The 49ers were kind enough to have me out for this morning's 8:30 practice. I've made it to training camp in the past, but this was definitely the most access I've been afforded to date. After a train-ride down at the crack of dawn, I was able to enjoy a gorgeous morning out here in Santa Clara. I won't be sticking around for the afternoon practice, so we'll have Maiocco and Barrows reports to rely on for that. For now, I thought I'd throw down some of my observations from practice and after practice. I can definitely tell you it brings new respect for what the beat writers do because it's easy to get sidetracked from what's going on on the field. For example, keeping track of the passes attempted and completed is not so simple, particularly when players are shuffling on and off the field.
First off we'll get through some injury info. Kentwan Balmer went down with a left knee sprain. In the midst of a 9-on-9 drill Balmer stayed down on his knees grimacing in pain. I only caught the tail end of the play but it looked a bit like somebody came down on him from behind. He managed to get up and hopped off with assistance from the staff. More information is expected this afternoon, so I'll make sure and get that update included in our evening recap (Update: Maiocco posted part of his initial post (across the media trailer from me!) and said Balmer indicated he was alright but that it just scared him).
David Baas managed a foot strain in the nutcracker drill. I snapped a few pictures of the drill so folks can get a better idea of it. It's a fairly violent affair and they let players push back and forth for a good while before blowing the whistle on them. I had a chance to speak with Joe Staley after practice and he said on the first day he hated the drill, mostly because he hadn't hit or been hit since December so it was a bit of a rude awakening. However, he enjoys it considerably more now that he's gotten used to it...that and he thinks he's gotten pretty good at it.
The only other injury was Michael Robinson with a groin strain. I didn't see that happen and only found out about it after practice so I'll try and dig up some more details.
Previous injuries that carried over: Haralson (hip), Brown (Toe), Willis (ankle), Moore (lacerated finger)
After the jump, I'll roll out some of my observations from practice. I don't discuss everything so if you have any questions about specific players, please post them in the comments and I'll answer as best I can from what I saw...
In watching practice I didn't take down copious notes on every little detail. However, I noted down random observations I noticed in the drills.
- Shaun Hill's throwing motion looks even more awkward in person. In some of the smaller drills I noticed a motion that was somewhere below 3/4 and above sidearm. And something I've always noticed is he has that sort of pushing motion that I always saw with Steve Young. Not a bad thing obviously, but just something to notice.
- When the team was warming up at the beginning, Isaac Bruce definitely was in a world all his own at times. Everybody was doing the same exercises at the same time, except Isaac. He just sort of did his thing. Combine that with continuing to wear #80 in practice and he is definitely a quirky dude.
- Josh Morgan has absolute tree trunks for legs. If you see him from a distance he really doesn't look any bigger than anybody else. But up close he looks like a powerful individual. Combine that power with his speed and I really think he's gonna be special.
- Some of the drills I noticed: 9-on-9 with no receivers or cornerbacks; a sort of 8-8 with 2 offensive linemen represented by coaches and two defensive linemen taking part, but on a knee the whole time
- There were some nice passes completed deep but my favorite play was seeing Manny Lawson explode up to bat down a Shaun Hill pass. Afterwards he was meeting with the press and indicated he isn't wearing a brace at this point. He also felt mentally he was past the injury and ready to move forward. Coach Manusky had a post-practice press conference and when asked about Lawson, he indicated in the base defense he'd have the same role as in the past, but in the sub defense he'd be primarily a pass rusher.
- Manusky also spoke in detail about Dashon Goldson. He's made a name for himself in practice as a ballhawk but that hasn't translated into game action. Manusky thinks that by getting all the first team reps Goldson will be able to improve in the mental aspects of the game. That certainly makes a lot of sense. Yet again, another guy I'm excited to see in the preseason.
- Manusky also made the same point we've heard in the past about defensive linemen. They tend to struggle that first year and then make a sizable leap their second year. He pointed to Ray McDonald, but I'm not sure if he's the best example. Not a bad one, but not great. Let's hope Balmer is ok after today and can indeed make that leap.
I'll be heading back to the city in a bit. I've got a few more notes and will mix them in with a PM practice recap if they're especially applicable. Also, at some point this week, hopefully, I've got a picture I took that you will at least find entertaining. And remember, if you have any questions about players or issues I didn't mention, ask in the comments and I'll see what info I can provide.