Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Lots of catching up to do here at 49ers camp. Let's start with a few notes and observations from the morning practice. I'll save some of the heavy lifting for future posts, particularly once I speak with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz tomorrow.
First-round draft choice Kentwan Balmer missed most of practice after suffering an injury to his lower
leftright leg during contact drills. I saw the tail end of the sequence in question, just as Balmer was hitting the ground. He clutched his lower leg. He walked with a limp thereafter. Coach Mike Nolan did not yet have a diagnosis. He said the injury was to the ankle. Balmer watched the remainder of practice from the sideline.
Patrick Willis picked off Alex Smith on a short pass to the right side. Smith shouldn't feel bad. Willis is one of the very best defensive players in the league after only one season. That becomes obvious even watching him practice.
Backup receiver Jason Hill worked quite a bit in the three-receiver packages with Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson. Bruce seemed to be the primary target today. Of course, the 49ers continue to install Mike Martz's offense piece by piece, so we're not always getting a complete picture of the offense. Also worth noting: Arnaz Battle remains sidelined by injury.
Robert Ortiz and Allen Rossum each dropped one punt while working in punt-fielding drills. Ortiz, newly signed after the team released receiver Robert Jordan, caught five of six punts. Brandon Moore pounced on the one he let get away. The ball Rossum dropped caromed off his chest. Rossum also bobbled another ball, but he caught six of seven overall. Rossum, 32, averaged 23.3 yards per punt return for Pittsburgh last season.
Most of the lopsided confrontations during pass-rush drills involved lesser-known players. The exception during the morning session: right Jonas Jennings' battles with linebacker Parys Haralson. Haralson ducked under and around Jennings with at outside move during their first encounter. Jennings all but made Haralson disappear in the rematch. That's how these pass-rush drills often work. They're a great test for offensive linemen because the defender doesn't have to worry about a draw play or screen, and the offensive lineman doesn't have help.
Running back Thomas Clayton apparently doesn't like it when people deck him. A teammate had to restrain Clayton from coming after cornerback Marcus Hudson after Hudson flattened Clayton with a hard hit near the sideline. The two traded high-decibel insults before coaches indelicately told them to pipe down.
Shawntae Spencer extended nicely to break up a short-to-intermediate pass from Smith to Bruce.
Coaches employ a range of unconventional tactics in running players through drills. Redskins coach Jim Zorn has had quarterbacks fling themselves across slip-n-slide contraptions to learn how to avoid contact after scrambling.
In San Francisco, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, a former NFL linebacker, stands inside a white ring (a giant hula-hoop, basically). He wears a red pad on one forearm. Linebackers simulate a pass-rush situation by running toward Manusky and then around him, their feet just outside the hula hoop. Manusky whacks them with the pad as they run by, then turns and whacks them again for good measure after they turn the corner and complete the circle.
Haralson fell to the ground after one of their encounters. Manusky was clearly enjoying his work. Jay Moore, Tully Banta-Cain and Manny Lawson were the other linebackers participating.
Arid conditions have left the practice fields with a dry look. Defensive backs slipped during one drill in which they backpedaled hard before planting and reversing direction.
The aluminum grandstands set up for fans are close to the field. Bruce hit them hard enough to cause a commotion when his momentum carried him off the field and over the white plastic links that serve as a boundary. Bruce was smiling as he returned to the field unhurt.
So much more to get to here. The 49ers have a special-teams practice in about 20 minutes, and I have interviews scheduled as well. Look for some hard-core roster analysis in a bit.