April minicamp ends: Niners are raring to go

"Good camp. Really good camp. I liked the returning starting groups on both sides of the ball. We could just hit it running," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said late Sunday morning after the Niners completed their three-day minicamp at team headquarters as a settled squad with pieces in place to take it to the next level this year and challenge for a rightful spot among the NFL elite.

"We have things in place from an organizational standpoint," Mariucci said after his team concluded camp with a brisk 90-minute practice followed by the annual endurance 'beep' test. "Front office in place, coaching staff in place, players pretty much in place competing for spots. We have many players returning from last year's team. That continuity and consistency now will play an important part of our progress."

The Niners, even at this early juncture, looked like a team that is going places. It was quite an upgrade in appearance from the uncertain team of this time last year that began minicamp with almost 60 rookies. This weekend, the Niners had 25 rookies participating.

"There's much less coaching on the field, especially when the first groups are in there, and much more reacting on the field," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "Guys are just playing football, because they already know what they're supposed to do. And I think that's how teams get better. We're able to progress past those initial steps of instruction. We're now taking it to the next level."

--- Mariucci echoed that sentiment, saying there's a big difference from where the team was at this time last year to where it is now. "We are further ahead," he said. "I mentioned it to the team in our meeting this morning. Usually in your first minicamp, after a long offseason of sitting on the couch eating nachos, you come back in a minicamp and you're a little bit rusty, and you've got to get back into it. That's been the case, that's been the norm. I didn't sense any of that in this camp. I sensed that in many ways we picked up where we left off (last season)."

--- The Niners had six undrafted free-agent receivers in camp this weekend to go along with the five veterans that played for the team at the position last year. Two of the veterans are second-year players Cedrick Wilson and Vinny Sutherland, who combined for one reception for five yards as rookies last season. None of the newcomers were particularly impressive, but that's to be expected at this stage. Wilson and Sutherland, however, both looked much more sure of themselves than last season. "They're considerably better than they were a year ago" Mariucci said. "They've grown up. They're sophomores now."

--- The Niners will consider bringing in a veteran free agent after June 1, when several established players - such as Antonio Freeman, Keenan McCardell and Derrick Alexander, among others - will be available and the Niners will be able to clear some salary cap space to pursue them. "If we can upgrade, we'll see," Mariucci said. "We could play the season the same as we did last year. If it comes to that, that would be satisfactory. If we have to play like this, we should be fine."

--- Rookie Ken Simonton, one of the top undrafted free agents competing for a roster berth, caught the eyes of coaches Sunday by being the final running back to drop out of the team's endurance test at 105 beeps. He also caught punts well during minicamp, and should get a legitimate opportunity to make the team during training camp this summer.

--- The Niners are taking their fitness and training to a new level. Coaches met with physical development coordinator Jerry Attaway for a 30-minute nutrition meeting during minicamp and the team has emphasized training, fitness and nutrition. This could be seen during breakfast and lunch with the team now catering both those meals daily for all its players. "It's all nutritious food," Mariucci said. "It's not like the big, greasy hamburgers that we love. It's all eggbeaters and salmon and salads. Pretty good, huh?"

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