TOP OF THE DAY
The pads went on for the first time in 2006 on Monday, and the 49ers were using them during the only time in training camp they will wear full gear in both the morning and afternoon session. "We did a good amount of hitting on all the drills," coach Mike Nolan said after the morning practice. "It was a spirited practice. The guys continue to work very hard." Most team drills are hit and release, but there was more intense contact at individual stations across the team. "We started off with a little of what we call ‘Oklahoma drill,' which was very successful," Nolan said. "I thought the guys responded well to it. We'll continue to do some of those things with the one-on-one contact on guys because you don't get all the bodies flying around and it's a safe way for the guys to hit." At the end of practice, Nolan gave his third-team units an opportunity for full-scale contact in an impromptu scrimmage that lasted about a dozen plays. Michael Robinson carried the ball five times, but he had trouble picking his way through traffic and hitting holes. He did make a nifty move in the flat for an eight-yard gain after catching a short pass from quarterback Shaun Hill, who also had a 20-yard strike to Marcus Maxwell. The offense, however, could only get the ball down to the 20-yard line and never sniffed the end zone before the scrimmage ended. The 49ers will be in pads again Tuesday morning, making it their third practice in pads in a 24-hour period. "That's right, back to back to back," Nolan said.
After signing a one-year deal with the 49ers on Sunday, seventh-year veteran Mark Roman participated in his first practice with the team in the morning session, then gradually got more work in the afternoon session. Roman saw most of his time at free safety with the second-team defense, and he swooped in among a tangle of bodies to intercept a deep pass by Shaun Hill during team drills in the afternoon. Roman is expected to push incumbent starter Mike Adams at free safety if not win the job outright. "I think I bring a lot of experience in every situation," Roman said. "That's one of the things coach talked about. We're young in the secondary, and I have a lot of experience both winning and losing and being on good defenses and not-so-good defenses. Just the experience of knowing what it takes to be a top defense in this league is a good thing that I can bring to this secondary." Nolan said he had a 30-minute get-to-know-you conversation with Roman on Sunday, and the coach came away impressed. "I didn't know what to expect, because I didn't know the kid," Nolan said. "But I enjoyed the conversation, I really did. I came out of the conversation and thought, ‘I'm excited to see what this player is all about.' I think he's motivated. I guess you'd call it somewhat of a fresh start for Roman, but it is just a one-year contract. Now, if it was a fresh start with a five-year contract, it would be a little different maybe. But I know he has something to prove."
With the addition of Roman to the roster and the release of safety Ben Emanuel, the 49ers have 15 defensive backs in their crowded secondary – 13 with NFL experience and 12 with starting experience. The 49ers finished with 10 DBs on their final 53-man roster last season, and that is the most they figure to keep this year, with nine possibly a more likely number considering what they might do at other positions. There definitely are important roles in secondary packages available behind the four regular starters, however, as the 49ers will often use six defensive backs in third-down passing situations. Despite not acquiring an impact DB in free agency or the draft, the 49ers have added four experienced veterans and two draft picks to the mix in 2006, and Nolan expects that to significantly upgrade the competition in training camp and – most importantly – make the secondary notably better than it was last year, when the Niners ranked last in the NFL in passing defense while surrendering 4,427 yards through the air – the most allowed in franchise history. "We certainly have more experience," Nolan said. "Walt Harris gives us experience. He'll keep working and hopefully he has some gas in his tank. I think Sammy Davis is going to help us. I believe that Mark Roman is going to help us. We've added experience, guys who have played in the league, and that's important. Last year, the guys were fighting back there as best they could, but there wasn't a whole lot of experience back there with the exception of Tony (Parrish). We should – should – be better. If we're not, I'll be disappointed."
Antonio Bryant shined again in his first padded practice as a 49er, just as he did during the team's two-day training camp warm-up on Friday and Saturday. Bryant had several nice catches in both practice sessions, and he continues to put down clean, precise routes. "I pride myself on running good routes," Bryant said. "Running routes with precision will win a lot of match-ups for you." Bryant won a match-up with Walt Harris in the morning session, making Harris bite on a slant-and-go pattern and then blowing by the cornerback to reel in a long bomb from quarterback Alex Smith. Bryant and Smith then collaborated on several completed passes in the afternoon session. "Without question, I like what I see," Nolan said. "He's doing a nice job."
