Nolan's first goal for Niners: Win the NFC West
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
April 2, 2005
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Even before Mike Nolan's first practice with the San Francisco *****, the new coach showed a knack for getting his players' attention.
In team meetings at minicamp this weekend, Nolan announced a lofty goal for the upcoming season. He expects the *****, who went 2-14 last season, to win the NFC West.
Nolan underlined his point with a visual aid: three large targets, each featuring the name of a division rival. Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona were all crossed out.
``It's possible,'' Nolan said. ``I don't see why not. We just have to take it step by step. I feel like the guys in here are up to the challenge.''
After a day of classroom instruction Friday, the ***** got on the field Saturday for two practices at their training complex. Several key players -- including linebacker Julian Peterson, defensive end Andre Carter and quarterback Tim Rattay -- were held out of the workouts while recovering from injuries, but most of the club's veterans took part.
Nolan's challenge to ``take control of the division'' was welcomed by his players, who struggled for motivation under coach Dennis Erickson last season. Nolan used a film clip from Billy Crystal's ``City Slickers'' to illustrate the importance of teamwork.
And before practice Saturday, assistant head coach Mike Singletary gave a fiery speech about forgetting last season. He urged the ***** to ``chew it up and spit it out,'' referring to the frustration and embarrassment of being the NFL's worst team.
``It was so inspiring,'' running back Kevan Barlow said. ``He had me ready to go play. Anything coming from one of the greatest linebackers who ever played, that's motivation. You could see those eyes, man. His eyes started getting all big, even when he was talking.''
Nolan and his assistants are making countless changes, both big and small, to the *****' way of doing business. He already addressed a looming chemistry problem when he asked Barlow to move his belongings back to the section of the locker room where his fellow running backs are quartered.
Nearly three years ago, Barlow moved his locker across the room to a spot among the defensive backs because of long-simmering tensions with fullback Fred Beasley and his best friend, Garrison Hearst. Now, backup Maurice Hicks has the only locker between Barlow and Beasley, who once came to blows in a meeting room at the complex.
But Barlow supported the move, saying it was time to get back with ``my guys.''
``I belong over here,'' Barlow said. ``I had plans on coming back over here anyway. I didn't want to be, like, the individual guy. I don't think there's any problem with Fred. Some people might not get along off the field, but I feel like I get along with everybody on the field.''
Though Nolan is concentrating on his veterans this weekend, most of the next three weeks will be devoted to preparations for the draft. The Niners have the top pick, and Nolan must decide among quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, receiver Braylon Edwards and a handful of defensive players.
That choice will determine the future for Rattay, who started nine games last season but was dogged by injuries. He still hasn't fully recovered from a foot injury, but Nolan praised his work in quarterback school last month, when Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett got two extra weeks of study in coordinator Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense.
Rattay, who threw 10 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions last season, has been learning the offense and putting on a few pounds of muscle. He claims he hasn't thought about the possibility of losing his job to a rookie -- though Nolan has said he would expect Rodgers or Smith to become the *****' starter almost immediately.
``It doesn't change what I do, and it's all hypothetical,'' Rattay said. ``My attitude isn't any different. I'm worrying about getting healthy, that's all.''