2012 Playing Time for Nolan Picks
The job Nolan did as the 49ers' head coach isn't as relevant as the personnel decisions he made in conjunction with former general manager Scot McCloughan.
Those decisions were quite good ones in many cases. As a result, Nolan will be scheming to stop a 49ers offense featuring current or former Pro Bowl choices in left tackle Joe Staley, tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore, plus tight end Delanie Walker and, less probably, backup quarterback Alex Smith.
Ten Nolan-era draft choices remain with the 49ers. Five have achieved Pro Bowl status: linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Dashon Goldson in addition to Staley, Davis and Gore. Cornerback Tarell Brown, coming off a strong game against Green Bay, and defensive end Ray McDonald are also Nolan-era draft choices in the 49ers' starting lineup.
Smith isn't expected to play against the Falcons, but if he did, his falling out with Nolan over the coach's handling of a shoulder injury would instantly surface as a story line for revisiting.
Nolan was also in charge when the 49ers used free agency or waivers to add defensive lineman Justin Smith and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Both are starters. Smith is arguably the most important player on the 49ers' defense.