PLAY OF THE DAY
Alex Smith came on during the afternoon session to complete his best day of practice so far in camp. But none of his passes was prettier than his 30-yard rocket to Brandon Williams on a seam route late in the day. Williams shook loose of cornerback Bruce Thornton and sprinted upfield as safety Mark Roman roamed over from the middle. Smith split the two defenders with a bullet throw that hit Williams on the fingertips, and the rookie pulled it in without breaking stride after bobbling it momentarily.
NEWS, VIEWS AND INTERVIEWS
--- The 49ers are trying to get Larry Allen to lose some weight by keeping him out of practice. Sound like a contradiction? It isn't. The 13th-year veteran will spend his afternoon camp sessions sweating off some pounds. "He's going to condition during the second practice," Nolan said. "We're going to get him off his feet some and get him doing some bike and some other things and some cardiovascular things." Allen's playing weight is 325 and the 49ers would like him to get down to that number by the start of the season, though that might not be realistic. "Give or take a few pounds," Nolan said, "or a couple of biscuits."
--- Ronnie Fields needs work on his pass-rushing skills if he's going to contribute at defensive end rather than nose tackle.
--- It's becoming painfully obvious that Rasheed Marshall just doesn't have the hands to cut it as a NFL receiver. He dropped another long throw right in his hands Monday morning.
--- But Jason McAddley has NFL hands. By snagging everything that comes his way and making the occasional difficult grab, the fifth-year veteran is making it tough for the 49ers to go in a different direction with one of their final reserve spots at receiver.
--- Catch him if you can: Manny Lawson is just as fast in pads as he is without them, and he's embarrassing some of the team's offensive linemen in 1-on-1 drills.
--- Nolan said the Ashley Lelie-to-49ers scenario is a dead issue. "There are no (ongoing) conversations about Ashley Lelie, certainly not with Denver," said Nolan. There had been some recent rumors coming out of Denver that the Niners were looking to package a trade for Lelie. "That ticked me off a little bit," Nolan said.
--- Isaac Sopoaga blew past David Baas like he wasn't there in individuals drills, letting out an exclamatory yell as he went by. It looks like the big guy is developing some moves to go along with his brute strength. But, yes, that strength will be Sopoaga's calling card. He ran over yet another offensive lineman with straight-ahead power, this time it being Adam Snyder.
--- Sammy Davis is starting to make some plays at cornerback. He stayed stride-for-stride with speedster Bryan Gilmore on a sideline go pattern, then was rewarded with an interception on a slightly underthrown pass by Smith.
--- Smith is beginning to look much more fluid throwing on the run, which is supposed to be one of the things that sets him apart from others.
--- Parys Haralson has to learn he's not going to be able to bull rush offensive linemen at the NFL level.
--- Tight end Eric Johnson continues to shine, shaking loose from cornerback Derrick Johnson to pull in a strike from Smith and then taking it across the field all the way to the end zone.
--- By design, Nolan had planned to hold Harris, wide receiver, Arnaz Battle, quarterback Trent Dilfer, center Jeremy Newberry and defensive end Bryant Young to one practice each day. Nolan said Battle and Newberry are being held to one practice partly due to their knee injuries, but the coach said he likes to hold veteran players to one practice so he can give more reps to some younger players. While Battle, Dilfer and Newberry held to the plan, Harris and Young were on the practice field for both workouts Monday. Explained Nolan, "BY and Walt didn't like not practicing, so they will go through individual work, which is all right. The other guys will still be on an alternating basis."
--- Rookie tight end Onye Ibekwe returned to practice after missing both Saturday sessions due to a rib injury suffered on Friday. Receiver Derrick Hamilton is the only player that is out with an injury. He injured his hamstring on Friday afternoon, and his return still is uncertain. "I don't know how long Hamilton will be out," Nolan said. "He'll be a little limited as we go, but he's supposed to be back out there."
Camp encapsulated: July 31
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