Osaka excursion ruined 49ers' camp continuity

Time to get back to work. And time to forget about the Osaka bombing. The 49ers had just about recovered from their Japanese hangover by the time they returned to the training camp practice fields at the University of the Pacific on Tuesday morning, but let's face it: This whole excursion was a setback for the team, and the Niners still could be trying to shake off its effects when the season jumps on them early during the first week of September.

To be sure, the Niners never signed up to play the Washington Redskins in the American Bowl. They never signed up for the 10,778-mile round trip from San Francisco to play in the Osaka Dome in Japan. They never asked for a six-day break from the all-important instructional and implementation period that training camp offers.

But that's what they got, along with a 38-7 eyesore loss to the Redskins, which if anything only proves that Steve Spurrier has a few things to learn about being an NFL coach, and will undoubtedly have something coming back around, say, three weeks into the regular season. That's when the Redskins meet the Niners in San Francisco. The score won't be 38-7 in that game. Unless it's the other way around.

By then, the Niners probably will be about where they'd be to start the regular season had they not been selected - or ordered, to put it another way - by the NFL to play this summer in Japan. The development time they lost gallivanting around the Far East as NFL ambassadors will be felt throughout the rest of August.

After Tuesday, the Niners have only five more days of two-a-day practice sessions remaining before they break camp in Stockton. Five. Total. And to think, they still are installing new offensive and defensive schemes tonight and Wednesday. That normally would have been done last week, and the team would already have had several days on the field to execute those schemes with trial runs.

And the Niners did not exactly hit the ground running upon their return to practice Tuesday. There was some lag in their intensity. That's to be expected after such a disruptive experience just 10 days into camp.

"A day like today is hard to come back out and get back into camp," cornerback Ahmed Plummer told SF Illustrated on Tuesday morning. "Today is one of those days where you just had to push through it. You're trying to get your bodies and minds back into camp mode and going with that."

So, by the time the Niners get their bodies and minds back into camp mode, and get in their final installations and start practicing them, it will be time to play the Kansas City Chiefs in another exhibition game. They will leave Stockton next week after a training camp that included about as much training as there was organizing for, preparing for and focusing on the Japan trip.

The Niners are a young team that needed the continuity and incremental daily progress that develops over weeks of training camp. That won't happen in this disjointed camp.

"We put the (Washington) game behind us and (now) let's get focused on camp mode," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "That's what we're in again. Camp mode. And there's a lot of fundamental things that we need to improve ourselves with, so that's the mindset right now."

Camp mode will last deep into the preseason, and will continue after the team returns to its year-round headquarters in Santa Clara. It will have to, because a formidable chunk of camp mode was lost in Japan.

"That trip was worth doing," Mariucci said, explaining it gave the team an extra game to give major snaps to rookies and fringe players who wouldn't get that experience in a four-game preseason. "If we had not had that fifth preseason game, (they) don't get that experience. So it was valuable from that standpoint. And we got a chance to see another country, and learn about another culture a little bit - get a taste of it, anyway. So it was worth doing."

So Mariucci says now. We'll see if he and the team feels the same way come September.


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