Skip to main content

Nolan irked by Niners' late start against Broncos

SAN FRANCISCO -- Eight days after Pittsburgh and New Orleans opened the NFL exhibition season, the Broncos and the 49ers finally get to play their own opener on Monday night.

San Francisco coach Mike Nolan sees more than a funny scheduling quirk when the Steelers and Saints have played two preseason games before the 49ers even get on the field.

Nolan says the rule prohibiting teams from opening training camp until 15 days before their preseason opener puts the Niners and Denver in a hole well before the regular season even begins.

"It's a disadvantage, because Denver and the 49ers were the latest two teams to (get into camp)," Nolan said. "We're not getting ready for the preseason. We're getting ready for the season, so to say you get less practices going into the season because your preseason game is (last), that's kind of ridiculous."

Upcoming preseason games on NFLN

    **Complete NFLN Schedule** 
  </center> **  


Nolan discussed the problem with Broncos coach Mike Shanahan right after the schedule was announced, but the coaches decided they couldn't do anything about it this season. The 49ers explored the possibility of holding a scrimmage against Denver or the Oakland Raiders to ease the transition, but couldn't make it work.

Just in case they ever get stuck in this jam in the future, the 49ers hope to lobby the league and the players' union for a rule allowing every team to start camp on the same day.

"Let's all start at the same time," Nolan said. "I don't care if you play in the Hall of Fame game or not."

When they finally get to Monster Park, the Broncos will have the chance for a measure of empty, superficial revenge against the team that kept them out of the playoffs last season. San Francisco finished its fourth straight losing season with an improbable 26-23 overtime victory in Denver on New Year's Eve.

"Actually, I'm looking forward to it a lot, because that's the team we lost to," Broncos defensive end Kenard Lang said. "It should be human nature for us to go in there and rectify the problem. ... The main thing is to get a good winning taste in your mouth going into the season."

The 49ers' first-team offense will be in the game for 15 plays or the entire first quarter, whichever comes first. Alex Smith and new receivers Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie - who left Denver one year ago after a bitter holdout - will debut without NFC rushing champion Frank Gore, who will miss the Niners' first three exhibition games with a broken hand.

Denver has its own injury problems at receiver and along the offensive line, but Shanahan isn't worried about the top end of his roster, particularly this early in camp.

"We don't even pay much attention to the first preseason game," Shanahan said. "I hate to say that, but it's the truth. ... We'll try to run our base offense and our base defense. We don't get too complicated. We want to see our players perform. This is not a game plan-type of game."

The 49ers will hold a moment of silence before the game for Bill Walsh, their Hall of Fame former coach who died July 30 of leukemia. Shanahan is among the most successful coaching heirs to Walsh's legacy, winning two Super Bowls and establishing a consistent winner over his 13 seasons in Denver.

With San Francisco's starting lineup already mostly set, the most intriguing audition could be for the job as Gore's top backup. Michael Robinson, the former Penn State quarterback, is battling veteran Maurice Hicks for what might be only one roster spot behind the workhorse Pro Bowl starter.

"You want to do well in the preseason games, but getting it right every day in practice is just as important," said Robinson, who played sparingly on offense as a rookie last season.

Coaches and veterans caught up in the minor position skirmishes that dominate the preseason sometimes forget one of the most important parts of August: The chance for rookies and first-year players to wear NFL uniforms for the first time.

That moment hasn't been lost on 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, the 11th overall pick. The Mississippi product invited his guardians out to San Francisco for his debut under the lights at Monster, where he'll see time with the first-team defense and plenty of additional snaps with the backups.

"It's going to be great," Willis said. "The most important thing is just putting on that uniform for the first time. Can't wait."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.