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This will be the last report from the three training camps I attended. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read them and hope that they have been informative and interesting. I would also like to say that it was a treat meeting some of the fans of 49erswebzone.com that hung out with us, and the others that just said hi. When I hear the site’s name come up in casual conversation in the stands, I am amazed that this site has gathered such a following. It was also great to finally meet Press Democrat writer Matt Maiocco in person. Thank you to everyone who made this such a fun experience.
The following are some notes from today’s practice:
Today’s practice was shorter than the last two open practices. It was only about an hour and a half long.
Today was the first day that the team used full pads after having Sunday off.
Guard Larry Allen, quarterback Trent Dilfer, center Jeremy Newberry, wide receiver Arnaz Battle and wide receiver Derrick Hamilton (injured…of course) were not suited up for practice today. Dilfer seemed to be acting as an assistant quarterback coach since he was not participating. He would often talk to the other quarterbacks after each play and his gestures made it seem as though he was offering up some pointers.
Practice started off differently today. The team gathered for a full scrimmage right off the bat with Alex Smith at quarterback. They practiced a number of different plays. The first was a successful reverse to the left side using wide receiver Bryan Gilmore. Gilmore got to that side with amazing speed and protected the ball well when he saw that he was going to be hit. The second play was a screen to fullback Chris Hetherington. The third was hand off to tight end Vernon Davis who ran the ball downfield for about 10 yards.
Backup quarterback Jesse Palmer got in the action as well. He completed a few passes including a solid pass to wide receiver Antonio Bryant and a short pass to Davis. Bryant still looks good and is a big presence on the offense, but he didn’t look as impressive as he did during earlier camps. He dropped a few passes. Some were not 100% on target, but they still could have been caught. You have to hope that Bryant will be a “hit” on offense rather than the “hit and miss” player that other teams have criticized him of being.
On a pass to Brandon Williams, linebacker T.J. Slaughter delivered a crushing blow to the young wide receiver. He really seemed to bring some strong intensity to practice and while he looked rather raw at times he seems like a hard hitting linebacker and has the potential to make some big plays like the one against Williams.
After the scrimmage, the running backs separated from the main group and went off to practice blocking while the quarterbacks practiced passing drills with the wide receivers. The receivers lined up on both sides of the quarterbacks and ran down field one by one to catch passes. This drill took place with the wind and there were a number of dropped balls.
While none of the quarterbacks greatly impressed today, Shaun Hill’s poor play continued. He would often under-throw and over-throw his passes or just miss the receiver completely. He had some great throws today but seems too inconsistent to make this roster. He even threw a pick after throwing the ball up for grabs.
Cornerback Keith Lewis managed to pick off another pass, again from Smith. Lewis is looking solid out there and has shown some big play ability over the past three open practices.
Smith was almost picked off again by cornerback Bruce Thornton. Thornton really should have caught the poor pass.
Cornerback Mike Rumph managed to pull in an interception. Rumph is battling to make the team and may have done enough this practice to impress a few coaches. He stuck with his receivers well on shorter routes and showed himself to be a very physical corner. However, his speed is just not there anymore and this could definitely hurt his chances. He looks more like a safety or nickleback than a guy that can start at cornerback.
On one reception, wide receiver Otis Amey got great separation and burned cornerback B.J. Tucker downfield.
Gilmore was unable to bring in a deep pass from Alex Smith. He just missed it. You could tell after the play that Alex was frustrated.
Smith does seem to be more on target. He is putting the ball right where the receiver needs it and is able to lead his receivers well when rolling out. He made a number of mistakes today, but so did the other quarterbacks.
Jason McAddley displayed some great moves on the field confusing the cornerbacks and getting down the field. He was able to get separation on one-on-one coverage.
There were two rookies that really caught my attention out there. Those guys were running back Michael Robinson and linebacker David Dixon. Both seemed raw and are not particularly ready now, but have all kinds of potential. Robinson may start the season as the third or forth running back on the depth chart. But this guy has all the tools to compete for the starting job a few years from now. He is fast, has good moves and a lot of power when running straight on. He gets to the outside well and genuinely looks like he could be something special very soon. Dixon was a big surprise since he was taking on seasoned veterans and doing very well getting to the ball. He would deal well with blockers and would overpower them the majority of the time. A pleasant sight for a guy that everyone assumed would just make the practice squad if he made the team at all.
