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The first San Francisco 49ers training camp session that is open to the public is only a few hours away. This year has a very different feel than previous years. Over the last few seasons, the team's depth chart has been very much up in the air, even at the starting positions. This season is another story. For the most part, the 49ers starting jobs are set at most positions including quarterback, running back, tight end, most of the offensive line, cornerback and more. However, that does not mean that there will not be some interesting battles to watch in training camp.
One battle to watch will be at wide receiver. Behind Darrell Jackson, the former Seattle wide receiver acquired during draft weekend, and Arnaz Battle, the depth chart at this position seems to be up for grabs. The team signed Ashley Lelie, who was a disappointment in Atlanta, during the offseason. While nothing is guaranteed for Lelie, he is almost certain to make the team unless his performance faulters. Brandon Williams will be another interesting guy to watch. He performed very well during the team's OTA's. Marcus Maxwell, who had a phenominal year in NFL Europe will have to shine during training camp to make this team.
Other somewhat interesting training camp battles involve players fighting for the third spots at quarterback and running back. At quarterback, Shaun Hill and Luke Getsy will battle it out for the spot behing starter Alex Smith and backup Trent Dilfer. At running back, Maurice Hicks will try to keep his third spot from rookie Thomas Clayton. Frank Gore will be the starter and Michael Robinson will likely remain his backup.
Another rookie trying to break into the starting lineup is first round selection Joe Staley. Kwame Harris has been somewhat of a disappointment at the position and may lose his spot to the youngster.
Other battles will be on defense as the defensive line and the linebackers attempt to determine the depth order within those groups.
There are some other newcomers to the team that will be worth watching. These include guys like shut down corner Nate Clements, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, safety Michael Lewis and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. The rookies will have all eyes on them as well. Especially guys like linebacker Patrick Willis, who finally got signed by the team late last night.
Unlike previous years, with a fairly set roster, many will be fighting to make this team.
Keep an eye on this page throughout the day as I post information and updates from training camp.
1:15 pm: The kickers are out first getting some practice time before the rest of the team comes out. Joe Nedney and MacKenzie Hoambrecker are the kickers and Andy Lee and Ken Parrish are the punters. Nedney and Hoambrecker and getting some real distance on their kicks...as are the punters.
1:26 pm: All four quarterbacks have just come out onto the field and are stretching. They are wearing their typical black QB practice jerseys. Jason Hill and Bryan Gilmore are also out on the practice field stretching. The quarterbacks start by practicing their drop backs and throwing some light passes to each other.
1:30 pm: The rest of the team has come out including tight end Vernon Davis. They are dividing into their offensive and defensive groups. They start by doing some sprinting across the field. The crowd cheers as they start running.
1:35 pm: As the team stretches, someone that the crowd notices missing is running back Frank Gore. He is nowhere to be seen.
1:45 pm: The team has split up into multiple groups. Battle, Clements, Hill and Williams practice returning punts. The running backs (minus Gore) practice running against some of the linebackers. The crowd reacts and Andy Lee booms a punt. They also react even louder to the sight of a guy wearing a Cowboys jersey. This time though, in a negative way.
1:48 pm: The crowd cheers as Frank Gore finally comes onto the field. He joins the rest of the running backs. Gore has his sleeves rolled up and you can notice that he has put on some real arm mass. He looks huge.
1:58 pm: The crowd pokes a little fun at Kwame Harris as the team starts to practice their field goal blocking. No, Harris was not called for holding on any of the snaps.
2:03 pm: The crowd cheers once again as the starting offense, including Alex Smith and Frank Gore, prepare to practice handing off the ball to the running backs. The quarterbacks switch off taking turns as do the running backs.
2:12 pm: The quarterbacks begin practicing some passes to the running backs. Gore, of course, makes the first reception. Gore looks as solid catching the ball out of the backfield as he did last season. Robinson and Clayton look solid as well. The running backs were perfect during this drill. None of them let a single ball hit the ground.
2:20 pm: Now the tight ends get their turn. the crowd shows their disappointment during Vernon Davis' first case of the dropsies. However, it was his only drop during this drill. Zachary Hilton, the tight end acquired during the offseason, looked a bit awkward out there.
2:30 pm: The receivers are up next. Marcus Maxwell and Aslie Lelie look very solid. Darrell Jackson had a couple of drops, but one was a poorly thrown pass. Jackson pointed to the crowd and smiled after someone yelled "No more rain! Only sunshine!"
2:41 pm: The crowd finally has what the have been waiting for. The offense against the team's newly rebuilt defense. It is very nice seeing Nate Clements lined up in there against Darrell Jackson. All of the first plays are running plays. Dilfer is the first to attempt a pass...a completion to Thomas Clayton. On the next play, Dilfer attempts a hard count and makes a few members of the defensive line jump. Gore looks as though he is ready for the season to start. He bounces off defenders attempting to gain more yardage. A couple of plays later, the pocket collapses and Smith is still able to get the ball to Arnaz Battle. Gore breaks another long run as he avoids defenders.
2:50 pm: Once again, the team splits into different groups as all the wide receivers get direction from Jerry Sullivan, the running backs and quarterbacks work with the offensive line and the defense moves to the far field to work with the defensive coaches. For those interested in knowing, Larry Allen did not practice today.
3:03 pm: The team reunites for another offense against defense drill. Smith had one pass intended for Davis deflected and two others batted away by Walt Harris and Nate Clements. Dilfer looks really solid as always. Once Hill took a few snaps, he looked a little flustered. Getsy did not get any snaps during this drill.
3:12 pm: Now the team practices punting on the near field while the offense and defense practice separately on the far field, mostly just getting direction from coaches. Patrick Willis is involved in the special teams practice during this drill as he works on his execution at the line of scrimmage. He looks pretty good considering he is a rookie.
3:36 pm: Next up is another offense vs defense drill as the entire team returns to the near field. This drill appears to be focusing more on the offensive line's blocking. Jonas Jennings is caught with a false start. Joe Staley looks pretty good as a run blocker when he is in there. The drill shifts to include some passes. One one play, Dilfer fumbles the snap. On the next play, the defense swarms Thomas Clayton on a running play. A false start is the result on the next play. After that, the defense swarms Michael Robinson. Nolan stops the drill to tell the team that in all of practice, they have made very few mistakes, but in this drill alone, they have had fumbles and false starts. The crowd applauds Nolan. While the defense continues to stuff the running backs, Gore steps in and breaks a long run. Maurice Hicks is catching the ball well. A few plays later, Dilfer throws the ball between Ulbrich's hands and it lands in the hands of tight end Zachary Hilton. This battle between Clayton and Hicks will be interesting as it develops. Both are looking solid. On another play, Hill fumbles the ball as Mark Roman grabs it and runs it in for a touchdown. Smith looks very eratic today, sometimes looking very solid and other times looking very off. On one bullet to Davis, his second year tight end faught for more yards as the defense tried to stop him. Terrell Brown made an amazing leaping interception off of Dilfer to end this drill.
3:48 pm: The offensive and defensive lines leave and begin praticing against each other leaving the quarterbacks to work with the running backs and receivers against just the defensive backfield. Smith looks more consistant without any pressure as he continuously hits his targets.
The end of this drill marks the completion of day one of the San Francisco 49ers 2007 training camp.