49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

June 21, 2007
Final OTA observations

To borrow a phrase from Alice Cooper: School's out for summer.

The 49ers held their final OTA practice Thursday afternoon, the first day of summer, and will not meet again formally until they report for training camp July 28. Incidentally, team officials said the training-camp set up will be like it was last summer - with about 10 sessions open to the public.

With that in mind, here are my final observations from the spring sessions, in which the 49ers seemed to have quite a bit more swagger than they've shown in previous seasons.

Pleasant surprises

Vernon Davis - Attention fantasy football freaks: If offseason practices are any indication of what will come in the regular season, expect Davis to account for 85 percent of the 49ers' passing attack. Davis was ubiquitous this spring. Part of that stems from the fact that the 49ers simply don't have a lot of tight ends, and Davis was used heavily in practice. But it's mostly because he is a handful - even in noncontact practices - for linebackers and defensive backs. His hands, an obvious flaw last season, seem to be much improved this year.

Nate Clements - One of the perils of paying a guy a lot of money is that his newfound wealth will put a damper on his drive and determination. That doesn't seem to be the case with Clements. He practiced hard every day of OTAs and seems to genuinely love football. The chatter level was a lot higher in practice this spring, most of it coming from Clements.

The rookies - It's very hard to predict success during spring practices when players are in shorts and forbidden to make contact - or at least hard contact. But two rookies in particular looked good - Dashon Goldson and Thomas Clayton. Goldson is by far the tallest defensive back on the team - something that comes in handy in pass coverage - but showed good movement as well, ducking underneath receivers to come up with interceptions. Mike Nolan has said Goldson also had a reputation as a strong tackler at Washington, something the coach looks forward to seeing at training camp. Clayton, meanwhile, showed a nice combination of size, speed and receiving ability. Now can he take a hit?

Disappointments

1. You have to start with receiver Ashley Lelie, who ran a handful of pass patterns this spring before going down with an alarmingly slow-healing quadriceps pull. You can tell the coaches were not happy Lelie spent practically no time developing a rapport with Alex Smith. Asked about the fact that neither Lelie nor Darrell Jackson played much this spring, offensive coordinator Jim Hostler had this to say: "Ashley's a concern because Ashley hasn't played in this league. Darrell's not a concern."

2. Kwame Harris. The right tackle strained his back early in the first practice of OTAs and didn't practice again. One might have expected Harris, who will compete against Joe Staley, a first-round draft pick, to show more urgency in returning to practice.

3. Where was Larry Allen? The 49ers ostensibly brought him in last year in part for his veteran presence. But what kind of message does it send when a veteran leader doesn't show up to a single offseason function? The 49ers currently list Allen at 325 pounds, but you have to wonder about the accuracy at this point.

The team suffered two season-ending injuries this spring - to defensive end Melvin Oliver (knee) and cornerback B.J. Tucker (pectoral tear). Nolan, however, said he expects everyone else who missed time this spring to be on hand for the team's first training-camp practice. That list includes Allen, Harris, Jackson, Lelie, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, cornerback Donald Strickland, tackle Jonas Jennings and guard Justin Smiley.



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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