Here is a link to my Monday column about the 49ers. The full text runs below:
This is what I saw at the 49ers’ Sunday practice.
Jim Harbaugh started off practice by running a drill with tight ends and linebackers while other players worked elsewhere. Harbaugh kneeled down and called the play in his gravelly football voice like a man gargling marbles. At his signal, the linebackers tried to rush past the tight ends. The backers were intent on sacking the imaginary quarterback — no quarterbacks took part in this drill.
Harbaugh likes to get down and dirty with his players. In some ways, he still thinks like a player. It is one of the best things about him.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson ran an incorrect pattern in an early passing drill. Colin Kaepernick took him aside and explained the drill at length, even using hand motion to demonstrate where Johnson should have gone. It was a case of the quarterback telling the receiver how to do his job.
Kaepernick knows the offense inside and out.
When Kaepernick walks toward center to start a play he is tall and athletic, the prototype of the modern quarterback. He looks perfect.
Starting cornerback Chris Culliver did not look for the ball on a long pass, not even when his coaches yelled, “Ball!” Not looking has been one of Culliver’s problems.
Now, Harbaugh was working with the special teams guys. He wore his hat backwards and held a big red pad for players to run into. Harbaugh is the ultimate football geek. In the good sense.
The quarterbacks practiced getting bad snaps from center. They practiced balls going over their heads, balls flying to the side, balls zapping between their legs. Harbaugh practices for every possible contingency. You name it, he’s practiced it.
Vernon Davis was by himself. He often stays by himself. When he was not involved in an early drill, he stretched alone. He is a serious athlete always working on his flexibility. Jerry Rice generally stayed by himself. Then Davis got a ball boy to throw him passes. Short passes. Long passes. Davis never stops working, does not acknowledge the concept of down time. Rice was exactly the same.
Carlos Hyde took the first handoff in run drills. He took most of the handoffs. He is big and strong. That we know. He showed much more. He is quick and elusive side to side. He has good hands. Quarterbacks threw him passes as he ran out of the backfield – he caught one for a 25-yard gain. This throwing to a running back is a new look for the 49ers’ offense. Hyde is very important to the running and passing game.
Along the east side of the practice fields, you can see a row of condos with second-floor windows looking right onto the practice field. Some enterprising condo owner should sign up with airbnb and rent out a second-floor room to Niners’ opponents.
In seven-on-seven drills, the 49ers practiced passing in the red zone. On third-and-5 from the 14, Kaepernick missed a receiver in the back right corner of the end zone. Have we seen that before?
Harbaugh supervised a four-minute drill, the kind of drill a team uses to run out the clock in the fourth quarter. The first two plays were handoffs to a back. If the offense had not converted, the third play was a pass.
Harbaugh is hyper-prepared. He is supposed to be. He conducted most drills far away from the media. He is secretive to the max. Is he supposed to be?
Frank Gore hardly practiced with the team. He did practice passing the ball to a ball boy. He should stick to running. His sweatpants were falling down. It was a bad pants look.
Quarterback instructor George Whitfield worked with Kaepernick one on one at a side field. He made Kaepernick go to one knee. He made Kaepernick throw the ball over someone’s head downfield. It is something Kaepernick needs to get better at, throwing over a defender. The idea was for Kaepernick to use only his upper body. The drill was as basic as drills get. No legs. Just the right arm.
In a later drill, Harbaugh called Kaepernick for delay of game.
Davis caught a dancing, prancing TD catch over Nick Moody. This just in – you can’t cover Davis with a linebacker.
Chris Culliver shoved down wide receiver David Reed. Harbaugh said something to Culliver. Culliver said something back to Harbaugh. Harbaugh told Culliver to leave practice – Culliver stood on the sideline the rest of the day. Davis came over and talked to Culliver a long time. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks talked to Culliver.
Harbaugh stopped practice and lectured the team on being good teammates, especially defense vs. offense. He reminded the players they are one team. I am not allowed to quote directly anything said on the field. I gave you the gist.
Harbaugh ran a drill pretending there was one minute left in the game. Then he ran a drill pretending there were 10 seconds left with no timeouts. The Niners were at the opponents’ 40 on third down. Kaepernick completed a short pass to Anquan Boldin who ran out of bounds setting up a field goal try.
Boldin is very good.
Harbaugh ran an end-of-game drill. The 49ers were down by four points and faced third-and-7 from the opponent’s 15-yard line. Kaepernick threw a pass to Davis. Kaepernick got picked. It was his second pick of the day. Not a good day for Colin.
Afterward, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio came to the new media auditorium in the new stadium to address the press. The new place looks like an off-Broadway theater. You could smell the new. They could put on “Oedipus the King” in that room, although I doubt Fangio wants his eyes poked out.
Fangio said linebacker Tank Carradine has a lot to learn about the play book and won’t get a ton of playing time until he’s up to speed. Fangio is the most forthright guy, unusual on a Harbaugh coaching staff. Fangio seems confident in his standing, isn’t afraid to tell the truth. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman could learn from Fangio about being plainspoken.
Sunday’s practice lasted almost three hours. Harbaugh worked his team hard and worked his coaches hard and worked himself hard. He ran every team drill, shouting, encouraging, critiquing. He was in the middle of every team drill. He allowed no dead time. He is intense. He is detailed. He is a football coach.
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