When tight end Delanie Walker landed on the chalk in the corner of the end zone this morning, the 49ers defensive players reacted like they had won the Super Bowl. Helmets were tossed in celebration. Safety Reggie Smith high-stepped it from one end of the field to the other. Oh, happy days!
What sparked the celebration? Good old-fashioned bragging rights. The 49ers had just conducted what they call an ownership drill. That's when the coaches fade into the background and the players take control of the plays. It gives the quarterback a chance to match wits against the safety and inside linebacker, who are calling the plays for the defense. "There's a pretty clear winner and loser," Alex Smith said.
Smith pointed out that the offense actually won an earlier version of the drill - conducted in the red zone today - when he connected with Josh Morgan, who ran into the end zone. But the first-string defense wanted a second chance, and that's when the stakes started to get higher. On fourth and four, there was plenty of jawing from both sides. Smith went to what he considered a bread-and-butter play, a fade to Walker in the corner of the end zone. Walker caught the pass but his momentum carried him out of bounds.
The 49ers find the drill valuable for a number of reasons. For one, it gives Smith practice for when his headset goes out and he's not getting the play call relayed to him. That happened in the second quarter Sunday - bad batteries, Smith said - but tends to happen more on the road. "Sabotage," Smith said. "I hope we're doing it to the other teams."
The drill also gives offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye a better sense of the type of plays Smith prefers as well as whom he's comfortable targeting in critical situations. It should be noted that Smith's favorite red-zone target, Vernon Davis, was not part of the drill as he continues to rehabilitate a sprained knee.
Back-up quarterback David Carr had a rougher time than Smith in the red-zone. He was picked off by rookie linebacker NaVorro Bowman during an 11-on-11 session early in practice. During the red-zone session, linebacker Keaton Kristick intercepted one pass over the middle to the tight end while cornerback Phillip Adams picked off another. Adams' interception came off a tipped and bobbled pass to Anthony Dixon.
Today's practice was full-contact, and there were a number of players held out. New injuries included: CB Shawntae Spencer (hamstring), LB Matt Wilhelm (headaches), TE Tony Curtis (quadriceps), WR Jason Hill (groin) and T Barry Sims (oblique). Tarell Brown filled in for Spencer with the first-team defense.
Eric Heitmann attended practice for the first time since breaking his left fibula. Heitmann is on crutches and his leg is in a plastic cast, but he's able to put some weight on the leg. He said he's taking calcium pills and otherwise trying to speed up the healing process. Raye said that Heitmann's been a critical part of the team's night-time meetings and has helped David Baas' transition to center. "Eric is like the back-up quarterback," Raye said.
-- Matt Barrows