With organized team activities in the books for 2010, there will be a lull in the action until training camp opens in mid July.
Beware, however; when the pads are put on, the roster begins shrinking—and the level of competition jumps up a few notches.
The dreaded nutcracker, among many contact drills, looms large in the mind of many 49ers.
Coach Mike Singletary dismissed players early, canceling the final day of OTAs on Saturday. This does not mean Singletary is getting soft, however.
Nutcracker drills (as I remember them) start with two players lying on their backs in a confined space. One has the ball. At the whistle the players jump up. The player with the ball tries to run the other over; the player without the ball tries to tackle the player with it.
It's a simple but effective drill—encouraging strong physicality, leverage, and technique. It also sets the tone for players not to shy away from contact through the demanding camp.
There's a fine balance in training camp. As the virtue of courage lies between cowardice and foolishness, we find NFL readiness between being unprepared and injured.
As Patrick Goulding puts it in "Time Off for Good Behavior: Has Mike Singletary Gone Soft?," "The offseason 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."
Players such as linebacker Patrick Willis, guard David Baas, cornerback Tarell Brown, and running back Michael Robinson all missed practice time after getting banged up in the nutcracker last year.
This year, the 49ers coaching staff aims to take a slightly less vigorous approach. This year they've refined the dreaded drill some. Although this is vague, it could be beneficial if players can get the education without the bruises.
“Instead of just one guy getting on one side and the other guy getting on the other side and just knocking the crap out of each other, we’re trying to get more out of it,’’ Singletary said. “It definitely will be in our camp. It’s just a matter of changing it up just a bit to get the most out of it.”
Ninjames of ninersnation.com recently remarked, "it's important to take them slow to begin with, make sure they don't get hurt just from all the time off." Whether this is what's going to happen remains to be seen, however.
There are plenty of hard drills from which players can get dinged up, but playing through pain is part of football. This isn't a shiatsu class.
In the meantime, we can go ahead and keep faith that Mike Singletary knows what he's doing. After all, players get a little rest and relaxation time over the next month or so. They had, however, better soak it in before the pads come on, before the whistles starts blowing, and the roster starts shrinking.
There's a nice summer break to be had now. Time to charge the batteries—in this calm before the storm.