he would speak face-to-face with Smith later.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Nolan said the plan is for J.T. O'Sullivan and the first-team offense to play one series ... or more. "Depends on how long that first series is -- we'll see," Nolan said.
With Adam Snyder out with a high-ankle sprain, Tony Wragge was playing left guard today. Nolan, however, said that was mainly because Brian de la Puente had an ailing arm. When de la Puente returns, Wragge could move back to right guard.
Allen Rossum (chest contusion) won't play. it looks like Robert Ortiz will return punts while Delanie Walker and Michael Robinson will return kicks.
Jeff Ulbrich (back) was back at practice while David Baas (pectoral) practiced for the first time all offseason. Nolan said he hoped Baas could play in Friday's game.
-- Matt Barrows