Mandatory camps signal time of transition

Three-day NFL minicamps featuring no permissible contact aren't going to settle position battles. They're unlikely to set the tone for a season still three months away. They won't reveal where teams figure to stand in December.

I'm en route to the San Francisco 49ers' mandatory camp for veterans Tuesday in search of a better feel for the team five months after its appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Trips to the Arizona Cardinals (Wednesday), Seattle Seahawks (Thursday) and St. Louis Rams (extended training camp visit) await.

Once teams assemble on their practice fields, the focus invariably falls on those players present. These camps are also notable for the familiar faces, suddenly absent, that will soon fade from memory. For some longtime NFL vets, these camps are the beginning of the end. George Koonce's message about the difficult transition into retirement should resonate for them.

Some older free agents will surely catch on elsewhere. Some might re-sign with their most recent teams. Here's a quick look at four older 2011 contributors who remain unsigned as their former NFC West teams assemble this week:

  • 49ers: fullback Moran Norris (33). Norris suffered a broken fibula in Week 2 and did not return until a Week 14 game at Baltimore, when a concussion sidelined his replacement, Bruce Miller. Norris started two games and played in five, logging 10 percent of the 49ers' offensive snaps. Miller played three times as much and was also a key contributor on special teams. The 49ers are trying several non-fullbacks at the position this offseason. Norris became a free agent after the season.

  • Rams: defensive end James Hall (35). Hall had six sacks in 15 games, all starts, while playing about two-thirds of the defensive snaps last season. The team plans for 2011 first-round choice Robert Quinn to take over as the starter in Hall's spot on the right side. The Rams have become the youngest team in the NFL this offseason. They released Hall and former starting defensive tackle Fred Robbins as well.

  • Seahawks: defensive end Raheem Brock (34). Brock's playing time held steady at about 50 percent last season, but his sack production fell from nine to three. The Seahawks used their first-round choice, No. 15 overall, for defensive end Bruce Irvin. Irvin is expected to fill Brock's role this season. Brock became a free agent after the season.

  • Cardinals: outside linebacker Joey Porter (35). Porter collected one sack in six starts before knee problems forced him to the sideline. Rookie Sam Acho took over as the starter and showed considerable promise, finishing the season with seven sacks. The Cardinals placed Porter on injured reserve late in December. Porter became a free agent after the season.

My flight is landing shortly. More from 49ers camp as the day progresses. The team will not be off the practice field until around 5:30 p.m. PT.