San Francisco 49ers: Lessons of the Heart From an Action-Packed Week

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IAugust 17, 2010

Best of luck to young Glen Coffee
Best of luck to young Glen CoffeeJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It became instantly obvious that 49ers head coach Mike Singletary's training camp was no joking matter. There were far more pressing issues for players besides hazing haircuts and carrying pads.

No. Rookies and veterans would find themselves fighting—for their health, and roster positions—within hours of the camp's beginning. As soon as the pads came on, the hitting began. Full contact could wait no longer.

The top two rookies quickly impressed coaches to a point where they would be plugged right into the starting lineup. Starting center Eric Heitmann proceeded to break a leg, which placed wandering guard Davis Bass (who had recently suffered a concussion) smack in the middle of the line.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was soon out with a lacerated kidney as well.

Contact continued, the injuries mounted, and several young players were cut. Among them: fan-favorite under-sized kick returner LeRoy Vann.

Linebacker Scott McKillop demolished his knee, landing him on the Injured Reserve list for the rest of the season; Martail Burnett sprained his knee and was waived soon after.

Then came Glen Coffee's heart condition, and I mean his heart wasn't in the game. Coffee shocked The Faithful by announcing his retirement from the NFL after one year. The move was especially puzzling considering the running back had spent most of the off-season in the area, avoided distractions and packed on roughly 20 pounds of muscle.




Nevertheless, Coffee hit the road, all the best of luck to the young man, whichever direction life takes him.

San Francisco then proceeded to show why they didn't try to persuade Coffee to reconsider by having their second and third strings flatten those of the Indianapolis Colts. Sure they have more Manning, but we've got more hitters.

It was an impressive showing by the 49ers backups, in which rookie Anthony Dixon rushed for 100 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown,  caught another three passes for 22 yards as well. Moreover, he looked real good doing it. The big back did not shy away from contact, did not look like a dear in headlights, and did let a tiny bit of second-string success balloon his ego.

And of course there was the Kentwan Balmer saga. The first-round pick a couple years back produced jack squat over his brief stay in San Francisco, yet seemed to believe he was entitled to more playing time somehow.

Balmer also attracted some unwanted attention from NFL and NCAA authorities when he flew a couple UNC players out to watch the 49ers practice.  Sure, sometimes these rules are ticky-tack and really nit-picky, but they are the rules. Several years ago San Francisco was penalized in the draft for tampering, and this cannot happen again.


So, Balmer can now cry for playing time to Pete Carrol up in Seattle—he was shipped off for a sixth round, but most would have settled for a sack of footballs and a season's worth of Scott's Turf Builder.



The roster was at least bolstered by the addition of defensive tackle Will Tukuafu in preparation for Balmer's departure.

The most significant current event for SF, however, has been the acquisition of Brian Westbrook in Coffee's wake.

In Westbrook, the 49ers find an outside runner with hands of gold and (at times) moves that could juke a spider out of its web. I once described a short touchdown by him to my brother as "Poetry at the goal line" because of how he twisted and contorted his entire frame to place the ball in the endzone.

Westbrook brings a veteran presence with him that should also benefit Dixon, and possibly inspire Frank Gore as well.

So what exactly happened over the last week or so? Not much, but a lot. In some ways, call it addition by subtraction. Every week, it seems like the percentage of players whose hearts are definitely in it goes up, and the likelihood of Singletary going with 10 men—because one's heart isn't in it—has bottomed out.