SANTA CLARA — Jeremy Newberry was a spectator Tuesday as the San Francisco 49ers took the field for the first of 12 days of practice over the next three weeks that will be their final tuneup before training camp starts in late July.

Newberry, 30, is recovering after December microfracture surgery on his chronically ailing right knee. The two-time Pro Bowl center sounded optimistic about returning for the 2006 season.

"There's no doubt in my mind I'm going to play this year, and I'm playing 16 games," said Newberry, who was encouraged by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam taken three weeks ago.

Two years ago, Newberry lasted one game. Last season, he played in 10 of the first 11 before his rickety knee forced him off the field.

In a bid to preserve his knee, Newberry hardly practiced the past two years. Coach Mike Nolan would like that to change this season.

"It'll be important that we all practice together because continuity is really important to be good," Nolan said.

Newberry spoke of perhaps practicing every other day but did not sound ready to commit to being on the field every day.

"I'm going to have every intention in the world to play a lot of training camp and then play every single game," Newberry said.

One factor complicating matters is Newberry's contract, which calls for him to be paid $3.5 million in 2006. As a result of Newberry's cloudy status, the 49ers may try to work a deal with his agent, Doug Hendrickson, to insert some playing-time incentives into the contract.


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Hendrickson was unavailable for comment. Nolan indicated he expects a meeting to be held on the matter in the coming weeks.

JENNINGS PRACTICING: Left tackle Jonas Jennings, last year's big free-agent catch, practiced Tuesday for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery to repair his torn right labrum, injured in the third game in 2005.

"As of right now, I feel great," Jennings said following practice. "It's not even something I think about anymore."

QUIET JUNE? June arrives Thursday, and in past years, that date meant the start of a significant secondary free-agent market with teams gaining salary-cap benefits by releasing expensive veterans.

But the NFL's extension of its collective-bargaining agreement two months ago lifted the cap by roughly $17 million, to about $102 million. Thus, the need for teams to dump high-priced players has diminished, and 49ers personnel chief Scot McCloughan said he expects the current market to be sparse.

"We're going to pay attention to it, big-time," he said. "But I expect it to be the weakest it's been in 10 years."

DILFER UPDATE: McCloughan said backup quarterback Trent Dilfer passed a physical shortly after the 49ers acquired him in a trade with Cleveland three weeks ago. Dilfer, coming off knee surgery, was a limited participant Tuesday and appears well on his way to a complete recovery. But McCloughan said the 49ers have until June 15 to back out of the trade should Dilfer hit a significant setback.

BUMPS AND BRUISES: Receiver P.J. Fleck, (shoulder), safety Tony Parrish (leg) and receiver Derrick Hamilton (knee) did not practice. Running backs Frank Gore (shoulders) and Kevan Barlow (knee) are seeing limited action. Linebacker Brandon Moore is slowed by a hamstring injury. Receiver Antonio Bryant missed the first day of practice because of a prior commitment but is expected to be present today. Running back Maurice Hicks was excused Tuesday because of a family emergency.