Are San Francisco 49ers' OTA No-Shows Really No Big Deal?

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IMay 19, 2010

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 5:  Rookie linebacker Manny Lawson #99 of the San Francisco 49ers practices with the team as the Niners begin their mini-camp on May 5, 2006 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Manny Lawson, Aubrayo Franklin, Kentwan Balmer, Nate Clements, and Shawntae Spencer were some of the most notable players missing from OTAs (organized team activities) but rest assured—it's nothing to panic over.

The well criticized and highly paid Clements is in the late stages of rehabbing a broken right shoulder blade, and has been working out on his own. Clements has typically been a gym rat around the practice facility, and has been one of the 49ers' more physical defensive backs.

Rumors swirled about Clements's unhappiness with the team in the wake of being benched for last year's matchup against the Colts. Clements was benched "in all alignments" as the 49ers opted for Tarell Brow, but he did play against the Colts' three-receiver sets, and he injured his shoulder in the same game.

Spencer seems to be working out in Pittsburgh, which is fine, but not fun for rabid fans suffering from the mid-May football blues. This also raises more corner back questions, like who the hell is playing corner back?

Now allow Mike Singletary to ease your worried mind. The charismatic coach stated, "Obviously as a coach, you always want to see the guys, but it's just like last year," he said.

"There were some guys that were not here last year, and I told Nate and Shawntae, 'Hey, guys, you're men. You do what you have to do. You know what we are trying to get done here, and I trust that.' Some of the guys will not be here at all for the OTAs and some of the guys will get maybe half of them.

"They have to know what we are doing here, and when we get ready for training camp they have to know that the competition is going to be there, and I trust their decision making."

Kentwan Balmer, who continues to recover from shoulder surgery, has been around, although he hasn't participated in drills. Many fans' watchful eyes are on the 2008 first-round draft pick, who has yet to produce. We know he's injured; he knows he's got plenty to prove.

Aubrayo Franklin was another no show, and although some say it's customary for a franchise-tagged player who has yet to sign his tender (in Franklin's case, about a $7 million deal) to skip voluntary workouts, it's a custom we could live without.

One can, however, understand the desire not to get hurt in a monotonous exercise during another contract year,

The MIA that concerns me, however, has been Manny Lawson. Initially reported by Comcast SportsNet, Lawson plans to skip all voluntary practices unless he receives a long-term deal from the 49ers. Lawson is set to earn $625,000 in base salary in a contract year.

Now I know they're voluntary workouts—which by definition means you don't have to go—but people notice. Players notice. Coaches notice. GMs notice. And of course, fans and writers notice.

Singletary remains confident that Lawson will be around for mandatory workouts, saying, "Manny is a guy that I'm not concerned about in terms of what kind of shape he's in. He's a very bright guy. He knows the defense, so when he gets here, when he has to be here—same with Aubrayo. When he has to be here, he'll be here and be ready to go."

Maybe so, but in a contract year he'll want as much playing time as he can find and might need to fight for it with as much linebacking talent as the defense is showing.

So what's the point here?

Take Vernon Davis. He's in a contract year as well. Davis, however, is happily attending OTAs.

"I'm here because this is what I do," Davis said. "I like to work."

And work he does.

Davis's attitude isn't just good; it's ideal. His confidence and patience sends a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later type of message. He just wants to play, win, and be the best; and he's on the right track.

I've viewed Lawson as the future of the 49ers pass rush for some time now. I see his 6'5" 240 lb frame as a great tool to reach into the pocket and slap the ball out. He's landed vicious hits on opposing quarterbacks; his athleticism is plain to see.

Only, the other thing that was plain to see was that Manny was often just a split second late to the passer last year. Not late enough to draw a flag, but he wasn't in time to make the sack.

I like Manny (heck, he's from Omaha, Nebraska, for goodness sakes) but he needs to up his game. He wants a long-term deal with the 49ers, which is like saying "I want to be a 49er for a while."

The way to prove this is to hold down the roster spot, make big plays, and generally just keep getting better.

And the way to do that—is to show up to practice.