49ers Blog and Q&A

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

June 21, 2010
Rookie review: Big three bracing for contact

Here's a post-minicamp review of the 49ers' seven-man draft class. But first some prefacing: The prime objective of the team's OTA sessions was to install the playbook. Which is to say, springtime is for learning. Players aren't in full pads, the drills are not "live" and coaches primarily are interested to see how quickly their young charges pick up their assignments. The hitting will start on Aug. 2, and that's when the perceptions might change. After all, tight end Bear Pascoe looked like a standout last spring. By summer, however, he was floundering, and he was cut before the start of the season.

OT Anthony Davis (11th overall): There's one more key component to spring drills besides learning - conditioning. And that's something at which Davis noticeably struggled during the team's rookie minicamp in early May. In fact, there was no one on the team in worse shape. The good news is that Davis already has improved markedly in that regard. He's been part of a group of rookies that shows up every day at 6:30 a.m. to run with strength and conditioning coach Duane Carlisle, and that dedication already has paid dividends. Both Davis and fellow first rounder Mike Iupati also saw plenty of action during practice. Although they were not officially "starters," they would enter the lineup with the first-string offense usually on the third play of every team session, and they would remain on the field when the second team came in.

Davis has all the physical attributes the 49ers raved about when they traded up to get him on draft day. He has excellent feet and got out very quickly on sweeps and other running plays. He seems like a guy who could be very difficult to beat to the outside on a pass rush. He pops out very quickly. Davis won some battles and lost some others during one-on-one blocking drills during the minicamp, but those were done in a "non-contact" situation. The real test will come when the drills go live in August and he is put up against Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy. Some of those players gave an early review here.

G Mike Iupati (17th overall): He's the most difficult rookie to evaluate in the spring because so much of a guard's job centers on power and overwhelming an opponent at the line of scrimmage. Like Davis, Iupati definitely is quick. And he had no issues as far as his conditioning. Iupati's biggest task may be pass blocking. The Idaho product was soundly beaten during the Senior Bowl game in January, especially by quick Georgia defensive tackle Geno Adkins. Iupati also seemed to struggle with quickness in one-on one battles in the minicamp. Both Justin Smith and Demetric Evans beat him, which you would expect a cagey veteran to do against a rookie. But Derek Walker also was running by the rookie. Again, it's an area that will be closely monitored when the pads come on in August.

The other part of the equation is that Iupati is playing behind an inspired David Baas. Heading into his contract year, Baas already was motivated. After all, he showed up at the team's March OTA despite not having a contract. The fact that the 49ers spent a first rounder on someone who plays his position was another boost for Baas. The report from coaches and staff is that Baas, who has been done in by injuries in the past, looks better than he ever has.

S Taylor Mays (49th overall): I'm going to be writing a story about Mays for the newspaper (remember those?), so I don't want to scoop myself. But suffice to say that Mays plays the most mentally demanding position on defense, and more than that, is being asked to wipe away everything he did in college and start anew in the NFL. That is, his rookie burden is bigger than that of any of his classmates. Mays was paired with undrafted rookie Chris Maragos with the third-team defense when the June OTAs began, but he was sprinkled in with the second team (usually taking Curtis Taylor's spot) as the sessions ended.

The good news is that Mays has more motivation than any of his classmates. He was spurned in the first round, felt betrayed by his mentor Pete Carrol and now feels he must prove himself to a skeptical NFL. That desire, plus his obvious physical attributes, usually makes a good combination. A positive sign: Mays came away with two interceptions on the final day on minicamp, a nice step for someone who supposedly lacks ball skills. An even better sign, coaches have found him supremely annoying.

Here's Mike Singletary on the rookie safety: "He is a breath of fresh air in terms of his work ethic, his mindset. He's driving (secondary coach Vance Joseph) and Johnnie (Lynn) crazy. He's called me a few times. He's called them a few times, 'Hey coach, what about this? Hey coach, what about that? Can we get together tomorrow? Can we do this? Can I come in on Sunday?' I know V.J. is like, 'Man, are you kidding me?' That's the kind of kid he is and I'm excited about him."

Next: Navorro Bowman, Nate Byham, Anthony Dixon, Kyle Williams, Phillip Adams.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW 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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