Thoughts and observations from this morning’s practice

Random thoughts and observations from this morning’s chilly voluntary practice in Santa Clara…

• Missing from the action were CBs Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer, NT Aubrayo Franklin, OLB Manny Lawson, DT Kentwan Balmer, RB Michael Robinson, LB Keaton Kristick and WR Jared Perry. More on those situations later. ILB Patrick Willis, who had knee surgery in March, watched but did not participate.

• Tough day for the passing game. Alex Smith started the day with a completion to Michael Crabtree, but was generally up and down, floating a few deep balls. And even when Smith hit the target, the football didn’t always stick. TE Delanie Walker had a pass bounce off his chest. Dominique Zeigler saw one go through his hands. So did Ted Ginn, and that one was intercepted by rookie CB Phillip Adams.

Asked whether he would expect so many passes to hit the ground this early in the process, coach Mike Singletary answered: “Well, I guess it depends on who the receiver was. I think some of the guys just have to get used to catching the ball again. Some guys are natural at catching the ball. There are others that are not, and they have to work up to it. I’m confident … there will be fewer and fewer balls on the ground going forward.”

• Here’s what your first teams looked like: On offense, it was Joe Staley, David Baas, Eric Heitmann, Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder across the line from left to right; QB Alex Smith, FB Moran Norris and HB Frank Gore in the backfield; and WRs Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan and TE Vernon Davis in the pass pattern. The defense went like this: Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean Francois and Justin Smith across the defensive line from left to right; Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson at OLB, and Takeo Spikes and Matt Wilhelm on the inside; Tarell Brown and Karl Paymah at CB, and Dashon Goldson and Michael Lewis at safety.

• Anthony Davis was at RT with the second team, while fellow rookie Mike Iupati was at LG.

• Three men – Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and LeRoy Vann – split a long session of punt returns. They worked in that order, but fielded roughly the same number of “punts” (which really came from a Jugs machine). All three had their troubles fielding the ball cleanly, but Singletary remains optimistic about the role.

“I like that we have some guys that can catch the ball, first of all, and go,” he said. “It’s nice to have some options. Last year we were scratching our heads every day, trying to figure it out. Thankfully, we have some guys that will continue to get better, that you get excited about blocking for.”

• Adams, a seventh-round pick from South Carolina State, became the first draft choice to sign a contract when he inked a four-year deal Monday. That transaction was announced after I spoke to Adams in the locker room, but he had this to say about his interception: “I was very excited, especially to be out there with those guys I’ve been watching all this time. I’m doing my best to try to make plays and understand my role in the defense.”

• Rookie LB Navorro Bowman blitzed untouched up the middle on one play and tapped Gore down in the backfield.

• Rookie RB Anthony Dixon has emerged as an early favorite for the Perpetual Smile award. He seems to be as happy as he is big – even when admitting that he got gassed Monday because he isn’t in top football shape. Don’t worry. Dixon insisted he’d be there by the end of this week’s OTAs.

“One or two days, maybe three,” he estimated. “By Thursday or Friday, I’ll be out there jumping – too much energy. They’ll probably be telling me to pipe down a little bit. I know that in the back of my mind, so I ain’t gonna panic, just cause I was a little out of shape today.”

• Here’s Singletary on new CB Will James: “I like the fact that he’s a competitor. One thing that you are going to see when you put on the film is he competes. He competes every down, and I like the experience factor. He was with (assistant to the head coach/secondary coach) Johnnie Lynn in New York for about five years. Some of the things that we do are very similar to what they did there, so we are not going to ask him to do something outside of his capabilities.”

• Three more days of morning practices on tap.