Training camp is back, and Jim Harbaugh is in his element, to put it lightly.
Harbaugh held his first ever press conference at the podium inside the new expansive auditorium in Levi's Stadium with a renewed sense of optimism after the team fell short of its goal for the third-straight year last winter.
"It’s like it’s your own birthday, like it’s a family reunion. It’s like a rebirth," Harbaugh said. "Feel like you come out of the womb and reborn into football.
"Everybody sees their friends, their family, they haven’t seen them for a month or so, since we’ve been apart after the minicamp. It’s a happening."
Some of that excitement could stem from having his star tight who elected to report to camp on time instead of go through with his holdout. Another aspect could be the team's roster, which might be the deepest it's been since Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2011.
"I think [General Manager] Trent Baalke, all of us in the organization, have done a wonderful job assembling this roster. Very, very pleased to be a part of it,” gushed Harbaugh.
On the field, things predictably got off to a shaky start for the passing game. Colin Kaepernick threw two interceptions close to the line of scrimmage - one to rookie Jimmie Ward and another to Aldon Smith.
Those plays aside, the offense has a far different feel to it than the one that began training camp at this point last year.
The additions of a healthy Michael Crabtree, Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson push the air attack miles ahead of where the team was last year when Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore were the team's No. 2 and 3 receivers behind Anquan Boldin.
Each receiver put their stamp on the day with nice catches. Boldin did what he usually does by getting open in small spaces and making grabs in traffic.
Crabtree showed good hands on the back end of a Kaepernick fastball and pushed a slant route up field for a potentially big gainer.
And Vernon Davis found himself open on a few plays over the middle against the reserve defenses. Vance McDonald also made a nice grab along the right sideline reaching high over new strong safety Antoine Bethea.
The only players on the active roster that didn't participate in Thursday's practice were veterans Anthony Davis and Justin Smith. Both had offseason shoulder surgeries and appear on track be a full go for the season opener.
Harbaugh said Garrett Celek - who had been put on the active/PUP list - has a back injury and will undergo further testing before getting a prognosis.
Harbaugh also said rookies Bruce Ellington and Marcus Martin suffered ankle injuries during their time away from the team after minicamp last month. Ellington should return a little before Martin. Harbaugh said both players should be back in a matter of days.
Ward's diving interception was the highlight of the day for the defense. It came after Kaepernick attempted to hit a receiver in the flat and the ball was batted into the air by another newcomer Chris Cook.
Ward made an impressive debut considering he sat out the team's entire offseason program while recovering from a foot injury. He spent most of the practice working with the cornerbacks and played nickel with the second team.
Although it didn't appear to much of a transition for the first-round pick, Ward still has a steep learning curve after playing safety at Northern Illinois (although his responsibilities were far greater than simply playing center field).
At one point during individual drills, Crabtree beat Ward pretty badly on a curl route. Afterwards Ward went over and spoke to Cox about technique. Minutes later, Ward was covering the shifty Johnson, who tried to beat him with a series of moves before breaking to the inside on a slant.
Ward made a great play on the ball without interfering with Johnson and broke up the pass. He went off to the sideline and received a high-five from Cox.
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