Niners sign 1st-round pick Balmer on eve of camp

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -The San Francisco 49ers signed defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer on Thursday, getting their first-round draft pick into training camp a few hours before the team's first meeting.

Balmer, a late-blooming star at North Carolina, was the 29th overall pick in April. He is the last of the 49ers' six draft picks to sign, agreeing to a five-year contract and guaranteeing San Francisco will have no rookie holdouts for the fifth straight summer.

"It was definitely important for me to be here Day One, and that was something my agent and myself both stressed," Balmer told reporters outside the 49ers' training complex. "I'm sure the team was eager to hear that as well, and we got it done as expected."

Balmer, who worked at left defensive end during minicamps and summer practices, will be among the prospective replacements for Bryant Young, who retired last winter after 14 seasons with San Francisco.

Although Young was at the 49ers' complex Thursday as the players assembled for an evening team meeting, he has no plans to renounce his retirement.

The 49ers will hold their first practice Friday in Santa Clara. The club also has finalized plans for two practices with the Oakland Raiders at their training camp in Napa on Aug. 4. The Bay Area's teams then will open the exhibition season against each other four days later in Oakland.

"This is an opportunity to work against some unfamiliar faces," coach Mike Nolan said. "Players sometimes become comfortable with the level of competition during training camp. This gives us the opportunity to raise that level and learn more about ourselves both individually and collectively."

Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill both reported to camp eager to begin their competition for the starting job. Nolan says both players will start at least one preseason game, and the coaching staff hasn't yet set a deadline to resolve the competition between the former No. 1 draft pick and the career third-stringer who was surprisingly good in 2 1/2 games late last season.

"It's important that we give them all equal opportunity," said Nolan, who also includes newcomer J.T. O'Sullivan in the competition. "If we had one established quarterback it would be different, but in our case we do not. ... Rather than name a guy and have it be his position to lose, which is done in some cases and is something we might have done here in the past, it's different this time around."

Nolan realizes he's also working for his job this season after three consecutive losing campaigns. Though he hung onto his job with most of his power essentially intact after last season's 5-11 disappointment, Nolan feels a particular passion heading into the new year.

"There's the urgency on all of our parts to get it done this year," Nolan said. "So, from my standpoint, I've got my own set of goals and aspirations to win. Job security is always what it is, whether you win or lose. Job security, in my mind, comes second to winning. I want to win first and worry about job security after."

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