News and views from 49ers training camp

On creeping injuries, first-round failures, a draft class that's a keeper, five running backs on the final roster, the latest greatest from Antonio Bryant, the NFL inquiring on available offensive talent, getting anxious about Arnaz Battle and a Sunday visit to the Black Hole.

News: Shawntae Spencer pulls up in practice with a hamstring injury Wednesday and is out for at least one week.
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This is the last thing the 49ers need - a significant injury to their best player at their weakest position. But if it had to happen, it's better now than later. Spencer is clearly the 49ers' best cover corner, and perhaps the best player in their secondary now based on the consistency, sureness and play-making ability he has displayed this summer. Spencer had a MRI exam on Wednesday and his status will be updated later, but the team won't rush him back. It's too bad for Spencer, because he was having one of the best training camps of any 49er, and he'd like to carry that kind of momentum into the season. He should have enough time to get right again before the season starts, but don't expect to see him playing Sunday against the Raiders or Aug. 26 against the Cowboys. It didn't look good when Spencer went down, so take the over on coach Mike Nolan's early estimate that Spencer will be out about a week, pending his MRI results.

News: Another first-round 49er bites the dust.
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Mike Rumph's departure appeared imminent this spring and then reached could-happen-at-any-moment status when he played horribly in San Francisco's preseason opener last week. So it's no surprise that Rumph is gone before August was half over, but it's another sad statement on the 49ers' failure to hit consistently on their first-round picks over the past decade. Rumph makes five first-rounders from this decade to leave the team this year alone, and from the 10-year span of 1995-2004, only one of the 10 first-rounders selected remains with the team. And that's 2003 top pick Kwame Harris, on whom the jury still is out, though Harris finally appears to be coming into his own with consistent performance this summer. "You've got to do well in the draft," Nolan said. "You should have players that are good players. That's what you get when you draft that first day. Those players should be on your squad for a long time." No kidding. And that's a big reason the 49ers still are digging themselves out of that hole the franchise fell into a few years back.

News: The 2006 draft class is looking good this summer.
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It's beginning to appear that the entire nine-player class will make the team. With sixth-rounder Marcus Hudson locking down a spot in the secondary now that Rumph is gone, it appears seventh-rounder Vickiel Vaughn is the only draft pick who might not make it past final cutdown day Sept. 2, and that will be only because of a numbers crunch in the secondary, because Vaughn has not looked bad at all for a seventh-round safety. He'll go to the practice squad, for sure, if he doesn't make the team. Sixth-rounder Melvin Oliver will have to beat out a veteran such as Scott Scharff to ensure his roster spot at defensive end, but it looks like that's what is happening so far.

News: The 49ers might keep five running backs on their final roster.
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The Niners currently have five running backs on their roster. When asked how there could be any way the team could keep all of them this year, because of cutbacks that would mean to other areas of the roster, Nolan replied, "They could. I feel very good about our running back situation. We have some depth and strength. I really don't want to send anybody out of here. It's nice to feel comfortable at a position for a little while." With fourth-round pick Michael Robinson giving the 49ers what they expected from him, the 49ers could be dangling one of their other attractive backs as trade bait - that would be Kevan Barlow or Maurice Hicks, because Frank Gore's not going anywhere - but Nolan says none of that is happening, though the New York Jets, and perhaps others, have inquired about Barlow. The fifth RB in the equation is veteran Terry Jackson, and the Niners want to keep him around because of his instrumental contribution on special teams, not to mention he has proven throughout his career that he can be used in a pinch in the backfield. So how do the 49ers keep all five if nobody leaves via trade? Easy. They keep just one fullback. That's not a far-fetched scenario since the team plans on using so many one-back sets, and the new offensive scheme relies on tight ends as "F-backs" who perform much of the same blocking duties as a fullback.

