Looking back at the first week that was
Best new development: The sustained energy, intensity and focus of practices. It's quite a change from last year's training camp, which set the tone for the forgettable 2004 season. The 49ers have a tempo from the moment they start drills in the morning to the moment they end them in the afternoon. Worst trend: Jonas Jennings finger surgery and Patrick Estes' broken hand are minor setbacks, but when you combine them with the health status of Jeremy Newberry and David Baas, the injuries along a beleaguered offensive line already are beginning to add up, and the 49ers haven't even hit anybody besides themselves yet. Standout offensive player: Brandon Lloyd is not the same player he was last year. He still makes the acrobatic receptions that wow observers, but there is an increased commitment and heightened awareness about the rest of his game. He's finding new ways to get open and has become a more physical presence and consistent performer. He's also working harder and keeping his nose to the grindstone, while also catching everything that comes his way. Standout rookie: They've all looked good, and coach Mike Nolan already has said that all 11 draft choices have a legitimate chance to make the team. With apologies to Frank Gore on offense and Daven Holly on defense, the most impressive rookie has been top pick Alex Smith, who is coming along just fine at the game's most important position. The 49ers expect no less from their first-round pick, but that's not exactly what they've gotten out of their top draftees in recent years. Biggest surprise: The play of rookie receivers Marcus Maxwell and Fred Amey. Both have exhibited the size and physical tools to succeed in the NFL and have been forcing coaches to take notice. Each has looked not only good enough to make the team, but also good enough to contribute once on it, making observers wonder why Maxwell failed to produce in college and Amey slipped through the cracks as an undrafted free agent. Biggest disappointment: The 49ers were hoping for a quick training camp start from Rashaun Woods. Instead, the failure of the 2004 first-round pick to distinguish himself in the opening days of camp became irksome, and then the groin injury that kept him out of almost a week of practices had observers wondering if he'll be on the chopping block before long. With youngsters such as Maxwell, Amey and P.J. Fleck showing there stuff, Woods' roster spot is in jeopardy unless he gets it together quickly. Standout defensive player: Bryant Young, the longest-tenured 49er, says he just wants to lead by example. And he's certainly doing that in the defensive trenches, continuing his latter-career surge that began last year and showing flashes of even the finest moments from his early days as a 49er. Linebackers Julian Peterson and Jamie Winborn also must be mentioned here for their athletic playmaking, but nobody's doing it on a daily basis quite like Young. Worst injury Fortunately, the 49ers haven't really had one so far in camp. They've had the usual tweaks and dings, but so far nothing that should hamper any player for a significant period, which is a contrast from last summer. Best patience: Tim Rattay hasn't moped one bit about Alex Smith getting the leading role in this production, and the Rat just quietly goes about his work without complaining or causing unrest. Smith will probably have to fall on his face in the preseason for Rattay to retain the starting quarterback role, but Rattay has shown everybody he's a team player who's in it for the long haul and is willing to work and wait for an opportunity that may or may not come. Best camp battle: The fight for playing time at noseguard has been even better than expected, with Anthony Adams, Isaac Sopoaga and rookie Ronnie Fields all showing they are up for the competition, and the latter two displaying they aren't just all raw potential to go along with their imposing size. Worst new development: The failure of anybody to take charge of kick returning duties, with the Niners throwing a lot of unproven faces in the mix to see what pans out. The team doesn't want Arnaz Battle returning punts this year, but so far, he looks like the only player they can truly trust in that role. Best transition: Eric Heitmann thought he was going to be learning the right guard position this year after spending his first three NFL seasons as San Francisco's starting left guard. Instead, he's doing just fine at center in place of Jeremy Newberry, and adding a bit of stability to a unit that's certainly in need of it. Worst transition: He's coming along, and showing plenty of athletic potential, but - like receivers coach Jerry Sullivan has said - there's probably times that Rasheed Marshall still wishes he was playing quarterback, the position he starred at in college. Marshall has some NFL skills, to be sure, but he's still dropping too many passes and looking too uncertain underneath too many descending punts to be considered for contributing roles come September. Best tandem: We very much like the way Tony Parrish and Mike Rumph are working together and developing a rapport in the middle of the San Francisco secondary. The responsibilities for safeties are different in a 3-4 defense, and Parrish and Rumph appear to have the makings of a terrific team as the last line of the San Francisco defense. Best comeback: Julian Peterson, it's good to have you back where you belong and playing like you never left.
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