Finding a weakness in Patrick Willis' game is like finding a flaw on Jessica Alba. And yet Vic Fangio has accomplished the impossible. He managed to locate a blemish on the Pro Bowl linebacker - his pass-rushing skills. (Alba remains flawless).
"He's got to improve his technique," Fangio said after a rare morning practice Tuesday. "He's behind as a blitzer from a know-how standpoint and just from technique right now. He needs to really improve what happens when a back steps up to block him, how to beat that block. He's behind right now on that, but he knows that and he's working diligently, both on and off the field, to try and improve that."
Willis finished with a career-high six sacks in 2010, but Fangio's words - and Willis' practice schedule - signal that he'll be let loose on opposing quarterbacks more than he has in the past. During Monday's practice, Willis joined the outside linebackers in one-on-one passing drills against the offensive linemen. Indeed, it seemed as if the effort was there but that the technique lagged.
Fangio's inside linebacker at Stanford last season, Shane Skov, blitzed often and finished the 2010 season with 7 1/2 sacks. Willis and second-year linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who may be a better pass rusher at this point than Willis, likely will get plenty of chances in Fangio's attacking system.
Said Fangio of Bowman: "We had a nice session today against the backs and he showed up there and did a nice job rushing, so that's something we need to look at as we move forward, that if that's one of his better qualities, we will try and utilize it."
The 49ers quarterbacks followed up Monday's stand-out practice with another strong outing today, albeit against a softer defense. The 49ers are now fully into preseason mode and the third-string defense was mimicking the Saints formations during Tuesday's practice. (Conversely, the third-string offense was doing their best impression of drew Brees and company).
Still there were several notable plays.
• Alex Smith feathered in a nice 25-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis just beyond the reach of safeties Taylor Mays and C.J. Spillman.
• Tight end Konrad Reuland had a busy day as he was frequently targeted by the third-string quarterbacks, Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Reuland made a couple of nice, diving catches in traffic.
• The catch of the day - and perhaps training camp - was turned in by Bridewater's Tyler Beiler. Masoli appeared to be throwing the ball away to the sideline when Beiler leapt up and snaired the ball with one hand over safety Madieu Williams. I don't know if Beiler got both feet in bounds, but it really didn't matter - the catch was Zeigler-esque in its beauty.
• Poor Seth Smith. The backup running back was wacked by Willis on one running play. On the next he was sent to the ground by Bowman. Players have said that in no way is this year's camp less physical than the one last year with Mike Singletary.
• Who says Donte Whitner has bad hands? He came up with two interceptions today, one of them on a sideline fastball delivered by McBLT. Whitner and Williams are likely to be the starting safeties Friday in New Orleans.
Dashon Goldson walked onto the field with chief negotiator Paraag Marathe. Goldson was not in uniform and has yet to practice with the team. Fangio said he must watch Goldson in practice before determining where he lands on the depth chart. ... Joe Staley was back at practice after missing the last one and a half sessions. Alex Boone had filled in for him at left tackle ... Left guard Mike Iupati practiced sparingly with a right arm issue. Tony Wragge and rookie Daniel Kilgore filled in for him. ... Jonathan Goodwin is starting to get some repetitions with the first-team offensive line although Adam Snyder is still the starter ... Shawntae Spencer and Tarell Brown have not returned to practice. Neither has Isaac Sopoaga ... Another NT, Ian Williams, was slow to get up following a passing play and did not return to practice. His injury, in hockey parlance, was an "upper body injury.'
-- Matt Barrows