Training camp starts Friday and here are the top-five people I’m interested to watch. 1. Jim Harbaugh. It’s important to see how he runs a practice. Does he teach? Does he delegate work to his other coaches? Does he spend most his time with the quarterbacks? 2. Colin Kaepernick. How comfortable is he running the offense? What are his strengths and weaknesses? How does he interact with his teammates? Does…
SANTA CLARA – Delanie Walker spoke to the media in the press room at 49ers facilities Tuesday Morning. He sported a fresh Mohawk, fresh Warriors basketball shorts, and fresh vans that looked like sneakers. He looked fresh. He was smiling and laughing and he cracked a couple jokes – one at Harbaugh’s expense. He also spoke about the playbook and his fitness. Here are a few choice quotes from the…
Earlier in the day, Jimmy Raye had this to say when I asked him if David Baas had “locked up” the center position in Eric Heitmann’s absence: “I don’t know that that’s the correct phraseology, but I would say he’s in the lead. He has the lead in the clubhouse. Now the rules official may come and say it was a sand trap and it’s a two-stroke penalty, but I think he’s the leader in the clubhouse and … if the guy bogeys at 18, then he has a chance, he has a real chance.”
Solid golf joke, solid analysis.
Since then, however, the situation has gotten a little more interesting. Baas missed the afternoon practice with a stinger suffered in the morning session – which explained why Tony Wragge had gotten first-team reps toward the end of that practice.
The 49ers have avoided major injuries of late, but training camp is starting to look like a war of attrition as we get into the dog days of summer. Five new players joined the unofficial injury list before today’s practice: CB Shawntae Spencer (sore hamstrings), ILB Matt Wilhelm (headaches), WR Jason Hill (groin), T Barry Sims (oblique muscle) and TE Tony Curtis (quadriceps).
None of the five is described as serious. But some of these players, locked in competition for roster spots, can’t afford to miss much time. Hill could be battling Kyle Williams for the final wide receiver job, for example. Curtis might already be on the outside looking in as the 49ers search for a third tight end. And Sims seems to be locked in a battle with Alex Boone and Adam Snyder for a backup spot on the offensive line.
Notes and observations from this afternoon’s (extremely short) practice…
• On the final day for fans to watch practice, Mike Singletary cut it off after a quick 1 hour, 17 minutes. This thing is definitely getting lighter (dare I say softer?) as it progresses.
• Which is probably a good thing when you look at the Did Not Participate sheet for the afternoon: TE Vernon Davis (knee), DE Ray McDonald (soreness), G/T Adam Snyder (concussion), OLB Brandon Long (knee) and of course the usual WR Kyle Williams (toe), CB Will James (ankle), OLB Ahmad Brooks (kidney) and C Eric Heitmann (fibula). WR Michael Crabtree caught passes from the QBs but did not go against defenders. And here are your veteran courtesies: ILBs Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, DE Justin Smith, S Michael Lewis, OLB Travis LaBoy and T Barry Sims. That pretty much left Keaton Kristick, Jehuu Caulcrick, the yard-marker guy and a cameraman in the tower to execute drills.
Last week, the 49ers pushed the idea that they were starting David Baas at center because they already knew what they had in Tony Wragge. It looked like an open competition for the temporary spot created by Eric Heitmann’s broken fibula.
Now it seems clear that Wragge won’t get a real shot at the job. While Baas continues to get all the work with the first team, Wragge isn’t even getting most of his snaps at center. He has primarily been working at left guard with the second team as Adam Snyder recovers from a concussion. Getting the No. 2 reps at center the past two days has been Cody Wallace.
Oh, yeah, in case you forgot: The 49ers have a head coach prowling the field.
Mike Singletary, for all his scowling charisma, generally is not a vocal presence on the practice field. He strides from drill to drill, letting his assistants do most of the coaching. The running joke around here is that Singletary’s main function during practice is to alternate sporadically between his two catch phrases: “Stay off the ground” and “Catch the ball, son.”
Today, Singletary was in fine form. And it all revolved around one pass-defense technique.
The 49ers finished the afternoon practice with a live-action 2-minute drill, always an antidote to the doldrums of camp. It’s just that things didn’t go too well on the offensive side of the ball.
Here’s the setup: Offense takes over on its own 38-yard line 1:25 left.
To start, the first-team O went against the second-team D. Alex Smith’s unit picked up a first down and Smith spiked the ball to stop the clock, making it second down. Then things unraveled:
Is Joe Nedney hurt or isn’t he?
The veteran NFL kicker hadn’t booted a ball in a live drill all summer, but that didn’t necessarily strike me as odd. In my years covering the Raiders, Sebastian Janikowski did a lot more standing around than kicking in training camp, and he and punter Shane Lechler were always first ones off the field.
After Nedney sat out the game at Indianapolis on Sunday, though, coach Mike Singletary intimated he was nursing some sort of injury. Yesterday, Singletary said, “I think Joe is fine. I think he’s been a little sore, but I think he’s fine.”
