49ers training camp: The week in review

If the first week of 49ers training camp's any indication, QB Alex Smith appears to have a better supporting cast surrounding him. Lacking a go-to receiver as a rookie in 2005, Smith seems to have developed a nice on-field rapport with WR Antonio Bryant early in their time together. The two have hooked up on several big plays during team drills, including a long touchdown in a live team scrimmage.

When asked if he looked at Bryant as a "go-to" receiver, Smith did not hesitate to answer.

"Absolutely," Smith said. "He's a guy who is going to compete for you. He'll get open and be in the right spot, and he'll work for the ball in the air. He's competitive when that ball's in the air, which is nice and reassuring as a quarterback. If I throw it up to him, at worst it's going to be incomplete because he's going to be so aggressive."

On Friday, Smith connected with Bryant on what might have been the best throw of his career with the 49ers, lofting a beautiful pass down the right sideline to receiver Bryant, who had managed a step on cornerback Shawntae Spencer.

Bryant made a lunging catch of the ball that traveled approximately 65 yards in the air. A day later, Bryant and Smith were back at it again, teaming up for a 60-yard scoring pass in a live scrimmage held in front of approximately 3,000 fans at the 49ers' practice facility in Santa Clara.

"That's my goal," Bryant said of catching a touchdown pass in nearly every practice. "If I can get at least one or two of those a day in practice, I feel pretty good because that's what it's all about."

Bryant, playing for his third team in three seasons, has been the talk of training camp. Spencer said he has never seen a more competitive wideout. Smith talks about the reassuring feeling of knowing that he can try to get the ball to Bryant in traffic and know that his receiver is going to fight for it.

Coach Mike Nolan has gotten rid of a lot of players who did not fit into what he was trying to build. He has dumped some players who were headaches, but he raised some eyebrows when he took on Bryant. The 49ers signed Bryant to a four-year, $13.9 million deal in the offseason with a $4 million signing bonus.

Bryant caught 69 passes for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns last season with the Browns. The 49ers signed Bryant shortly after trading Brandon Lloyd, the club's top pass-catcher last season, to the Redskins for two draft picks.

"How does he fit?" Nolan asked of Bryant. "It's real simple. He's competitive, a very good player. He made some mistakes. I may have issues with him, but I can handle them. I want players like Antonio. We talked a lot, and he showed maturity. Otherwise, he wouldn't be here."

Spencer said going against Bryant every day in practice has elevated his game. The two often chat after plays, sharing advice on how to get better.

"You won't find another guy who competes as hard as him," Spencer said. "Every day, day-in and day-out, you got to compete. If he does something wrong, I'll say, 'I saw you do this, that's why I did this.' And vice versa. He'll say, 'Man, don't do that, because if you do that, they'll do this.'"

Bryant is clearly the team's top wide receiver. Projected starter Arnaz Battle, who was healthy for just 2½ games last season, has experienced some nagging knee problems this camp. Currently, Bryan Gilmore, who has never caught more than 17 passes in a season in his six-year career, is the 49ers' No. 3.

The team is interested in acquiring disgruntled Broncos receiver Ashley Lelie, but the Broncos' asking prices remains too high for a player whose contract is set to expire following this season.

The 49ers have a pair of strong tight ends, in Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson, but Smith has clearly been working best with Bryant.

Bryant is working hard to gain Smith's confidence. He is getting open regularly during training camp practices and snagging everything that comes his way. He also is showing an ability to get open deep, which has allowed Smith to worth on his deep throws, which recently have been impressive to the point of jaw-dropping.

Although he came to the 49ers with some baggage, everybody - from cornerbacks to fellow offensive players to coaches - have complimented him on his work ethic and competitive nature.

"If you're the quarterback, you want to go to the guy who gets open," Nolan said. "Antonio is a pretty aggressive, physical guy. It's important he has that relationship with (Smith) on the field."

