The 49ers announced yesterday that today's last practice of mini-camp was canceled, thus closing out the "offseason" portion of practices for the team. The players and coaches will go their separate ways, with the next stop being end of July training camp. In the meantime, the team took care of some business today, announcing that the team had released safety Keith Smith and linebacker Brandon Long. Not exactly major moves, but they do clear a bit of space out of the cupboard.
Coach Singletary conducted a media session yesterday in between the two practices and discussed a variety of issues, including where the team has come this offseason. He seems particularly pleased with the secondary depth at this point. Reading between the lines would seem to indicate Singletary is excited about Karl Paymah and Will James. The team has added some younger corners via the draft and undrafted free agency, but it seems to me like Paymah and James would be the ones giving Singletary reason for confidence at this point.
Although there are plenty of positions with question marks, two that stood out in this media session and will likely be discussed plenty come training camp, are the return men and the backup center position. We all know the return game was abysmal last season, and reading all the reports from training camp (as well as this transcript), there have definitely been struggles in developing something in that aspect of special teams. I'd imagine we'll all be paying especially close attention to those folks in training camp.
The backup center position is a bit different in the sense that the backup center won't really see much playing time if Eric Heitmann can stay healthy. The big deal for the backup at center is that it could be a guy who sees time at guard and/or tackle. Given the addition of Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, that could be a fairly big deal in the battle for a roster spot. If someone can show an ability to play all along the line, it will certainly only help their chances of making the roster. Coach Singletary indicated he sees the situation clearing itself up, so we'll see how that plays out. In July, when we put together our annual training camp position battles to watch, this will certainly be one of them.
And finally, for those interested, there is some detailed discussion about the nutcracker drill towards the end of the transcript after the jump.
Head Coach Mike Singletary
Post-Practice - June 18, 2010
San Francisco 49ers
"We have one more practice this afternoon and that will conclude our offseason. The guys get away, they come back and we get ready to go in training camp."
On what he plans to do tomorrow:
"We're out of here. Coaches and players are out of here."
On the reaction from the players:
"You know the reaction. These guys have worked hard, worked their tails off all offseason. The attendance has been high with the exception of the guys like [NT] Aubrayo [Franklin], [CB] Nate [Clements] and [CB] Shawntae [Spencer]. I knew they were not going to be here, but I also knew very early on that the last date of this, we were not going to do it, simply because of the guys that have been here, the guys that have worked their tails off. The coaches have done what I've asked them to do. We planned this awhile ago."
On whether the biggest strides have been made this offseason:
"Once again, my focus immediately after the season was over was to really look at our offense, really look at what we need to do in order to be the best football team that we could be, putting the pieces around Alex to allow him to execute, to allow him to play, having some people block, having receivers do their job, and I think we did that. That was the goal at the start of the offseason, to make sure on the offensive side of the ball, we felt like we could go out and compete and win any football game that we played in. The other part of that was making sure, on the special teams side of it, that we could find some guys that could help us in the return game, help us with field position. I thought we were able to find some guys this offseason, draft a couple guys that can help us in that area. I'm excited about that we have and we just have to continue to work on the skill set. On the defensive side of the ball, getting some guys on the back end, have some depth at the safety position. I think we were able to do that at the cornerback position and that was good to see. We were able to find another inside guy to help add some depth to what we have in [LB] Patrick Willis and [LB] Takeo Spikes. So, we were able to answer some of those things during the offseason. The guys just really continued to work at a very high level with a tremendous attitude, all through our OTAs [Organized Team Activties]. We had the rookies do the extra running in the morning. They've been working their tails off and have gotten in better shape than I ever thought they could. That's something they've been doing without one complaint, 6:30 every morning, [head strength and conditioning coach] Duane Carlisle has had them out here running. That's been going very well, so I'm very pleased with where we are. I want to finish today, get through one more minicamp practice. We have no injuries and we want it to end that way and let's get ready to enjoy our families and everything else and have the mindset when we get back, let's go to work."
On whether it was a priority to get QB Alex Smith working more under center and how he thought he did in that area:
"I think he's done fine. To be honest with you, when I talked to Alex when the season was over, we sat down and talked with him. There wasn't a preference as to whether he was at shotgun or underneath the center for him. He wanted to be both. That was his mindset at the beginning of the offseason, so that wasn't really something that we focused a whole lot on. He felt comfortable to begin with."
On whom the backup center is right now:
"I can't say right now. Once again, it's nice to come out here and see the guys perform in shorts, but that's a whole new ballgame whoever that center is right now that's behind [C Eric] Heitmann. Whoever that center is, I'm sure he's snapping real nice right now, but once we get in pads and you've got a guy breathing down your throat that's going to knock the crap out of you, that brings about a different mindset. So we won't really know until then."
On whether there are multiple guys that are in the mix:
"Yes, I think they will eliminate themselves very quickly once as we get into two-a-days."
On whether it's a concern that there have been so many drops and muffs by the returners:
"Yes, it is. It's a concern, it's not a worry. I feel the guys we have will work on it and get what they have to get done. As far as the wind and all of that stuff, I hope none of them ever come up to me with that, but it's a part of the game."
On whether T Anthony Davis and G Mike Iupati are having any growing pains in 1-on-1 drills:
"Once again, the thing that I wanted to see in the 1-on-1s when we did it was I really wanted to see how they responded to the speed and guys coming off the edge. I think once we get in pads, I think the favor goes to them. They can grab a little bit more and we'll have a better idea then. But I think they handled the speed pretty well for not being able to grab more."
