First looks at the rooks

Some of the first words out of Mike Nolan's mouth at the completion of the 49ers' May minicamp were, "I was very pleased with the draft choices. I think all of them showed good promise as far as making this squad in one capacity or another. I'm very pleased with that." Here are some pleasing things to note, and some not, as we go down the list of the team's 11-player draft class and the first impressions those prospects made on the team.

Alex Smith (first round, first pick overall): While Smith didn't exactly come in and look like the second coming of Joe Montana, nobody left disappointed by the No. 1 pick. He moves well, throws well, has pinpoint accuracy on his passes and displays an abundance of natural ability. Perhaps most impressively, he wasn't overwhelmed by anything that was throw at him or the relative pressure of having to come in and show his new teammates he could hold up under the circumstances and handle the situation. He steadily picked up a complicated offense as he went along, and appeared to have a good feel for what he was doing by the end of minicamp. The team couldn't have asked for much more from Smith's first practices as a 49er.

David Baas (2, 33): While he is sound fundamentally, he also moves well for a man his size. It appears he will be a fine drive blocker, but how good won't be known until the pads come on. He looks big and mean, as advertised, and he will definitely be in the mix early for a starting position at guard. It's difficult to believe both Eric Heitmann and Justin Smiley will be able to keep this guy on the bench.

Frank Gore (3a, 65): It almost seems as though the 49ers were showcasing Gore as he got more repetitions than any other running back. His low center of gravity and churning running style will add a new dimension to San Francisco's running game, as will his cutback ability and elusiveness in the open field. His speed appears good enough to compete at the NFL level. He catches the ball well out of the backfield, which was a concern.

Adam Snyder (3b, 94): The big guard/tackle displayed some good edge blocking skills and actually got some time lining up with the first offense at right tackle. He should be able to contribute quickly once he develops his technique and adjusts to the speed of the pro game.

Ronnie Fields (5a, 137): He's big and has a good feel for the noseguard position, but he is raw and will have to adjust to the speed of the game and improve his pursuit angles as he runs down play. The real test for Fields will be how well he can serve as a plug in the middle and take on blockers, and he won't be able to truly show that until training camp.

Rasheed Marshall (5b, 174): It was about what you'd expect from a star college quarterback coming into his first NFL minicamp and being asked to run passing routes and catch kicks. Marshall is going to need some time to learn the intricacies of running patterns in the team's West Coast offense, not to mention the tricks of getting open and catching passes under high-speed conditions. He'll also need to spend a lot of time getting comfortable underneath punts before he can seriously be considered for any role returning kicks.

Derrick Johnson (6, 205): Had a fine minicamp, showing good footwork and instincts. Uses his hands well and has the size and push to be effective in bump coverage. Receivers had trouble separating from him in passing drills, and that's a good sign when nobody is wearing pads. Has a lot of energy, too, and his first impressions were very favorable.

Daven Holly (7a, 215): Like Johnson, Holly made a good first impression, displaying his blazing speed and showing good reaction on passing plays. His technique is still raw, and not as refined as Johnson's, but he displayed the athletic skills to make up for his deficiencies in coverage. His learning curve may be quicker than some expect as the team throws more at him during the coming months.

Marcus Maxwell (7b 223): He showed everybody why the 49ers drafted him after an undistinguished college career, displaying quality size and good speed, and also good leaping ability and the know-how of using his big body to shield himself away from defensive backs while he is going after the ball. He's raw, to be sure, and in many senses still needs to learn how to play the game, particularly at this level. But if he remains as confident as a he looked making plays in his first pro minicamp, and continues to develop at that rate, he could push his way into the receiving plans in a backup capacity as soon as this season.

Patrick Estes (7c, 248): Estes certainly passes the look test – he is big and has a formidable, muscular build. However, a minor knee injury kept him out for most of the three-day session and didn't allow him to make any kind of impression.

Billy Bajema (7d, 249: With Estes and holdover starter Eric Johnson both out of action, Bajema took advantage of the extra repetitions to make an impression at tight end, where he drifted into the intermediate zones to get open and catch passes, showing some good skills as a receiver. He has decent size, too, so if his blocking skills hold up when the pads come on, he could make a push at the position because of his every-down ability.


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