--- Smith likes the change of pace that offensive coordinator Norv Turner has offered. Turner is a hands-on coordinator who is not afraid to voice his displeasure with Smith when things go awry.

"It's nice to be yelled at again," Smith said. "He can get after you a little bit. It feels like I'm in college again. It's kind of nice. I think I respond well to that structure and that kind of teaching and coaching. It drives me and gets me going."

Turner spent Friday and Saturday in Canton, Ohio, where he deliver a three-minute speech as Troy Aikman's presenter at his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Turner served as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for three seasons, and Aikman has credited him for making him a solid professional.

--- Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, played a factor in the 49ers' live scrimmage, but he didn't even have to touch the ball.

Davis used his speed down the middle to draw safety Chad Williams' attention. Smith sold Davis as a target with a pump fake. Bryant ran past cornerback Mike Rumph down the left sideline, and Smith made the throw down the field before Williams could get over to help. The play resulted in a 60-yard touchdown to Bryant.

"There wasn't any reason for me to go blasting down the field and draw attention from the safety," Bryant said. "Vernon got the safety's attention and I coasted by Mike Rumph."

The play was set up by Davis' blazing speed. Davis had a time of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February.

"The safety's in a bind when (Davis) is running down the middle of the field and I pump at him," Smith said. "That safety is going to jump him and leave Antonio wide open like he was."

--- Defensive end Bryant Young is the rarest of players. He signed a six-year contract in March 2001, and he will actually play out the length of the deal - making exactly $37,727,360. His performance did not diminish significantly during the course of the contract. In other words, he is still earning his money.

"As you can see, the guy can still play," 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan said. "He did an excellent job in the offseason of taking care of himself. He's a huge asset from the standpoint of leading by example. Just being out there, he symbolizes what we want as a whole."

Said Young, "Anything can happen but, in my mind, I was committed to playing out the contract. But in the back of my mind, I know what can happen in this game. You see guys like Ronnie Lott and Jerry (Rice) and Joe Montana, those were some of the greatest guys to play their positions, if not the best. It can happen to anybody and I knew I wasn't immune to it. I could've been in that situation as well. That was a way of keeping me humble."

Young's contract expires at the end of the season. The 49ers have entered preliminary contract talks for the future. Young said he takes a one-year-at-a-time approach, so he is not thinking about 2007, yet. But if Young is willing to play another season, the 49ers almost certainly would want him back.

"There have been discussions from the standpoint of what he wants to do and what we'd like to do," McCloughan said. "We'd love to have him around. As long as he keeps showing he can play and help us win games, he's a huge asset."

--- The 49ers can thank Terrell Owens for something. Running back Kevan Barlow lost about 10 pounds, down to 228, in the offseason. He said he believes the weight loss will enable him to hit the hole quicker this season. Barlow shed the weight with a steady diet of chicken, fish, including sushi, and vegetables, primarily broccoli.

"I learned that from T.O.," Barlow said. "He taught me. At the beginning of my second year, he taught me about good eating habits. I picked it up from there. It was hard at first. Now, it's a lot easier."

As for his relationship with Owens, Barlow said it has not been the same since last September. After the Owens' former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, defeated the 49ers 42-3, Barlow left the field without first talking to Owens. "He took that kind of personal, so we really haven't been speaking since," Barlow said.

--- Months ago, 49ers coach Mike Nolan said he made contact with the Raiders, Chargers and Cowboys to see if any of the teams would be interested in participating in a live scrimmage with his team. "No one wanted to do anything with us," Nolan said.

Nolan said he spoke with Raiders coach Art Shell, but when somebody else on his staff made a follow-up call, he was told "there was no way the Raiders would."

Instead, the 49ers held a live intrasquad scrimmage. But Nolan said maybe in the future, he'll find a team willing to scrimmage.

