Alex Smith gets to call his own plays

In a spirited morning practice, the Niners' offense and defense engage in a competitive scrimmage near the goal line. QB Alex Smith likes the chance to call plays on his own as a learning exercise.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It didn't matter that the morning temperature was hovering around 90 degrees. The starting offense and starting defense for the San Francisco 49ers were jawing back and forth Wednesday in what was clearly the most energized and animated practice of training camp.

The two sides were engaged in what's called an "ownership period" – the defensive and offensive signal callers call their own plays without the coaches. It becomes a matter of pride and bragging rights for the two units. Win and you can walk off the field in triumph.

"It competitive," linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "We was talking noise to them and they was talking noise to us. It was either put up or shut up on both ends."

The biggest benefit to the drill is that it allows quarterback Alex Smith to improvise quickly and call plays on his own, something he said he never did in high school or college.

"When I was younger in my career, my mindset was, you call it, I'll make it work," Smith said. (But) I've become a big fan of this. I think it's great. It makes me think in a different way. It stretches me, and I like it."

For the record, the first unit offense scored a touchdown on a three-play drive when Smith hit wide receiver Josh Morgan. The first-unit defense, which had earlier intercepted back-to-back passes by No. 2 QB David Carr, wanted another shot at stopping the offense, so coach Mike Singletary gave them five plays to close out the morning session.

Starting from the 15-yard line, Smith got the offense to the four-yard line. On the final play, he threw in the end zone to tight end Delanie Walker, who caught the ball and tried in vain to keep his toes inbound on the side line. Both sides argued, but it appeared Walker didn't stay in.

"It's a great way to end practice, and it's a great tool." Smith said. "It gets us thinking like coaches. You take it back to the film room and talk game scenarios there. Last play of the game, what are you thinking?

"Headsets cut out all the time. That's why exercises like this are so great."

GORE GOING?: Running back Frank Gore hasn't played in either preseason game, and it's uncertain if he'll play Saturday night when the Niners meet the Raiders in Oakland. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye indicated it might not be necessary for Gore to see live action.

"It's unimportant to me," he said. "It would be different if Frank was a second- or third-year guy. But we're talking about a guy that's a Pro Bowl player. I think he can get ready in practice."

INJURED: Sitting out practice were tight end Tony Curtis (pulled quad muscle), tackle Barry Sims (pulled oblique muscle), cornerback Shawntae Spencer (hamstring) and linebacker Matt Wilhelm (headache). They joined a group that had been sidelined previously: tight end Vernon Davis (sprained right knee), wide receiver Jason Hill (groin), linebacker Brandon Long (knee), cornerback Will James (ankle sprain), receiver Kyle Williams (sprained big toe), linebacker Ahmad Brooks and center Eric Heitmann (broken leg).

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