Training camp report: Justin Smith and Tarell Brown sidelined, Mike Iupati dodges bullet

SANTA CLARA – Here’s what stood out to me at Friday evening’s padded practice.

THE GOOD

1. Vernon Davis – Today was his best practice of the offseason. He was a dominant pass catcher at tight end, in the slot, at split end and at flanker. As an outside receiver, he beat cornerbacks on single and double moves with efficient footwork three or four times. He also blew past Perrish Cox down the left sideline, but Kaepernick didn’t throw the ball far enough, allowing Cox to get back in the play and knock the ball away. Davis looked like he had been playing wide receiver his whole life.

2. Nnamdi Asomugha – Asomugha was the starting right cornerback in team drills, and he didn’t give up any catches when he was playing man coverage. On one play, Asomugha read Kaepernick’s eyes and broke on a quick pass to the sideline before Marlon Moore, the intended receiver, could turn his head. But Asomugha dropped the interception.

3. Tramaine Brock – He took over for Chris Culliver as the 49ers’ left cornerback in their Nickel defense. On the sixth play of 11-on-11 drills, Brock dropped into a zone and picked off a deep pass from Colt McCoy intended for Anthony Dixon.

4. Marlon Moore – Once again, he was the starting split end once again and he played well. In one-on-one drills, he easily beat Cox deep for a touchdown. He also caught a 20-yard pass in front of Cox on a deep square-in route.

5. Austin Collie – He observed the first half of team drills, but he jumped into the action during the last half hour. He lined up in the slot and at split end, and even caught a short pass.

6. Lavelle Hawkins – Like Collie, Hawkins didn’t join the team drills until the final half hour. Hawkins received one target, a deep pass from B.J. Daniels. Hawkins made the catch, but Daniels led him a few inches too far out of bounds, and Hawkins couldn’t get his second foot in.

7. D.J. Harper – He is an excellent blocker. I haven’t seen him miss a block in pass protection all offseason. Today, he also caught a touchdown pass in a red zone drill, and gained ten yards on an inside run between Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey.

8. B.J. Daniels – Except for his deep pass to Hawkins, Daniels’ passes were accurate. The first week of practice, he was hitting receivers, but not in stride. Today, he hit almost every target in stride. And he’s drastically improving his hands as a receiver every day.

9. Corey Lemonier – He blasted Jewel Hampton on a run play. The run was designed to go the offense’s left. Hampton decided in the backfield to cut it back to the right. Lemonier dove into the hole and knocked Hampton on his back.

10. Mike Iupati – Someone rolled up onto his left knee during a running play. Iupati was down on ground in pain for about a minute, but he walked it off and finished practice.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

1. Justin Smith – He did not practice. His right middle finger was wrapped in a brace.

2. Tarell Brown – He participated in individual drills, but not team drills. He watched those from the sideline. It is not currently known what he is “working through.”

3. LaMichael James – He’s improved his hands, but he struggled in pass protection today. On one play, he completely whiffed on Parys Haralson, didn’t get a finger on the linebacker. So, Haralson sacked McCoy. James needs to become a better blocker for the Nines to use him on third down the way the Saints use Darren Sproles on third down.

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  1. Thanks again for the breakdowns Grant. Is this the best Vernon has looked in a TC that you can recall? I know it is only early days, but everything I’ve read seems to suggest he’s ready for a big season.

    Good to hear Brock had another good day.

    From what you saw of Collie, did it look like his knee was bothering him at all?

    1. Yes, this is best he’s looked. He’s diversified his game.

      Collie didn’t seem bothered by his knee, but I’ll keep an eye out.

      1. If his route running is improved to the point where he is now running crisp routes, and faster into/ out of his breaks, this could be a real breakout year for him.

      2. Grant, months ago when we traded for Boldin you raised the question of “who will be the deep threat”? My answer was Davis, his best routes where seems, posts and post-corners. You where hesitant to agree (or disagree), what do you think now? Is it possible?

