Who climbed, who fell during 49ers’ offseason

The 49ers’ 2010 offseason is in the books. The team has concluded 14 OTAs, a rookie camp and a two-day, three-practice minicamp. That’s a significant amount of public work and, as you can imagine, not all men were treated equally. Here are the climbers and fallers from May and June. Consider this the last round of 7-of-7 for a while.

CLIMBERS
QB Alex Smith:
Is Smith an improved quarterback? We’ll have no idea until at least preseason, and probably into the regular season. But it’s clear that he has greater confidence and command of Jimmy Raye’s offensive system, and that’s the first step.

NT Ricky Jean Francois: When Aubrayo Franklin skipped the entire offseason in silent protest of his franchise tag, it was Jean Francois who got most of his reps at the nose. RJF looks like a solid bet to ease into the D-line rotation this year.

TE Delanie Walker: The Jean Francois of the offense. Vernon Davis missed a lot of time, too (because he’s busy being Vernon Davis), giving Walker plenty of action. He made the most of it, with several nice catches.

S Taylor Mays: He passed the first test by showing up and looking like a monster in shorts and T-shirt. He passed the second by proving he can intercept passes and play in an NFL defense without looking lost. Now the real education comes for Mays.

OLB Manny Lawson: Another guy unhappy with his contract, Lawson stayed away for all the voluntary practices. But when he showed up for the recent minicamp, the 49ers gave him all the first-team reps and the versatile backer looked like he was never gone.

S Reggie Smith: It appears Smith will get first crack at playing strong safety in Greg Manusky’s nickel package – the old Mark Roman position.

LB Patrick Willis: Guess it’s not really climbing when you’re already at the pinnacle. But Willis cemented his place as face of the franchise by signing a five-year, $50 million contract extension, then finished his knee rehab, got back in the huddle a week ago and immediately looked like the best player on the field.

FALLERS
CB Keith Smith and LB Brandon Long:
You can’t fall any further than off the roster. These two were cut/waived this past week.

QB Nate Davis: Excitement over Davis’ raw potential has been tempered lately, both by his coaches’ words and by his inconsistent play on the field. The good news is that he got a ton of second-team reps last week. You can’t say the 49ers aren’t giving Davis a chance to prove himself.

CB Will James: This 10-year vet was expected to compete for playing time at corner. He showed up with a cracked pubic bone and hasn’t seen the field in team period.

WR Brandon Jones: Another injury casualty, Jones sprained an ankle and missed the final week of action. It’s significant, as he hadn’t really distinguished himself before that.

LB Martail Burnett: If the NFL kept stats on getting yelled at by coaches, Burnett might be among the league leaders right now. Of course, that’s probably a better omen than being ignored entirely.

T Anthony Davis: The path to NFL stardom apparently will be filled with potholes for Davis. It’s hard to get an accurate read in non-contact drills, but the big kid occasionally struggled with both timing (false starts) and pass blocking. By the minicamp, he was getting fewer first-team reps than fellow rookie lineman Mike Iupati.

The kick returners: Mike Singletary said ball security will be his No. 1 criterion for choosing a return man. I guess someone has to emerge from the pack, but Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and LeRoy Vann all had their slapstick moments catching punts.

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