SANTA CLARA – The Niners called today’s practice a Veteran Football School On-field session.
Most of the veterans showed up. Frank Gore didn’t, and neither did Mario Manningham or Brandon Jacobs, but that’s OK because VFS is voluntary.
But Alex Smith showed up. He stretched with the offensive lineman and chatted with Alex Boone, one of his good friends on the team.
Michael Crabtree showed up, too. He stretched next to his good pal Ted Ginn Jr., as he usually does. More on them in a second.
Colin Kaepernick showed up. He stretched with his buddies Bruce Miller and Kyle Williams, just like last season.
There were a couple of new faces. Josh Johnson made his 49er practice debut in front of the media. During stretches, as the players jogged back and forth across the field and tweaked their quads and hamstrings, Johnson hovered next to the other new face on the team – Randy Moss – trailing the great wide receiver around the field like a spaniel, asking questions and cracking jokes, trying to make a good first impression.
But Johnson couldn’t monopolize Moss for long. Crabtree and Ginn, the coolest guys on the team last year, the two dudes who most of the other players looked to for social validation, shuffled over to Moss like star-struck kids.
Ginn even dressed like Moss – red shorts and black tights. Ginn was blatantly copying Moss’ style. Last year, Ginn had his own style. He always practiced in white tights which he pulled over the heels of the cleats. Lots of Niners coppied him – Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Frank Gore, to name a few. Today, Ginn was the copycat.
He was also a shagger, but not a wide receiver. Ginn didn’t participate in any of the wide receiver drills – he shagged balls like an intern. Either he’s hurt or he has no role on offense this year, or there’s something I don’t understand.
The quarterbacks started practice by throwing about a dozen 40-yard passes each, deep down the left sideline. Kaepernick and Johnson made it look easy. Smith had the distance down but he kept missing by a few yards to the left or a few yards to the right. Tolzien struggled with the distance.
Kaepernick consistently overthrew his target, which was impressive in this drill, but it foreshadowed the rest of his afternoon in which he consistently overthrew receivers on most plays. Deep passes, crossing routes, out patterns – Kaepernick overthrew them. He has a rocket arm, but he still has trouble with accuracy and touch.
Johnson looked much better than Kaepernick – he was more accurate and his release was much quicker.
When Harbaugh split the four QBs up after the first drill, Johnson, not Kaepernick, paired up with Smith. Harbaugh watched these two closely for about 20 minutes as they took turns throwing passes on the run to the tailbacks.
After one day in the race for the backup QB job, I think Johnson has the lead. He didn’t miss a single throw today. He even practiced better than Smith did today, and Smith did well – he missed a couple 10-yard outs and few deep passes, but mostly he did well.
Smith threw one perfect 55-yard bomb to Randy Moss. When he threw it, the whole organization – players, coaches, trainers – stopped and watched.
As Moss leapt in the end zone and caught the pass, the Niners went wild. Anthony Davis threw his hands up in the air and squealed like a child.
This happened every time someone threw the ball to Moss. After practice, Kaepernick said it was “surreal” throwing passes to him. The Niners were in awe.
But Moss wasn’t just a spectacle – he was a leader. At one point he took all of the wide receivers aside and demonstrated cutting and quick feet. Crabtree and Williams and all of them just stared and nodded at Moss with complete respect.
During the drills, Moss worked as hard as anyone. I was expecting the backups to do most of the work, but Moss jumped into the huddle as often as the coaches allowed him to. This seemed to inspire Crabtree, who sometimes hangs back with Ginn on the periphery of the action.
Today, Crabtree hung with Moss, running as many patterns and catching as many passes as possible, and talking trash the whole time. Moss and Crabtree need strong offseasons – their careers depend on it – and it seems like they’re already bringing out the best in each other.
Crabtree had a very good practice – he caught almost everything, but he couldn’t outshine Moss, the star of the day.