New beginnings

When you're coming off a 2-14 season, you don't exactly ease into training camp the next year. And there the 49ers were Saturday afternoon, during the first summer practice of the Mike Nolan era, wearing full pads and not hesitating to use them. The feisty first day set a tone of energy and aggression, and here's a collection of other observations, speculations and viewpoints from the new beginnings of the team's camp opener.

--- The difference in this camp could be seen – and heard – right away. The pads were popping, perhaps even a little too much to Nolan's liking. There were some crunching hits in team drills and several players were left sprawling on the ground, not the kind of thing you expect to see on the first day of camp in drills that ostensibly were of the hit-and-release variety.

--- "We still have to learn to practice with one another," Nolan said. "Obviously, we're not doing a lot of live drills, as far as going to the ground and tackling. But there were a few too many bodies on the ground at different times. That's to be expected. But it's important that we learn how to practice with one another, because part of the thing I take pride in is taking care of these guys. We kind of want to do a better job of that."

--- One day into camp, predictably, the 3-4 defense is ahead of the new-version West Coast offense.

--- The first thing you notice about Alex Smith is how big and strong he looks in pads. It didn't hurt to see him hurling radar spirals deep downfield into the waiting fingertips of his receivers, either.

--- If Adam Snyder has to play guard for a while, so be it. The rookie stepped in for David Baas with the first team offense Saturday without a glitch.

--- But here's what the 49ers have going on behind Snyder: Scott Peters and Tony Wragge, among other unheralded names, and that's a little scary.

--- Regardless of how the competition plays out for the starting role, Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore are going to be a fine complement to each other at tailback.

--- But here's how that competition started out Saturday: Barlow heading to the locker room early with what Nolan called "heat frustration," and Gore weaving swiftly, smoothly and smartly through even the tiniest holes as the fans lining the main field roared every time he broke away.

--- When Gore's not slipping through holes, he's bursting through them.

--- Steve Bush might not be able to unseat Pro Bowler Fred Beasley at fullback, but he could see a lot of time on the field as a multi-use H-back.

--- Beasley versus linebacker Derek Smith during individual blitz drills: Now, that was contact! These two guys went at it like two battering rams slamming into each other to a virtual standoff.

--- Brandon Lloyd has worked on his technique of slipping away from cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage – a weakness for the starting split end last year – and the results already are showing.

--- Rayshun Reed clearly is in the mix at cornerback, where he's going to have a chance to carve a niche for himself in secondary coverage packages.

--- No need to worry about the Julian Peterson comeback. In his first unrestricted practice since tearing his left Achilles tendon last October, the two-time Pro Bowler was cagey and quick and looking every bit at home at his old left outside linebacker position in the team's new 3-4 scheme that appears to accentuate his skills perfectly.

--- Andre Carter's adjustment period from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker is continuing in pads. But it looks like he'll be a tough blocking assignment for running backs when he comes flying in from the edge.

--- Ken Dorsey made a lot of progress this spring, but he still tends to uncork the occasional wobbler when he attempts to throw long. That's not going to go over so well this year with the heightened competition at quarterback and the team intent on moving along at the position.

--- The same old B.Y.: Bryant Young is picking up where he left off last year as he continues to turn back the clock to the heyday of his NFL youth.

--- The 49ers released offensive tackle Khiawatha Downey before Saturday's practice, making him the first casualty of training camp. He wasn't going to get much of an opportunity to help this team, anyway.

--- You won't find burly Chris Cooper making any complaints about the team's switch to the 3-4. Playing end in that scheme is suiting him well.

--- Linebacker Richard Seigler is ready to make some noise after a quiet rookie season.

--- The enigma of Rashaun Woods continues. One minute he's looking slick and shifty with some nice open-field moves to elude cornerbacks. The next minute he's dropping long spirals placed right on his hands.

--- Andrew Williams doesn't seem to be able to get to the quarterback any better as an outside linebacker than he did as a defensive end.

--- Marcus Maxwell has some size. And some speed. And he knows how to use both to go up in the air and get the football.

--- Johnnie Morton is a bit slight of build below the torso, but he has a way of slipping into cracks of a defense on passing downs.

--- Hopefully, this is not an omen: Arnaz Battle and Rasheed Marshall both fumbled away their first opportunities of training camp to field punts. And then, Marshall did it again.

--- Willie Middlebrooks might want to show a little bit more urgency with his new team because, despite what the 49ers relinquished to get him, he doesn't have a job secured in the secondary.

--- For that matter, not many players do on this team. But that will start changing as the 49ers keep moving forward with each summer practice.

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