Between them, tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati were guaranteed $26.8 million when they signed their first NFL contracts Friday. But no one guaranteed them starting jobs.
That fact was reinforced this afternoon when the 49ers lined up for their first practice of Training Camp 2010. The two high-end rookies got hardly any time with San Francisco’s first-team offensive line during team period, working with the second unit while David Baas and Adam Snyder got the call at left guard and right tackle, respectively.
The smart money says the rookies will be in front come September, but head coach Mike Singletary and offensive line coach Mike Solari clearly are going to make them earn the distinction.
“The thing that I don’t want to do is, I don’t want to just throw a couple of rookies in there and risk that they can’t swim,” Singletary said. “I want to make sure that we give them an opportunity – and there’s enough opportunity. They’re gonna work with the first group, they’re gonna work with the second group. They’re gonna get a lot of reps. But why throw ’em in there and say, ‘OK, sink or swim’? I just think it’s very smart for us to allow David Baas and Snyder to understand that, you know what? If you come out here and work your tail off, we’ll just have to see what happens. But I don’t want to give anybody anything. I want the guys to work for it.”
Assuming Davis and Iupati eventually find their way into the starting lineup, it’s fair to wonder when exactly that will happen. Both rookies were asked about the timetable after signing their deals, and both were diplomatic.
Davis: “Gotta get it done. Just gotta get it done.”
Iupati: “I just want to participate right now. I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to go work and let that be handled by the coaches.”
Asked back in late May when he would like to settle on his starting five, Solari said: “As soon as possible. As soon as possible. It can’t come quick enough.”
Now the team seems to be preaching patience, and that’s just fine with veteran center Eric Heitmann, who started for the 49ers for most of the past eight seasons. He doesn’t care who is getting the first-team reps as long as everyone is ready for the regular season.
“I think Coach Solari’s done a great job of making sure that he’s rotating Anthony and Mike in there a little bit,” Heitmann said. “So whatever line we do finish with by the end of this training camp, as we start the season, everybody’s had reps with the starting group, with Alex (Smith) in there at quarterback. Every year there’s competition. At least since I’ve been here, I can’t remember that we’ve ever had an offensive line where we’ve gone into training camp and said, ‘Look, we know these are our starting five.’ “
The results continue to be mixed for the rookies. During the 49ers’ first team period, for example, Iupati got pats on the helmet for a block he threw on a run up the middle by Glen Coffee. But a little later, on the final play of that session, Solari was clearly unhappy with the big rookie from Idaho.
One step forward, one step back. It could be like that for a while for Davis and Iupati. It’s hard to say when precisely they’ll be hailed as starters, but Singletary insists he’ll know when they’re ready.
“When you’re looking at an offensive lineman, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Well, when he does this or when he does that, when he knows the plays…’ Because he can know the plays and still not be able to execute,” Singletary said. “I just think that we have to let it unfold. And as we watch it closely and monitor it, it will speak out and we’ll know when we see it.”