As they sweated through a one-day rookie camp in early May, then progressed through OTAs and into the current minicamp, gradually gaining first-team repetitions while absorbing a crash course in NFL blocking, tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati probably were feeling pretty good about their progress.
Coaches and teammates had good things to say about the first-round draft choices, noting their imposing size and willingness to learn.
Not that Davis and Iupati should suddenly be doubting their self-worth, but things have looked a little different the past couple days, as the 49ers ran their first one-on-one drills of the spring. Suddenly, the rookies were on that proverbial island, with no help and no chance of blending into the background – and the results weren’t always pretty.
Davis put in solid work Thursday, more than holding his own against LB Diyral Briggs and DE Ray McDonald. Today was a different story. LB Parys Haralson beat him to the imaginary quarterback, and Briggs shoved him backward on one snap, though Davis closed the gap against both men in later reps. He slipped to the ground once while blocking LB Martail Burnett.
For Iupati, one-on-one may have been even more of an eye-opener. Iupati has made fewer obvious mistakes than Davis over May/June practices, and lately has gotten a few more first-team reps. Both have the potential for long, prosperous NFL careers, but some see Iupati as more immediately ready for the pro game.
That hasn’t been evident in early one-on-one action.
On Thursday he got beat handily twice by Derek Walker and once by Justin Smith. This morning, Demetric Evans killed him with a spin move. He held Walker on one snap. Evans shot past him after a juke. And when Walker beat him again, offensive line coach Mike Solari stopped action to give Iupati some instruction. It should be noted that Iupati evened the score against all of them. Still, he hasn’t exactly looked dominant.
Neither rookie seemed overly fazed by the setbacks. “It’s just a drill,” Davis said with a shrug after practice.
And other 49ers were quick to point out that one-on-one drills don’t tell the full story, or even half of it, until the pads go on.
“The thing that I wanted to see in the one-on-ones when we did it, is I really wanted to see how they responded to the speed and the guys coming off the edge,” coach Mike Singletary said. “I think once we get in pads, the favor goes to them. They can grab a little bit more, and we’ll have a better idea then. But right now I thought they handled the speed pretty well for not being able to grab more.”
“Fully padded one-on-one, you’re thinking about everything,” tackle Joe Staley said. “Basically, without pads you’re not worried about the bull rush. You’re mainly working with your hands and your sets, and getting your alignments right. Basically, you work on your punch and trying to get your hands exactly right depending on what kind of move they do. But it’s good to get work out there. One-on-ones are definitely beneficial.”
Staley is going into his fourth season, but he still remembers the one-on-one drills of his rookie season fairly vividly.
“I was a nervous wreck,” he said. “I’m sure those guys were, too. But they’re doing a good job. They’ve been really impressive in the OTAs. They’re working hard. Lots of film. Learn from it, but there’s nothing that they’re doing terrible. It’s all correctable.”
After today’s afternoon practice that begins at 3:30, the process of correction will largely take a hiatus, to be resumed when the 49ers hit the field for training camp on Aug. 2. Then the hitting will be louder, and the one-on-one drills could look a lot different.
“In shorts, it’s just hands and feet,” Davis said. “It’s more fun with pads on, of course.”