An interesting drill that got the crowd fired up was the pass rushing drill. A coach would stand behind the two players while the offensive player blocked the defensive player. If the defensive player got to the coach within a certain timeframe, he won that round. The interesting matchup that took place involved the two rookies, Vernon Davis and Manny Lawson. While Davis was able to hold his own against most defensive players, Lawson looked overpowering and won their battle. Davis was able to hold his own against every other defensive player on the field. The one big question about Davis was his blocking ability against a pro style defense. I think he has more than answered that question in these three practices. He looks like a veteran out there when working with the offensive line.
Another defensive player that looked impressive was Parys Haralson. He had some speed and strength and was able to get into the imaginary backfield during the one-on-one drill. He should be interesting to watch when preseason arrives. He is quick and has the ability to overpower some of the guys trying to keep him away from the quarterback. He also showed a lot of promise dropping back on some defensive plays and reading the offense.
Rookie safety Marcus Hudson was able to get his hands on a ball intended for C.J. Brewer and batted it down.
Brandon Williams dropped quite a few passes that should have been caught. However, on one deep pass by Smith, he was able to get downfield and haul in the ball. Despite a number of drops, he easily got open and ran his routes really well. They used him as the 3rd receiver in the slot for the majority of his practice time. He seemed really comfortable there and really just needs to work on his catching. And you can tell that wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan really likes the guy. He went over to him a couple of times to talk to him about his technique, never once yelling at Williams when he dropped the ball.
The coaching staff also had the quarterbacks practice surveying the field. They would send out multiple receivers with the defense covering each. No one receiver seemed to be the primary target, forcing the quarterback to find the open receiver.
It was exciting to see tight ends Eric Johnson and Vernon Davis lined up together. In fact, the crowd got excited when this first happened. The result? Smith threw the ball away. Other than that one play, Johnson seems to be benefiting from Davis’ presence. He was able to get open and catch the ball when Davis was lined up with him on offense.
Running back Kevan Barlow has looked impressive over the past three practices. Of course, he always looks impressive during training camp and never carries that over into the regular season. One person even said that Kevan Barlow is the best running back in the NFL…when no one is trying to tackle him. He has good speed, but once those pads come on and that defense targets him, he becomes a non-factor. All the tools are there but he can’t deliver.
Runing back Frank Gore on the other hand looked very strong once again. He was running with confidence and power. There is no evidence that this guy had shoulder surgery and he brings a level of excitement to the running game that has been missing since Garrison Hearst played for the team. He seems to have worked on his pass protection too. He was able to hold his own against linebackers on blitzes. Gore is an exciting player to watch and should be able to carry the load for the team if needed. He has starting potential now and just needs the opportunity to prove himself (which you would think he did during the final three games of last season).
Derek Smith looked solid and broke up a pass intended to Eric Johnson. As usual, he was always right around the ball. With so much criticism against our linebackers, you have to be relieved to see Smith still performing well and players like Lawson and Haralson impressing.
When observing the punting competition between Andy Lee and Tom Rouen, you have to be impressed by Lee. Lee’s punts went further and were consistently better than Rouen’s. Rouen’s punts would often fall short forcing the punt returner to adjust his position.
Once again, the defensive line and offensive line ran drills against each other and a small fight broke out between Justin Smiley and some of the defensive lineman. It quickly fizzled and not much beyond that took place. No arguments between Jonas Jennings and coach Nolan this time.
While the offense is now very diverse, it does seem to be having some issues completely adapting to Norv Turner’s complex offense and this is apparent in some of the mistakes made on the field. Alex Smith seems to be understanding it better than most and could be seen yelling at receivers and telling them where they needed to be. With the many different formations that the team worked with today, it is good that Smith seems to be picking it up well. After all, he has been studying it nonstop since Turner was hired. This, coupled with a better offensive line, should give him a good advantage against defenses once the other players get on board.
On a side note, I was made aware that someone who has some pull with the 49ers sent the comments I made during my last commentary to team officials. The comments involved the crowd control for the autograph session. The team seemed to act fast on the issue creating a separate gated area for children under 14 years of age. This increased their chances of getting an autograph from their favorite players without the injuries like the one the little girl suffered on Saturday. That left the adults to fight among themselves but protected the kids. This was good to see and I hope that the little girl from Saturday was taken care of by the 49ers organization.
While this will be my final article covering camp, we invite you to visit the forums for updates regarding the rest of the session. Or feel free to submit your own observations from the rest of the training camp sessions to 49erswebzone.com. Thanks again everyone. It has been a blast spending training camp with you.
Training camp Day 3 Pictures