49ers camp recap: Kap, Davis make the connection

Harbaugh to split reps evenly between McCoy, Tolzien, Daniels

49ers camp recap: Kap, Davis make the connection
August 19, 2013, 8:00 am
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Tight end Vernon Davis has been building a strong relationship with Colin Kaepernick during training camp. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

The Kaepernick-to-Davis connection has been seemingly unstoppable in camp. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

In his first full season as the starter, Kaepernick was clearly the team's best offensive player in camp. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' training camp can be defined by one variation of a play that developed repeatedly.

[RELATED: A.J. Jenkins traded to Chiefs for WR Jon Baldwin]

Vernon Davis, lining up exclusively at tight end, utilized his straight-line speed to blow past a linebacker in the middle of the field. Then, quarterback Colin Kaepernick with laser-like precision beamed a 25-yard pass between the safeties 25 yards or more down the field.

That scene took place on the practice field more than a dozen times during the 16 practices that were open to the media this summer. And it figures to show up regularly once the real games begin, too.

The 49ers, per NFL rules, were obligated to have their practices open to the media through the first two exhibition games. Coach Jim Harbaugh's practices for the remainder of the season will be closed.

Thus, the outside observation of 49ers training camp has come to a conclusion.

Here's a look back at the highlights, lowlights, notable performances and memorable quotes from the past three weeks:

Play of camp: There were plenty of other plays that stood out on the practice field, but the Kaepernick-to-Davis connection was seemingly unstoppable.

"Last year when he first got the starting job, we'd be at practice and he'd keep overthrowing me. I'd be running as fast as I possibly could and Colin just kept overthrowing me," Davis said. "Now we get out there and it's night and day. He puts the ball right there. Man, he's come a long way. I'm very impressed."

Indelible memory: Safety C.J. Spillman, once considered a candidate to replace Dashon Goldson, has seen his amount of action with the first-team defense decline. When he thought Michael Thomas was trying to "steal" his reps, a source told CSNBayArea.com, there was a confrontation. Spillman and Thomas tussled and went to the ground.

Harbaugh, who bans fighting on the practice field, got involved in trying to break it up. He dove into the pile. And when we say he dove, what we really mean is he dove. Both feet came off the ground as he entered the mass of humanity in an attempt to break up the skirmish. Order was soon restored.

Spillman was sent to the locker room, and Thomas remained on the field and practiced for the final hour of the Aug. 13 practice.

Offensive player of camp: Of course, the honor goes to Kaepernick. In his first full season as the starter, Kaepernick was clearly the team's best offensive player. He ran the read option with aplomb. He showed touch on the short routes, including screen passes, and got the ball into the hands of his two top pass targets: Davis and wide receiver Anquan Boldin with regularity.

Defensive player of camp: Aldon Smith. The 49ers' outside linebacker might not be able to approach his Year 2 total of 19.5 sacks in the regular season, but Smith should be ready to cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses. During camp, he looked explosive and powerful. And it also helps that defensive tackle Justin Smith is fully healthy after offseason surgery to repair his partially torn triceps and every bit as dominating alongside him.

Worst player in camp: The winner is defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye, the British record-holder in the discus who, a year ago, was a finalist at the Summer Olympics in London. Take this "award" as the compliment for which it's intended.

After all, Okoye has played just 10 snaps of American football in his life. And he's been going against guys who've played football for most of their lives.

"He's not a good football player," Harbaugh said recently. "His next goal is to be 'not a bad player.' But he's made growth from never having played the game of football."

Okoye is a project. There's no chance he wins a spot on the 49ers' 53-man roster. But if he sticks with it (and the 49ers want to stick with him), he could earn one of the eight spots on the team's practice squad and make a real run at making the team in 2014.

A play to file away: On the opening weekend of camp, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins was involved in a play that perhaps illustrates a bigger problem.

