49ers Blog and Q&A

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

May 2, 2008
Smith throws footballs; Davis throws punches

Here are the storylines from the first practice of the 49ers' first minicamp:

Alex is No. 1. Well, at least for the morning practice. Smith trotted out with the rest of the first-team offense and made every throw that was called for. He said his longest throw was about 35 to 40 yards and that the only thing he really hasn't done yet is toss the deep ball. Other than that, his arm is back to normal. Mike Nolan said not to read too deeply into Smith's role this morning. For the afternoon practice, Shaun Hill will take the reps with the first team. Before addressing the media, Smith crossed paths with Nolan and the two shared a playful hug. The exchange showed that the two are on good terms and can joke about their 2007 feud, Smith said.

Vernon fights. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Vernon Davis, who was good for at least one brawl every practice last year, got into a scrape with linebacker Parys Haralson. Davis ripped off Haralson's helmet and hurled it onto the adjacent practice field. He was pulled away and spent the next five minutes cooling off alongside the team's chaplain. Nolan reiterated that he doesn't mind fighting but that he won't tolerate dumb penalties in games. He said that Haralson started the fight but that Davis would have been the one flagged if it was a game situation. ***afternoon update*** there was another ruckus during the afternoon practice between Joe Staley and defensive lineman Walter Curry.

Shaun's finger. Last year, I joked that Shaun Hill had a sausage finger. In all seriousness, his broken right forefinger was grotesquely swollen and looked like a Ballpark Frank after 60 seconds in the microwave. Today the digit looked normal. Hill downplayed it last season, but the injury was certainly a hinderance to his throwing. "I downplayed it to myself, too," he said. "You don't want to go into ant games with excuses. You're setting yourself up for failure if you do that."

Justin Smith stands up. Free-agent acquisition Justin Smith spent most of the day lining up at right defensive end with a hand on the ground. But he also spent time standing up like a linebacker, rushing the quarterback from both the right and left side. Smith said he did a little of that early in his career in Cincinnati. He said it was too early to tell how much he might do that with San Francisco.

Other odds and ends:

* Whenever he has talked about the competition for starting quarterback, Mike Nolan only has mentioned Alex Smith and Shaun Hill. But offensive coordinator Mike Martz has included J.T. O'Sullivan into the mix. Asked whether O'Sullivan had a chance to start, Nolan said, "He's in the mix. He's competing with those other two."

* Arnaz Battle rolled his ankle last night and was held out of practice. The other players who were held out were LB Manny Lawson (knee), G David Baas(pectoral), NT Joe Cohen (knee) and DE Melvin Oliver (knee). ***afternoon update*** Battle practiced in the afternoon. Jonas Jennings (ankle) was held out as planned. Damane Duckett played right tackle in his absence.

* After saying that first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer would play both nose tackle and defensive end, the 49ers coaches have had a change of heart. Early on at least, he will solely play left defensive end. That means he will see quite a bit of the team's second-round pick, Chilo Rachal, who is getting all of his reps at right guard.

* Nolan stressed that the starting positions are fluid. But this is how the 49ers lined up when the first-team offense went against the first-team defense in practice.

LT: Joe Staley
LG: Adam Snyder
C: Eric Heitmann
RG: Tony Wragge
RT: Jonas Jennings
TE: Vernon Davis
RB: Frank Gore
FB: Moran Norris
WR: Isaac Bruce
WR: Bryant Johnson
QB: Alex Smith

RDE: Justin Smith
NT: Aubrayo Franklin
LDE: Isaac Sopoaga
OLB: Tully Banta-Cain
OLB: Parys Haralson
ILB: Patrick Willis
ILB: Jeff Ulbrich
SS: Michael Lewis
FS: Mark Roman
CB: Walt Harris
CB: Nate Clements

Other notables: Brandon Moore and Dontarrious Thomas were the second-team tandem at inside linebacker; Atiyyah Ellison played both LDE and NT; Ray McDonald and UFA Louis Holmes were backing up Justin Smith at RDE; Ashley Lelie saw perhaps more time with the first-team offense than he did through three months last season.

* I'll be damned if Tully Banta-Cain didn't look positively svelte -- nothing like the 280 pounds at which he showed up last offseason. Banta-Cain, Haralson, Jay Moore, Roderick Green and Shaun Richardson composed the outside linebacking group.

* The 49ers have a whole mess of inside 'backers. They are Willis, Ulbrich, Thomas, Brandon Moore, Larry Grant, Ezra Butler and Dennis Haley. Brandon Moore picked off a J.T. O'Sullivan pass during team drills.

* Who'll have the radio inside his helmet? It certainly looks like it will be Willis, who called all the defensive plays during practice.

* And finally, somthing I have never experienced during an NFL practice -- music. Nolan had the team's training staff set up speakers on the sideline that pumped in a CD of NFL Films classics. You know, "The autumn wind is a Raider" kind of stuff. Nolan said he reasoned that there always is background noise when a team plays so it made sense to practice with background noise. "If we find some (music) that adds a little spice, we'll add that, too." Nolan said. Asked about the musical selection, Justin Smith said he found it "interesting." Indeed.

-- Matt 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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