News: Antonio Bryant is going to be a star.
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If you think this guy is resting on his laurels from the spectacular summer he has had so far, then you are very, very wrong. Bryant just goes hard from the first snap of practice to the last, and the guy is just unstoppable in the face of the defensive competition he gets from his teammates. Bryant was at it again with a tremendous touchdown catch Wednesday morning, this one different than his usual burn-the-DB-and-go-get-the-ball variety. Bryant was well covered by two defenders in the corner of the end zone, but quarterback Alex Smith rifled a pass to the corner anyway, a hot throw that appeared to be going over Bryant's head. But Antonio The Great - we're getting ahead of ourselves here, but this guy needs a monicker - reached up and appeared to be just batting the ball away from cornerback Sammy Davis, who was in position to make a play on the ball. Instead, Bryant vaulted skyward and fought for the ball, batted it to himself with one hand, and was able to come down with the catch with his feet inside the line when Davis couldn't make a play on the deflection. Bryant spiked the ball emphatically, and that play deserved it. He has had prettier catches this summer, but none that looked as improbable as that one.

News: Parys Haralson gets an injury scare.
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The words "plantar fascia" aren't taken lightly around 49erland, and there was some concern that Haralson - the fifth-round draft pick who has been a terror in camp with his speed, instincts and aggressive play - might have torn his in practice Tuesday. But a MRI exam did not show that kind of extensive damage. Nolan said Haralson has a strain and will miss "more than a week," and there is some speculation that his injury might be worse than the Niners are letting on. Rumph missed 13 games and tight end Eric Johnson missed the entire season last year with complete tears of their plantar fascia. If Haralson has a partial tear, he could be out a month, but could make it back early in the season. To be sure, he was earning himself some playing time in the team's defensive packages.

News: Other NFL teams inquiring about what 49ers might be available in trade.
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It's understandable that the Jets would inquire about Barlow, because they need a running back and the 49ers have lots of them. But, according to Nolan, the 49ers have been contacted by other teams this summer about the availability of players at every offensive position except wide receiver. Wasn't it just last year that everybody was saying the 49ers had the worst talent in the NFL on offense? Things are a big different now, as that kind of interest suggests.

News: Niners getting close to getting anxious about Arnaz Battle's shaky right knee.
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Battle practiced Wednesday, but he was held out of any drills involving contact, and practically every day there's a reason that he needs to be either coddled or limited in practice because of chronic pain in his knee. Battle's knee feels good one day, flares up the next, but can't be helped by any surgical procedure, and it's beginning to look questionable whether the 49ers can depend on him on a regular basis. Battle's a gamer and can contribute when healthy, but the 49ers will keep an eye out for available veteran receivers at least until the trade deadline in October, even after adding veteran Taylor Jacobs earlier this week. Because, let's face it, San Francisco's quality at receiver falls off steeply after Bryant.

News: Niners getting ready to visit the Black Hole.
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The 49ers will start making preparations on Thursday for Sunday's second preseason game against the Raiders in Oakland. It will basically save them a road trip in the preseason, since they only have to bus across the San Francisco Bay Bridge to get there, but that's never a fun place to visit for a meaningless exhibition. Of course, the game does have its sideshow attractions. "They dress up for the affair, so it will be nice to see all of the new costumes," said Nolan - and he wasn't talking about the Raiders. But Nolan was talking about Oakland's football product when he said, "I'm looking forward to it because one thing they keep saying is how they're going to bring back the old-school toughness. That'll be a challenge for us. So we'll see if they have gotten tougher. We'll see what Art (Shell) has got going over there. It'll be a competitive battle. You never know where your first one is at, because you just don't know where people are sometimes in the preseason. Going against the Raiders will give us another test, and hopefully it'll be another step in the right direction." The 49ers will be looking for validation that their impressive victory over Chicago to open the preseason wasn't a fluke. And the good news about going to Oakland in August? When the two teams have a regular-season rematch on Oct. 8, they will be playing in San Francisco.


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