Training camp already getting a little tedious? Tired of the two-a-day routine? Blisters and sore hamstrings getting you down?
Mike Singletary took the “Animal House” approach: Road trip!
Looking for ways to break the monotony of camp, Singletary announced Wednesday that the team would be bugging out for a road practice. That night, he finally told their players where they were headed – the Monterey peninsula. More specifically, to the Cal State Monterey Bay soccer field, home of the Otters and formerly part of the Fort Ord military base.
This morning, the 49ers piled into buses in Santa Clara and made the hour-plus drive to the Monterey Peninsula. It was misty and cool when they debarked, with temperature on the field hovering about 55 degrees for most of the morning. A smattering of observers found a way to get onto the field, while fans watched through the chain-link fence.
Take away the backdrop, and practice looked much the same as it would have in Santa Clara. The trees, and the spiked white tent that served as locker room, let everyone know this was different.
“I told them Monterey and they really just didn’t know what to expect,” Singletary said. “They didn’t know what was going to be here, they didn’t know if another team was going to be here, they didn’t know anything. And I like that. They don’t need to know, and surprises are good sometimes.”
Even after practice, the players weren’t sure what Singletary had in store for them next. Aquarium? Cannery Row? The mission? Six hours of film study? He was releasing information as generously as a KGB bureau chief.
Despite the commute, the athletes sounded happy with the change of scenery.
“I guess training camp is pretty long if you’re in a routine, doing the same thing over and over again,” cornerback Nate Clements said. “It’s always good to change it up, always good to add something in there different to keep things exciting.”
No one was more excited than tight end Tony Curtis, who grew up three minutes away in Marina and starred in football and basketball at Seaside High. Curtis had his mom, Maria, and at least two of his high school coaches in attendance. For a day, he was as popular as Alex Smith or Patrick Willis.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Curtis said. “If you would have told me this a month ago, that the team would’ve came here and practiced, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a good opportunity for me.”
Curtis is fighting to be the 49ers’ third tight end, a competition that includes Joe Jon Finley and rookie Nate Byham. Of the three, Curtis has the most NFL experience; he has spent stints with four NFL teams, and had 11 catches and three touchdowns in three seasons with the Cowboys. He signed with the 49ers primarily because it meant coming home, but he has discovered a system that he believes suits him well.
“It’s kind of a similar offense (to Dallas), to look for that blocking tight end,” he said. “Because they got Vernon (Davis), he definitely helps them to air it out. And they got Delanie (Walker), too. They just need another blocker, I think, and someone on special teams who can do everything. I’m just trying to fill that role the best I can.”
If there was one negative side to Ottermania, it was a plush and dewy field that had more players on the ground than at a typical practice. On one play, guard Chilo Rachal – newly hydrated – rumbled into the secondary and skidded headfirst onto his chest; he signaled “safe” from a prone position.
“It was kind of funky,” backup quarterback David Carr admitted. “Alex (Smth) and I were talking, and it was kind of throwing the timing off a little bit. I mean, nice facilities. They did a good job. But the grass was definitely high, and it was a little bit different than what we practice on.”
Perhaps feeling the love, one local reporter asked Singletary whether the 49ers might considering training in the Monterey area. The coach brought the moment firmly back to reality.
“Don’t think so,” he said brusquely.