Highlights, notes, observations from 49ers Camp '12

Highlights, notes, observations from 49ers Camp '12
August 17, 2012, 9:25 pm
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The conclusion of 49ers practice Thursday signaled a dramatic shift in how the football team will be reported on for the remainder of the season.League rules stipulate that all NFL teams must open the entirety of their practices to the local media through the completion of Week 2 of the preseason.From this point forward, coach Jim Harbaugh has elected to invoke his right to close practices. Therefore, having witnessed my final 49ers practice until the 2013 offseason, I hereby declare the conclusion of 2012 San Francisco 49ers training camp.With the closure of camp, it's time to hit on some of the highlights, lowlights, notes and observations from this 16-practice period:Starting jobs secure: Every starter returns on defense. Alex Boone is in the midst of locking up the starting right guard position. The only question appears to be who'll run out with the starters at wide receiver once the regular-season opens.Michael Crabtree appears set on one side. Randy Moss and Mario Manningham are the most-likely candidates on the other side. In all likelihood, Moss and Manningham will each gets plenty of snaps in two-receiver sets.But it's all immaterial, says offensive coordinator Greg Roman."I'll go as far to say as whoever's name is on the list as having started the game accounts for nothing," Roman said. "It means nothing. Anybody that plays in the game is a starter, as far I'm concerned, because they have a role towards us winning. The No. 1, No. 2 starter, non-starter, if a guy is playing, that's all that matters to me."Comic relief: The 49ers have maintained a workmanlike approach to camp. But on the eve of a day off, Harbaugh's bellyflop provided his team with a hearty belly laugh.The field-goal unit was on the field with Harbaugh lined up for the kick. Harbaugh figured to catch everybody napping with a fake. He caught a pitch from the holder and when he tried to turn upfield. However, his footing gave out and he crashed hard to the turf -- much to the amusement of everybody who witnessed the hilarity.VIDEO: 'It was funny to see your head coach bite the dust'
Later when asked what occurred, Harbaugh had an explanation of the spectacle."On the fake field goal? When I went down? Yeah, I can tell you exactly," Harbaugh deadpanned. "It was a fake field goal. To the untrained eye, I'm sure that looked like a slip and fall to the ground. To the savvy football mind, that was a chance to demonstrate the importance of cutting off the outside foot. Also, a demonstration in having the proper footwear when playing football. Cleats are a necessity. A teachable moment."Catch of camp: We've seen numerous receivers fail to handle the laser-esque throws of backup Colin Kaepernick, who was timed with the most velocity of any quarterback at the 2011 NFL scouting combine.But receiver Mario Manningham caught one of Kaepernick's darts this week with one hand tied behind his back. Well, not really. But on a deep-in route, Manningham somehow latched onto one of Kaepernick's throws while an undrafted cornerback held Manninghan's left arm.Offensive MVP: Based on his play during camp, the hands-down winner is quarterback Alex Smith.Early in camp, Tthe offense was clearly overmatched during the head-to-head matchups against the 49ers' first-team defense. But this past week, the offense evened the score.There were times in which the ball went long periods of time without touching the ground with Smith at quarterback. He managed to spread it around to a lot of different targets, most notably Vernon Davis, Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.Of course, we know that none of this really matters. After all, it is just practice. But it's important to point out that Smith and the passing game has never looked this good in previous offseasons.Harbaugh said Smith is now an "expert" of the 49ers' offense. Smith, predictably, downplays his mastery of the scheme, saying, "No, no, no. Not at all. A lot to learn."Defensive MVP: It should come as no surprise that winner here is a guy named Smith, too.The first day the pads went on, defensive lineman Justin Smith was a one-man wrecking crew, tossing aside offensive linemen and just about everyone in his path to the ball. The starters do not do any live tackling during camp. But Smith is so brutishly strong, it seems difficult for any offensive player who lines up near him to remain on their feet.Dual roles: Demarcus Dobbs earned a roster spot last season as a backup defensive lineman. This year, he's back with double the responsibilities.RELATED: Demarcus Dobbs, the 49ers' man in black
Dobbs has put himself into position to be a backup on defensive line, as well as the 49ers' third tight end. His number was switched from 96 to 40 so he does not have to go through the formality of reporting as an eligible receiver every time he's in the offensive huddle."I hadn't played tight end since high school, but I was excited that the coaches even thought of me to play that position," Dobbs said. "It shows that they're really looking at me and they believe in a lot of things I can do."Shrinking veterans: Running back Brandon Jacobs and guard Leonard Davis were well-known additions to the 49ers. Part of their fame is based on their size.They're still big men. But they're just a tiny bit less big with the 49ers.Davis broke into the NFL in 2001 as the No. 2 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals. He weighed 370 pounds. Now, he's down to 355 pounds.When Jacobs signed his one-year deal with the 49ers, tipped the scales at 275 pounds. Now, he's down to 260."I feel faster and stronger," Jacobs said after incorporating squats into his offseason workout regimen for the first time.Jacobs is still fighting for a roster spot, but he looks to be in good shape due to his blend of speed and power. He picked up first downs on each of his rushing attempts in the exhibition opener and is angling for a spot as the 