Training camp observations, Aug. 3:
Last year at this time Delanie Walker was the darling of training camp who seemed to make an incredible catch once a day in practice. This year, coaches are concentrating on making Walker into an effective blocker and it often hasn't been a smooth transition. Tight ends coach Pete Hoener--one of the best yellers on the staff -- has been going after Walker pretty hard the last few days. In my view, it's a sign that the 49ers have big plans for Walker whereas last season they didn't. A guy who is emerging as an excellent blocker is Vernon Davis. There's no reason to ever take the guy off the field.
Speaking of Davis ... two NFL referees gave the beatwriters a quick lesson on the rule changes and points of emphasis this season. One of them will be a crackdown on what the league terms "aggressive, in-your-face" acts. In layman's term's - jawing. Anyone caught doing that will be hit with a 15-yard taunting penalty. Said Field Judge Craig Wrolstad: "We want to clean it up for the kids that watch." 49ers coaches might want to triple-emphasize that rule with Davis. If he plays like he practices, there might be a yellow hankie on the field every time he catches the ball.
As far as Saturday's scrimmage, Mike Nolan said he was going to curtail the first-team's workload due to all the physical practices they've had this week. It will be set up by having the first-team offense go against the second-team defense and vice versa. The first-teams won't go "live" (tackling) but you might see the third teamers get into it.
During the scrimmage, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on second-team right tackle Joe Staley, who will go against Ronald Fields at times, and against Manny Lawson and Tully Banta-Cain at others. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but Banta-Cain has been very effective at getting into the pocket and disrupting the quarterback so far in camp. As for Staley possibly getting more repetitions with the first-team offense, Nolan said: "We'll see. One step at a time."
While his teammates have been practicing, Frank Gore (broken hand) has been going through some grueling workouts with conditioning coach Duane Carlisle. Carlisle specializes in increasing a player's speed, which is something that Gore has been working on all offseason.
As far as the wide receiver competition goes, one hint as far as who makes the team might be found at punt returner. Four players have been practicing there in camp: Nate Clements, Arnaz Battle, Taylor Jacobs and Brandon Williams. Both Clements and Battle are starters and it seems unlikely either of them will get the job. Jacobs has looked good in practice but hasn't fielded a punt in a game since high school. That leaves Williams, whom the team drafted in the third round last year specifically to fill that role.
Along the injury front, Aubrayo Franklin's inflamed injury doesn't appear to be serious but he was held out of team drills this morning. Bryant Young continues to rest his back and the team gave Shawntae Spencer (ankles) the morning off, too. Battle has sat out three straight days while resting his knee. Running back Michael Robinson (dehydration) was back at practice but didn't take part in team drills.
By the way, I caught the Barrows v. Maiocco cage match some of you guys participated in on 49ersWebzone yesterday. One word: Ouch. Placing me in the ring with Maiocco at this point is like Luke Skywalker challenging Vader before he's had a single lesson from Yoda. Just not fair. Besides, I'm sitting next to Maiocco right now and his head is noticeably larger. Or maybe that's the flaxseed oil
-- Matt Barrows