SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Taylor Mays' time on the field this season probably won't extend much beyond special teams and an occasional play at strong safety. That's sometimes the way it goes for rookies.
But San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky says Mays is catching on quickly, and if desire and passion count for anything, Mays will get better as the season goes along.
"He's always the guy at the end of the meeting sitting there and asking questions when everybody else leaves," Manusky said of Mays, a second-round pick from USC. "That's always a good sign. He's a perfectionist. You can see that already.
"That's something I don't think you can ever judge when a kid is coming out, but I love his heart. I love his desire and his ‘want' to be good. That's always a plus-plus."
Because the starters are expected to play only a couple of series in Sunday's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts, second and third teamers will have a chance to show the coaches how much they've learned in the first two weeks of camp. For Mays, it's an opportunity show how far he's come moving from the college game to the NFL.
"When you come to an organization that's new, even though you were taught things that were fine for their defense, it might not match what we want," he said. "From a coach's perspective, if we leave here and go somewhere else, you kind of have to erase that board and start fresh and new and learn exactly what we want them to do."
BALMER UPDATE: The 49ers received a roster exemption from the league office allowing them to bring another player into camp while defensive end Kentwan Balmer remains AWOL. Balmer, who has been absent since Monday for personal reasons, met with coach Mike Singletary on Wednesday night, but there was apparently no resolution that would allow him return.
Balmer was excused from practice on Monday and Tuesday but did not rejoin the team the past two days as Singletary requested. On Wednesday, Balmer told the Sacramento Bee, "Hopefully the 49ers know that they're in my heart and in my prayers at all times. But everybody falls on hard times. I just hope they support me. I want to be out there with them."
Free agent defensive end Will Tukuafu signed a two-year contract with the team and joined Thursday afternoon's practice.
THROWING PAINS: With their preseason opener just three days away, the Niners are still having trouble with some of the basics. Center David Baas continued to have trouble snapping the ball to quarterback Alex Smith during 11-on-11s. On one exchange, Smith fell to the ground after taking the ball, although it was uncertain if it was a bad exchange or Smith simply tripped on his own. On another play, Smith fumbled the ball on an attempted handoff to running back Glen Coffee.
Backup QB David Carr was scolded loudly by offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye after he threw an interception on what appeared to be a play-action pass near the goal-line. "That was a run, not a pass!" Raye screamed at Carr. Mays was on the receiving end of Carr's bad pass.
Otherwise, there were some nice catches made by Ted Ginn Jr., Dominique Zeigler and Delanie Walker. Zeigler, who spent last season on the practice squad, is having an impressive camp and could see substantial playing time Sunday if Michael Crabtree, who has a neck strain, doesn't play. Zeigler caught touchdown passes from Smith and No. 3 quarterback Nate Davis.
SITTING OUT: Michael Crabtree did not practice and is listed as day to day after landing on his back Wednesday afternoon. WR Brandon Jones (hamstring) resumed running, and linebacker Travis LaBoy (concussion) took part in cardio work. LB Parys Haralson dressed but didn't practice because of soreness. WR Jason Hill (hamstring) saw some action in 11-on-11 drills.