Gregg Williams taught Alex Smith a valuable lesson last year: Always wear your mouthpiece.
Smith said he entered the 2011 preseason opener in New Orleans without one. It was hardly two weeks after the lockout ended, after all. It wasn't as if Williams, the Saints defensive coordinator at the time, was going to call a series of jail-break blitzes against the 49ers' still-forming offense, right? ... Right? ... Right?
"That was a bad decision last year," Smith said Thursday. "Be ready for anything -- it's football." He said he wasn't wearing one because he didn't expect a lot of hitting and because he had gotten used to playing without one in practice.
"The whistle blows out here at practice and as a quarterback you don't get touched," he said. "This (the preseason) is real ball and it's been, for all of us, a while since we've had that, and it'll be fun."
Quarterbacks are notorious for not wearing their mouthpieces, which help prevent concussions and keep dental work intact. Some stash them in their socks; others attach them to the side of their helmets.
Smith said the newest versions only cover the bottom of the mouth and don't affect his calls at the line of scrimmage. So, there's no reason not to wear them all the time, including in today's game against Minnesota. "Last year I didn't wear one in that opener," he said. "I did after that."
Former Stanford receiver Chris Owusu hasn't been in a game since Nov. 5 when he suffered a concussion in the second quarter against Oregon State. Owusu said he hasn't been thinking about concussions during training camp and won't today. "Just go out there and play some football - that's what I'm going to think about," he said. "Making sure I know the plays."
Owusu was perhaps the most well known rookie free agent the 49ers acquired after the draft. But he's been relatively quiet in training camp on a team that is deep in veteran receivers and that has two other rookies, first-rounder A.J. Jenkins and undrafted Nathan Palmer, who have been more prominent in practice. That's partly due to the number of opportunities he's had.
"As a competitor, you always want to go out there and get as many reps as you can," Owusu said. "Part of being a rookie and part of familiarizing yourself with the offense is that you've got to step back and see how the veterans do it. That's the phase I'm in right now."
Friday's game will reunite Jim Harbaugh and some of his players with Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 1,871 yards and had 28 rushing touchdowns for Harbaugh at Stanford in 2009 and who was runner up for the Heisman trophy that year.
With Adrian Peterson (knee) on the physically unable to perform list, Gerhart and third-string runner Lex Hilliard figure to see the most action against a 49ers run defense that ranked first overall last season.
Said Owusu of Gerhart: "He was definitely one of our biggest pieces at Stanford," Just a tough, hard-nosed runner. He can get north and south. But he can also juke you out with some moves. He was definitely a class act. That's what I remember of him."
-- Matt Barrows