Quarterback-needy Cardinals playing for pride

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Quarterback-needy Cardinals playing for pride

The 49ers are playing for the NFC West title and a possible first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

Their opponent Sunday in the regular-season finale at Candlestick Park is the Arizona Cardinals, losers of 10 of their past 11 games. And what are they playing for?

"It's a division game. (The) 49ers," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "It's an opportunity for us to finish well and going against a good football team."

The 49ers and Cardinals have experienced some heated and close games in the recent past. However, earlier this season the 49ers trounced Arizona 24-3 in a Monday night game. Whisenhunt believes the familiarity and rivalry will help the Cardinals show up to play before heading into the offseason.

"I'm sure that doesn't hurt," he said. "I know we have a lot of respect for that football team. They've been very good the last two seasons, and you also want to win. It's important for us to play well. And I think our team will be motivated to come in there give it our best shot."

Alex Smith was the quarterback the last time the 49ers played the Cardinals. In his final full game at quarterback before sustaining a concussion and getting benched, Smith completed 18 of 19 passes and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"I can't comment much on a quarterback because we've had our share of making moves with quarterbacks during the year," Whisenhunt said. "He played well against us. And he's played well for them, and I have a lot of respect for that. But they've done a good job all year. (Colin) Kaepernick's got in there and played well, also. There's not a lot to complain about when they have the record they have. They have a chance to win the division."

Injuries and poor play have led the Cardinals to play quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley nearly equal amounts this season. Brian Hoyer could be in line for a start Sunday. Whisenhunt said he will make an announcement Wednesday afternoon which quarterback will play against the 49ers.

In any event, the Cardinals' main objective in the offseason will be to solidify the quarterback position.

"I'm sure that's a question, if you look at teams in the NFL, the ones that have stability at that position, consistency of play, it's an important component," Whisenhunt said. "We haven't gotten the consistency out of that position that we needed. And that's something you always look to try to attain."

--In six quarters without the services of 49ers' All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, the 49ers have surrendered nine touchdowns on defense. Smith is out indefinitely with an unspecified injury to his left arm/elbow.

"I haven't noticed anything different from an attack," Whisenhunt said. "I think the 49ers still look good defensively. I mean, when you're a good football team like they are, the next guy steps up and plays well. We're certainly very aware of how good of a player Justin Smith is. But I think they still play very well even without him."

49ers reissue Bryant Young's number

49ers reissue Bryant Young's number

SANTA CLARA -- For the first time since Bryant Young retired following the 2007 season, the 49eres have placed his old number back into service.

Linebacker Dekoda Watson was issued No. 97 for the team’s organized team activities this week.

Young was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and eight-time winner of the Len Eshmont Award as the 49ers’ most inspirational and courageous player. No 49ers player has worn No. 97 in the past nine seasons or offseasons.

Rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is now wearing No. 94 after being issued No. 96 for the rookie minicamp. Linebacker Reuben Foster is wearing No. 56.

Rookie defensive tackle D.J. Jones now wearing No. 96. Cornerback Rashard Robinson switched back to No. 33 after an earlier change to No. 26. Running back Kapri Bibbs is now 26. Rookie running back Joe Williams is No. 32 after wearing No. 33 at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles over the weekend. Veteran running back Tim Hightower is wearing No. 22.

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.