Franklin, Lawson are the mystery men

The 49ers will assemble Thursday afternoon, just as they will Wednesday morning, but the vibe will be a little different. Thursday marks the start of a three-day minicamp. Attendance is mandatory, and it will be very interesting to see who is here.

Of the four defensive regulars who have skipped voluntary practices this offseason, cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Nate Clements are both expected to arrive Thursday. They simply prefer to work out on their own this time of year.

The other two, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and outside linebacker Manny Lawson, are the big question marks this week.

The 49ers designated Franklin as their franchise player at nose tackle, but he has yet to sign his approximate $7 million tender. NFL players tend to resent the franchise tag because it limits their team’s commitment to a single year, and Franklin’s absence is assumed to be a protest. So is Lawson’s, who is scheduled to make just $625,000 this year, the last one of his contract, despite a breakthrough 2009 season that included 68 tackles, 6½ sacks and three forced fumbles.

Lawson is technically under contract and obligated to attend the mini-camp. Franklin is not. Neither player has publicly stated he is holding out, but I haven’t been able to confirm that either is headed to Santa Clara for the weekend.

In the locker room, their teammates were careful not to break the unwritten code that discourages discussing another man’s contract.

“I totally understand his situation. And I know where he’s coming from,” said defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga, who has gotten extra work at nose tackle with Franklin gone. “But for us, I don’t mind. I don’t mind doing it.”

“I can’t really speak on what’s going on, because I really don’t know,” linebacker Parys Haralson said of Lawson. “So I just come to work and take care of my business. We got the guys that we have here, and we’re working with them. It’s an opportunity for everyone to get better. We wish he was here, but whatever. He gotta handle what’s best for him.”

Haralson calls Lawson one of his best friends, and insists it pains the fifth-year veteran to stay away.

“Manny, he loves being here, man,” Haralson said. “He loves playing football. Whatever’s going on is what he has to handle for himself, and as a grown man you have to do that.”