Practice repetitions are like oxygen to a young football player. It's the means by which they learn, by which they climb the depth chart and by which they make the team. And there never are enough to go around. The 49ers regularly snuck Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati onto the first-team offensive line this spring not because they were at that level - yet - but because it afforded them extra opportunities to reach that level.
Safety Taylor Mays is another rookie who needs as many reps as he can get. But as defensive backs coach Johnnie Lynn, 53, stressed to me, there's no need to rush him. Yes, Mays is a second-round pick and second-round picks are expected to contribute early on. But the 49ers have quality players ahead of him on the depth chart. And more to the point, safety is a difficult position to learn. Lynn is like Yoda to Mays' Luke Skywalker. Mays' training is harder and longer and more cerebral than that of players' at different positions. Sending him into battle before he's ready is dangerous. (Does that mean Pete Carrol is Darth Vader?)
"We're doing a lot of things differently than he's accustomed to doing," Lynn said. "At SC, they played a lot of fire zones and a lot of three-deep and stuff like that. We don't do either one of those very much. The terminology is new to him and the defense is new to him. So there's a lot for him to be trying to soak in."
"It's hard. I mean, Dashon Goldson started last year and last year was his third year. And it's not like he couldn't play. He broke in slowly. He played in our sub (package). And it's still a break-in process. ... With Taylor it's going to be the same thing. We're going to try and get him some experience. He's going to get a lot of playing time in the preseason and stuff like that."
As it stands now, Goldson and Michael Lewis are the starters while third-year player Reggie Smith appears to be the frontrunner to take over the role Mark Roman had last season - as a third safety who enters the game in nickel situations. Second-year player Curtis Taylor had a solid spring, and he seems like someone who could make the 53-man squad based on his special teams skills. Rookie Chris Maragos is a practice-squad candidate.
That is, the 49ers have a number of young safeties. But it makes sense to keep all of them around this season. Lewis, after all, is 30 and is scheduled to make $5.7 million in base salary next season. Goldson, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his contract, and so far the 49ers and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, have been unable to agree on an extension. The safety landscape could be very different for Mays and the 49ers next season.
"He's been blessed with physical attributes and stuff like that," Lynn said of Mays. "And now he'll get a chance to show people on a larger stage what he can do within our scheme. Because if he does it right, he'll play for a lot of years."
In other words, the force is strong inside him.
-- Matt Barrows