49ers tight end Vernon Davis smiles big for team photographer Michael Zagaris.
If any sports franchise is to have an affinity for photography, it should be the San Francisco 49ers and its fanbase. With the team’s rich history, iconic figures, innovation and winning tradition, there have been countless moments frozen in time—many of which cannot be adequately put into words.
Once upon a time in 1985, a black and white was taken of a head coach and his quarterback, talking things over during a time out versus the Chicago Bears. Not the most engaging of actions, but that photo, known as “Mentor and Master,” has really gotten around.
This year, the 49ers have a lot of big personalities and high-quality football players in Santa Clara, Calif., and each of them is working toward greatness. With that said, the ability to witness it in the act and be able to reflect on it in the future is a cant-miss opportunity.
The following is a presentation of stills from 49ers training camp.
WR Anquan Boldin (left, red) and QB Colin Kaepernick (right, red) work on their timing.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King called it "the best trade of the offseason."
The crafty 49ers front office managed to pick up Anquan Boldin’s contract from the champion Ravens for merely a sixth-round draft selection. Hindsight is 20/20 too, because had they not executed that transaction, San Francisco might be lost in the woods without WR Michael Crabtree (Achilles).
Now the onus is on 49ers star quarterback Colin Kaepernick to find his rhythm with the rest of the receiving corps, starting with Boldin. The newly acquired Pro Bowl wide receiver will be the featured No. 1 in 2013, so their ability to establish a rapport is critical.
The talent is certainly there, but you can’t force chemistry.
Five-time first-team All-Pro LB Patrick Willis is ready to handle business in 2013.
Patrick Willis is like a great white shark.
The sheer volume of him is deathly intimidating, especially when you consider how quick and rapid his movements are—movements that are based on Willis’ supernatural predator-like instincts. This is an individual that is self-motivated by the hunt itself.
In 2013, San Francisco’s recent Super Bowl berth and five-yard heartache has the All-Pro linebacker smelling blood in the water. Willis has set his sights on a Lombardi Trophy and will not stop until he has sunk his teeth into one.
Knowing how close the team is and where Willis currently is in his career—a critical stage when experience finally meets talent and the game slows down—we could witness one of the all-time seasons from the linebacker position.
Frank Gore does cone drills in Santa Clara, Calif.
Frank Gore might not have the same pop in his step as Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James, but he is as smooth in and out of his cuts as any other factor back in the National Football League.
The photo above really captures Gore’s persona as a runner.
Floating there—weightless—shoulders squared, head straight with the pigskin tucked and well protected, Gore’s style and polish are problematic for defenders. Not only is he fundamentally sound, but his body language is difficult to read. Whatever way you think he is going, he’s not.
As the 49ers prepare to replace his production in the long run, the younger, more physically talented backs can learn a thing or two from No. 21. The emphasis at the RB position in this year’s camp will be to allow Gore to be himself while helping string along the group of understudies on the roster.
Ed Donatell continues to rework the secondary, hoping to see better corner play and transition from Dashon Goldson to Eric Reid.
Secondary guru Ed Donatell is one of the league’s better positional coaches, having helped revive a bottom-dwelling unit prior to 2011. He also did so using a good percentage of the same personnel, which included Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson and Tramaine Brock.
And having worked with them prior, Donatell was the booster behind the signings of safety Darcel McBath and cornerback Perrish Cox.
Moreover, after the defender was exiled by the Washington Redskins, Donatell put former first-round pick Carlos Rogers in a position to succeed, seeing potential in him as a nickel specialist. In 2011, the eight-year pro saw career highs, including six interceptions and a Pro Bowl nod.
Donatell was also on board for the drafting of stud CB Chris Culliver, who is a top-ranked player at his position, per Pro Football Focus’ rating system. All in all, this has become a very strong unit under his direction. This season, the ‘Niners will look to take another step forward as they enter the post-Goldson era.
Donatell’s work with Eric Reid will be the story to watch.
49ers rush LB Aldon Smith stretches at 'Niners camp in Santa Clara, Calif.
Linebacker Aldon Smith really came into his own last year.
Well, that may be a bit of an understatement seeing as how he piled up 19.5 sacks in his first go-around as a starter, coming just short of the single-season record (Michael Strahan, 22.5). Just 23 years old, Smith is already one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL and is only going to get better with age.
No. 99 is one of many talented players on San Francisco's roster that has had an early taste of success and is hungry for more. This year, he will work on becoming a more complete outside backer but certainly will not neglect his roots as a havoc-wreaking presence in the opponent's backfield.
Quarterback Colt McCoy is excited for a fresh start in San Francisco.
Looking back at it, quarterback Colt McCoy did not have the slightest chance to flourish during his brief stint with the Cleveland Browns (21 starts from 2010-2012). From his injuries to the high level of competition in the AFC North—not to mention the lack of talent and adept coaching—the third-rounder from Texas seemed doomed from the start.
For the most part, McCoy was a pincushion struggling to be a game manager.
After 49ers general manager Trent Baalke rescued him from linebacker James Harrison and the pressures of starting in the NFL, McCoy now has an opportunity to go back to the drawing board. And who better to help him fine-tune his game than renowned QB guru, Jim Harbaugh?
McCoy, 26, will be working tirelessly to keep his pro career alive.
The dark visor masks the emotion on Tarell Brown’s face, but most know the 49ers’ starting cornerback is in a strange place with training camp underway. In what is a walk year for Brown, the CB was gearing up for a big season—his third as a starter—until it happened.
On July 26, Brown found out via Twitter that he lost out on $2 million of his $2.9 million salary due to workout bonuses that were not communicated to him by his agent, per Brett Logiurato of Sports Illustrated.
