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Second-year QB looking sharp in camp

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Five observations on the San Francisco 49ers, based on practices.

1.  Ken Dorsey continues to look as though he has a future in this league. His body has settled in at 220 pounds, giving him more leg strength to put behind his throws. Some of his passes aren't pretty, but he gets the ball to his receivers. His decision making is pretty quick too. Tim Rattay will be the starter, but Dorsey has used his time well, running with the first team during the first two weeks of camp.

2.  The 49ers defense hasn't fully put in its 3-4 looks and has been running mostly out of a 4-3. The plan is for the defense to be multiple, switching between a 3-4 and a 4-3. It's a little hard putting in the package because the 49ers best defensive player, linebacker Julian Peterson, is holding out as a franchise player. The strength is the depth of the linebackers. They have speed with Peterson, Jamie Winborn, Jeff Ulbrich and Saleem Rasheed. Derek Smith remains the best run-stopper playing inside.


3. Dennis Erickson plans to do some interesting things with defensive end Andre Carter, who is one of the league's better young pass rushers. Instead of just leaving him to be blocked at right end, the 49ers plan to move him around. Sometimes, he'll rush as a standup linebacker type. Other times, he'll be in a three-point stance at right or left end. At 265 pounds, Carter is light and loses weight during the season. They don't want him to get overpowered by big blockers on every down. He only had 6½ sacks last year, and the team needs for him to be a double-digit sacker.

4. Second-round choice Justin Smiley has a good chance to beat out Kyle Kosier at right guard. For years, the 49ers have had a veteran offensive line. The drafting of left tackle Kwame Harris last year and Smiley this year is bringing a new vitality to the offensive line. Right tackle Scott Gragg, 32, is the only lineman older than 30. Center Jeremy Newberry isn't doing much this camp because he's recovering from surgeries, but he's an established top lineman and is only 28 years old. Harris looks more comfortable at left tackle. He's 22. Left guard Eric Heitmann is 24.

5. Second-round choice Shawntae Spencer is a tall, angular cornerback who should win the third job this season. Bypassed by not being invited to the scouting combine in February, Spencer could be the cornerback steal of the draft. He has the speed and technique that shouldn't draw too many flags despite the enhanced enforcement of illegal contact rules.

Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.