Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Notes and observations from 49ers camp
By Mike Sando ESPN.com
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Some things I feel comfortable writing after watching the San Francisco 49ers run around in shorts during two days of organized team activities ending Tuesday:
Will Alex Smith and the 49ers' offense finally have a breakout season?
The prevailing 49ers storyline this offseason is a legitimate one. It's all about quarterback Alex Smith and the rest of the offense benefiting from a second season in the same system. There are clear signs of progress on this front and I'll analyze them in greater detail for a piece Wednesday. One big question is whether greater familiarity will translate into Smith becoming a more instinctive quarterback. Much more Wednesday.
The 49ers want to have their starting offensive line in place by the first or second exhibition game. First-round picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati continue to work with the backups, but the 49ers expect both to start as rookies. Teams generally keep seven offensive linemen active on game days. It's a huge benefit when the sixth and seventh linemen have enough versatility to play multiple positions. That explains why veteran linemen such as Adam Snyder, Tony Wragge and David Baas are getting work at multiple positions. Snyder, the right tackle, has even worked some at center.
The 49ers do not necessarily need Ted Ginn Jr. to become an integral part of their offense. What they could use, however, is the threat of his speed. Having a speed threat on one side of the field could allow the 49ers to line up Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree on the other side. If defenses had to respect Ginn deep, the result could be more favorable coverages for Davis and Crabtree.
Travis LaBoy's foot is in better shape than the 49ers had reason to expect, but it's fair to wonder whether the veteran pass-rusher can do some of the other things, notably in coverage, that the 49ers ask of their linebackers.
It's easy to forget that Crabtree is going through organized team activities and minicamps for the first time. He looks like a seasoned pro on the field and even on the sideline. Crabtree fit right in Tuesday as part of an extended sideline conversation with Davis, Frank Gore and Josh Morgan. He is a natural in every way. I spoke with Crabtree and will share more on him at another time.
Patrick Willis is taking a smart approach to his recovery from knee surgery by staying on the sideline for the team portion of practices. Willis said he learned a hard lesson rushing back from an injury in college. He obviously wants to be out there. That's why some teammates and coaches appear comfortable ribbing him about missing practice.
The 49ers had to be relieved to learn that cornerback Tarell Brown suffered only a bruised shin and not something more serious while defending a pass in the end zone. The team lost then-starting cornerback Walt Harris to a season- and possibly career-ending injury at about this time last year.
Unlike last offseason, players have a better idea what to expect from coach Mike Singletary. Also unlike last offseason, Singletary isn't trying to establish himself as a head coach. I think that at least partly explains why these practices might seem a little less physical than they can sometimes be (as in Baltimore, where the Ravens incurred league sanctions for running practices that were too intense). I'll be interested to see if the pattern holds at all for training camp. The 49ers were quite physical when they put on the pads last summer. Seems to me they should find a balance.
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye made a good point Tuesday when asked about Singletary's recent comments suggesting third-string quarterback Nate Davis might not be coming along as quickly as coaches would like. Davis is getting fewer reps this offseason because the team needs new No. 2 quarterback David Carr to get comfortable. In that sense, Davis was a loser when the 49ers traded Shaun Hill and brought in a No. 2 quarterback unfamiliar with their offense.
The 49ers have more progress to make on offense than on defense. That's why I read little into decisions by some defensive players -- Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer, etc. -- to train on their own. Offensive players have made attendance a priority and that is significant given the stakes for Smith and the offense.
I'm traveling Tuesday night, but still hope to keep up with the 49ers' stadium measure as Santa Clara voters go to the polls. Raye was among those wearing an "I Voted" sticker on his shirt Tuesday. I'll assume he voted "yes" on Measure J, which could have the 49ers playing in a new stadium by 2014.