5 San Francisco 49ers Impressing in Training Camp
While we're still in the early stages of NFL training camp, several participants at 49er headquarters have already been drawing praise on a consistent basis.
Of course, if you asked Jim Harbaugh to make a list of players who've impressed him thus far, it'd likely include over half of the 90-man roster.
Given the extremely high level of focus and determination throughout Harbaugh's first full camp as head coach, that would actually be a justifiable claim.
But we're not looking to get carried away. Not today, at least.
In the upcoming slides, I'll highlight the five 49ers who've impressed the coaches and media the most since arriving to 4949 Centennial Blvd for the 2012 season.
Randy Moss, WR
Let's get the obvious one of the way, shall we?
It's been no secret this offseason how much a positive influence the future Hall of Fame WR has been for the 49er organization, and more specifically, his new teammates.
Since putting on the pads for the first time wearing Red and Gold, Moss has only continued to shine.
Respected Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King expects Moss to be a solid contributor in the upcoming season, especially after seeing just how impressive he looked during drills.
NFL.com's Dan Hanzus writes about it here.
It seems as if day after day you can now find a reporter in attendance who ends up raving about the highlight-reel plays Moss has been executing in camp. Well-known CSN Bay Area reporter and 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco has certainly been watching.
From Maiocco's recap of 49er practice on Thursday:
Offensive play of the day: Randy Moss got deep behind safeties C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson to haul in a deep pass from Smith during 11-on-11 drills.
From SFGate.com's Kevin Lynch after Wednesday's practice:
Meanwhile, Moss made an outstanding catch while Rogers was draped all over him on a crossing route. Rogers said after practice that Moss will push off every so slightly just before the ball arrives. “I have to get into him early,” Rogers said.
The 49ers had an off day on Tuesday.
Finally, this from Maiocco's Monday recap:
Randy Moss made two nice catches during team drills. He made a lunging catch near the sideline against cornerback Carlos Rogers, managing to get both feet inbounds before tumbling to the ground. He also went up to catch a pass from Alex Smith late in the workout.
Moss has repeatedly earned praise from Harbaugh, teammates and experts around the NFL for all-in attitude and willingness to provide guidance for the younger WR's on the roster.
In fact, defensive backs have been fighting for as many chances to cover the 35-year-old vet as they can get.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee put together an article highlighting the clinic Moss has been putting on in camp, which will undoubtedly help the D prepare for the numerous pass-heavy opponents littering the 2012 schedule.
Once again, we're yet to reach preseason play, and things can change in a hurry—especially with Moss.
But for now, he's been saying and doing all the right things, and the Moss in San Francisco experiment is panning out to be yet another brilliant football move by Trent Baalke and Co.
Alex Smith, QB
It's not often that Alex Smith enters a 49ers training camp as the undisputed starter.
Despite the fact that Alex has learned to embrace the competition, he's excelling in this role as the rest of the 49ers QBs battle it out behind him.
Per Maiocco on Thursday:
Through the first five practices of training camp, Smith has shown to be clearly better than the other three quarterbacks who are scrambling for their roles this season.
For some, the jury is still out on Alex and his future in Red and Gold. Nonetheless, he deserves to be commended for his outstanding effort throughout the entire offseason.
Even if the Niners get off to a hot start in 2012, there will still be whispers from critics who consider the eight-year vet nothing more than a serviceable "game manager".
But Alex has been working on anything and everything necessary to improve this summer, along with the rest of his teammates.
Pundits around the league have been taking notice.
NFL.com's Adam Schein wasn't afraid to hype up the QB and his teammates:
The Myth: The San Francisco 49ers can't win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith under center.
The Truth: Smith is only getting better and the Niners are one of the NFL's four best teams.
Smith will finally have coaching stability from one year to the next. And San Francisco beefed up the receiver position by adding Mario Manningham and Randy Moss and drafting Harbaugh favorite A.J. Jenkins. Truth be told, I'm one of the media types who thought the Niners picked Jenkins (No. 30 overall) too early in April's draft. (Hi, Jim!) But he's talented nonetheless. Smith is only getting better and the Niners are one of the four best teams in football, along with the Green Bay Packers, New York Giantsand New England Patriots.Nothing pains me more than listening to critics bash Smith. After years of rotating offensive coordinators and Mike Singletary's bombastic/clueless coaching, Smith finally reached his potential last year under Jim Harbaugh. The haters call him a "game manager." I saw an improved decision-maker who only tossed five picks, played spectacularly in an epic playoff win over the New Orleans Saints and was a Kyle Williams fumble away from potentially playing in the game's ultimate showcase.
