SANTA CLARA –
Around 5 o’clock I was ready to tweet that Colin Kaepernick had practiced better than Alex Smith today.
Kaepernick had been exceptionally accurate, and he’d just led the second team offense on an impressive drive against the second team defense, handling their blitzes with hard counts and audibles. I’d never seen him take such decisive actions at the line of scrimmage in practice before.
On the other hand, Smith had thrown two interceptions, one to Phillip Davis in a 7-on-7 drill against the fourth team defense, and one to Chris Culliver in 11-on-11s.
Since the reporters are not allowed to tweet from the sideline, I started to walk away from the field to tweet my quarterback assessment.
Thankfully, I didn’t get far. At that moment, Smith threw three of the best passes I’ve ever seen him throw. The defense brought heavy blitzes, and Smith hit them with three straight deep play-actions passes. On the first, he connected with Joshua Morgan for 40 yards. On the second, he threw a 20-yard pass to Braylon Edwards on a deep slant. And on the third, he hit Ted Ginn Jr. perfectly in stride 45-yards downfield. Each throw had a tight spiral, too.
Credit goes to the offensive line for giving Smith time. That being said, this was Smith’s best sequence of training camp by far.
After practice, offensive coordinator Greg Roman spoke about his top two quarterbacks: “I think the reps are pretty even. I think they’re both doing a real good job.”
One reporter asked if they might hesitate to sign a veteran quarterback like Daunte Culpepper because he would take away from Smith and Kaepernick’s practice reps. Roman said they’d definitely have to discuss that.
He went on: “If X,Y, and Z happens, that might free up a third quarterback spot. If X,Y, and Z doesn’t happen and R, S, and T happens, then we would keep two.”
That’s a lot of variables.
Backups Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson barely got any practice reps today, so for now, the 49ers quarterback competition is a tight two-man race.
- The starting middle linebackers. NaVorro Bowman blitzed effectively up the middle of the offensive line, and Patrick Willis had the best practice of anyone on the team. At the start, Willis broke up a sure touchdown at the last second from Alex Smith to Braylon Edwards. Throughout the day he blitzed alongside Bowman and got to the quarterback, and at practice’s end he made a spectacular interception. Kaepernick threw a line drive down the middle of the field, and Willis made a leaping interception, returning it 50 yards for a touchdown.
- The backup cornerbacks. Phillip Davis and Chris Culliver each intercepted Smith once, and Tarell Brown intercepted Kaepernick. Brown looked particularly good today, playing first-string cornerback because Rogers and Spencer did not practice.
- The blitz pickup in general. Too many times during practice Harbaugh had to yell this reminder to his blitzing linebackers as they closed in on Smith or Kaepernick, “Don’t touch the quarterback!” The offensive line had most of its trouble preventing pressure up the middle. Both centers, Jonathan Goodwin and Adam Snyder, got pushed back into the pocket a few times.
- Joe Staley appeared to tweak his left ankle at the end of practice, and Alex Boone took his place on the first team offensive line.
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