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

July 28, 2011
Niner notes: Nose tackle position put on "Ice"

During the offseason, Isaac Sopoaga frequently was asked whether he'd be the 49ers' nose tackle when the season begins. On Wednesday, the answer was right in front of him. When he went upstairs to meet with defensive line coach Jim Tomusla, the board over the coach's desk listed Sopoaga at nose tackle instead of the left defensive end position he's played the last three seasons.

Sopoaga -- his nickname is "Ice" -- has played all over the line since being drafted out of Hawaii in 2004. Nose tackle, he said, was his first position. "I'm comfortable," he said. "It's my job to do it."

Tomsula's board is the strongest evidence yet that the 49ers are planning on entering the season without Aubrayo Franklin, a free-agent nose tackle whom the 49ers obtained in 2007. The team on Wednesday signed Ray McDonald for five years, presumably with the understanding that he would take over for Sopoaga at left defensive end.

Sopoaga also got his first look at defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's playbook this week. At first glance, he said the nose tackle's duties were similar to what they were under previous coordinator Greg Manusky. That may be by design - Fangio only has a little more than a month to install his system.

Another potential replacement also spoke to the media. Adam Snyder has been practicing at center all offseason in the off chance that David Baas would depart via free agency. Both Snyder and linemate Joe Staley openly lobbied for the 49ers to bring Baas back this year, and Snyder said he was surprised to learn that Baas would be signing with the Giants instead.

"Obviously, we wanted to have him back. I thought it was really important for us," Snyder said. "But he got what he deserved, and he got the deal he was hoping to get."

Snyder has started at every position on the line save center, but he said he wants to be an option at that position as well. The 49ers, meanwhile, are in the market for an experienced center and are eying Bears free agent Olin Kreutz. Kreutz reportedly will make a decision tomorrow.

Colin Kaepernick says he wasn't drafted to be a spectator. He says he'll be gunning to be the starting quarterback as soon as he hits the practice field tomorrow. And for a while at least, he will be the starter.

Kaepernick, who signed a four-year contract this morning, is currently the only quarterback in the building. Alex Smith will sign his contract tomorrow afternoon but he cannot practice until Aug. 4. Will the six-day head start level the playing field between the rookie and veteran?

"Well, I don't know about leveling the playing field," Kaepernick said. "Alex has about six years on me. He definitely has a greater knowledge of defenses and the schemes and stuff. But at the same time, I think getting those extra reps will help me develop a lot."

-- 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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