Praise be to whatever higher power you believe in, I made it to San Francisco 49ers training camp! I actually ended up half an hour earlier just to be safe and thanks to the baby bullet train Cal Train runs during rush hour. It was a gorgeous day in the low 80s and perfectly sunny and the team seemed fired up. Secondary coach Johnnie Lynn was by far the most fired up among everybody. When Derek Smith batted down a pass Lynn was quick to offer praise. When Nate Clements dropped an interception, Lynn was quick to give him some crap about it. All in all a good day.
I was in attendance for the 9am-11am morning practice, along with 15 or so other fans, a couple local writers and Bucky Brooks, one of Sports Illustrated's NFL writers. The team had a second practice scheduled for 4pm, but I could not stick around five hours while the players did their classroom and film work. Obviously it's hard to make assessments from the sidelines of a controlled practice, but I took down some notes with some of my thoughts and observations:
- On the injury front, Frank Gore had on his cast and wore sweatpants but no helmet or pads. Bryant Young spent most of the day riding a stationary bike and chatting with the coaches. Walt Harris, Arnaz Battle and Marcus Maxwell all sat out, although Maxwell was helping out the receivers coaches during drills, while Harris was on the sideline and Battle was not even present that I could see.
- Nate Clements probably had the best day of anybody. The INT he dropped was on more of a strip-type play. Other than that he was always batting down passes and playing excellent defense. The more I see and the more I read, the more excited I am about his potential impact.
- Alex Smith to Darrell Jackson was a thing of beauty during QB/WR drills.
- The first team running backs rotated between Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson. The second team running backs rotated between Thomas Clayton and rookie Arkee Whitlock.
- When the entire offense and defense squared off in red zone drills, the team used an interesting 2nd team nickel defense on a play from the 20. They had two relatively scrubbish defensive lineman on the inside and Jay Moore and Parys Haralson as the defensive ends. Any thoughts on whether you'd want big bodies all along the line at the beginning of the red zone, or if speed guys would be more beneficial? I can only hazard a guess at best. I do think Jay Moore could do some good things as an occasional defensive lineman, but obviously he is being built into a linebacker.
- Some of the more humorous moments included Trent Dilfer twice deciding to run with the ball in the red zone and actually scoring on one of the plays at the corner.
- Another interesting scene came as I was looking around at who else was around me. There were two guys from the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL, one guy from the Sabercats and one other gentleman that seemed to be from another league. In Major League you didn't want to be red-tagged. I'm guessing in the NFL you don't want a coach to "suggest you chat with this coach from th CFL."
- Vernon Davis had a couple drops, but also made a couple nice red zone plays. Definitely boom or bust. Delanie Walker showed why he's around with great hands all morning. Billy Bajema even made a few solid catches, as did Zack Hilton. If Vernon Davis can take the next step I really like our tight end situation top to bottom.
- In talking with a buddy of mine there, it sounds like the temporary depth chart has DJax and Battle starting with TAYLOR JACOBS AHEAD OF ASHLEY LELIE on the depth chart. Of course, at the same time, he really thinks Lelie will have a good year if he can move beyond the distractions of the past. He really wanted to start in Denver, leading to his holdout. However, now he realizes the situation is much different and he has to work for it. It sounds like if he's used primarily to stretch the field he can have a solid year. He's just not the precise route-runner that some of the other guys are thanks in part to his tall, lanky frame. He's apparently a really good guy, so I'm definitely hoping for the best out of him.
All in al, it was a fun day for me and good to see a real practice finally. I was unable to get in my unofficial cameraman, so I don't have any pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it. The team played with a lot of enthusiasm and there was a lot of chatter, whether it was over a great play or a busted play. With the first exhibition game this Monday, I'm definitely getting more and more pumped for the season.