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Time Off for Good Behavior: Has Mike Singletary Gone Soft?

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up mandatory mini-camps one day ahead of schedule on Friday, as head coach Mike Singletary decided to cancel the planned Saturday practices and release his players a day early. They will be off until they reconvene for training camp late next month.

In a media 49ers.com/media-gallery/videos/Singletarys-Press-Pass-618/f915796c-962a-4b70-af4d-44667f026977">interview , Coach Sing cited all the hard work his players and coaches had put in throughout the off-season fitness sessions, organized team activities, and mini-camp as the driving factors behind his decision to give the team a day off. He also said that he had known for some time that he would cancel the final day of practice.

Despite the fact that veterans like Manny Lawson, Nate Clements, and Shawntae Spencer had been absent until mandatory sessions began on Thursday, Coach Sing carried through with his vow, giving the complete team just two days of practice sessions to gel before wrapping for more than a month.

What does this decision really mean for the 49ers moving forward?

Like everyone else, I have been listening with heightened interest this off-season to consistent reports of strong cohesion, better-than-expected offensive and defensive development,  and encouraging indicators from players to whom the team’s fate will be undeniably tied in 2010. These reports have come from virtually every Bay Area media outlet—a group not known for painting the 49ers in a favorable light—and are corroborated by this decision from Coach Sing.

Even so, I find myself questioning the idea of rewarding a team for alleged accomplishments during off-season training before they have even practiced in pads. Can such a move really be good for a young, developing team that has not seen the post-season in seven years?

Then again...

The off-season has always been a delicate balance between working your players hard enough to be prepared for the coming year and over-working them, which can lead to fatigue and injuries. Bill Walsh was often questioned for not having a particularly arduous off-season program, and that seemed to work out.

Coach Sing has yet to lead the team astray, and this could wind up being a brilliant ploy to buoy team morale and strengthen dedication. To a man, the players expressed genuine appreciation for the gesture and the recognition of their hard work. I expect this to strengthen the resolve of the team and lead to more spirited and productive work when formal training camp begins.

As for the veterans suffering a letdown from lack of reps, I would not worry too much about that. Clements, Spencer, and Lawson had all been working on their own and staying in touch with the team throughout voluntary workouts, and in the end they only would have had one extra day of reps in a practice scenario without pads where limited productivity is possible. If Coach Sing is not bothered by it, I am not either.

In less than two months, we will get our first look at just how much the 49ers have developed. We can only hope they live up to the hype.

Keep the Faith!

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