When a player signs a lucrative, long-term contract, there might be a tendency for him to exhale, to relax and to enjoy his newfound financial security.
The six-year, $44.5 million deal linebacker Ahmad Brooks signed in the offseason has had the opposite effect, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said today. "He probably had his best offseason he's had in pro football," said Fangio, who coaches the outside linebackers. "... I think he's probably in the best shape of his life, at least his NFL life, and we're expecting a big season from him. We'd be disappointed if he doesn't."
In previous offseasons, the one-time University of Virginia star, who was booted off the team as a junior, would return to his hometown of Woodbridge, Va. When he'd return to Santa Clara in the spring, he'd be in less than tip-top shape.
This year, Brooks hung around Santa Clara all offseason. Not only that, he fell in with the core group of 49ers workout warriors - Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Parys Haralson chief among them - who would show up every day to train and lift weights. Brooks even augmented that routine by buying a membership at the local 24-Hour Fitness.
"I'd go there and work out for like an hour. Do cardio, do sit-ups and stuff like that," he said. "I took cycling class. I did yoga, pilates and all of that stuff. ... It was a different experience. Just riding a bike for an hour. It hurt my butt."
As a result Brooks enters the 2012 season with a changed physique. He weighs just as much as he has in previous training camps - 266 pounds - but it's a different, more muscular type of weight, he said. Just like Brandon Jacobs on offense, Brooks resumed squat-lifting and power lifting after years not doing that sort of thing.
The reason, he said, is to gain explosion at the line of scrimmage and to increase his sack total from 2011. Last year, Brooks played 93 percent of the defensive snaps and he finished with a career-high seven sacks. That ranked
second third on the team behind Aldon Smith (14) and Justin Smith (7 ½).
But he said there were a handful of would-have-been sacks he felt he left on the field. And he thinks a boost in power and in relentlessness will increase his sack total this year.
"There was a lack of me pursuing or thinking the play was over," he said of the 2011 season. "A lot of my teammates say I have a habit of stopping. My girlfriend says that, my brother says that. Justin Smith says that. He told me that the other day."
Fangio agreed. "I think he's got to improve his technique and just the little things that go into becoming a top pass rusher," he said. "And he's shown that he's on his way to doing that so far this camp. But I think he's got a whole lot more that he can give us in the pass rush than he gave us last year."
Wideout Mario Manningham today sounded an awful lot like Jim Harbaugh in saying the 49ers "don't really have any starters" at wide receiver.
Indeed, as was the case during last year's offseason and well into the regular season, the 49ers have shuffled a number of different wideouts in with the first-string offensive line during training camp. Manningham was asked how it will go over with him, Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree if that rotation continues into the regular season.
"As long as we're winning, don't nobody have nothing to say," Manningham said. "Yeah, we've got a bunch of good receivers and there's only one ball. But if we're out there winning ... like if we've got to run the ball the whole game to win, that's perfectly fine with me. I mean, I'm all about the team. That's perfectly fine."
Harbaugh has said that he has five No. 1 receivers: Manningham, Moss, Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn.
Yesterday, I joked (it was hi-LAR-ious!) that the 49ers should give Justin Smith the Han Solo treatment this offseason. That is, they should freeze him in carbonite and thaw him out a few days before the regular-season opener. That would guard Smith, who looks to be in mid-season form, from injury and also protect his offensive teammates who have been getting mauled on a daily basis.
Fangio, however, said that Smith's exhibition routine probably will mimic last year's when he took about 40 or 50 total snaps over the four games.
The 49ers will have a rare twilight practice today -- from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thank goodness I have infrared binoculars.
-- Matt Barrows