49ers center Newberry cleared to practice
Two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry, a key to the San Francisco 49ers' hopes for stabilizing their offensive line in 2006, has been cleared to practice when the team reports to training camp next week.
Newberry, 30, has appeared in only 11 regular-season contests over the past two years because of persistent problems with his right knee. He started the first 10 games in 2005, but then was placed on injured reserve. In December, he underwent microfracture surgery, a procedure that has produced mixed results.
The procedure, in which holes are drilled into the bone around the knee to create scarring that then simulates cartilage, was the fourth operation on Newberry's right knee in two years. There is essentially no cartilage remaining in Newberry's right knee and he played the 10 games last season in considerable discomfort.
The eight-year veteran did not participate in any team-related drills in the offseason, and instead concentrated on individual conditioning and technique work. It is not yet known how often Newberry will work in camp. He told the San Francisco Chronicle he hopes to participate in every morning practice but, based on how he feels, might sit out the latter workout on those days when San Francisco has a second session.
If the former University of California star is able to play an entire season, it will be a huge boost to a rebuilding 49ers blocking unit. His presence would allow four-year veteran Eric Heitman, who filled in at center after Newberry went on injured reserve in 2005, to move to his more natural position of right guard, where competition for the starting job should be intense.
San Francisco should have left tackle Jonas Jennings back after a 2005 season marred by a shoulder injury, and the 49ers signed perennial Pro Bowl left guard Larry Allen after the Dallas Cowboys released him.
A second-round choice in the 1998 draft, Newberry is a tough in-line blocker and is also solid in pass protection. He started in 79 of a possible 80 games during a five-season stretch between 1999-2003 but has fought injuries throughout his career.
Newberry missed his entire rookie campaign after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee in the preseason. In 2002, he played all 16 games despite suffering a torn calf muscle late in the season. Newberry played the entire 2003 season with a torn ligament in his left ankle.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.