We’ve seen plenty of the 49ers’ rookies by now, after two minicamps and numerous voluntary practices. But when the Niners put on the pads and do some hitting Monday – the team will line up in shells on Sunday afternoon – it will be a whole new viewing experience.
Watching a football team in non-contact practices is like watching a professional boxer hit the speed bag. It may be impressive in some ways, but it isn’t highly instructive.
Now the gloves comes off, so to speak.
The addition of hitting to the field work comes as a welcome development for a guy like Taylor Mays, a 230-pound safety whose penchant for knocking suckers out at USC had to go on hiatus during offseason practices in Santa Clara.
“Oh yeah, that’s football,” Mays said Friday after signing a four-year contract. “That’s part of my game, and I feel that’s a strong part of my game. It’s always good to get the pads on because you get to show a little more than you do when you just have helmets on. That’s kind of what separates some guys from other guys, and I think that will be what happens, especially when we get the pads on.”
It should be good news to a guy like Mike Iupati, a muscled 331-pound guard who routinely threw opponents to the ground while playing in the WAC. “Yes. I’m very excited for that,” the soft-spoken Iupati, who signed a five-year deal that guarantees $10.8 million, said of the ability to hit.
And it should be a boon for a guy like Anthony Dixon, a 233-pound running back who got to showcase only half his game – the speed – in drills where defenders weren’t allowed to tackle. “I’m about ready to do it,” said Dixon, whose contract is for four years. “There’s been all this buildup, and I’m ready to go and do it. I’m glad it’s here.”
No, a practice with contact isn’t the same thing as a game. But when the pads go on Monday, the balance of power within the organization may shift a bit, with bruisers like Mays, Iupati and Dixon getting more of an advantage.