On whether any return candidates have stood out to him:
On how WR Michael Crabtree has been progressing:
"I think the receivers as a whole have done a good job. I think when your quarterbacks do a good job, your receivers are going to do a good job. I think Crabtree continues to really carry himself well. He works his tail off and is getting the work done that he needs to get done. So, I think Michael Crabtree has had a good OTA, a good minicamp. So has [WR] Jason Hill. So has [WR Dominique] Zeigler. I think the receivers as a whole, as I said before, have done a good job."
On whether he's experimenting with Zeigler at returner heading into training camp:
"Well, he's done it for us, so I think it's one of those, ‘the more that you can do' kind of things. Zeigler has been a guy that he's going to have to fight to make a football team. We've got a lot of talent, and all of a sudden at that position, guys are really maturing. As I've said before, as the quarterback position continues to get better, the wide receiver position is going to continue to get better. So, there's just a lot of competition there."
On whether he's putting more pressure on S Curtis Taylor and S Reggie Smith:
"I wouldn't say putting pressure on them. I would say competition has its way of communicating. You bring in a guy like [S] Taylor Mays and you can have 100 conversations with a guy, ‘Hey, you've got to do this; you've got to get better there. Yeah, yeah I'm working at it.' All of the sudden you bring in another guy and it's kind of like, ‘Whoa, I've got to go.' You start counting, one, two, three - well we can only keep so many. That position has brought about its own pressure. I look at it as competition. I think both Smith and Curtis Taylor are responding well and I think it's going to be a great competition."
On how difficult it is to tell how the secondary is playing without pads:
"I think if we can do a good job, once again, I think the O-line and the DBs, when we get pads on, I think favor goes to them. All of the sudden that receiver gets bigger and there's more to get their hands on when they're supposed to be jamming a guy. If we can do a decent job when we're out here in shorts, than it's going to be that much better when the guys get on pads."
On Clements and Spencer attending minicamp and if that is a position that needs to improve in 2010:
"I think both of those guys have really taken a lot of pride in getting better and coming in. It's healthy competition there. I think Nate and Shawntae - there's not a situation like we had last year where we're trying to figure out who that other corner is going to be. You know who it's going to be. It's just a matter of the other guys, the veterans that we brought in, [CB] William James, [CB} Karl Paymah, [CB] T [Tarell] Brown. There's going to be competition. It's kind of under the radar, but there is competition. There is nothing better than having really good competition, particularly at that position."
On Mays' ball skills:
"The only thing I can say about that is everyone has their opinion when guys come out. I think it's just important for him to not really look at anything that's happened during these OTAs and say, ‘Wow, I've arrived. See I told them.' No, you know what? Keep your nose to the grindstone, keep working because what's he done; there's a whole lot there. It's just a matter of the commitment that he has to have, day-in and day-out, to get it done. He is a breath of fresh air in terms of his work ethic, his mindset. He's driving [secondary coach] V.J. [Vance Joseph] and [special assistant to head coach/secondary coach] Johnnie [Lynn] crazy. He's called me a few times. He's called them a few times, ‘Hey coach, what about this? Hey coach, what about that? Can we get together tomorrow? Can we do this? Can I come in on Sunday?' I know V.J. is like, ‘Man, are you kidding me?' That's the kind of kid he is and I'm excited about him."
On Mays spending time and talking with Johnnie Lynn and him 35 yards off the line of scrimmage:
"That's him. That's all Taylor Mays. We're not saying, ‘Hey, come over here with us.' No, that's on him. But that's his personality. I knew that before we drafted him. I had a chance to talk to a number of different people about him and they all talked about his work ethic. It's nice to see that he's following through."
On whether he will be doing the nutcracker drill in training camp this year:
"You guys don't like the nutcracker, I know that, I understand. We are going to do the nutcracker drill. Everybody knows it. They will be prepared for it. We're going to do some different things. I really had the coaches get together and look at the nutcracker and instead of just one guy getting on one side and the other guy getting on the other side and just knocking the crap out of each other, we're trying to get more out of it. It definitely will be in our camp. It's just a matter of changing it up just a bit to get the most out of it."
On whether he is going to Illinois for speaking engagements:
"I'm going to my old church. I'm going back tomorrow night, I'm leaving tonight. My family will be there. I'm going there for a few days. So, I'll be celebrating a few things. But yes, I am going to do the weekend services for Father's Day."
On whether he's making an appearance for United Way:
"No, I'm going and doing the weekend services at Willow Creek Community Church. Bill Hybels is the pastor and I'm very excited to get back and be a part of that. Something else may come up while I'm there, I don't know. That's all I know."
On what he can do to lessen the injuries due to the nutcracker drill:
"The only thing I want to say is this: we came out of training camp as good or better than any other team in the National Football League. So, when you're talking about injuries in the nutcracker drill or anything else, I just think when I sat down and explained it to [head athletic trainer] Fergie [Jeff Ferguson] last year, he had questions about the nutcracker. When I sat down and explained to him why we did the nutcracker, then he saw it as a very positive thing. I will try to explain it to you: the nutcracker is a drill where an offensive line coach and a defensive line coach are always trying to talk to their players about leverage, a point of emphasis and where the helmet needs to be and where their leverage is in strong points. When you do the nutcracker, a player has a chance to understand it firsthand. You can tell them a million times, but until they actually do it and go through it, you can't really see it. It's like taking golf lessons and you tell a guy you've got to do this and you've got to do that and you've got to do this. He's saying, ‘Well, I'm doing that.' You put on the film and you see that. Obviously, you're head is not down, it's up. If you don't get it on tape, it's not going to happen. I think the nutcracker has been very beneficial for us. Yes, there were a couple of guys that got hurt, but that's going to happen in training camp. But, the best thing I do during training camp is I take care of the guys and they know that, just like I'm taking care of them this weekend. They always know I'm going to give them a bone somewhere. The coaches knew a while ago. I told them we're not going to do Saturday. It worked out well."