--- The 49ers have a need for more depth at receiver. They would be interested in acquiring Lelie from the Broncos, but only if the Broncos' asking price drops. The 49ers are believed to have no interest in disgruntled Raiders receiver Jerry Porter. Currently, Bryant is the only 49ers receiver who has experienced success at the NFL level. Oft-injured Battle – who is practicing only once daily, if that – currently is penciled in as a starter, with Gilmore the No. 3. Jason McAddley has looked good in camp, and rookie Brandon Williams is trying to work himself into the mix.

CAMP CALENDAR: The 49ers break training camp on Aug. 22. The remaining open practices for the general public are scheduled for Wednesday (4:00 p.m.), Sunday (9:40 a.m.) and August 15 (4:00 p.m.). To obtain tickets, fans must register online at www.49ers.com. Tickets are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

--- CB Bruce Thornton, who started 11 games at left cornerback, was released. Thornton had slipped down the depth chart this summer. His best game came in his first start when he held Colts WR Marvin Harrison to two catches for 17 yards.
--- S Ben Emanuel, who started eight games at strong safety after Tony Parrish was injured last season, was waived to make room for the signing of Mark Roman.
--DL Lance Legree was signed to a one-year contract. He has started 25 of the 75 games during his career. He played four seasons with the Giants and last year with the Jets. He can play DE and NT in the 3-4 scheme.
--DL Jerry DeLoach is expected to miss up to three weeks with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee. DeLoach was signed on the eve of training camp.
--PK Luis Berlanga is the only player who has yet to report to camp. Berlanga, who's from Monterrey, Mexico, was being delayed while he waits for his working visa, team officials said.

--- TE Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick, is seeing a lot of action with the first-team offense. He has already displayed how his speed can affect the defense. He ran a deep route down the seam during the scrimmage that enabled WR Antonio Bryant to catch a 60-yard TD pass from Alex Smith. Bryant is showing progress with his blocking, too.
--- OLB Manny Lawson stepped immediately into a starting role. He is getting comfortable playing in the system and is learning the nuances of playing in open space again. Lawson is expected to put up good sack numbers as a rookie.
--- OLB Parys Haralson had a strong performance in the scrimmage. Haralson is at his best when he's rushing the passer, but he's also making progress when it comes to his coverage skills.
--- WR Brandon Williams is showing good aggressiveness as a wideout and as a punt returner. Williams is good about going and getting the ball and not letting it bounce in front of him on punts. He needs show more progress to supplant veteran Bryan Gilmore as the No. 3 receiver, though.
--- TE Delanie Walker is learning blocking technique after playing wideout in college. Walker took pride in blocking DBs, now he has to make the adjustment to taking on ILBs. TE coach Pete Hoener has been impressed with Walker, saying, "Delanie Walker probably made one of the best transformations I've ever seen because he was purely a wide receiver at a small college, and all of a sudden, he's lead-blocking on linebackers and running power blocks, and routes from inside and routes from outside. He's done an exceptional job of picking up the system and making a transformation to that position."
--- RB Michael Robinson continues to look good as he competes for a role as the third-down back. During the scrimmage he caught a pass for 7 yards and also rushed five times for about 20 yards and a touchdown.
--- S Marcus Hudson is also seeing some time at CB. He has looked good and is challenging to get on the field when the 49ers go with extra defensive backs.

--- WR Derrick Hamilton, a former third-round draft pick, is seeing his hopes of sticking with the club diminish by the day. In fact, it might already be too late. The 49ers have considered releasing Hamilton when he is cleared to return to practice from a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field for more than a week. Hamilton missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
--- DL Jerry DeLoach is expected to miss up to three weeks with a partially torn MCL.
--- WR Arnaz Battle sat out the scrimmage with some swelling in his knee. Battle was bothered by the knee for all but the first 2½ games of last season.
--- C Jeremy Newberry is experiencing some swelling in his surgically repaired knee. If this is any indication, it will be difficult for Newberry to maintain his health and earn back his starting job.
--- LB Derek Smith sat out the scrimmage because of a thigh contusion. He is not expected to miss much time.
--- TE Terry Jones experienced swelling in his foot and ankle and did not practice Friday or Saturday.

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