The Niners are no longer in “training camp mode,” as Jim Harbaugh would say. They’re in a process of transitioning to regular-season mode.
But before we all change our modes, let’s relive the highlights of training camp.
Here are the five most interesting moments of Niner camp 2011:
- Harbaugh takes player reps. One minute he’s Coach, blowing his whistle and barking instructions at his players. But when he flips his hat to the back he’s Coach no longer. Sometimes he’s a quarterback. Sometimes he’s a tight end. Other times he’s a punter. The hyper-active coach can’t resist reliving his glory days at least once a day on the practice field. And some days, he really does look like the best quarterback on the team.
- Nate Byham tears his ACL. This was the first serious injury of training camp. Byham lept for a pass McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw high over his head, and he landed awkwardly on his leg and you could tell right away the injury was serious by how he screamed and pounded his fists against the grass. It happened 15 feet away from me. Jim Harbaugh didn’t pause practice at all for Byham. He blew his whistle and ran the team to the other end of the field, calling for fresh grass. Practice had to continue. Vernon Davis, who for the most part can do what he pleases on the practice field, ignored Harbaugh and knelt next to his fellow tight end until the training staff carted Byham off the field.
- Violence in blocking drills. The violence happens rarely because the coaches don’t want Niners hurting other Niners. But every few days Harbaugh ordered blocking drills, and they were as brutal as football gets. One morning the halfbacks and fullbacks had to take turns blocking blitzing linebackers, meaning they had to absorb full-speed hits from Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Each time there was a head-to-head collision. Frank Gore didn’t participate, but Kendall Hunter and Bruce Miller did, and both stood their ground at least a dozen times.
- The two fights. First, Aldon Smith hit Frank Gore helmet-to-helmet and Gore didn’t like the head shot, so he slapped the rookie across his face. Without hesitating, Smith slapped him back, and the whole team loved it. The defense mobbed Smith, and the offense gave Gore high fives. About a minute later, Smith and Gore high-fived each other. Aldon Smith didn’t show up Gore, but he held his ground, and both players maintained their honor. Anthony Dixon tried to show up Patrick Willis a few days later, and the defense made him pay for it. On one play Willis tackled Dixon near the sideline in front of fans. Dixon cracked Willis helmet-to-helmet on the way down, and after the tackle he jumped up and started whooping and hollering at Willis’ expense. This ticked off the defense, so for the rest of the day, whenever Dixon got a handoff they hit him extra hard. Justin Smith planted him on his back, and on the first play the next day, Willis tackled Dixon in the backfield, stripped the ball from him, and twisted his ankle. Dixon didn’t practice for a week after this. He no longer shows up Patrick Willis in practice.
- Baalke stops Crabtree from catching passes in practice. I was expecting to see very little in the 30 minutes Harbaugh allots for the media to watch warmups, because very little is what he wants to show, but all of a sudden on Monday there was Michael Crabtree catching passes. The appearance was so out of step with the organization’s new policy of top secrecy I wondered briefly if it was just a Crabtree look-alike on the field. Surely they didn’t want Michael Crabtree, who was still on the PUP list, to practice in front of the media, right? Then here comes Trent Baalke rushing onto the field. He whispers something to Crabtree and they walk off together. Hey, with a new coaching staff and the lockout-shortened off season, you can’t expect complete secrecy right away. It’s a process.
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