TOP OF THE DAY
As the 49ers came off the field Saturday afternoon following an hour-long special teams practice that concluded the first stage of training camp, it appeared the team was close to signing seventh-year veteran safety Mark Roman, who had been given his requested release by the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. Niners coach Mike Nolan confirmed that Roman had flown into the San Francisco Bay Area to continue negotiations with the 49ers, though his agent continued to field calls from other teams and no signed deal was in place by early Saturday evening. But Nolan made it sound imminent that Roman would be joining the team to compete at safety, where he'll be given an opportunity to win a starting position. "We're serious about the talks, but there's been other people (involved)," Nolan said in the late afternoon. "It's more serious now than it was before this morning, as far as discussion." Roman, 29, started 31 of Green Bay's 32 games the past two seasons after coming to the Packers from Cincinnati, where he was an early second-round pick in the 2000 draft. Nolan likes Roman's 82 games of NFL experience during which he has recorded 332 tackles, six sacks and four interceptions. When asked to elaborate on Roman's virtues, Nolan sounded more and more like he planned to ultimately sign the safety. "He's athletic and has experience," Nolan said. "He's a guy that I believe expects to start, and that's key because that attitude will make us better, whether he takes the job from somebody or pushes someone to get better, that's the attitude we're looking for. So we'll see." Nolan also said Roman would get a look at both safety positions. "He could be either one," the coach said. "Until I know Tony (Parrish) is fully healthy, I'm leaving it all open. He'll have an opportunity to compete for that job. It's not set for us. I like some of the guys we have, but we have not arrived. We've got guys that need to get pushed and need to get better."
Many observers expected Adam Snyder to take away the starting position at right tackle from Kwame Harris this summer, but the 49ers seem to have other intentions for the second-year player's versatile skills. Snyder is rotating at both right tackle and right guard, and he has become the top candidate to be the first backup at both tackle and guard positions throughout the line if he does not unseat Harris as the starter. "Snyder is rotating in at starting guard and tackle on the right side," Nolan said. "(Starting right guard Justin) Smiley and Kwame are rotating out as (Snyder) rotates in. So, in a three-day rotation, he's the backup to one of them, and the other two days he's in for one of them. So he's out, then he's in at the other, and so on. That's how we're rotating them. He has a chance to start at either guard or tackle. He's competing for both." Snyder, who clearly was San Francisco's best healthy tackle by the end of last season, when he started the final seven games at left tackle as a rookie, has looked sturdy and polished during the initial stages of training camp. While it might seem better for both Snyder and the 49ers to keep him at tackle and focused on one position, Snyder has no problem with how he is being used. In fact, he supports it. "It's good for the team, and it's kind of something I've done my whole career," he said. "I've had to bounce around to different spots – I did it in college and did it a little bit here (last season) – so I've kind of got used to it, and I think it's almost better because you have that much more opportunity."
Nobody has been more impressive with the football in his hands during the first stage of camp than second-year running back Frank Gore, who looks like lightning in a bottle as he zips and zags across the field with every opportunity. Gore has displayed a feel for finding holes and also for weaving and exploding through them, depending on what the situation demands. He has shown quick, precise cuts and shifty moves in the open field and has had some of the prettiest cutback runs of camp so far, several of which were met with loud applause from the fans on hand at open practices each day.
PLAY OF THE DAY
During a spirited morning session, Derek Smith tipped a Trent Dilfer pass into the air during team drills, leaving it dangling in the sky toward the right flat. Jeff Ulbrich, Smith's partner at middle linebacker, pirouetted to make a play on the ball, but was only able to get his hands on it, bobbling the pigskin in the air. As Ulbrich tried to gain control, Keith Lewis sailed in from deep safety, colliding with Ulbrich and securing the football before it touched the ground, then taking his interception back the other way.
After two days in shells – helmets, light pads, jerseys and shorts – the 49ers will be anxious to let the hitting begin on Monday when the team puts on full gear and begins contact practices. Nolan will give all players the day off from practice on Sunday, though they'll be required to return to the team facility later in the day for meetings. Last year, the 49ers practiced in full gear from the get-go and went eight days of camp before a day off, but Nolan is taking a different approach this summer. "I know some people have asked why we are practicing in shells," Nolan said. "We treat this as an extra two days with three practices and four in all with the special teams practice (Saturday) afternoon. We wanted the guys to come out and be more familiar with what we did at the (spring organized team activities) a little more. It's more of an emphasis on the mental part than it was on the physical part. The other thing is that it allows them to get some of the kinks and other things out before we actually stick them in pads. That was the reason that we were in shells for the two days. After that, we'll go into our normal rotation of pads in one practice, shells the next, and so on so we can try and keep them fresh."
NEWS, VIEWS AND INTERVIEWS
--- Kicker Luis Berlanga, signed earlier this month by the Niners, still was nowhere to be seen at team headquarters and was the only player on San Francisco's 86-man roster who was not in attendance at practice. His arrival continues to be delayed while he waits for his working visa. "He has some paperwork to fill out, and he should be here," Nolan said. "Right now, we don't have a timetable on it, but hopefully he will be here."
--- Center Jeremy Newberry continues to look good and work diligently in his return from major knee surgery, but it's obvious he's not too happy about working with the second unit while Eric Heitmann remains the Niners' starting center. "I understand their approach," Newberry said when SFI asked how he's reacting to the way the team is handling his return. "I'd be lying if I said I was thrilled about it, but I understand what they're doing." When SFI asked if he was OK with that, Newberry looked up and paused before responding, "I mean, I understand it. Yeah. I mean, it's for the best of the team. If I go out here and a week or two down the road, and my leg just ain't going to make it throughout the season, then that first group is set back two weeks of training camp working together. So I'm confident if my leg holds up – or when my leg holds up – I'll fit right in (with the first team) and we wont miss a step."
--- Jason McAddley made a sweet touchdown reception in the back of the end zone on a Dilfer pass that looked like it would sail well past the back line. McAddley got behind Lewis and patiently tiptoed along the back line as he waited for Dilfer's throw to arrive, keeping both feet barely in bounds as he stretched high to reel in the ball just as Keith caught up to him. McAddley emphatically spiked the football after making the catch of the day.
--- The Niners are really mixing up their offense with plenty of one-back sets that feature two tight ends and two wide receivers. But the personnel in those groups is always changing, and the Niners figure to use several players in hybrid roles and move around players constantly. For instance, the Niners split fullback Chris Hetherington wide to the right in one formation that included tight ends Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson, a running back and another wide receiver.
--- Receiver Derrick Hamilton and rookie tight end Onye Ibekwe both missed practiced after being injured Friday. Hamilton is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury and Ibekwe – who has a rib contusion – hopefully will be back on the field Monday, Nolan said.
Camp encapsulated: July 29
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