Football season came early at 49ers headquarters as the team began minicamp in very football-like conditions. A chilly wind swirled in an ominous, overcast sky as almost 90 players took the field, with one name still on the roster – Ray Brown – conspicuous by his absence.
"We've got a lot of work to do before training camp, and it starts right here," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "The offseason went by quickly and everybody's real anxious to get back and get started again. The work ethic and the attitude has been fantastic and the energy in the locker room and in the meeting room has been just unbelievable."
The Niners return 20 of 22 starters from last year, with Brown and departed free-agent safety Lance Schulters the only faces missing from last year's starting group. Brown, who the team has replaced with free-agent Pro Bowler Ron Stone, will be released after June 1 to save money against the salary cap.
"It's really strange without Ray, and Lance, too," Mariucci said. "Those two players were great guys and great players for us and it was strange not to have them around here, hearing their voices and just seeing them, just having their presence around."
--- Stone, the two-time Pro Bowler who will take Brown's place in the lineup, might not actually take his position in the lineup. Stone, who played right guard for the New York Giants, practiced at right guard Friday with Dave Fiore – the Niners' starting right guard last year – seeing practice time at left guard. Stone looked awfully comfortable playing next to right tackle Scott Gragg, whom Stone played next to when both were with the Giants.
--- Quarterback Gio Carmazzi, the team's third-round draft choice in 2000, still has not been cleared to practice after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder last year. That left rookie Brandon Doman and free agent Aaron Garcia taking the early lead in competition for the team's No. 3 quarterback spot behind starter Jeff Garcia and backup Tim Rattay. "Gio has been throwing, working out, rehabbing," Mariucci said. "But he's still not 100 percent yet. He's getting closer, but doctors felt a couple more weeks will do him good."
--- With Schulters gone and Tony Parrish being held out of practice situations the next two weeks after having a testicle removed, third-year veteran Ronnie Heard practiced with the first-team defense at strong safety. There will be plenty of competition at that position this summer with Parrish and Heard being joined by returnees John Keith and Al Blades, fourth-round draft pick Kevin Curtis and undrafted free-agent prospects such as Frank Strong from USC.
--- The Niners announced the signings of six more undrafted free agents Friday, bringing to 14 the total they brought into minicamp. That group included cornerback Ryan Fernandez (5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Stanford), linebacker Zach Grady (6-3, 250, Jackson State), receivers Brian Haugabrook (6-2, 204, Florida), Scott Lipford (5-11, 174, Rowan) and Donnie O'Neal (6-2, 188, Arizona State), linebacker Brandon Moore (6-1, 242, Oklahoma) and running back Ken Simonton (5-8, 195, Oregon State).
--- It was a busy offseason for quarterback Jeff Garcia, now that he's a two-time Pro Bowler and the Niners are coming off a 12-4 playoff season. But Garcia wouldn't have it any other way. "I wouldn't want to be in a position where nobody's really demanding my time," he said. "I think it's something that I need to take advantage of now, because I'm not going to be around this league for another 10 years."
--- The Niners had these players in for tryouts Friday: receiver Casey LeBlanc, linebackers Craig Powell and Joe Correia, defensive back Beau Morgan, defensive lineman John McLaughlin and punter James Polanco.