Break out the Fisherman’s Friends. The 49ers assistant coaches must be in need of a good throat coat after spending much of the morning yelling at their players.
Right off the bat, tight ends coach Pete Hoener lit into rookie Nate Byham during 9-on-7. Hoener was livid at Byham’s perceived offense, and after another failed play, the coach angrily pulled him from the huddle. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye praised Byham today, but the kid has been a frequent target of Hoener’s tirades.
Notes and observations from this afternoon’s practice in Santa Clara…
• Small miracles: WR Brandon Jones (hamstring) and LB Travis LaBoy (concussion) both returned to the field today. LaBoy had been out since Aug. 5, Jones since Aug. 7. Jones actually stretched it out and beat CB Patrick Stoudamire on a deep route, but couldn’t quite pull in a pass from Nate Davis in the end zone.
• Missing work were TE Vernon Davis (knee), WR/KR Kyle Williams (toe), G Chris Patrick (shoulder), LB Brandon Long (knee), CB Will James (ankle), C Eric Heitmann (leg) and LB Ahmad Brooks (lacerated kidney). WR Michael Crabtree (neck) caught balls against air, but retired to the sidelines after that.
Brian Westbrook was flawless in his first day as a 49er. Mostly because he wasn’t asked to do much of anything.
Westbrook stretched and ran drills with the running backs at the start of this afternoon’s practice, then did a lot of watching and talking. He chatted with running backs coach Tom Rathman. He consulted with trainer Jeff Ferguson – a man he no doubt wants to see very little of this season. He swapped insights with Frank Gore.
But Westbrook didn’t take a single snap in 7-on-7 or team period.
The 49ers put in an hour of solid work on the practice field Friday morning before dialing back to three-quarters speed. Quarterback Alex Smith looked pretty sharp during that short span, misfiring just once in his 11 throws during team period and 7-on-7.
Whether or not that comes as a relief to the Niners and Smith, it’s certainly a positive sign. As the team prepares for its first enemy action of 2010 – against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium at 10 a.m. (PST) tomorrow – Smith’s development in Jimmy Raye’s offensive system remains the most important issue facing the team.
What, there was football today? The 49ers have gone so tabloid this week that it’s easy to overlook that they’re preparing for an actual game this Sunday.
Another factor that made this morning’s practice so forgettable: It was a snoozer. Coach Mike Singletary first combined what had been scheduled for two separate practices into one, then wound up cutting the lump sum from 3½ hours to 2½ hours. That’s all fine. But after two team periods and a mix of 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 blocking, the 49ers began running everything at three-quarters speed. Super Bowl XXIII it was not.
The good news? Some crisp quarterback play before things slowed down.
Think Glen Coffee’s decision to walk away from football – possibly forever – took the 49ers by surprise? Check out their web site. The lead story this morning was titled “49ers Eagerly Await Full Contact.” It was a look ahead to this Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, and it prominently featured… Glen Coffee.
The article talks about a couple of the 49ers’ more physical players, leading with rookie safety Taylor Mays. It then moves on to the player who told coach Mike Singletary this morning that he is leaving the game:
The first words on the subject came from Glen Coffee himself, in a brief statement distributed by the 49ers PR department after this morning’s practice: “This has been a tough decision for me to make, but at this time in my life I feel it is best for me that I move on from football. I appreciate what the 49ers, my teammates and coaches have done for me, and I wish them a blessed season and all the best in the future.”
The news came so suddenly that there wasn’t much time to gather thoughts from teammates. While waiting for resolution – apparently, Coffee has not filed retirement papers with the NFL office yes – here is some of the reaction we did get in Santa Clara today.
As the 49ers deal with the Kenwan Balmer situation, another drama looms. RB Glen Coffee is not on the practice field this morning, and the 49ers are not yet offering an explanation.
Coffee is locked in competition (with rookie Anthony Dixon) for the No. 2 job at halfback behind Frank Gore, but there had been no indications he is unhappy with the team or his role here. Because the 49ers feel comfortable resting Gore, Coffee has been getting lots of work on the practice field.
His representative, Todd Crannell, did not return a message left on the answering machine of his agency, Q2 Sports and Entertainment, and has not yet replied to my e-mail.
After hitting them with a little 1970s soul Wednesday afternoon, coach Mike Singletary went backwards this afternoon and unleashed some Motown on his offense, turning the music up to 11 to (sort of) simulate the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
More specifically, Coach Sing went Temptations as the team practiced short yardage and goal line. Singletary is a master motivator, always thinking of ways to tweak his troops. So I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if his song selection carried some subliminal messages.
Taylor Mays finally had that conversation with Pete Carroll.
Their father/son relationship seemed to go south on draft day, when the new Seahawks coach drafted another safety, Texas’ Earl Thomas, instead of his star from USC. Mays went to the 49ers in Round 2 and immediately complained that Carroll had misled him about what he needed to do to become a first-round pick. It was great theater, probably more memorable to writers than to the central characters.
Last month, the two finally spoke by phone.
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.