49ers' short-yardage back.No-fight club: Some coaches like to see the competition on the practice field get heated. Not Harbaugh. He has a strict rule against scuffling on the practice field. Oddly, it was two wide receivers who received the boot from practices for their roles in skirmishes. Rookie Brian Tyms and Kyle Williams were removed from practices on separate days because they did not adhere to Harbaugh's standard for on-field comportment.Cornering the market: There is better competition for the 49ers' cornerbacks in camp, and that group is responding in a big way.Starters Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown have produced very good training camps. Rogers probably gets beat more than any of the other top cornerbacks on the team because he is not at all shy about stepping up to face the team's best wideouts every rep he takes.But what's equally encouraging for the 49ers is the play of three of the team's reserve corners. Chris Culliver had an outstanding past three days of practice, and he appears to be solidifying his job as the No. 3 corner.Although Perrish Cox has been slowed due to a leg injury, he was playing well up to that point. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said, ""He's going to factor into our plans somehow, someway." And Tramaine Brock has looked more steady in coverage after an up-and-down beginning to his camp.Rookie receivers: Harbaugh went public with an impassioned defense of first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins. Harbaugh said Jenkins would be "outstanding."We're not going to make any predictions about Jenkins' future. It's much too early to say he's going to be "outstanding" or whether the 49ers made a mistake with the No. 30 overall pick.While Jenkins shows some flashes, he also shows an equal amount of lapses. That generally comes with the territory for young wide receivers. But it seems to be less of an issue with some of the other rookies in camp.Jenkins did not prove with his play on the field that he is better than undrafted wideouts Nathan Palmer, Chris Owusu or Tyms. Of course, Jenkins will make the 53-man roster. But it's highly unlikely we'll see much of him after the final exhibition game.Can't wait to see if there's a noticeable improvement in consistency next year in practices.Curse of Candlestick: The daily reminder comes from the visual of tons of steel beams being lifted into place by enormous cranes just yards from the 49ers' practice fields.And the reminder come from the sounds of workers pounding away to ensure the 49ers' Santa Clara stadium opens on time for the 2014 season.But, first, the 49ers have to make it through two more seasons at dilapidated Candlestick Park. And the old gray beast got off to a rough start in the exhibition opener. The elevators broke, stranding defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (and others) in the coaches' booth at halftime when he would ordinarily go to the locker room to meet face-to-face with players and staff.Instead, Fangio had no choice but to spend the 12-minute halftime period sampling fine stadium cuisine."I had a hot dog," Fangio said. "I've had better."Fangio, speaking more about the elevators than the hot dogs, concluded: "So I guess we need that new stadium."Nearly a Niner: Free-agent linebacker Mike Balogun, who was in camp with the 49ers in 2010, had a workout this week that apparently went well. He had yet to sign a contract, but he wore 49ers pants on and was ready to go to practice when it was decided the Indianapolis Colts offered him a better opportunity. He changed out of his 49ers uniform and caught a flight to sign with the Colts.Crab's season: Crabtree, who entered camp having never played in an exhibition game in three previous NFL seasons, did not get off to a good start. He sustained a right calf strain late in the first practice. Crabtree missed the next eight practices.But the talk now is how Crabtree is injury-free for the first time. His troublesome left foot is just fine, and Crabtree is getting good review for an apparent increase in footspeed over what we've seen in the past.It's preseason for everyone: Harbaugh takes pride, as he says, in keeping his cards close to his vest. But he is extremely transparent in expressing his critiques of questions that come his way during press briefings.On the day before the 49ers' exhibition opener, Harbaugh was referring to yours truly with the observation: "A lot of master-of-the-obvious questions today."So a couple days later, it was good sign that Harbaugh graded some major improvements in that area.I asked him why Owusu, one of the top kick returners in Pac-12 history, was not among the six players or so who had been practicing that discipline with the 49ers.Harbaugh seemed stumped."That's exactly what I was thinking, too," Harbaugh said. "We've been working some other guys, but he's very capable to do it. It's a valid question."Injury list: The 49ers made it through this portion of camp without any season-impacting injuries to a projected starter. The 49ers parted ways with tight end Nate Byham, who received an injury settlement after he underwent surgery to repair knee cartilage.Each of the key players is expected to be ready well in time for the season-opener Sept. 9 against the Green Bay Packers. Here is a list of the players still on the roster who have missed practices:WR Joe Hastings (right leg, current): 13
WR Michael Crabtree (right calf, returned Aug. 7): 8
OLB Aldon Smith (right hip, current): 5
OLB Cam Johnson (knee, current): 5
OLB Ahmad Brooks (left knee, current): 4
TE Delanie Walker (right knee, current): 4
G Joe Looney (foot, returned, returned Aug. 1): 4
C Jason Slowey (leg, returned Aug. 8): 3
CB Perrish Cox (leg, current): 2
G Mike Iupati (childbirth, returned Aug. 6): 2
NT Isaac Sopoaga (unknown, returned Aug. 15): 2
RB LaMichael James (illness, returned Aug. 8): 1
CB Tramaine Brock (unknown, returned Aug. 15): 1
DL Justin Smith (right knee, returned Aug. 3): 1
LB Tavares Gooden (unknown), returned Aug. 14): 1

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