Jenkins lined up in the left slot. A quick pass intended for him was deflected into the air. Jenkins still had a chance to go up and catch the pass -- or at the very least try to break it up. Instead, he stood just a few feet away and did not even attempt to make a play on the ball.

Twice in exhibition games and several other times on the practice field, Jenkins allowed defensive players to have unchallenged chances for interceptions. Maybe he lacks confidence. Maybe he lacks attitude. Maybe he's too passive.

However it's labeled, Jenkins has continued to underperform to the point that his spot on the 53-man roster is now in question. The 49ers will give the 2012 first-round pick the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the final cuts, but he has to demonstrate a role on the team is something for which he is willing to fight.

Vernon Davis last week gave a hint of Jenkins' problems -- while also endorsing him for a key role on the team. "I don't think we can rush him because it's up to him to change his mindset and really take off," Davis said.

Best WR who couldn't catch: That goes to rookie Quinton Patton, who sustained a left finger injury and wore a split on his index finger through the first weeks of camp. He still ran routes, and made the occasional right-handed reception. Patton appears to have the right attitude. After all, he is the guy who paid his own way to the Bay Area just two days after he was drafted -- unaware it was against NFL rules.

"Over the last three weeks he's been doing everything but actually catching the football," Harbaugh said. "Now he can start catching the football."

[RELATED: Mario Manningham to open season on PUP list]

Best competition: The best training camp battle for a starting position is at the position of nose tackle, a spot that figures to be on the field for about 40-percent of the plays. Ian Williams was one of the surprises of training camp with a strong start over the first 10 days. He has been working with the first-team defense since the opening of camp.

"Nothing against Isaac (Sopoaga) or Ricky (Jean Francois), but we think he is an upgrade," 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald said.

Recently, veteran Glenn Dorsey has shown dramatic improvement as he gets more familiar with his responsibilities and the 49ers' techniques.

Unknown rookies make their marks: If the following undrafted rookies end up on the 49ers' list of final cuts, they might not be unemployed for very long based on how they performed in camp . . .

Long-snapper Kevin McDermott -- The 49ers are giving serious consideration to going younger and cheaper. And it's not as if reliable Brian Jennings has done anything wrong.

Tight end MarQueis Gray -- He has steadily gotten better as he's gotten more comfortable with the transition from playing quarterback at the University of Minnesota.

Cornerback Darryl Morris -- Morris has tremendous speed and nice agility. Any team that is thin in the defensive backfield should gives him a serious look.

Defensive lineman Mike Purcell -- At 6 foot 3, 303 pounds, Purcell plays with strength, leverage and surprising athleticism. He looks to be targeted for the practice squad.

Earning his spot: B.J. Daniels would have been attractive for another team looking to bring in an all-purpose reserve quarterback. But it's difficult to imagine at this point that the 49ers would take the chance of trying to place him on the practice squad. He is too athletic and too versatile for the 49ers to take the chance of trying to sneak him through waivers.

[RELATED: Harbaugh: B.J. Daniels earns more action]

Now, Daniels is making a serious run at the No. 2 job, as neither Colt McCoy nor Scott Tolzien has played well enough to secure the backup role. McCoy's advantage over Tolzien is his experience and his athleticism to make plays with his feet. (Tolzien has practice-squad eligibility.)

Daniels, however, has the skill set that most-closely mirrors that of Kaepernick. Daniels has the second-strongest arm among the quarterbacks, and he is adept at running the read option from his career at South Florida.

Rookie review: Safety Eric Reid, the No. 18 overall pick, continued to make strides toward being in the starting lineup Sept. 8 when the 49ers face the Green Bay Packers. Veteran Craig Dahl started the first two exhibition games, but that should change Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, as Harbaugh said Reid will get more action with the first unit.

Tight end Vance McDonald is well on his way to securing the No. 2 job behind Davis despite being out of action for a week-to-10-days with an apparent hamstring strain. McDonald does not figure to play as much as the departed Delanie Walker, but he should have a substantial role in the offense.

Defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial appear ticketed to the reserve/non-football injury list to open the season, which would make them ineligible for the first six games of the regular season. But the 49ers have gotten some depth for the defensive front from third-round pick Corey Lemonier, an outside linebacker on base downs and defensive end in passing situations. Inside linebacker Nick Moody should be a core special-teams contributor.

Running back Marcus Lattimore remains on the non-football injury list, where he figures to remain for the entire season. Tackle Carter Bykowski and cornerback Marcus Cooper, both seventh-round picks, face uphill climbs to win roster spots. Cooper has shown a lot of promise.

Active and ready: The 49ers activated running back Kendall Hunter from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Aug. 10, a full 8 1/2 months after his surgery to repair a partially torn Achilles. The 49ers are bringing him along slowly, but Hunter should be able to regain his backup role to Frank Gore because of his well-rounded game.

LaMichael James should receive limited action on offense behind Gore and Hunter. And he has to show a little more reliability handing punts to assume that game-day role in the return game.

Handling a bad situation: On the day the 49ers opened full-squad practices, cornerback Tarell Brown awakened to the news that his failure to take part in the 49ers' offseason conditioning program made him forfeit $2 million pay in the final year of his contract.

"It's an unfortunate situation," Brown told CSNBayArea.com. "It's something I didn't know about. And at the end of the day, it's something I have to deal with and be a man about -- be professional."

Brown fired agent Brian Overstreet for his oversight in not relaying the contract details. He hired agent Joel Segal. Harbaugh said the 49ers did not know about the clause in Brown's contract, either, or the organization would've informed him.

There is no indication the sides are close to a contract extension that would lock up Brown beyond this season.

Worst development: Chris Culliver, the 49ers' third cornerback, sustained a torn ACL in his left knee during a special-teams drill on Aug. 1. He is out for the season, which leaves a major hole to fill in the 49ers' defense. Tramaine Brock, the front-runner to replace Culliver, is receiving serious challenges from Nnamdi Asomugha and Perrish Cox. Asomugha and Cox put together solid training camps.

Bad news, good timing: Of course, the 49ers did not want anything to happen to All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis. And they certainly did not want to see him sustained the third fractured right hand of his NFL career. But, if something were to happen, it's good that it happened on July 31 -- just one week into training camp. Willis is expected to be ready and at near-full strength for the start of the regular season on Sept. 8 against the Green Bay Packers.

Another advantage of the timing of the injury is it has given valuable experience to backup Michael Wilhoite, as he looks to take the role that Larry Grant filled the past two seasons as third inside linebacker/special-teams contributor

Quote of camp: "I jumped on it like a fish biting on bait."
--Wide receiver Marlon Moore.

Moore was referring to his excitement upon the 49ers showed interest in signing him after the Miami Dolphins declined to tender him as a restricted free agent. Moore proved to be the player who helped him most in training camp. Harbaugh noted on Sunday that Moore ranks with Boldin and Kyle Williams as one of the 49ers' top-three receivers.

The 49ers figure to keep six receivers to open the season. Let's assume Boldin, Williams and Moore are locks. You can also place Patton, a fourth-round pick, in that category. That means Jenkins, Austin Collie, Lavelle Hawkins, Chad Hall, Ricardo Lockette, Kassim Osgood and undrafted rookie Chuck Jacobs are fighting for two spots.

Coming up: The first round of roster cuts is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 27. The 49ers must trim their active roster of 90 players to 75. Just four days later, all teams must reach the regular-season roster limit of 53 players.

Wide receivers Michael Crabtree (Achilles) and Mario Manningham (knee) will be placed on reserve/physically unable to perform on the day of the final cuts. They count against the roster limit up to that point. The 49ers also have the option of placing recently signed cornerback Eric Wright on the non-football injury/illness list at the start of the regular season. Those players can be activated after the first six weeks of the regular season.

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