        I also pointed out how, going into 2011 i thought VD could wrestle the “Best TE in the league” mantle away from TG, Witten and AG…..only to be leapfrogged by Gronk and Graham due to their unbelievable receiving numbers . Do you think VD could “close that gap” by getting more involved in the passing game now that he is shifting around and playing some slot?

      3. Thank you also for keeping an eye out for what the injuries appears to be. It beats the heck out of the “working through something” auto response we’ve had the last two years.

      4. Jshaw, if you rewatch the super bowl, you’ll see the chemistry between Kaepernick and Davis blossoming. All down the field throws. It sure makes this season exciting.

      5. Matt, i have not re-watched the SB, i dont have the heart. Its still too painful. But i do remember CK and VD hooking up on those deep plays. Im very excited for this season. I hope that chemistry continues to develop!

  2. Grant, do you think Fangois criticism of Asomugha earlier was merely a tactic? I’ve read nothing but glowing remarks of him this far this off season.

    1. Based on the interviews I’ve seen with Fangio he seems a pretty straight down the line kind of guy, not one to play games, and not much into using the media to prop up or motivate a player. I’d take what he said about Asomugha as the truth as he see it.

      1. remember what fangio said about willis? something like “yeah he is good, but he can use some work on his pass rush.” fangio doesnt dole out praise, even to the best players. i take what he says with a grain of salt.

    1. I think he’s too small for a 3-down back. Until he proves otherwise, LMJ is a specialty back that plays only the “Sproles” role. A healthy Hunter looks like the #2 behind Gore.

  3. While I believe Grant’s assessment on LMJ today, how many times in SD or NO has Sproules ever been asked to block? I can’t happen to remember a single time. LMJ will indeed be expected to do that in Roman’s/Harbaugh’s offense, so the criticism is fair, but I question the comparison because Peyton is so much more aggressive (it helps to have Bree’s).

    1. According to Pro Football Focus, SD used Sproles as a pass blocker 53 times in 2009 and 59 times in 2010, and his pass blocking efficiecncy was 95.3 percent and 95.4 percent, respectively. He’s always been an outstanding blocker.

      Sean Payton has used Sproles as a blocker less frequently, but Sproles still has to pick up 20 to 30 blitzes a year for the Saints, and he picks up 90 percent of them. Payton can trust him to pick up a block when necessary. The only backs Roman currently can trust to do that are Gore, Miller, Dixon and Harper.

  4. Grant first of all I like that your articles have became much better. I use to hate reading your articles and stopped. Now it is actually a pleasant surprise to read them. Much better and kudos. I won’t be criticizing them anymore that’s for sure.LMJ can pass block I can recall a game last year where he blocked someone, a great player it was towards the end of the season. If he would not have blocked the guy Kap would have got his bell rung but LMJ leveled the guy that was twice his size.

    1. Chad Hall struggled beating man coverage, even from the slot. He’s at his best when he’s finding soft spots against zone coverage.

      Ian Williams continued to play well. I think he’s going to win the NT job because he can stop the run and penetrate the pocket.

      None of the 49ers’ centers have been playing particularly well – Kilgore, Looney or Snyder. They’re making Ian Williams look All Pro.

      1. I’m assuming that is a misplaced “didn’t”. That is my main concern with Hall, from what little I’ve seen and read he’s a small guy that can find the soft spot in zone coverage but doesn’t do enough to shake free of defenders in tight quarters.

  5. Excited to here about Davis.

    Grant – how did his route running look? Did he run a pretty good variety? And which corners did he match up against?

    Thanks and great reporting once again.

    1. Thanks, Leo. Davis did run a good variety – short routes, intermediate and deep, inward and outward-breaking routes, single and double-moves. The CBs he matched up against today were Perrish Cox, Marcus Cooper and Lowell Rose. He matched up against Tarell Brown a few times yesterday, but Brown didn’t practice in team drills today.

  6. The signing of two WRs at the same time is curious to say the least. How you heard anything on Jenkins, Williams, Lockette or Osgood as to the extent of their injuries? Another great report by the way. Keep them coming Grant.

