It's been a whopping 17 days since the 49ers last held an OTA practice. On Monday they go back for an extended stretch of practices (see below) that culminates with the team's one and only mandatory session, a three-day minicamp. Here are some of the ongoing storylines ...
Who's not there. RB Michael Robinson and P Andy Lee were absent for the team's last OTA, but they are expected to attend this one. Robinson has been training in Arizona but returned to the Bay Area last week. Other absences are expected to continue. Starters Manny Lawson, Aubrayo Franklin, Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer have yet to attend a voluntary session, and there is no indication that will end Monday.
The new Alex? Is it me, or does it seem like every offseason there are stories about how Alex Smith is different, more confident and walking with swagger? The only difference with Smith this offseason is that he is in Year 2 of an offensive system. Urban Meyer said two things back in April 2005: 1.) That Smith would struggle while picking up new offense and 2.) That once Smith mastered an offense, he'd flourish. Let's see if Meyer can go two for two.
Many happy returns. The team's two offseason problem areas were the offensive line and the return game. The 49ers didn't mess around with either, drafting two offensive linemen in the first round and bringing in three return specialists: receiver Ted Ginn and rookies Kyle Williams and LeRory Vann. As should be the case, the 49ers to this point have concentrated mostly on punt returns. In my humble opinion, Williams has taken an early lead in that category.
The center field. Four players have gotten the chance the snap the ball in OTAs so far: Eric Heitmann, David Baas, Tony Wragge and Cody Wallace. Heitmann is the starter. The question is: Who will back him up this season? Last year, Wallace was the backup center, but that's definitely not a sure thing this season.
Rookie review. OTAs are more about brains than brutality. As offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye explained two weeks ago, the team is in the midst of installing its offense, which, of course, is most challenging on the rookies. That installation process should be complete with the OTAs, the team will get a review with the minicamp and they'll review again as training camp (July 31?) starts. All that is a long way of saying: Don't expect much from the rookie class in June. They'll be making their moves in August.
Tuesday, of course, is huge in Ninerland. It's the day that Santa Clara voters either will go thumbs up or thumbs down on the team's $937 million stadium, which would be built next door -- literally -- to their practice facility. Here's a story I wrote in today's Bee outlining the stadium debate.
-- Matt Barrows