NFC West: Robert Jordan

Back in business from 49ers camp

July, 29, 2008

Posted by'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 left right 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.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic doesn't expect first-round choice Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to sign in time for rookies to report today. Cardinals GM Rod Graves has apparently had a hard time connecting with Rodgers-Cromartie's agent, who has multiple first-round clients. But Graves thinks a deal can be completed quickly. While players are expected to check in for camp between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. this afternoon, the Cardinals do not practice until Friday morning. That gives them time to work out an agreement.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat says the 49ers face more questions than ever heading into camp. He addresses 10 issues/subjects: the QB situation, Mike Nolan's job status, Mike Martz, Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, leadership minus Bryant Young, o-line continuity and the NFC West. Maiocco advises fans to brace for speculation that retiring Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren will wind up with the 49ers. I know this about Holmgren: Independent of what happens in San Francisco, he still has the GM itch. He perked up when the Dolphins gave Bill Parcells millions to oversee the rebuilding process in Miami.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains why the Rams are bucking the trend of holding training camp at team headquarters. Coach Scott Linehan wants to change things up after a 3-13 season. Linehan also wants to train in cooler weather, figuring the team can get more done near Milwaukee. He'll get no argument here. Last summer, the Rams' camp was the least comfortable camp I attended while checking in with the Bears, Colts and Titans. Linehan also advocates the team-building aspects of training off-site. The Rams need all the team-building they can get after a season in which frustrations boiled over.

Kevin Lynch of sfgate's Niners Insider wonders what Mike Nolan meant when he mentioned a camp battle between Arnaz Battle and Ashlie Lelie. The 49ers have entered each of the last five seasons with an average of six receivers on their roster, most in the NFC West during that time. They have 10 right now. Bryant Johnson, Battle, Lelie, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill and rookie sixth-round pick Josh Morgan have name recognition. Robert Jordan, Dominique Zeigler, Cameron Colvin and Jerard Rabb do not. Jordan, the former Cal star, does have a profile in the Bay Area.

Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge Advocate checks in with former Cardinals and Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams, who explains how Gill Byrd demonstrated true mentorship early in his career. "A mentor is not your friend," Williams said. "A friend will love you the way you are. A mentor will love you too much to let you stay the way you are." At Byrd's urging, Williams changed his fundamental approach to the cornerback position. Rabalais notes that Williams becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2009. The eight-time Pro Bowl choice and 1990s all-decade team member picked off 55 passes.

Reuben Frank of the Burlington County Times catches up with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who is already bracing for a Nov. 27 battle with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and the successor to Bryant Johnson. "More teams are using three wides on first down, and we're going to match up," Johnson said. "When we play the Arizona Cardinals, they have three great wide receivers, so we'd probably start out in nickel." Hence the need for three proven corners in Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard.

Cam Inman of the Contra Costa Times implores Nolan to name Alex Smith the 49ers' starting quarterback. Inman also urges Nolan and the 49ers to stop using former offensive coordinator Jim Hostler as a scapegoat for what went wrong last season. That sounds like a good idea. Coaches secure in their standing generally do not need to point fingers in public. Plus, it's bad form. Hostler was in a tough spot last season as a first-year coordinator for a team with serious issues, including injuries at quarterback. It's not his fault the 49ers hired him. Was he supposed to decline the opportunity on grounds he needed more seasoning?

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks are hopeful that rookies Lawrence Jackson and John Carlson will sign in time for the first practices of camp Friday. The Seahawks have had their share of training-camp contract disputes over the years, and in this case the process hit a snag while an arbitrator settled differences between the NFL and its players. Reporting dates aren't nearly as important as practice dates. Getting Jackson and Carlson signed by Friday is the important thing.