As we know, the pads have come on. The hits have begun. The 2010 San Francisco 49ers' training camp is underway.
Singletary's old coach Mike Ditka was a man of competitive ethic. In the Super Bowl XX episode of America's Game, Singletary reflects on Ditka's attitude at the beginning of a season. He said, "Men, we're gonna separate the men from the boys. We're gonna find out who really wants to play this game, and who does not. I've already looked at the film. All of you are not gonna be here. I wish I could say 'welcome everyone.'"
Naturally, we see some of this in Coach Sing. Weeding out the weak and sifting out the nuggets has been what the head coach has implied for some time now. Proverbs 21:17 has been a running theme around the practice facility under Singletary. "As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another."
Only the strong survive.
And it just wouldn't be the special new brand of 49ers football if Singletary was not so undeniably a man of his word. Helmets crack, pads crunch, the game begins.
And just as we start to get excited about all of it, the reality gets a little too real.
Center Eric Heitmann already has a broken leg. Ahmad Brooks is out with a lacerated kidney. Scott McKillop is almost certainly out for the season with a torn ACL and patellar tendon. David Baas and Travis LaBoy have already suffered concussions. Joe Staley suffered a neck sprain. Josh Morgan took a neck stinger. Martail Burnett sprained a knee.
If there's a silver lining here, let's polish it up so everyone can see it shine.
First, let's remind ourselves that this is American Football—the NFL—a sport involving more preparation than any other. A week is spent preparing for a game, an off-season is spent preparing for the pre-season, and the pre-season is all about preparing for the season. The way to prepare for such a physical game is with physical practice; obviously, these are such practices.
Next, it could be worse.
It's possible Heitmann could return by the Week 2 Monday Night game against the Saints. There will be plenty of meantime, in which the understudies can put on a competition of their own to get some snaps in the middle of the line. Davis Baas (already returning from that concussion) will be clashing with Tony Wragge throughout the exhibition season in a battle to determine their positions on the depth chart, and establish some job security.
Offensive line is a deeper strength for San Francisco this year, and they'll be better for the bumps and bruises they get early in camp.
Linebacker is another position where the 49ers are unusually deep as well. Whoever steps up will see playing time for sure. In spite of the early misfortune they've felt this year, they will have an elite group backing the line. As long as Patrick Willis remains active, this is all but guaranteed.
At least the big figures aren't getting the dents and dings yet—Beanie Wells is ailing in Arizona, for instance. Key players are in pretty good shape, all things considering.
The casualties began in another sense as well, with undrafted free-agent fan-favorite kick returner LeRoy Vann getting his walking papers. Many members of the Faithful had desires to see Vann take a couple kickoffs, and hoped he would at least make it to the first exhibition game. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
Singletary's paraphrase of Ditka echoes, "I wish I could say welcome, everyone." It's important that I allow the rehashing be felt closer to it's entirety, however, so the point may be construed entirely. "He said I want you to know this: we're gonna work, we're gonna run, we're gonna fight, and when it's all said and done, if you walk with me, if you believe in me, in three years—we'll go to the dance."
So if the sky's darken and clouds gather, don't run for cover when an umbrella will suffice. These growing pains are just a part of life—in the NFL.