49ers hunker down for short yardage

Those of you who like to bandy around the term “smashmouth” might have enjoyed this morning’s practice, as the 49ers practiced a lot of short-yardage situations, some of it around the goal line.

The offense predominately ran “22” personnel – that is, two running backs and two tight ends – and the defense countered with its BIG package, basically a 4-4-3 alignment. OLB Parys Haralson is a little sore and got the day off; Diyral Briggs got a ton of work in his absence. The rest of the group included Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean Francois and Ray McDonald on the line, Manny Lawson at OLB, Nate Clements at CB, and Michael Lewis and Dashon Goldson at S. Khalif Mitchell worked in some, too.

There were 3rd-and-1 plays and 4th-and-1 plays in the middle of the field, and a lot of 4th-and-goal from the 2. I’d say the defense had a slight edge, without really analyzing in detail.

I do know that backup QB David Carr had one of the best – and then one of the worst – plays of the day. On a fourth-and-1 snap, Carr faked a handoff and uncorked a deep strike to WR Jason Hill, who beat CB Shawntae Spencer for a touchdown. Later, Carr rolled right and, when the play broke down, lobbed a ball that rookie S Taylor Mays intercepted in the end zone. Raye colorfully and angrily questioned Carr’s decision.

Other notes and observations from this morning’s practice in Santa Clara…

• WR Michael Crabtree has a strained neck, and is day-to-day. (As Vin Scully once said: “Aren’t we all?”) C Eric Heitmann (broken fibula) and OLB Ahmad Brooks (lacerated kidney) are out, and I’m going to stop mentioning them until one gets closer to returning. OLB Travis LaBoy (concussion) and WR Brandon Jones (hamstring) remain sidelined, but both are running and could return soon. Jason Hill was said to have a sore hamstring, but practiced anyway and did quite well.

• FB Brit Miller strained an ankle while Nate Davis was connecting with Dominique Zeigler on a deep strike in team period. Miller dragged himself off the field and looked like he was doing much better after practice.

• Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said his starters would probably go one or two series against the Colts this Sunday.

• David Baas again got all the first-team work at center. He sent a shotgun snap over Alex Smith’s head.

• Alex Smith seemed to bounce back a bit. He had some spot-on throws, including a short pass to TE Delanie Walker just over Mays’ fingers, and a deep shot past Spencer to WR Ted Ginn.

• TE Vernon Davis welcomed OLB Bruce Davis (no relation, at least none they would admit) to the team by popping him, then holding him, then warning him menacingly in a one-on-one blocking drill. “He doesn’t even know you,” some teammates laughed. “He will,” Vernon said.

• Another day, another highlight reel for Zeigler. He went down low for a tough catch of Nate Davis’ pass in 7-on-7, then one-upped himself later, reaching back – and over CB Tarell Brown’s tight coverage – to get a throw from Carr.

• Tough morning for RB Anthony Dixon. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” running backs coach Tom Rathman informed him bluntly during team period. Late in practice, head coach Mike Singletary got on Dixon for carrying the ball away from his body.

• Rathman is clearly the most entertaining coach to listen to on the field. During a one-on-one blocking drill, he told his backs in no uncertain terms to knock the crap of the defenders. On the next snap, predictably, Glen Coffee went after Mike Balogun like his hair was on fire – and whiffed. Rathman then got on Coffee for not being smart. “Of course that’s what he was expecting,” the coach said.

• Nice block by rookie RT Anthony Davis, who put DE Derek Walker on his back at the goal line.