Today the quest to find a starting quarterback truly became a three-man competition. Shaun Hill's arm was fully rested. He was cleared for practice. And yet it was J.T. O'Sullivan running the first-team offense and Alex Smith directing the second team. Hill was relegated to running the live tackling drill with the No. 3 offense. (More on that later.) "The reason Shaun Hill was in with that group," Mike Nolan said, "was because today was his day to be in that role as far as taking less reps. So, we allowed him to take those plays in that 12-play live (session)." Asked about the new rotation order, Nolan said, "I can give you what happened today. But I can't give you what will happen tomorrow." In other words, he was purposely vague. But it seems as if there will be a different quarterback pairing every day at least for the short term. That is, O'Sullivan and Smith today, Smith and Hill tomorrow, Hill and O'Sullivan after that (or something to that effect.) The quarterbacks don't know much either. Asked whether they are aware of a definitive rotation order, Hill said, "You probably know more than we do." That's part of the test. The coaching staff is keeping them in the dark to see how they react to the situation.
So how did the quarterbacks look? There are still some misfires, but overall Mike Martz's prediction of a gradually improved performance seems to be coming true. O'Sullivan, who is the most advanced as far as knowing the offense, understandably looks the sharpest and is the most adept at lining up the offense and making sure everyone's in the right place. Smith had a good practice, starting out 4 for 4 in the early team session with throws to Robert Ortiz, Cam Colvin, DeShaun Foster and Billy Bajema.
His best pass was an incompletion. He threw a perfect 35 yarder down the right sideline to Jason Hill, perhaps Smith's best deep ball of camp. Hill, however, not only shoved off cornerback Tarell Brown - and drew a penalty - he dropped the pass. Smith had a similar throw, though not as deep, to tight end J.J. Finley over linebacker Larry Grant.
Speaking of Brown, he was one of the defensive players who really stood out in the live-tackling drill, the first one of training camp. He was very aggressive on a Thomas Clayton running play to the right in which he swooped in and took out both Clayton and center Cody Wallace. "I like to hit," Brown said later. "It's not about the size of the player. At the end of the day, it comes down to the size of your heart." Joining Brown in the secondary in the No. 3 defense were CB Reggie Smith and safeties D.J. Parker and Marcus Hudson. Yes, with Mark Roman out with a hamstring strain, Hudson has been playing a little safety.
The rest of the defense: Linemen Louis Holmes, Cohen, LaJuan Ramsey and Attiyah Ellison. Linebackers: Jay Moore, Dennis Haley and Larry Grant.
* The offense looked like this: LT Joe Toledo, LG Brian De La Puente, C Wallace, RG ?, RT Alan Reuber. TE JJ Finley, WRs Doninique Zeigler and Robert Ortiz.
* The team waived guard Jeb Terry, who had been out with a foot injury, and signed John Booker, who was with the team through OTAs.
The other guys who stood out in the drill were linebacker Jay Moore and NT Joe Cohen. Clayton got most of the carries - he also caught Hill's only completion - but he did not take the pounding he took in last year's live session. Clayton last year was criticized for running too upright and going down too easily. This year, with Frank Gore as his model, he's running with better balance and a better pad level.
You guys are in for a real treat: my in-depth interview with Isaac Bruce. You see, Bruce was wearing No. 80 today, not his usual No. 88. So, I decided to ask Bruce about the switch. Here's the Q&A:
Q: I noticed you were wearing a new number ...
A: No interviews.
So there you have it. I think it's safe to say that Bruce won't be putting any pressure on Joe Staley in the "good guy to interview" competition. By the way, Nolan seemed to indicate that the switch to no. 80 - Jerry Rice's number - was a practice-only maneuver.
-- Matt Barrows