49ers Blog and Q&A

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

July 25, 2008
All the news from training camp Day 1 (A.M. practice)

Here are some of the juicy (depending on the level of your fanaticism) items from today's morning practice.

* Alex Smith practiced with the first-team unit during the morning drills. He will drop to No. 2 for the afternoon and Shaun Hill will work with the Ones. That will be the pattern until a starter is decided. J.T. O'Sullivan got zero work in team situations, and let's be frank - this is a two-way competition, not a three-way like it's been previously advertised.

* Mike Nolan said he and his offensive coaches have been re-thinking the work the QBs might get in preseason games. Instead of one player starting a game and playing extensively in that game, the coaches are considering giving each a few series at a time.

* The 49ers didn't work in pads. In fact, they won't have a full contact practice until Monday. Jeff Ulbrich said he liked that system. He said it takes several days for players to get in football shape and that practicing in pads before that state is achieved is just asking for injuries

* Justin Smith mostly played rush linebacker today. When the first-team defense lined up, the d-line consisted of LDE Isaac Sopoaga, NT Ronald Fields and RDE Ray McDonald. Smith and Manny Lawson were on the outside, while Ulbrich and Bam-Bam manned the middle. The dbs were Nate Clements, Walt Harris, Michael Lewis and Mark Roman. Some backups of note: Ulbrich and Brandon Moore seemed to alternate work at "Ted" linebacker although Ulbrich always was the first guy in. As far as the second string, Dontarrious Thomas played "Mike" while Larry Grant played "Ted."

* On offense, Damane Duckett was at LT in place of injured Joe Staley (foot). Jonas Jennings started at RT and looked very good in one on one drills. (Some guys did not; more on that later). The rest of the o-line: RG Tony Wragge, C Eric Heitmann, LG Adam Snyder. At fullback Zak Keasey got a lot more playing time than Moran Norris, although the 49ers continued to lean heavily toward two tight ends (Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker). Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson were the starting WRs. Mike Nolan said that Bruce would typically see a lot of work in the A.M. practices so that the QBs could get used to his body language. Later in the morning practice and again in the afternoon, Bruce might be held back.

* The 49ers also lined up at times in a 4-3. When they did, the d-line looked like this: RDE Smith, RDT Fields, LDT Sopoaga, LDE Ray McDonald. The second-team d-line looked like this: RDE Walter Curry, NT Joe Cohen (he's back from his knee injury) and LDE Kentwan Balmer.

* None of the three quarterbacks looked very good during a deep-pass drill. In fact, Hill's passes routinely sailed 15 yards from the intended receiver. Deep is not Hill's strength. The best of the three was Smith who has admitted that the deep pass has been the last thing to return after his shoulder surgery.

* Lawson was back in action, too. Nolan said he couldn't say whether Lawson was at 100 percent. He certainly looked like he was on a pass play over the middle in which Lawson must have leaped three and a half feet in the air and came down with a Smith pass.

* After a month off, neither Smith nor Hill looked all that sharp. In fact, one of the more comical plays happened when Hill tried to hit TE JJ Finley on a hot read. Finley, however, wasn't looking and the ball doinked off his helmet into the arms of - who else? - Dashon Goldson.

* I thought the most interesting drill was the one in which a d-lineman goes head-to-head against an o-lineman. During that drill, LaJuan Ramsey absolutely plowed over center Cody Wallace on one play and then rag-dolled him to the ground on the next. Not an auspicious start for the rookie. The offense struck back in the next pairing when guard Jeb Terry shoved Curry to the ground. Curry battled Terry to a draw on the next play. Later on Curry, one of the pleasant surprises of OTAs, had his way with guard Brian De La Puente from Cal. The best-looking o-lineman? That may have been Jennings, who gave McDonald no room to rush when the two were matched up.

* When Nolan spoke after practice, he said that retired DT Bryant Young had no specific role at this time but that he would be around the building in the mornings. Seems like Young might be hired as an official mentor, and, really, who better to have that role?

* Nolan said that of the 65 players on the team throughout the offseason, nearly 50 percent showed up for every workout.

-- 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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