The 49ers have the day off today, one of the results of the new kinder, gentler NFL training camp. I'm not complaining. The off day will allow me to catch up on grocery shopping -- no more Honey Nut Cheerios for dinner -- and to catch you up on the 49ers rookies, many of whom have had prominent roles over the first eight practices of camp.
OLB Aldon Smith. Ahmad Brooks' undisclosed injury has allowed Smith to practice with the first-team defense and he's taken advantage of those repetitions. Smith has been particularly impressive in pass rush drills. Most young pass rushers try to out-quick their offensive tackle opponent by going to the outside, and in doing so they are easily pushed wide of the play. Smith, however, has a wicked inside move in which he uses his long powerful arms like battle axes to club away the offensive tackle's hands. Smith is far more powerful than most rookies, much less those enter the NFL as underclassmen. He's working on his flexibility and on playing in space, which he must do as an outside linebacker. However, his long arms, which are such an asset in rushing the passer also help him coverage because they make him such a tall obstacle. In that way he batted down a Colin Kaepernick pass in practice on Friday. Note: Brooks did some warm up work with the linebackers on Saturday and seems close to returning.
QB Colin Kaepernick: The second-round pick is as athletic and strong-armed as advertised. However, he's come in more prepared and more polished than perhaps was expected. Kaepernick is at his best hitting targets on crossing patterns down field. Those passes have been accurate and arrive so quickly that defensive players don't have much time to react. His touch passes - passes in which he's trying to feather a pass over a defender - have been a bit off. Kaepernick seemed to be consciously holding back on those throws - sort of half-throwing them - which gave them an unnatural look. He seems to be much better and more accurate when putting everything he has into his throws. He also has shown a tendency to throw off his back foot, which causes passes to sail. All in all, it's been a very promising beginning for Kaepernick. The fact that the 49ers are in no rush to bring in another veteran quarterback not only means that they are happy with how Kaepernick is operating in practice, it means the rookie will continue to get plenty of repetitions, critical for his development.
CB Chris Culliver. More than any other 49ers cornerback, Culliver looks the part. He has an excellent build and he is strong and fast. With injuries to Shawntae Spencer and Tarell Brown - neither is believed to be serious - Culliver has been getting plenty of repetitions and even was in the first group's nickel package last week. However, he still needs plenty of work at cornerback after only moving to that position last year. He is a project but one worth undertaking.
RB Kendall Hunter. Hunter has been impressive in how fast he gets in and out of the hole. At 5-7, he seems to need only a slight opening in the line of scrimmage. However, his height makes pass protection difficult and he has been engulfed by onrushing defenders at times.
G Daniel Kilgore. He's mostly been working as the backup left guard, although he's also taken some snaps at center.
WR Ronald Johnson. Johnson consistently has worked with the second-team offense. He hasn't stood out in practices but hasn't looked bad, either. Johhnson also has taken some turns as a kick returner.
S Colin Jones. He's gotten very few practice repetitions at safety due in large part to the shere number of safeties on the roster. That's ok. Jones was drafted for his special teams ability, something coaches will be looking for when the preseason begins later this week.
FB Bruce Miller. Miller was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Friday and has practiced the last two days. Miller went on PUP after having fluid drained from his shoulder, which doesn't exactly bode well for a player who will make his living lowering his shoulders into would-be tacklers. Miller, however, has better athleticism than the other two fullbacks on the roster, Moran Norris and Jack Corcoran. And he's also proven to be a very good pass catcher, which is counter intuitive for someone who played defense in college. Miller also promises to be a standout on special teams.
T Mike Person. The 49ers drafted Person with the intention of moving him inside to guard and center. Person, however, has remained at tackle in training camp, lining up at right tackle with the second-team units and left tackle with the third team. That may be because the 49ers have moved other college tackles, such as Stanford's Derek Hall, to the inside and need offensive tackles for practice. Person is not physically dominating, but he is smart and hard-working and has played well early in camp.
CB Curtis Holcomb. He ruptured his Achilles tendon during the conditioning drill before training camp and is out for the season.
NT Ian Williams has seen plenty of action due to Isaac Sopoaga's hamstring injury. Williams mostly has worked with the second-team defense and is getting plenty of attention from defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. The 49ers may not intend for Williams to play much this season. But given the scarcity of nose tackles and the growing number of teams that play 3-4 defenses, he may be a player they have to keep on the 53-man roster.
I cited WRs Chris Hogan and Tyler Beiler last week (patting own back). Hogan hooked up with Kaepernick on a big, 50-yard pass play Friday but was in a walking boot Saturday, the result on an injury on that play. Beiler has excellent speed and he connected with Jeremiah Masoli on a 50-plus yard pass play on Saturday.
Speaking of Masoli ... remember when the 49ers wanted to use him as a jack-of-all-trades type player? That plan is on hold. Harbaugh has liked what he's seen from Masoli as a quarterback, and he has been getting more repetitions lately than former Sac State quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, whom I wrote about in today's Bee. If you were crafting a depth chart, Masoli would be the No. 3 QB at the moment.
Among the offensive linemen, Cal's Donovan Edwards has looked good. He has a feistiness necessary to the position. The 49ers have mostly played him at guard, but he's been given a chance at tackle as well.
-- Matt Barrows