The 49ers got their first glimpse at their entire squad - give or take a couple of players - this weekend, and the bottom line is that the team is more talented top to bottom than it's been since 2003. It was also clear that Mike Singletary was intent on setting a tone for his new players. He stopped Monday's practice midway through and gave the players a tongue lashing. From that point on the practices had greater energy and urgency. Singletary, however, was not about to declare himself content. He characterized Monday's sessions as "not very good", Tuesday's as "a little better," Wednesday was "a lot better" and Thursday was "OK."
"The most important thing is the guys have a feeling and an understanding of what we're trying to accomplish," Singletary said. "And it's about getting better, taking advantage of every opportunity that we have to come out here to get better. And that's what it's really about, and they're competing. I think they have a good feel for where we want to go, and we're just going to build on it."
What's also clear is that this year's offense fits the players' strengths more so than last year's version. Shaun Hill has said as much. So has Frank Gore, who is once again running between the tackles instead of outside them. Vernon Davis also is being used more like a tight end (10-, 15-yard routes) in the passing game instead of like Lynn Swann as was the case a year ago.
Here are some player-specific observations from the OTAs ...
A couple of the receivers who stood out were Josh Morgan and newcomer Brandon Jones. Morgan probably practiced a lot more than expected given injuries and absences at the position. He didn't seem to mind. He was effective at both the "X" and "Z" receiver spots and with both long and short passes. Jones, meanwhile, appears to be every bit as fast as advertised. I don't recall him dropping any passes over the four-day session.
All of a sudden, one of the most interesting roster battles is between Tarell Brown and Dre' Bly for starting cornerback. (Could Shawntae Spencer win the race? Yes, but I think he begins in third place) The catch is that Brown and Bly are very similar players in that they are quick but undersized and are not known as physical players. Which makes you wonder how they'll fare against 49ers' nemeses Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. A cynic (not me) might even say that the 49ers have two nickel cornerbacks dueling over a starting role.
Dashon Goldson's ball hawking skills were on display once again during the OTAs, especially on his leaping sideline interception of an Alex Smith pass. It was the kind of play that has been missing from the 49ers' secondary in recent seasons. Physically, Goldson is everything a team would want in a free safety - big, tall, long arms. Again, the only thing holding this guy back is his health. ... Speaking of free safeties, I expect to see Mark Roman back on the field when the team meets again in June. Singletary made it perfectly clear that Roman is welcome back.
If it wasn't for rookie Alex Boone, Marvel Smith would be the biggest guy on the team. Smith is mammoth, and unlike Boone, he moves that weight around with ease. Smith was limited to individual drills while he continues to recover from back surgery, and Adam Snyder was the de facto starter at right tackle during 11-on-11 situations.
Lots written about tight end Bear Pascoe this week, and why not? The rookie from Fresno State has a very unique background. But don't go to sleep on fellow tight end Joe Jon Finley, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma last year who has done a nice job of filling out his 6-6 frame in the offseason. I'm not saying Finley beats out Pascoe for a roster spot. But he is turning into a solid player.
I'll be darned if my guy, Ahmad Brooks, didn't look pretty sharp in the OTAs. Remember, the 49ers did not draft any OLBs in April. So they are counting on Brooks and free-agent addition Marques Harris to provide depth behind Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson. Of that group, Brooks is the biggest, and size is something the 49ers covet. Brooks seemed to have an extra bit of zing this week, and it will be interesting to watch him in one-on-one blocking drills against guys like Marvel Smith and Joe Staley when training camp begins. Brooks missed the final day of OTAs. I'm told he had to fly home to take care of a personal matter. He is not injured.
Glen Coffee is not a smooth runner. He gallops more than glides, and that's just fine with the 49ers. He's a violent runner, who takes one cut and starts pumping his knees as if he's running through a shallow pool of water. In other words, no breaks for the defense when Frank Gore comes out of the game this season ...
-- Matt Barrows