    1. The signings aren’t motivated solely by competition. TC moves much faster than gametime. There are times when 2-3 QBs are throwing passes at the same time, with no lining up in between. You need plenty of WRs running routes, catching the ball, and running back for the next route.

  7. Among the obvious downsides to our holes at the receiver position something that gets overlooked is that our defensive backs aren’t being tested in camp. Tough to be prepared for the top receivers in the league when you’re going up against off the street B grade talent in practice.

    1. The 49ers defense has been facing a sub par passing attack in practice for the last decade. I’m not seeing much difference in effect this year.

      1. It would be for 2011. Last year it was pretty well set before training camp and there were no injuries to starters. The only real question was the RG spot.

        The 2 Williams being starters isn’t really a surprise, but Spillman is.

  8. I think it may be time to consider asking Vernon Davis to play both sides of the ball, playing a corner or safety. He’s one of the best and fastest athletes in the NFL and niners need help in the defensive secondary. If nothing else, it would change the way niner fans themselves perceive their team’s secondary. This would improve performance. Yes, that’s correct. Action and performance follows thought—-and belief. Believe it and you can do it—-well, individually or collectively as a group.
    I heard today that the Cardinals are considering using Patrick Peterson, an outstanding AZ cornerback, at wide receiver……..for precisely that reason. Dion Sanders was mentioned as a precedent.

  9. how has aldon looked? havent heard much about him.

    you have the best TC reports by the way. i cant wait till AJ is back, are you gonna bring back that section of the report? i think its good to keep up on our 1st round project receiver. aldon never needed these sections because al pro linemen were bragging about how good he was, so it was obvious. i just think its good to keep up on everyones favorite player and you do the best at it.

  10. Pretty interesting comparison from Sando between Crabtree and Collie from 2009-11 before Crabtree’s breakout season last year. They were pretty close in several areas. If Collie can stay healthy, I could see him moving up the depth chart fairly quickly. I hope Hawkins can carve out a role since he is from my home town and I’ve followed him since he played at Edison High and Cal, but I think the numbers may be against him.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcwest/post/_/id/105520/austin-collie-and-the-49ers-wr-depth

    1. Sando has gotten his years mixed up a bit there. Collie played with Manning as his QB in 2009 and 2010 (though Collie only played 9 games that year, due to concussion), and the 2011 season was the one Manning missed (which precipitated them drafting Luck last year). And his knee injury was last season (2012), not 2011.

  11. Perhaps all this injury adversity this summer will sharpen the guys’ hunger and determination and they’ll play like junkyard dogs. Last year is over. Got to earn everything all over again, and do it without a few familiar faces. Push old Freddie P Soft to the back of the crowd.
    I do expect Harbs to not game plan during preseason, and to not show some stuff before Opening Day, so let’s not get too excited either way in these summer games. But I am ready to watch some football!

  12. LMJ may never become an efficient blocker, but his strength is speed, speed, and more speed.
    LMJ will be a big contributor on special teams and I expect to see him making catches out of the backfield this season to add to his versatility.

    When I think about the Superbowl last February, one (of many) thing that come to mind is; had LMJ made the run instead of F.Gore leading to the last drive, he would have scored rather then being tackled at the 5 yrd line.

    I’m expecting very exciting things from LMJ season and beyond. Blocking will come around in time.

    1. How did Marshall Faulk, a guy with a similar playing style but with less rings, get in to Canton before Roger Craig?

      1. You two sound like homers. Craig was a running back. He isnt even in the 9000 yard club. He lags behind in rushing yards to both Fran Gore and Ricky Waters and neither of them are in Canton. Lets not forget the monumental blemish near the end of his Niner career. * the fumble*

        Warren Sapp was one of the best at his position in the history of the game. He was a violent, disruptive game changer.

    2. How does he get there before Bryant Young? Self-promotion. If Young self-promoted anywhere near to the extent Sapp did/ does, Young would be in Canton today as well as Sapp.

      And I am not saying Young deserves to be there more than Sapp. They both deserve it. Two of the best DTs to ever play the game – Sapp had a slight edge as a pass rusher but Young was the better run defender (IMO) – Young was probably the most well-balanced DT I can recall as he was excellent in all areas. Yet Young doesn’t get the same accolades in many circles outside the 49ers fan base, and the only reason I can see is that Young was one of the most humble guys and off the field stayed out of the spotlight. Sapp… not so much.

