The San Francisco 49ers have their first day off from practice today, which also means no media availability. This seems as good a time as any to start taking a look at some of the story lines that have been developing over these last four days. Most are things we were expecting, but some bring a little something extra to the table. We'll be discussing this further this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. PT on the NN podcast.
The fact that it has only been four days of practice means we have to take many things with a grain of salt. However, we can start to make some inferences, and we can also figure out what to pay attention to in the coming week, as well as in the first preseason game.
Ian Williams showing us things at nose tackle
Based on what the coaching staff was saying over the course of the offseason, there was a general belief that Glenn Dorsey had the lead in the competition for the nose tackle role. Not so fast. Ian Williams has been taking the first team snaps, and all indications are that he is putting together an impressive display thus far. He has been getting penetration against the first team offensive line, and seems to be playing like a man who has been waiting two years for his opportunity.
Considering he has in fact been sitting and learning for the last two seasons, it is no surprise to see him burst out like this. He was considered a talented defensive lineman coming out of Notre Dame, but an injury scuttled his draft stock. Two years later, he seems to be performing like the guy who will get that starting nose tackle job.
Even if Williams claims the nose tackle job, Glenn Dorsey will still have a fairly significant role with this defense. I suspect (and I think many of you do as well) that we see him in the Ricky Jean Francois role, particularly with Cornellius Carradine and Quinton Dial both still recovering from their respective injuries.
Colin Kaepernick and his favorite receivers
Last season, Michael Crabtree quickly became Colin Kaepernick's favorite receiver, and a key cog of the 49ers passing offense. The wide receiver position was a question mark heading into training camp, but one of the bigger question marks was who if anyone would become Kap's go-to receiver.
Thus far, all indications are that Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis have been getting the majority of the looks. This is not particularly surprising, but still good to hear. James will have more on Boldin later today, but for now, all indications are that he is looking incredibly sharp thus far. Boldin had a monster postseason last year, but was coming off a bit of an up and down regular season in which he had 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns. That's not bad by any stretch, but his three regular seasons with Baltimore were a step back from his time in Arizona. Obviously he's getting older, but hopefully the 49ers get a little more of the postseason Anquan Boldin, as opposed to the regular season Anquan Boldin.
As for Vernon Davis? Yesterday, he met with the media and spoke about the process of learning with his new quarterback. Davis had a big postseason, but had a very pedestrian regular season as a receiving option. He remained a strong blocker, but we heard about his struggles to get on the same page with Kap. He mentioned yesterday how everybody was learning with Kap, and how they've had a full offseason now to work together. We'll see how it translates when the regular seasons starts.
Wide Receiver competition has all sorts of randomness
While Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are connecting with Colin Kaepernick, the wide receiver corps remains a question mark. We'll discuss injuries a bit more below, but suffice to say, the wide receiver corps is getting hit with an assortment of ailments. Kyle Williams sat out Sunday's practice after tweaking his hamstring, Ricardo Lockette may have injured his hip while completing Sunday's practice, and Marlon Moore may have "come up lame" in some form or fashion, while also completing practice.
In terms of performance, Moore appears to be standing out to some extent due to some highlight reel-type catches. In a week and a half, when the 49ers take the field against the Denver Broncos (yep, it's getting close!), it will be interesting to see when Moore makes his first appearance. It is entirely possible he will be a training camp champ that is not able to do much once the regular, but maybe the fourth year pro is finally finding his way? I know, we've heard that so many times.
I can't have a section on wide receivers without talking about A.J. Jenkins. The training camp reports seem to be pointing to a struggle with consistency for the young receiver. One report mentioned how he has an odd struggle with staying on his feet on plays. As the 49ers work toward their preseason opener next week, I have to think Jenkins will get a lot of work with the ones AND twos against the Broncos. While many of the veteran starters will only get a series or two, it seems to me like Jenkins needs to be in there for at least a half of play. Even though a sizable chunk of that would be with Colt McCoy, any work is valuable work at this point for the 49ers second year receiver.
Eric Reid working to earn his stripes
The 49ers traded up in the first round to draft Reid, and at some point he will be playing safety with the starting defense. For now, however, the team is continuing to slowly work him in. He has gotten some work against the 49ers first string offense, but he has not played in that designated No. 1 safety role quite yet. Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman have gotten time at starting free safety, while it sounds like Reid has worked at both safety positions with the second team unit.
Reid will eventually be the starting free safety this year. It may take a couple weeks to get a firm grasp on it, but at some point, the 49ers are going to toss him into the fire. Vic Fangio made it clear that Reid had the mental aspect of things down, and has the athleticism to be a starter. However, for now he is still getting used to the speed of the game, and the reactions needed. The more experience he gets, the more the game will slow down for him.
Lawrence Okoye knows how to put on his pads
During yesterday's media availability, Jim Harbaugh and Aldon Smith were both asked about Lawrence Okoye. The former British Olympian is attempting to create a career for himself as an NFL defensive lineman, having never previously played a down of American football.
Both Harbaugh and Smith thought he did some good work in his first padded practice on Saturday. Coach Harbaugh mentioned that Okoye was able to get the pads on properly. This may seem ridiculous to many of us, but given that it was Okoye's first time completely padded up, it's kind of a big deal. It also shows how far he has to go to make it in the NFL.
Coach Harbaugh also spoke about how Okoye was a better player in pads with contact, than in shorts and a t-shirt. He mentioned how with his long arms, Okoye is now able to engage offensive linemen, and use his arms to get some leverage. Aldon Smith mentioned how Okoye has incredible strength, but will have to work at dropping his hips and sinking down. Okoye is a tall guy, and veteran offensive linemen can take advantage of that to take away any leverage. And considering every offensive linemen in the league (starting or on the bench) is a veteran of football compared to Okoye, that's plenty to learn.
Every team has to deal with injuries throughout training camp, and the 49ers are no different. We are not going to get many specifics from the coaching staff, but we have a few points of note from the beat writers on hand.
Darius Fleming: The 49ers inside linebacker went down with a knee injury during a special teams drill. He was reportedly working as a gunner when he tried to change direction and went down. The injury happened to the same knee on which Fleming underwent ACL surgery, and the beat writers thought it looked serious. Fleming missed last season with the torn ACL, so we'll see what follow-up reports bring.
Kyle Williams: The 49ers wide receiver reportedly tweaked his hamstring on a touchdown catch during Saturday's practice. Williams tweeted afterward that he was fine, but he was held out of practice on Sunday. With today's day off, it made sense to give him the back-to-back days off and get him back to 100%. Even if the hamstring was 95%, you don't want to risk it developing into a chronic injury.
Ricardo Lockette: Reports indicated he suffered a hip injury, but he also reportedly came back to finish up practice.
Quinton Patton: He has been wearing a blue non-contact jersey since the first day of practice, and over the weekend he was seen wearing a soft cast on his left hand. Coach Harbaugh described it as a jammed finger. It sounds like it happened on a reception in practice, but there aren't a lot of details on it at this point.
Kendall Hunter: The 49ers running back is on the PUP list, rehabbing his torn Achilles. He was reportedly running at camp yesterday, and showing plenty of speed. He will need to get cleared after performing cuts and various change of direction work, but he seems to be making good progress. If he continues on his current pace, I could see him activated in the next week or so.
Here is a rundown of the various training camp reports from each beat writer.