Bits and pieces from the 49ers’ first half

Today in the paper, I touched on some of the highlights and lowlights of the first half of the 49ers’ season. (And before any of you get started, I wish to remind you that I wrote every word of the article, but I did not write the headline.)

This blog is a supplement to the newspaper article. Please read, “Gauging the 49ers at midseason.”


Here are some additional observations:


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Five cheers: The 49ers’ offensive line can play a lot better, but they’ve been nowhere near as bad as the 34-sacks-allowed statistic would suggest. The line has to be excited that Shaun Hill is now at quarterback, and Mike Martz should ask them to protect on fewer seven-step drops.


Worst break: Alex Smith would’ve gotten his chance to play – and prove himself at some point this season. But when he sustained a fractured right shoulder on the Friday before the season opener, his year came to an abrupt end. Although GM Scot McCloughan said Smith would not be brought back if he did not head into the offseason as the proven starter, nobody has told that to Smith. He remains around the team and still goes to meetings. If the 49ers decide with Mike Nolan gone that they want Smith to return — and he agrees to play for the league-minimum salary — he actually could return in 2009.


Not disappointed now: Watching Aaron Rodgers get passed over – not only by the 49ers but by 23 other teams in 2005 – was painful to watch on TV. Rodgers wanted to go to the 49ers. The 49ers took Smith. He got the money; Rodgers did not. Well, until now. Rodgers signed a reported six-year, $65 million contract last week that included $20 million guaranteed. Smith’s contract will be torn up after this season. He will have received approximately $31 million over four seasons. (And I’m still of the opinion that it didn’t matter which player the 49ers selected No. 1 overall. That person would’ve been destined to fail.)


Biggest setback: Rookie receiver Josh Morgan showed a lot of really good things in the exhibition season, but then he developed a staph infection toward the end of training camp. (Safety Keith Lewis also had a staph infection.) Morgan lost 15 pounds, and struggled to regain his strength. The 49ers would like for him to claim the starting job at split end over Bryant Johnson, a veteran who signed a one-year deal. Morgan should get more of an opportunity after the bye.


Rookie nonimpact: In the Super Bowl last year, the N.Y. Giants received key contributions from their rookie class. Aaron Ross started at cornerback; Ahmad Bradshaw led the team with 45 yards rushing; Steve Smith caught five passes for 50 yards; Kevin Boss caught a huge 45-yard pass; and Jay Alford recorded a sack. But the 49ers, a 2-6 team at the break, can’t even get their rookies on the field. Morgan has a chance to become a starter in the second half of the season. But first-round pick Kentwan Balmer sees limited action, and second-round pick, guard Chilo Rachal, has yet to get on the field.


Oh, not again: Tackle Jonas Jennings has now missed all or parts of 39 games (the club has played 56 games) due to injuries since signing a big-money contract with the 49ers in 2005. At the press conference to announce his signing, Jennings coined the phrase, “Rollin’ with Nolan.” There’s a chance Jennings will be able to return after the bye week after sustaining a right shoulder dislocation on Sept. 14.


Stock report: The 49ers paid big money to defensive lineman Justin Smith (seven years, $45 million). He has been exactly what the 49ers figured. He’s active in the run game. He leads all NFL defensive linemen with 40 tackles. He’s also had more QB pressures than anyone else on the team, and his three sacks is already more than he recorded all of last season with the Bengals.


Dwindling crowds: The 49ers’ sellout streak is still alive. But how much longer that will last? There were more empty seats at Candlestick last week for a regular-season game than at any time in recent memory. The 49ers have not given their fans much reason for hope, either. The 49ers 1-4 record at home this season. But, hey, that’s still better than what they’ve been on the road . . .


Early starts: The 49ers are 3-26 (that’s right, 3-26) in East Coast road games that begin at 10 a.m., Pacific, since the beginning of the 2003 season. With that in mind, the second half of the season does not look very promising. The 49ers have four more of those road games in the second half of the season with games at Dallas, Buffalo, Miami and St. Louis.


Face of change: On Oct. 20, the 49ers had a major announcement to make. The first person to the podium spoke these words:


“Good afternoon, everybody. The San Francisco 49ers have a tradition of winning. Every decision that we make is aimed at reestablishing that culture of winning, and I promise that I won’t rest until we reestablish a championship culture.”


Those simple words signaled a change as the public now sees the 49ers. Jed York, the 27-year-old son of Denise and John York – and the nephew of former owner Eddie DeBartolo – is now the face of the organization.


There is clearly no reason for John York to ever address football matters again. It was something with which he has never been comfortable, anyway. When he fired Steve Mariucci in early 2003, York did not appear at the press conference. Instead, he had a conference call with print reporters who were all located in the same building at the same time.


Jed York is the new face of the franchise. And that might be good news for 49ers fans. Five years ago, people close to the Yorks thought Jed had the ability and desire to be a capable owner. With his passion, fire and competitiveness, many people with whom I spoke suggested Jed would run the franchise more like his uncle.


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I’m still mulling the best way to handle my political report from the 49ers’ locker room. Hopefully, I’ll post it within the next 24 hours.


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