The 49ers will gather today for their first mandatory practice sessions of the offseason. Attendance, however, isn't expected to be much better than earlier voluntary sessions.
That's because attendance has ranged from very good to excellent throughout the spring. Every 49er save one - safety Dashon Goldson -- has been on hand at some point, and only two of the 90 players on the roster are not expected to be in Santa Clara today. Those two: Goldson, who has yet to sign his franchise tag tender, and second-round pick LaMichael James, who is not permitted to join the 49ers until he completes his final exam. James will arrive on Thursday.
In addition, draft picks Darius Fleming (knee) and Cam Johnson (knee) will not participate. The status of other injured 49ers like Ted Ginn, Carlos Rogers, Joe Looney and Curtis Holcomb are unknown. All four appeared close to returning to full strength last week.
Asked what has stood out in the team's recent OTAs, at which attendance was voluntary, Jim Harbaugh quickly pointed to the participation. "We were pretty much at full force, minus one or two guys," he said. "So, it was outstanding. That attendance has been that way all offseason for us."
There are plenty of reasons for that. Some of the players, like Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore, have clauses in their contracts that require them to be on hand. Many others likely feel they can't afford to miss even a single session because they are battling for spots on the roster.
There are also other reasons, in my opinion. One is that the 49ers simply have a lot of hard-working, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth guys on the team. At this point in their careers, veterans like Justin Smith and Patrick Willis don't need to show up for practices in early May. But they have, and that's set an example for the younger players on the team. If you're a young defensive lineman, it's hard to skip a practice or even a workout when Smith shows up every day.
The other big reason is the pervasive sense of unfinished business at 49ers headquarters. Smith spoke about that with Cam Inman of The Merc recently. The 49ers went into the offseason thinking that they, not the Giants, should have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.
"My whole life, I've never really moped around after a loss or this or that. But this is one that's burned my ass the longest," Smith told Inman. "I'm just like, 'Man.' It makes me that much more hungry." That is, Smith and the 49ers have a sizable chip on their shoulders (and, apparently, other parts of their anatomy) entering the 2012 season.
You can bet that Harbaugh will use that chip to the utmost advantage.
The rules for the three-day minicamp are nearly identical to the OTAs. That is, there's no full-padded practices or live contact. Seven-on-seven drills and team scenarios are permitted, but one-on-one scenarios such as pass-rush drills are not allowed. On two of the days -- today and Wednesday -- the 49ers will have a morning walk-though before an afternoon practice.
-- Matt Barrows