Alex Smith and Vernon Davis have made a killing over the last few years on a simple seam route that pits Davis' speed against that of the opponent's inside linebacker. None has been able to keep pace.
But when the duo tried that play in today's practice, Smith's pass was broken up and Davis ended up sprawled on the grass. The culprit? Patrick Willis, who last year took on the role as the 49ers' designated tight end stopper and who is trying to perfect his craft this year.
Among the tight ends Willis will face this year are Green Bay's Jermichael Finley (Week 1), Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew (Week 2), the Jets' Dustin Keller (Week 4), New Orleans' Jimmy Graham (Week 13) and New England's Rob Gronkowski (Week 15). Gronkowski and Graham finished first and second in receiving yards by a tight end last year and combined for 28 touchdowns..
"I feel if I can cover our guys - or cover them pretty well - then there shouldn't be a tight end in the league that I shouldn't be able to cover," Willis said. "So I just work on covering those guys when I have the opportunity."
Cornerback Chris Culliver and wide receiver Mario Manningham exchanged shoves today after Culliver gave Manningham a shot to the side of the facemask. It was a very minor incident and is only noteworthy because the two teammates were rivals last season.
Manningham, in fact, twice beat Culliver for would-be touchdowns during the 49ers' and Giants' regular-season meeting. Culliver was beaten in the back corner of the end zone on a 12-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass to Manningham. On the Giants' final drive, Manningham had a couple of steps on Culliver on what would have been a game-tying, 42-yard touchdown. But Eli Manning's pass glanced off the receiver's fingertips.
All four of the team's quarterbacks looked good today, although there weren't as many down-field passes as yesterday. The 49ers mostly concentrated on running plays and short pass plays when they were in team drills. Colin Kaepernick continued to be the team's No. 2 quarterback and looked good in the role.
With Michael Crabtree (ankle) absent, Manningham, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins all had busy afternoons and each came away with nice catches. Alex Smith had a very nice intermediate sideline pass to Williams that was over the head of linebacker Aldon Smith - not easy considering The Condor's arm length - and in front of cornerback Tarell Brown.
Kaepernick had solid throws to Vernon Davis, Brett Swain and good sideline throw to Walker. Josh Johnson through a dart across the middle to Manningham. Jenkins, meanwhile, looked fluid and made a nice catch in traffic - the throw from Kaepernick was behind him - on the final play. It was the type of pass he dropped during spring practices, so today was a nice sign of progress.
Smith attempted another deep throw to Moss - he hit him twice Friday - but this time Moss was well covered and the ball was incomplete. Moss later dropped a pass on a crossing route from Johnson.
Michael Wilhoite and Demarcus Dobbs were back to defense today; Will Tukuafu, however, played fullback ... Kick returns were shared by Ted Ginn, Williams, LaMichael James, Perrish Cox and Walker ... Cory Nelms has been playing safety the last two days. He also can play cornerback.
The pads go on Sunday when the 49ers will have their first full-contact practice of the 2012 campaign.
-- Matt Barrows