Lively Pro Day sets tempo for Harbaugh era

Jim Harbaugh bounced around the practice field at the 49ers' Santa Clara facility Wednesday afternoon, finally back in the element for which he was hired by the organization. The team's vigorous new head coach even spiraled a few passes into the cloudy sky as his new regime worked out college prospects during the team's local Pro Day, but Harbaugh's main focus was on the youngsters around him.

And the possibility that two hours of putting those young players through a variety of drills and tests of their skills could yield the 49ers some useful information on quickly-approaching draft weekend, Harbaugh's first with the team.

When Harbaugh was asked after the workout what he got out of a day like this – his first day of actively coaching football players on the practice fields he will now call home – he was quick to emphasize the impact it could have on the roster the team hopes to bring to training camp this summer.

"Well, hopefully some players and guys that are 49ers," Harbaugh replied. "Guys that we can put a sticker on and say, ‘That's a 49er,' and be able to pull their name off on draft day or sign as a free agent."

And that's not just talkspeak from a new coach getting his feet wet amid new conditions and a new horde of media. The 49ers could actually find some roster additions from Wednesday's field of 48 prospects, which Harbaugh called "the best group on a Pro Day that we've had."

With the NFL lockout limiting the options of all teams as they begin to formulate their 2011 rosters, the 49ers looked to get more than usual out of their local Pro Day, the pre-draft event each year during which the team can invite and work out prospects who either grew up or played college ball in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The 49ers, obviously, are looking for a quarterback. Make that quarterbacks, since veteran journeyman David Carr is the only player at the position that currently is under contract with the team. While San Francisco's QB of the future is unlikely among the group that worked out before quarterback guru Harbaugh and his assistants Wednesday, the 49ers did have on hand a nice crop of developmental prospects who could always be brought in to compete at the position this summer.

Cal product Kevin Riley, San Jose State's Jordan La Secla and Mississippi's Jeremiah Masoli each had their moments among a group that included Nebraska's Zachary Lee and Stanford product Alex Loukas, who was that school's No. 2 quarterback last year behind starter Andrew Luck during Harbaugh's final season as Stanford's head coach.

With Brian Westbrook unlikely to return this year, the 49ers also are on the lookout for a change-of-pace running back. With their intended return to the West Coast offensive system, the Niners also will have an eye on WCO fullback prospects.

Stanford's Owen Marecic, one of the draft's top fullback prospects, participated Wednesday, as did halfbacks Roy Helu of Nebraska and Shane Vereen of Cal, each of whom engaged in a particularly spirited competition at the position.

"I absolutely loved it," Harbaugh said. "Both Shane and Roy, those guys are highly-thought-of running backs. They're going to go high in the draft. For them to come out here and compete, you can see the joy they had in competing, getting in the 1-on-1s, getting in the 7-on-7s, I mean that got me fired up. They're not the prima donna kind of guys that pass on those things. I was really impressed with that, and both those guys were very even in the drills they were doing. I think we really had to go to the tape to see who won. That impressed me. I got a smile on my face just to watch those two guys that are highly-thought of football players out here competing."

That smile was on Harbaugh's face often as he put the young prospects through a highly-energized session that could characterize the tempo of future 49ers practices.

"I knew with Harbaugh running it, there were going to be a lot of competitive situations," said Sione Fua, a defensive lineman who played last year at Stanford. "We're used to that kind of circuit training."

Said Vereen, "I wasn't expecting it to be like this. You can tell that (Harbaugh and his staff) have a lot of passion for the game and they enjoyed being out there. That added a lot to it."

Added Marecic, who looked particularly comfortable working out before familiar faces, "You can say that coach Harbaugh is just excited to coach somebody again. That's how he always is, very energetic, very enthusiastic about what he does. That's what makes him a great coach."

For Harbaugh, Wednesday's sneak peak at draft prospects is just the beginning. A beginning with a purpose.

"It was a joy, it really was, just being out here coaching guys, being around people, having our building with players in it – that was a good feeling," Harbaugh said. "It felt really good to be out here today. I don't know if the players had more fun than I did. I doubt it.

"It was great. I think we had 15 of the Stanford guys that wanted to come back and see their old coach, made me feel good. I smile every time I'm around those guys. They've got big dreams and big aspirations like all the youngsters that were out here today. And they're all good, too. Everybody that was out here today was good, and then you look for better and best, and see if you can identify that. That's why we were filming it and timing it, and just watching guys compete, I think was the funnest part of this day."


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