Minicamp Q&A with 49ers Coach Mike Singletary

The draft is in the rearview mirror and all the main free agents have been signed. We might be in store for a surprise wrinkle here or there, but essentially all the acquisitions have been made and we've got a pretty good idea what the 2010 edition of the 49ers will look like. Now, the real work begins for Mike Singletary and his assistant coaches.

Over the course of minicamps during May and June and training camp in July and August, they've got to pare this roster of eighty-something hopefuls into a 53-man unit. He spoke with local reporters during the Organized Team Activity at the team's Santa Clara complex that ran from May 17-20.

Q: So, how does it feel to be back with your team again?

A: It's nice to get through this week without anyone really getting injured. I thought we had good practices. I thought the guys showed well. I thought our young guys – I was impressed with the group. Guys ran every morning and really did a nice job getting the playbook and understanding what they are supposed to do. This is a good group. The group that we brought in this offseason has got to be one of the best I've seen. I'm very excited about the group and I'm excited about our team. There's a lot of competition across the board. Wherever you look, there's competition. That's very exciting, so it's going to be a nice offseason. It gives us a great opportunity to continue to get better and those 53 guys that come out of this, it should be exciting.

Q: Some of your defensive starters, such as cornerbacks Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer aren't here. Have you spoken with them?

A: Obviously as a coach, you always want to see the guys, but it's just like last year. There were some guys that were not here last year and I told Nate and Shawntae, ‘Hey guys, you're men. You do what you have to do. You know what we are trying to get done here and I trust that.' Some of the guys will not be here at all for the OTAs and some of the guys will get maybe half of them. For me, I feel like they have to know what they are doing. They have to know what we are doing here and when we get ready for training camp, they have to know that the competition is going to be there and I trust their decision making.

Q: What about linebacker Manny Lawson? Have you spoken to him?

A: I have not heard from him. It's been awhile since I talked with him. I know Manny is a guy that I'm not concerned about in terms of what kind of shape he's in. He's a very bright guy. He knows the defense, so when he gets here, when he has to be here – same with [NT] Aubrayo [Franklin] when he has to be here, he'll be here and be ready to go.

Q: Are you comfortable with Lawson's contract situation (he's entering the last year of his contract) and can you say for sure that he'll be a part of the team in 2010?

A: Absolutely. I feel that Manny will be here when he has to be here and I think he'll be ready to go.

Q: The team recently acquired a new player in corner William James. What do you like about him, and how soon will he be practicing?

A: One thing that you are going to see when you put on the film, is he competes. He competes every down and I like the experience factor. He was with [assistant to the head coach/secondary coach] Johnnie Lynn in New York for about five years. Some of the things that we do are very similar to what they did there, so we are not going to ask him to do something outside of his capabilities. He's very familiar with what we do and I think he'll add depth to what we are trying to get done. Right now, he is just trying to really fully understand the defense and at the same time totally heal. He's got a little hairline [fracture in his pubic bone] and it will be a couple of weeks before he's ready to go.

Q: How about defensive end Kentwan Balmer? How's his rehab from shoulder surgery progressing?

A: He's been around for the most part. He's not here now. He's working with a guy back home for maybe 10 days or so. He'll be back and we'll go from there. He's getting done what he needs to get done.

Q: Let's talk about the rookies. So far the first round linemen, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati haven't taken any first team reps. Is there any timetable for that to happen?

A: I think one of the things that we're going to do is, just because we drafted a guy in the first round, we're not going to bring him in and put him in as a starter right away. I want to make sure, for both of those guys, that we really listen to them. When they get out here, they're going to dictate, they're going to tell us they're ready. More than anything right now, it's the learning curve. Just making sure they're comfortable and we don't put them in a position that they feel pressure or anything else. I feel very confident in the guys we had last year to continue to get better, continue to compete. We'll let the natural thing happen as it comes.

Q: How about safety Taylor Mays? How's he been, in your estimation?

A: Not bad. He's going to be just fine. He's a young guy. At USC, they had him basically get in the middle of the field and try to make plays. Here, we are going to try to focus on some other things, as well as that. We are really working with him on fundamental things and he's doing well. The ability that he has with being able to put the technique with it is going to be exciting.

Q: Do you think he's more of a strong safety or a free safety, or is it too soon to tell?

A: Our safeties are interchangeable. It really doesn't matter. He's going to have to be able to play in the box and he's going to have to be able to play off the ball and make plays in the deep third.

Q: What do you think about the rookie class overall, anyone standing out?

A: I think from the energy out here, the [low] amount of mistakes, the way they respond in the classrooms, the preparation. These guys are smart. You've got Mays, [LB Navorro] Bowman, [WR] Kyle Williams, the two linemen that we brought in. Those guys are on it. The coaches are really excited about working with them. They aren't just leaving here and going back and running around and watching TV. These guys are studying their playbooks, not just the guys that I named, but a number of those guys were impressive. The running back, the [Anthony] Dixon kid, they work hard and it's a breath of fresh air.

Q: Your punt returners had some good days and a couple shaky ones in drills. How do you feel about that group so far?

A: I like that we have some guys that can catch the ball first of all and go. It's nice to have some options. Last year, we were scratching our heads every day, trying to figure it out. Thankfully, we have some guys that will continue to get better, that you get excited about blocking for. Ball security is the number one thing, though. I don't care how fast he is. I don't care how many guys he can make miss. If he can catch the ball, that's step number one. Whatever comes after that, if we can get five yards, that's fine, but just don't drop the ball.

Q: Your quarterback, Alex Smith, seems to be more vocal and demonstrative in this camp than we've ever seen him, and at times he even seems to be teaching the offense to his teammates. Is this something you've encouraged him to do?

A: That's something that we talked about a number of times last year, being able to take control of the offense and being able to have a command of the huddle. I remember a conversation I had with him last year and he said, ‘Coach, in all honesty, everything that you want, I can give you. I know that I can do it,' but he said, ‘I just need a little continuity and I'm still trying to learn some of the things that we are doing. Once I get it, I promise you I will show you that I can take command of the offense. I will do all the things that you are looking for,' and I left it at that. We did have some continuity this offseason and it was very nice to see him step up and do exactly what he said he was going to do.

Q: The rules of OTAs don't permit teams to practice with pads. Is it safe to assume that will change on the first day of training camp? A: Absolutely.


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