The 49ers were short a couple of all-pro inside linebackers at today's minicamp practice. One of them, NaVorro Bowman, was back in Maryland because his girlfriend is expecting twins, a team spokesman said. Meanwhile, Patrick Willis was pulled out of practice early and flew home for personal reasons. Both absences, obviously, are excused.
Jim Harbaugh pulled Willis out of a defensive huddle early in the session. They spoke for a few seconds. Then Willis ran off the field and into the locker room with head trainer Jeff Ferguson. The exact reason for the abrupt departure is unknown.
Later in practice, rookie inside linebacker Joe Holland came off the field and spent the rest of the session observing from the sideline.
That left three inside linebackers - Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden, who lined up with the first-team defense, and Michael Wilhoite, who joined the 49ers' practice squad late last year. Tight end Delanie Walker also left the practice with an injury, although he was on his feet and did not appear to be seriously injured.
Meanwhile, two cornerbacks, Carlos Rogers and Curtis Holcomb, returned to practice after missing recent OTA sessions. Rogers had been dealing with a calf strain. Receiver Ted Ginn and offensive lineman Joe Looney continued their ongoing rehab work.
Rookies Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson also were part of a rehab group. Both had wraps on their left knees. Fleming has a torn ACL and likely will miss the season.
There were several notable plays on offense and defense:
â€¢ Defensive end-turned-fullback Will Tukuafu showed nice agility with a toe-tapping catch on the sideline from Colin Kaepernick during 7-on-7 drills. Tukuafu and another defensive end, Demarcus Dobbs, have been alternating playing offense. Dobbs has been lining up at tight end.
â€¢ Cornerback Perrish Cox closed quickly on a sideline pass to Kyle Williams to knock the ball away.
â€¢ Alex Smith threw what Chron beatwriter Eric Branch has been calling a "neighborhood throw." That is, a pass vaguely in the vicinity of Randy Moss with the expectation that Moss will come down with it. That's indeed what happened as Moss stretched out on the sideline to take the ball away from Chris Culliver.
â€¢ Josh Johnson, who has stood out in recent practices, was on the money with a crossing-route throw to Kyle Williams. Williams, however, seemed to be surprised by the pass, which ricocheted off of him and into the hands of safety Mark LeGree.
â€¢ Smith had a nice back-shoulder pass to Vernon Davis in the back of the end zone over Gooden. Davis caught two touchdowns during red-zone work, the second from Johnson.
â€¢ One of the better catches of the day was a sliding, sideline grab by Mario Manningham in front of rookie Anthony Mosely on a throw by Johnson. However, it may have been topped a few plays later by a leaping, sprawling corner end-zone catch by tight end Kyle Nelson on a nice pass from Scott Tolzien. Nelson got a step on rookie cornerback Deante Purvis.
Three of the quarterbacks - Kaepernick, Smith and Johnson - got a chance to run the two-minute drill. Kaepernick's drive went four and out, with the final downfield heave being tipped and intercepted by Cox.
Smith, meanwhile, found Kendall Hunter open on the sideline with his third pass of the drive. Hunter had room to roam - perhaps because neither Willis nor Bowman were on the field - and scooted downfield for a long touchdown.
Johnson had the prettiest drive of the three. It lasted 11 plays and included a nice, over-the-middle pass to the goal-line to receiver Joe Hastings. A few plays later - with 2.2 seconds left on the clock - Johnson hit Hastings again on an out route in the end zone in from of safety Michael Thomas.
Before practice, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the goal was to get through the week without any false starts. Whoops. Before one red-zone play, rookie tight end Garrett Celek moved early. Celek was taken out. Konrad Reuland came in and promptly was flagged for his own false start.
Former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci was on hand for the practice. The current NFL Network analyst spent most of the session chatting with GM Trent Baalke.
-- Matt Barrows