The San Francisco 49ers hosted a rookie minicamp on Friday, which is the first real taste of information we're going to get on the newest members of the team. It's nothing like training camp or the practices just prior to the preseason .. there's no contact, no pads and as it turns out ... not a whole lot of news.
Most are focusing on running back Marcus Lattimore, who was drafted last year but was essentially redshirted due to his injuries. He was eligible to participate in this "rookie" camp, and actually did some work. He took some handoffs from Kory Faulkner (KFIOF) and ran at half speed during the individual portion of practice, as noted by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
But that's really all that the beat writers saw. No really, if you were hoping for a lot of information ... there wasn't much. The 49ers closed much of the practices to the media, meaning they primarily only saw warmups. Eric Branch of the Chronicle gives his assessment below:
Impressions from #49ers rookie-camp practice (closed to media after 25 minutes): Those youngsters can stretch and jog at an A++ level.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) May 23, 2014
OK well surely there was a bit more than that? We'll take it over to Matt Maiocco to get what he managed to get a glimpse of:
In other words, do not bother asking how a certain player looks during 49ers rookie camp. The answer: I don't know.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) May 23, 2014
Well ... alright then. In all seriousness, this was to be expected. The ever-reliable Bay Area Sports Guy was in attendance and he did manage to give us some impressions and notes, though if you're expecting sophisticated analysis ... well what is wrong with you? You can find his post here.
It's unclear why the practice was closed, it sounds like the media members were surprised by this. If you want to ask Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, however, he'll probably tell you it's because the 49ers don't want him anywhere near, for fear he might just nail them with some hard-hitting questions (which they are all seriously afraid of).
In reality, Kawkami did actually take Harbaugh to task with some pretty significant questions prior to the practices. Kawakami asked several questions about outside linebacker Aldon Smith, asking if the 49ers had a set limit of felony counts a player can have before they cut bait. It was an unfair question, and not because I think Harbaugh can't handle it, but because it's a stupid question to be asking. You don't really need further explanation than that.
But there were things of value there. Kawakami asking about Smith at all was something he should have done, and looking for clarification as to whether or not Smith is still a starter ("We're too early to tell who the starters are right now," if you were wondering) was something I would have done myself if I were there. Whatever the case, Harbaugh neglected to answer whether or not Smith would be there at the start of training camp given that his hearing is just a few days after it's set to begin. I think that was also an important question to ask, even if it didn't get any answers.
Warning: I'm going off on a tangent now. There's no stopping it. 1,000 words, here I come.
For the record, I like Kawakami's line of questioning here. I think the bit about Smith being the starter two days after his DUI is a little unfair given the NFL Players Association and all of the red tape, and I do think Harbaugh did respond well to the comments about players being above reproach. Kawakami asks some important questions and I think naturally, 49ers fans get upset about the nature of them.
But I do believe he walks that line, aside from the several hours of follow-up he gives on Twitter, congratulating himself. But hey, if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. It sucks that we have to talk about this stuff, but the fact is Smith is in a bad situation and so are the 49ers. Now is that Harbaugh's fault? Nope. Did he even put his foot in his mouth with past comments? No, I don't think he did that either.
I don't think there's any reason to suggest he screwed up by having this happen after saying the "above reproach" stuff. Obviously, it's what Harbaugh wants to strive for and perhaps he has the added selfish benefit of getting to feel good about having said it at the time, but I think we're kind of misunderstanding the role of a press conference here. I think, at times, we see something happen and immediately want answers from ... whoever has to be talking. If you took a random 49ers assistant and put him up there with a 49ers logo behind him, those questions would be asked.
But it's not surprising Harbaugh didn't have the answers, which is why I'm saying that, yes, I think the questions needed to be asked and I think it's great we have someone on the 49ers beat who will do that, but perhaps not to the extent that they were. I know at this point I'm rambling, which is as good a confirmation as ever that I'm more than a little conflicted on this. It'd be great if Harbaugh would be straight with us, but it's unrealistic and truthfully, there's also the very real possibility that Harbaugh actually doesn't know if Smith is a starter or not. I don't know if Kawakami has considered that possibility.
At least this wasn't the worst press conference to happen on Friday. What a disaster over in Baltimore.