It would be very easy for the 49ers to be bloated by their recent success. They have the second-best record in the NFC. They've become media darlings, both locally and nationally. (NFL Network was represented in the media gaggle today). They've just had four straight wins and six days off.
Jim Harbaugh, however, has been programming his team to stay lean, mean and mentally primed since the first meeting in July. Today safety Donte Whitner relayed another one of Harbaugh methods, one that Whitner called, "making it suck as much as possible."
"When things are going well, you want to be extra hard on yourself," Whitner said. "That's one thing that coach Harbaugh gets across. He always tells us he wants things to suck more than they possibly can. That's what he's talking about. If you're hard on yourself, if you get up an hour earlier than what you normally do ... you're making it suck a little more for yourself but in the process you're getting a little bit better and helping the team."
And, of course, there's the constant vigilance against the insidious Frederick P. Soft, the 4-inch fellow who shovels praise into the ears of vulnerable players. Ray McDonald said warnings about Mr. Soft are issued by Harbaugh daily. "'You got to watch out for Freddie P. Soft. He's lurking. He's around the corner. Watch out for him,'" McDonald said. "That's his little thing where he tries to keep guys motivated to not be mentally soft."
Said Delanie Walker of Soft: "I heard he had a plane ticket to come out to California, so we have to watch out for that guy."
The mental exercises seem to be working. McDonald said he stuck around the South Bay and worked out with fellow defensive lineman Justin Smith during the bye week. McDonald and Smith also were a constant pair at the player-led workouts at San Jose State over the lockout.
Whitner said he went to Miami where he makes his offseason home and got three massages over the last week. He also said that as one of the veterans on the team, he sees it as his job to spread Harbaugh's gospel about not getting soft when things are going so well.
"That's when you make a mistake," he said. "When you're failing to prepare, you're actually preparing to fail. That's the way we look at it. And we're not going to do that."
Odds & Ends
• The Pro Bowl ballots are out, and linebacker Blake Costanzo is up for one of the special teams spots. Asked how he would sell Costanzo, one of his favorites, to the voters, special teams coordinator Brad Seely said, "If I was a fan of football, I'd be a fan of Blake. ... He's just a guy. He's not the biggest, he's not the strongest, he's not the fastest. But he has something else to him that is not a measurable." Earlier Seely - affectionately - said that in looking at Costanzo "you think he should be picking up the towels."
• Rapper M.C. Hammer, who came into the 49ers' universe during the Michael Crabtree contract negotiations in 2009, was at team headquarters today to talk to the 49ers' rookies. I'm not privy to the meeting, but I'm betting fiscal responsibility was a theme.
• I thought this quote from Whitner about defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could be said about a number of the 49ers' assistants this year, including Seely: "The thing with Vic is that he's a teacher. A lot of coaches in the National Football League and even in college - they don't come from a teaching background. It's more a, 'Let me tell you what you're doing and expect you to do it' ... Vic and his coaching staff on defense - they're teachers. They don't do a lot of yelling. They don't do a lot of cussing. They teach you how to do it, 'Let me teach you why we're doing it.' So when the situation arises, we're ready for it. And that's why we've been successful on defense. ...
-- Matt Barrows