The 2010 49ers Training Camp ends today and here are some observations on what was accomplished during the past two weeks.
Moving our two number one draft picks into the starting lineup was a fervent wish and it was granted. Both Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis played as well as one could hope to expect, and now have the next four weeks to improve to the point that they are solid when the season begins. Iupati is getting a tremendous crash course into NFL life by having to play against Justin Smith day after relentless day. If he can hold his own against Smith, he can hang with anybody in the league. A. Davis is already better than Adam Snyder and seems to improve with each passing day.
The rookies were expected to be the big question mark on the O-line when the season started, but when Eric Heitmann broke his leg, that upside down handicap marker was transferred to David Baas’ ability to hold down the center spot for the first two to four weeks until Heitmann returns. Baas said the most difficult task would involve the techniques, not the mentality, and summarily drove that point home by throwing grounders and air balls back toward the QB in his early hiking efforts. He has four weeks to refine these errant heaves, which does not seem like a severely daunting task.
Another significant goal of the camp was to see Smith develop some chemistry with his receivers, so we don’t see so many plays like last year where the ball goes one way and the receiver goes another, or the ball stays in Smith’s hands as he heads toward the sidelines. Beyond that fairly obvious need lay the fine aspect of Smith getting a sure feel for each receiver’s quirks and speed, enabling him to throw the ball earlier and lead the receivers more accurately. His chemistry with Vernon Davis is becoming insanely good, but reports out of camp indicate that Smith has also synced up with Ted Ginn’s downfield speed. We did not hear much about Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan, but whenever someone asked about them, the response was they were looking good. This group is ready to roll and should keep improving as the year unfolds. Whether they become a dynamic passing attack or not seems more in the mind of Jimmy Raye and the stoutness of the O-line than anything else. This is the best set of receivers the 49ers have had since Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens were both on the field in the year 2000.
Among the other receivers battling for the 4th and 5th roster spots, 6th round pick Kyle Williams and Dominique Zeigler seem to have a surprising lead. This might not be so if it weren’t for Brandon Jones again coming up lame and sitting out with a hamstring strain. Jason Hill has also remained his inconsistent self, always nursing some kind of nick or bruise. The exhibition games might change this picture, but this site hopes not. Williams is a dynamic speed guy, like Ginn, and both will upgrade the punt and kick return game that was such an off season priority. Zeigler just has to make the squad. End of the BS with Jones and Hill. Zeigler would be a tremendous 3rd down option and red zone terror. His height, jumping ability, and catching prowess border on surreal. A QB’s dream. If they throw it anywhere near him, he will catch it.
On the defensive side of the field, not much change was expected and not much did, other than Ricky Francois nailing down the backup NT job and Kentwan Balmer nailing down a ticket to Palookasville. This group remains pretty much intact from last year and has moved into that level of continuity Justin Smith described as non-verbal communication between teammates. The old wink-wink, hand wiggle deal. NaVorro Bowman has looked very good, which is quite fortunate given the season ending injury to Scott McKillop. Second round pick Taylor Mays has not shown much yet, which is not that surprising given his lack of fundamentals coming out of USC. We have yet to see him on special teams, which might occur during the exhibition games. Regardless, Reggie Smith has taken over Mark Roman’s old spot as first safety off the bench and he has performed well so far. One could say he’s an improvement over Roman, but that would be like saying sunshine is brighter than darkness.
The blogosphere chatter about ditching Nate Clements has disappeared and he has had a good camp. The coaches have moved him into the nickel back role with Tarell Brown playing the corner during passing downs. This is an intriguing switch that seems like a good idea, given Nate’s physical nature at the LOS and Brown’s superior speed on the outside. We shall see. Shawntae Spencer continued to play well, and both Karl Paymah and Will James seem like solid reserve CBs.
The team has a lot of players nursing various minor injuries at the moment, but opening game is four weeks off, which is plenty of time to heal. Saturday morning, the team travels to Indy and we outsiders will finally get to watch the team play on Sunday and start making our own judgments about the news that has twittered its way out of camp via the beat guys.
Halleluja, baby. Come Monday, we’ll be talking about what we saw, not what we heard.