Don't get me wrong, Harbaugh wouldn't hesitate to move on from Smith if the apparent progression doesn't translate to the gridiron in 2012. But the visible improvement, most noticeably in the 2012 playoffs, makes it difficult to envision Colin Kaepernick or any other QB unseating Smith in the foreseeable future.
Maicco paints the picture in a similar light in this article (also linked above), which he believes Kaepernick has now been slated as long-term insurance for Smith.
Kyle Williams, WR
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Moving from one touchy subject to the next, Williams made it his mission this year to come back stronger than ever from multiple miscues in the NFC Championship game.
To this point, the mission has been a smashing success.
I'm not ready to endorse the third-year WR as a future option in the return game (though he's been practicing in camp), but it's impossible to ignore the amount of praise that's been rushing in regarding Williams' superb efforts in training camp.
Unlike Moss and (Alex) Smith, Williams is not a lock for the 53-man roster, despite the strong showing out of the gate.
He'll have to further the solid performance to earn a spot in a much improved 49er receiving corps, but the desire and determination levels are undoubtedly where they need to be.
Williams addressed the media at camp on Wednesday, and had this to say about an increased level of intensity as camp wears on.
There's a different type of feeling when you get knocked on your ass like I did. It all went bad. When the worst possible thing happens, and that pain you're dealing with, it burns in you. It eats away at you. It's a different type of intensity that can't be described unless you go through it. Guys have gone through it in different walks of life and in different ways, and I guess that was mine.
I personally think Williams makes the squad after camp breaks, given the clear improvement after a promising 2011 campaign as a wideout.
With Moss, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham figuring to take up the top three WR positions, playing time will be sparse.
But a lot can change during the course of an NFL season, and I'm growing more and more excited to watch this situation play out.
Perrish Cox, CB
Courtesy of 49ers.com
Another player with an uphill battle to earn a roster spot is CB Perrish Cox.
To this point, the former Denver Bronco has been a bright spot in the 49er secondary, earning praise from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in the process.
Per Taylor Price of 49ers.com:
He’s done well. He’s done a good job playing the nickel position for us. Same thing (as Carlos Rogers), he’s got good instincts, he’s got good short area quickness, can feel the routes and he’s a capable corner also. It’s critical you have those guys because when teams will put four wide receivers on the field, you need two of them then. So hopefully we can develop three or four of them.
It's a good thing Cox doesn't seem to be showing any rust, despite not playing any football in 2011.
The 49ers have an elite defense and the secondary is growing into yet another strength, but San Fran is going to need all the help they can get in 2012.
Leonard Davis, OG
Believe it or not, big Leonard is the third 49er to make the list who didn't play a single down last season.
Davis is no lock to make the roster, either, but he hasn't missed a beat so far.
Harbaugh has certainly taken notice. When asked how Davis was looking, the coach had this to say, per 49ers.com:
Good. Good to real good right now. Especially in certain phases, certain areas of what we ask our linemen to do. Technique looks outstanding and fundamentals look real sharp. Doesn’t look like there’s any rust there. I think that he’s been working really hard with [offensive line coach] Tim Drevno. The two of them are meeting extensively and Leonard’s coming along real fast, getting up to speed with the system. We’re sitting next to him in the meeting this morning and said, “You haven’t even been here a week yet.” It’ll be I think a week on Wednesday. It speaks volumes for him, his ability to be able to come in and get up to speed this fast. That’s really encouraging. Coach Drevno, I think, has made it his mission, to make sure that Leonard does that.
Davis figures to be locked in a battle for the open right guard position with former swing tackle Alex Boone, who will be given every opportunity to earn the job.
But that hasn't stopped the 33-year-old veteran from offering advice to his training camp competitor.
Basically the only open competition for a starting spot on the 49ers roster, this is definitely the camp battle you'll want to keep an eye on throughout preseason play.
Davis doesn't have much gas left in the tank, presumably, but the former second overall draft pick has started 155 games in the NFL, and brings invaluable knowledge and experience to the unit.
Nice to see the ex-rival (former Arizona Cardinal) making a positive impact for the Red and Gold.
Jay Drowns/Getty Images
NaVorro Bowman, ILB
The third-year inside linebacker looks to build on a marvelous 2011 performance that earned the former Nittany Lion First-Team All-Pro honors.
So far, so good.
Here's an in-depth piece on Bowman's progress, per 49ers.com.
Chris Culliver, CB
The second-year corner hasn't made a huge splash just yet, but he's hauled in a couple nice interceptions and remains an up-and-coming defensive back who will get plenty of chances to make a name for himself in preseason play.
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DT
If the 6'5", 301-pound undrafted free agent doesn't find himself on at least the practice squad after camp breaks, it won't be for a lack of trying.
The Texas A&M product has been drawing some attention in camp, and is worth a look the rest of the way.
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