      1. I agree with you scooter. I think Sapp was “flashy” and had more recognition due to the fact he was a very high draft pick, was very charismatic (ran his mouth a lot) and had a huge role in turning around one of the worst franchises in the game, all the way into SB champs.
        On the other hand, BY was a late 1st round pick, landed on a great team. Won his SB as a rookie. And was a quiet man who never wanted to be in the lime-light.

        In other words: the squeaky wheel gets the grease!!

  13. Ran outside in my football helmet. Dropkicked a duck decoy and yelled, “Preseason is better than no season. Football is back!”

  14. I can’t resist any “should be in the Hall of Fame” discussions without adding my annual riddle.

    Name the following player that has not been close to induction into the Hall of Fame?

    Pluses:
    - Super Bowl winning quarterback
    - AP NFL Most Valuable Player
    - AFC player of the year in two different years
    - 4 Pro Bowls
    - 7 consecutive winning seasons
    - Practically invented modern high percentage passing
    - Quickest to win 100 games, having done so in 150 games (only surpassed by Joe Montana)
    - Perhaps the best clock/game managing QB in history…

    “Other then Joe, he was the best come from behind quarterback I have ever seen.” (Bill Walsh, Building a Champion, Page 30.)

    Minuses:
    - He played on the wrong coast, in the wrong city.
    - His haircut did not shout “I love juxtaposing military jingoism with sports.”

    I posted this in the NY Times 5th Down blog a few years ago. Sparked quite a debate and a few articles too.

    1. I would’ve gotten that if Matt hadn’t already. Stabler’s on my list of best of the best at Two Minute Drill. Don’t leave Unitas off that list.

      1. Stabler ran the two minute drill so well it almost seemed routine. Just another and of game comeback. He certainly didn’t need the entire two minutes. He knew exactly where to go with the ball, when to kill clock, when to call timeout. Not a wasted second. Clock management went on a such major decline in the 90′-00s it was painful to watch.

        Another aspect of his game was the quick count. He’d stroll lazily up to the line as if he were half asleep. As soon as he was behind center the ball was snapped on hut 1. Perfect for off tackle and play action. I wish Roman would put a few quick counts in for Kaepernick.

  15. Sounds like we will get the return of The Good, The Bad and The Jenkins today. He’s back at it along with KW. No practice for Staley. Interested in who they put at LT. Snyder is my first guess.

      1. Looney is an interior lineman Mid. Don’t think he’s an option outside. Snyder has played out there with the 49ers previously.

      1. Thursday against Denver should provide a hint among the wide receivers as to who is going to emerge as the man opposite Boldin. I doubt he plays so plenty of opportunities for the competitors. It may be a tour de force by committee when all said and done….

    1. I would rather see a breakdown of how each WR does in each practice. Doing so will give us fans a better idea if who has a better chance of lining up opposite of Boldin and in the slot.

      1. If he’s healthy Kyle Williams is the #2 receiver.

        When they want to go 3 wide I think KW slides into the slot with Moore going outside.

  16. Stabler will have a hard time getting the support of football writers after he tried framing Bob Padecky for cocaine possession with the intent to distribute.

  17. Grant from what I’ve been reading G. Dorsey has been looking better and better the last few days. Do you think he could fill the role RJF filled last yr.? both nose tackle and DE. I think he could help our inside rush until Carridine gets healthy.

    1. Yes, I think Dorsey can fill RJF’s role, but I don’t think Dorsey will help the inside rush. He’s not a penetrator. He’s a run-stuffer.

  18. Strong practices from cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Tramaine Brock. Latter had a pick six and served as the No. 3 cb today. Jenkins with a 50 yard TD catch near end of team drills. ~Barrows and Inman

    1. Barrows tweeted that Jenkins had a good practice today… not sure if that is simply because of the 50 yard TD to end the day or if he also did other good things.

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