This is a very unfortunate situation that will certainly challenge the integrity of the San Francisco front office. How SF deals with it will be telling of their long-term plans for Brown, and both parties involved know it. Coach Jim Harbaugh has since publicly acknowledged the situation, saying, “There is a solution there. We’ll explore all those options,” via 49ers.com.
49ers GM Trent Baalke makes his way out to the practice field.
The 49ers lost safety Dashon Goldson, defensive tackles Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois and tight end Delanie Walker to $91.6 million in free-agent money. Behind the shield of general manager Trent Baalke, the team matched each loss, upgrading all four spots and spent $70 million less than the Buccaneers, Eagles, Colts and Titans collectively did, via Spotrac.
Fast forward to training camp...
A bona fide football guy, Baalke likes to spend time on the field surveying the players’ performance. He was no doubt checking up on a few key components that were recently added to the roster in lieu of the aforementioned departures. Two of the replacements, FS Eric Reid and TE Vance McDonald, will be heavily monitored in camp.
Despite the lingering rookie label, the 49ers are counting on them to get on the field right away, and Baalke will be watching.
13-year pro Justin Smith looks primed to finish his career on a high note.
This might be one of the best photos of the offseason, so far.
Among San Francisco’s most beloved players in the 2000-decade, defensive lineman Justin Smith is right up there. The 33-year-old bruiser returns for his sixth season in scarlet and gold, having signed a new short-term deal following the team’s first Super Bowl berth in nearly two decades.
The team is close to a championship and they want “The Cowboy” there with them.
The All-Pro enters camp knowing this year or next may be his final season in the NFL, which alters his perspective. This is time that will be cherished, which is clearly visible in Smith’s grin in the one-shot above.
Now that his contract woes are behind him, Smith was really able to breathe in the atmosphere in Santa Clara. During a team stretch, he looked loose, and with the California sun beaming off his face, appeared to be in a total state of bliss now that the pads are on. Not to mention, Smith being that professional, goodhearted teammate makes this moment all the better.
This photo captures one of the high moments of the NFL, in all its glory.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha catches one over the shoulder in individual drills.
There were hordes of Bay Area locals that wanted to see this photo in 2011.
Instead, ex-Raider Nnamdi Asomugha thought wings would look better on his helmet than the timeless SF logo. Fortunately, two years and a heck of a lot of scrutiny later, the 49ers had a second chance to acquire the now-outcast cornerbackand for $59 million less than his asking price the first time around.
It will be interesting to see how Asomugha fares in 2013, but sources say the former All-Pro is off to a good start.
As they head out the practice field, Eric Reid helps Carlos Rogers with his equipment.
The 49ers' first-round pick, Eric Reid of LSU, has been tailing the veteran defensive backs in training camp, quite literally.
This is not so bad, either. Early on, media, coaches and fans alike want to find the rookie popping up in pictures with the established starters. And by late August, it would be encouraging to see Reid venture out on his own.
In this shot, it looks as if he is just helping Carlos Rogers with his equipment, but he was at least close enough for No. 22 to ask him for assistance in the first place. Good start, Eric.
If the 49ers knew one thing about Jim Harbaugh when they hired him in 2011, it’s that he was a rugged, hands-on coach. Here is photo evidence of said fact. It shows the head coach getting in the mix, lining up versus 6’5”, 220-pound wide receiver Kassim Osgood.
Osgood, the special teams ace, appears to be playing the role of a gunner here, while Harbaugh provides resistance. The 49ers head coach likely felt a good bump from Osgood before giving him notes on how to use his hands at the line of scrimmage.
Not bad for a 49-year-old ex-quarterback that has not taken a pro snap since 2000.
With his stone cold gaze, it looks as if LB NaVorro Bowman has revenge on the brain.
When does NaVorro Bowman not look focused?
In training camp, the 49ers’ other All-Pro inside linebacker spent time on the elliptical, no doubt keeping his body fresh. But the blank stare on his face only makes you wonder what could be running through his mind at that moment. Being the humble, hard worker that he is, Bowman was not likely marveling over his game-sealing pass deflection in the NFC Championship Game.
He was probably reminding himself, over and over again, that 34 points is too much give up in the Super Bowl.
In his third year, CB Chris Culliver looks to build on strong 2011 & 2012 campaigns.
Cornerback Chris Culliver is San Francisco’s best featured player in the defensive backfield. In two years on the field, he has proved to be quite the asset, able to line up against dominant receivers like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, and hold his ground.
In 2013, Cully needs to channel a level of focus like never before. If he turns blinders on and makes it all about football, he can complete his breakthrough as one of the league’s more revered cornerbacks.
San Francisco's Pro Bowl tight end is a bit of a character.
49ers tight end Vernon Davis is a goofball.
Vic Fangio takes a step back this offseason to re-evaluate his defense.
Anyone who has heard defensive coordinator Vic Fangio speak this offseason may be able to tell that he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. After producing a top-ranked scoring defense for two straight years, then allowing 31, 28 and 34 points during their Super Bowl run, it is hard to blame the guy.
Heading into Foxborough to play the Patriots in Week 15—the game Justin Smith tore his triceps—the 49ers fielded the No. 1 scoring defense (14.2 points per game). Upon the injury, the decline began immediately. Tom Brady nearly engineered the comeback of the year, while the Seahawks went on to embarrass the ‘Niners on prime time the following week.
For Fangio, it has been a while since he has seen this defense perform at the level to which he is accustomed.
Players like safety Eric Reid, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, linebacker Corey Lemonier and defensive tackle Tank Carradine will have to prove their worth as newcomers. Meanwhile, there are those like Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner that need to earn back that trust.