Practice defined by 49ers’ absences

The first day of full practice – veterans and rookies, free-agent acquisitions and rehabbed medical patients – is generally a happy day for an NFL team. It’s like a glance at the future, if through a very hazy piece of glass. But fairly or unfairly, Monday’s practice in Santa Clara was defined as much by those who were absent as those who were in attendance.

Of course, some of the guys had perfectly good excuses.

Rookie free-agent wide receiver Jared Perry apparently ran into travel problems. Linebacker Keaton Kristick, another undrafted free agent, is not allowed to practice yet because his senior class at Oregon State hasn’t graduated. Running back Michael Robinson is running a football camp in Richmond, Va. (You can debate the strength of that excuse if you care to.) And defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer is still recovering from shoulder surgery.

“He’s been around for the most part. He’s not here now,” coach Mike Singletary said of Balmer. “He’s working with a guy back home for maybe 10 days or so. He’ll be back and we’ll go from there. He’s getting done what he needs to get done.”

Perhaps the biggest void on the practice field today was at cornerback, where likely starters Shawntae Spencer and Nate Clements both were no-shows. Clements is another guy in the late stages of injury rehab (broken right shoulder blade). Spencer may simply prefer to work out on his own in the offseason. But Singletary spoke to both corners this week and gave them his tacit blessing.

“Obviously as a coach, you always want to see the guys, but it’s just like last year,” he said. “There were some guys that were not here last year, and I told Nate and Shawntae, ‘Hey, guys, you’re men. You do what you have to do. You know what we are trying to get done here, and I trust that.’ Some of the guys will not be here at all for the OTAs and some of the guys will get maybe half of them. … They have to know what we are doing here, and when we get ready for training camp they have to know that the competition is going to be there, and I trust their decision making.”

Singletary might have had a similar take on nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who has yet to sign his approximate $7 million franchise tender. No doubt he’d like the big man here, but it’s pretty much an NFL tradition to sit out a while before signing a franchise tender – partly in protest of the one-year deal, and partly because, hey, it’s a chance to skip workouts while you’re not under contract.

Linebacker Manny Lawson, however, is a different story. As first reported by Comcast SportsNet, Lawson plans to skip all voluntary practices unless he receives a long-term deal from the 49ers. Lawson is set to earn $625,000 in base salary in this, the final year of his current contract. Singletary bluntly asserted that he has not spoken to Lawson.

That said, the coach is confident Lawson will be here for mandatory workouts.

“Manny is a guy that I’m not concerned about in terms of what kind of shape he’s in,” Singletary said. “He’s a very bright guy. He knows the defense, so when he gets here, when he has to be here – same with Aubrayo. When he has to be here, he’ll be here and be ready to go.”

There is one more player listed on the 49ers roster who wasn’t on the field this morning: wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who is widely expected to be retiring. The team has already given his No. 88 jersey to tight end Tony Curtis. But Bruce hasn’t filed his retirement paperwork with the league, and so remains on the roster.

Singletary called Bruce’s situation “a non-issue.” Asked whether the 49ers will have that roster spot open by the time they need it in training camp, he said, “We’ll deal with it.”

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