San Francisco 49ers: 7 Biggest Takeaways from the First Week of Camp
Outside of 49er headquarters this summer, much of the 49er faithful—and even pundits around the football world—have been discussing the possibilities of a sixth Lombardi Trophy joining the other five on the shelf at the Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Center.
Inside training camp, the players and coaches have instead been working to maintain a day-to-day approach.
Or, in Jim Harbaugh's words (from the team's official website): "Can we be better today than we were yesterday, be better tomorrow than we were today?"
Now eight full-squad practices deep into training camp, this mindset is once again appearing to be a productive one.
The 49ers won't get a chance to beat up on opposing players until their Friday night exhibition opener against Minnesota, but many roster hopefuls (and a couple of locks) have been making the most of their reps on the practice field in the meantime.
Some of them are even doing so on the opposite side of the ball in which they are currently slated to play.
In the following slides, we'll recap the most significant happenings of 49ers training camp 2012 and see what we can take from it all.
Free-Agent Additions Have Been Turning Heads
Randy Moss, The Showstopper
We've heard all offseason how much of a positive influence Moss has been since arriving to Santa Clara this summer, and on Friday I highlighted how he's continued to impress since the 49ers put the pads on and things got real.
On Saturday, he followed up my praise with what Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat called "Moss' best practice yet", even stating that he looked like the best offensive player in Saturday's practice.
Randy Moss had his best practice of training camp. He beat Tarell Brown twice in one-on-one drills. The first time he turned Brown around on a double move, and the second time he beat Brown deep down the middle of the field but Alex Smith overthrew the pass. In an 11-on-11 red zone drill, Moss beat Carlos Rogers and caught a high Smith pass for a touchdown. Moss looked like the best offensive player in practice today.
It's clear that the 35-year-old is enjoying his time as a San Francisco 49er thus far, and his endless knowledge of the receiver position alone has made this squad better than it was without him.
Is there any Niner you're more anxious to see suited up in Red and Gold on Friday than No. 84?
There's a long list of players I'm excited to see make their franchise debut, but Moss is undoubtedly at, or at the very least near, the top.
Cox Makes His Presence Felt
It may not be a huge surprise to see the future Hall of Fame WR Moss is already up to speed, but if you thought 25-year-old cornerback Perrish Cox would need some time to make an impact in camp, you thought wrong.
The former Denver Bronco instantly fit in with his new set of teammates, bringing a physical brand of play from one practice to the next.
Cox has been receiving a significant amount of reps as the nickel corner in the team's nickel package, and he has consistently earned praise from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as well as the 49ers local beat writers.
From Cohn's Saturday practice recap:
Perrish Cox was a monster on the field today. He broke up a deep pass to the fastest player on the team – Ted Ginn Jr. – and then he landed the hit of the day on Dixon. Dixon was the lead blocker for Kendall Hunter on an outside run. Cox launched himself into Dixon as hard as he could and knocked the 240 pounder onto his back. The whole team roared, and Carlos Rogers yelled, “Get your weight up, A.D.!”
A 6'0", 190-pound defensive back who isn't afraid to lay into a 240-pound "power" back?
Welcome to the team, Perrish.
Manningham Making Himself At Home
Perhaps the most underrated member of the 49ers 2012 free-agent class, Mario Manningham, hasn't wasted any time learning the ins and outs of the 49ers offensive schemes.
The former Giant hasn't been hauling in the eye-popping grabs like Moss, but he's looked smooth and comfortable on the practice field, causing numerous 49er defenders to praise his skill set and hard-working mentality during interviews with the media.
The 6'6", 360-pound guard Leonard Davis hasn't shown any rust in the early stages of camp, and other free-agent additions like RB's Brandon Jacobs and Rock Cartwright have drawn a few compliments throughout camp as well.
Defense Sets the Tempo
By all accounts, the defensive units have been putting on an absolute clinic—one practice after another.
When the practices evolved into red-zone and goal-line scrimmages—beginning Friday—the tempo was clearly set and maintained by the members of what is arguably the NFL's best defense.
Friday's practice was so lopsided it led to some serious praise (and criticism) from Harbaugh, with the coach saying the offense was dominated “about every which way it could be.”
This was the second straight dominating performance from the D, and Saturday's practice wouldn't be much different.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the offensive units showed a slight amount of much-needed progress, but plenty of defensive standouts continued to steal the spotlight.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee and Mindi Bach of CSN Bay Area each noted that rookie OLB's Cam Johnson and Kourtnei Brown both had excellent practices on Saturday, along with Cox and second-year defensive lineman Ian Williams.
San Francisco faces a bevy of high-octane offensive units in the upcoming season, so it's great to see the group get off to a hot start in camp. You can bet this deep and energetic bunch will be flying around Candlestick Park come Friday.
Hopefully the current domination is a testament to the brute strength of the D and not so much an early display of ineptitude from the O.
