First, the answer to the question with which I've been pelted on Twitter for the last four days: Why the heck aren't the 49ers being more aggressive in free agency?
Jim Harbaugh, after his first-ever practice, said the plan all along was to be patient and methodical and that the 49ers are sticking with that plan. "I've been involved in it," Harbaugh said of free agency. "Trent Baalke and I are talking every day on it, and we're executing that plan, and I think smartly. I feel good about it. We'll let time and the results judge if we were correct in our thinking."
So far the team has signed thee veteran free agents: Alex Smith, Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge with another, kicker David Akers, expected to sign a three-year deal soon. Three other 49ers free agents - Takeo Spikes, David Baas and Travis LaBoy - have signed deals elsewhere. Both Spikes and LaBoy are joining former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky in San Diego, which speaks to what the players here thought of Manusky.
Asked if patience was part of the team's free-agent approach, Harbaugh said yes, adding that "three fourths of the teams in the NFL are taking that approach right now."
Here are some notes and observations from practice:
It was notable that two of the players who suffered the grizzliest injuries last season, linebacker Scott McKillop (knee) and cornerback Phillip Adams (ankle), both practiced in full. Adams obviously is still trying to get his speed back, but if you saw the way his broken ankle looked - don't watch the replay while eating -- on Dec. 26, you'd agree he's made a miraculous return. Both mostly lined up with the second-team defense.
The players who did not practice were Smith, McDonald and Wragge because of the new CBA regulations that prohibit veteran free-agent signees from practicing until next week. Michael Crabtree (boot on his left foot), Curtis Holcomb (Achilles tendon), Dominique Zeigler (knee) and Bruce Miller (shoulder) did not practice. Isaac Sopoaga (hamstring) and Chilo Rachal (undisclosed) did not go through full practices.
Also, you might want to prepare yourselves for very fuzzy injury information under the Harbaugh regime. He promises to make Bill Belichick look loose-lipped. The code for "he's injured" seems to be "he's working something out." Vagueness, thy name is Harbaugh.
The lineups, of course, fluctuated during the three-hour-long practice, but here's the best approximation:
QB: Colin Kaepernick
RB: Anthony Dixon
FB: Moran Norris
C: Adam Snyder
LG: Mike Iupati
LT: Joe Staley
RG: Nick Howell
RT: Anthony Davis
TE: Vernon Davis
WR: Josh Morgan
WR: Ted Ginn
RDE: Justin Smith
NT: Ricky Jean Francois
LDE: Will Tukuafu
ILB: Patrick Willis
ILB: NaVorro Bowman
OLB: Ahmad Brooks
OLB: Parys Haralson
S: Reggie Smith
S: CJ Spillman
CB: Shawntae Spencer
CB: Tarell Brown
The big surprise, of course, is that Spillman got the early nod over Taylor Mays, who started six games last season. Baalke hinted at a bigger role for Spillman in early May when he said the 49ers had bigger plans for him than just special teams. Of course, should Dashon Goldson, another free agent, return, he would probably be paired with Smith in the starting lineup.
The 49ers want rookie Jeremiah Masoli to play running back, but with passers at a premium early in camp, the Oregon and Ole Miss product was at his familiar spot under center today. The common denominator among the other two rookie QBs is each has a cannon for an arm. Alex Smith, in fact, probably has the third-strongest arm of the bunch. (I had written fourth yesterday, but upon further review, changed that assessment).
Kaepernick has the biggest arm, and Harbaugh praised him today not only for how prepared he was - those Camp Alexes definitely paid off, Harbaugh said - but for the way he ran practice and completed passes down field. Sac State's McLeod Bethel-Thompson(I shall hereby refer to him as McBLT) doesn't quite have Kaepernick's velocity, but McBLT has a very compact release.
Snapping was an issue today. I counted six bothches, most of them between Kaepernick and Snyder. If you'll recall, Baas had a very hard time with drops when he first took over at center during last year's training camp. They gradually went away and - aside from memorable shotgun rainbow against the Saints - were not a problem during the regular season.
As promised, the tight ends were heavily involved in the offense, and each of them made nice catches. Undrafted rookie Konrad Reuland dug out a nice catch a few inches off the ground on a pass over the middle. Second-year player Nate Byham also turned in a couple of tough catches - the Kaepernick heaters, especially the short throws, can be challenging - across the middle.
-- Matt Barrows