Wide Receivers Continue to Litter the Injury Report
Michael Crabtree arrived to 4949 Centennial Blvd. July 26th both on time and healthy.
But that didn't last long.
The fourth-year receiver's first ever training camp practice in Red and Gold was cut short due to an ankle injury. Seven practices later, he still hasn't returned to action.
Crabtree has been seen working on a side field with conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama during practices, and the general consensus around camp is that he should be back in the mix relatively soon (via SF Gate).
Still, there is pressure on Crabs to put forth a productive season that meets the stiff standards of a No. 10 overall pick like he was, and the rest of the receiving corps is out there eating up first team reps in the midst of his absence.
Let's just hope he gets healthy in a hurry, and stays that way.
In other injury news, WR Joe Hastings has been sidelined with a right leg injury and third-year TE Nate Byham has missed two straight practices. Neither are locks to make the 53-man roster (though Byham's odds are better than Hasting's), and every rep is crucial for them at this point.
Rookie sixth-round pick Jason Slowey (offensive line) was seen at 49er headquarters on Saturday, but did not attend practice, and undrafted free-agent RB Jewel Hampton is currently listed on the non-football injury list and has yet to partake in any training camp practices.
Demarcus Dobbs Can Play Tight End
Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga are two members of the 49er defense who've seen game action on the offensive side of the ball under Harbaugh's lead.
The 49ers' 6'6", 275-pound defensive end Demarcus Dobbs may be the next, according to 49ers.com.
The former Georgia Bulldog made a name for himself in training camp a season ago as an undrafted free agent displaying surprisingly high amounts of athleticism and strength on the defensive line.
A former tight end in high school, Dobbs is spending his second training camp in Red and Gold working at the position in 2012.
So far, the results have been positive. The 24-year-old has a couple nice receptions to his credit thus far, including one for a touchdown.
Harbaugh is an endless promoter of versatility across the entire 53-man roster, and the potential to use Dobbs as a third tight end could prevent the front office from having to cut a talented skill player at running back or wide receiver.
That, of course, would come at Byham's expense. Byham is a solid blocking TE, but CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco highlights the training camp battle, presumably between he and Dobbs, and how the 49ers could deem him expendable if he does not separate himself from the rest of the field in camp.
Brad Seely Is Exploring All Potential Candidates for the Return Game
Ted Ginn was electric at times as a returner for the 49ers in 2011, and remains a reliable option on board for 2012 after signing a one-year deal in the offseason.
However, despite Ginn's blazing speed and steady heads (strictly referring to returns, not the passing game), he doesn't provide much, if any, value elsewhere.
Because of the unfortunate happenings in the 2012 NFC Championship game, the 49er faithful is well aware of the great importance of a sure-handed returner.
But the 49ers have a slew of potential return candidates on board, and though none provide the experience of Ginn, each alternative option is valued in a differing aspect of the game.
RB Kendall Hunter, CB Chris Culliver, WR Kyle Williams, Cox and rookies LaMichael James and A.J. Jenkins have all fielded kicks or punts with the special teams unit since camp began. This doesn't mean special team's coach Brad Seely and the staff are looking for Ginn's replacement, but it shows they're clearly interested in exploring every alternative.
Whether that be for purposes of injury insurance or to better shape the 53-man roster by deeming Ginn expendable, we'll not have an answer anytime soon.
But it will undoubtedly serve as something to monitor throughout preseason play. Many of these potential returners have experience at the collegiate ranks, and Hunter and Williams each returned kicks or punts in Ginn's absence last season.
Few will be endorsing Williams as a potential returner in 2012, but Hunter was solid when given the chance and I'm personally excited to see what the lightning-in-a-bottle James can do with his preseason reps on special teams—if given any.
Jim Harbaugh Can Close a Practice in Style
This slide has no impact on the outlook of this team, but it simply cannot go unmentioned.
Nearing the end of practice Saturday evening, Harbaugh decided to get in on the action, replacing all-pro kicker David Akers as the team's field goal unit took the field to finish off a two-minute drive drill.
Rather than booting the ball through the imaginary uprights (the field they were on had none), Harbaugh called a fake instead and took a handoff from the holder (assistant special team's coach Tracy Smith). When the sneaker-wearing coach went to make his cut up field, he slipped and face-planted into the grass.
Unfortunately, no video evidence can be found to this point. But Barrows (Sacramento Bee) noted that the players thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen.
My money says our fearless leader takes the practice field on Monday wearing cleats.
A Collective Focus
The best thing to take away from 49ers training camp so far is that every single member of the franchise is heading in the same direction.
Harbaugh and his staff have laid out a clear, detailed plan for this team to achieve its lofty expectations.
Now is the time to execute.
Hard work, attention to detail and physical, overwhelming play are becoming staples of 49er football once again.
If this talent-laden squad continues to relentlessly push one another to the limit day in and day out, the rest will undoubtedly take care of itself.
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