|New offense under Martz is music to the 49ers' ears
Smith throws footballs; Davis throws punches
There were two themes on the first morning of 49ers mandatory minicamp. The most notable aspect of camp is the "new" offense under offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The other theme, literally, was the NFL Films music that played as background noise throughout the workouts.
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The terminology of the numbers system that Norv Turner installed a couple years ago is still in place in Martz's offense, but there is a huge adjustment period for the players.
Tight end Vernon Davis said he is having fun "exploring things with Martz." Davis believes he will be utilized a lot more effectively this season with Martz as the coordinator.
"I think it's going to happen," Davis said. He added that Martz is adjusting to, because, "he's never had a tight end of my stature."
Davis said he does not know exactly how Martz will use him. He has to remain patient and just continue to learn the offense.
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Receiver Ashley Lelie is also excited. After all, made little impact with the 49ers last season. After watching Darrell Jackson cut loose in the offseason, one thing entered his mind: "Pick it up or I' won't be here."
Lelie said there are a lot more pass plays in the team's playbook. There is also a lot more shifting and motions. Last year, he sustained a quad strain in the first day of minicamp and missed the entire offseason program.
"Now I'll get more of a chance to show what I can do," said Lelie, adding that he didn't really get that opportunity last year.
On the second play Friday during the team session, Lelie lined up at flanker and got the ball on a reverse. Lelie, who played split end last year, is at flanker this year.
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The big question facing the club is at quarterback. Alex Smith took the first reps with the offense. Shaun Hill will take the first reps in the afternoon practice. Coach Mike Nolan, echoing Martz's earlier comments, said J.T. O'Sullivan is also in the running for the starting job.
Since O'Sullivan already knows the offense, the other two quarterbacks are getting most of the reps.
Smith is throwing the ball without any limitations. He tossed a nice 15-yard out to Isaac Bruce during the team session, but most of the passes from the quarterbacks were check-downs.
Smith and Hill said Martz is changing their mechanics. Smith said he is working a lot on his drops. There are a lot of different variations on the simple drop-back. Hill said Martz is working with him on staying on balance and in rhythm. He is trying to work on using his entire body to throw - and not just using his arm.
In this offense, one of the talking points for the quarterbacks is that they should not throw to the open receiver; they need to throw the receiver open. That is something that Smith has struggled with during his brief career.
In order to do that, a quarterback must have a firm grasp - and confidence - in the offense, as well as the defensive coverage he's facing.
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Both Smith and Hill are coming off surgeries. Smith's shoulder is doing well. He has yet to really air it out, but he said he's feeling comfortable throwing passes some 35 to 40 yards downfield. Meanwhile, Hill played with a broken right index finger late last season. The finger is now fixed and feeling normal. The back injury that kept him out of the season finale is also healed.
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Nolan and Smith embraced in front of the media. Smith said he and Nolan have talked about (and joked about) their rift of last year. Smith said this is a chance to start over.
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David Baas (torn pectoral) is out for this camp. Manny Lawsons (ACL), Joe Cohen (ACL) and Melvin Oliver (ACL) are all limited to individual drills as they continue their rehabs. Tarell Brown, who sustained a partially torn ACL in the final game of the season, is working on the field.
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When asked about the team's interest in veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, Nolan said, "Right now, the interest is holding tight." In other words, the 49ers have not made any move since the draft to acquire Spikes' services.
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The reason for the NFL Films music? Nolan said it was his idea. He said whenever a team goes to a stadium on gameday, there is never a time when something is not playing over the PA system. He said the players might draw a little inspiration from the music. The key, he said, is to have it at a low enough volume that the coaches to have to shout over the music to communicate with the players.
Here are the storylines from the first practice of the 49ers' first minicamp:
Alex is No. 1. Well, at least for the morning practice. Smith trotted out with the rest of the first-team offense and made every throw that was called for. He said his longest throw was about 35 to 40 yards and that the only thing he really hasn't done yet is toss the deep ball. Other than that, his arm is back to normal. Mike Nolan said not to read too deeply into Smith's role this morning. For the afternoon practice, Shaun Hill will take the reps with the first team. Before addressing the media, Smith crossed paths with Mike Nolan and the two shared a playful hug. The exchange showed that the two are on good terms and can joke about their 2007 feud, Smith said.
Vernon f!ghts. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Vernon Davis, who was good for at least one brawl every practice last year, got into a scrape with parys Haralson. Davis ripped off Haralson's helmet and hurled it onto the adjacent practice field. He was pulled away and spent the next five minutes cooling off alongside the team's chaplain. Nolan reiterated that he doesn't mind f!ghting but that he won't tolerate dumb penalties in games. he said that Haralson started the f!ght but that Davis would have been the one flagged if it was a game situation.
Shaun's finger. Last year, I joked that Shaun Hill had a sausage finger. In all seriousness, his broken right forefinger was grotesquely swollen and looked like a Ballpark Frank after 60 seconds in the microwave. Today the digit looked normal. Hill dowmplayed it last season, but the injury was certainly a hinderance to his throwing. "I downplayed it to myself, too," he said. "You don't want to go into ant games with excuses. You're setting yourself up for failure if you do that."
Justin Smith stands up. Free-agent acquisition Justin Smith spent most of the day lining up at right defensive end with a hand on the ground. But he also spent time standing up like a linebacker, rushing the quarterback from both the right and left side. Smith said he did a little of that early in his career in Cincinatti. He said it was too early to tell how much he might do that with San Francisco.
Other odds and ends:
* Whenever he has talked about the competition for starting quarterback, Mike Nolan only has mentioned Alex Smith and SHaun Hill. But offensive coordinator Mike Martz has included J.T. O'Sullivan into the mix. Asked whether O'Sullivan had a chance to start, Nolan said, "He's in the mix. He's competing with those other two."
* Arnaz Battle rolled his ankle last night and was held out of practice. The otrher players who were held out were LB Manny Lawson (knee), NT Joe Cohen (knee) and DE Melvin Oliver (knee).
* After saying that first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer would play both nose tackle and defensive end, the 49ers coaches have had a change of heart. Early on at least, he will solely play left defensive end. That means he will see quite a bit of the team's second-round pick, Chilo Rachal, who is getting all of his reps at right guard.
* Niolan stressed that the starting positions are fluid. But this is how the 49ers lined up wihen the first-team offense went against the first-team defense in practice.
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Adam Snyder
C: Eric Heitmann
RG: Tony Wragge
RT: Jonas Jennings
TE: Vernon Davis
RB: Frank Gore
FB: Moran Norris
WR: Isaac Bruce
WR: Bryant Johnson
QB: Alex Smith
RDE: Justin Smith
NT: Aubrayo Franklin
LDE: Isaac Sopoaga
OLB: Tully Banta-Cain
OLB: Parys Haralson
ILB: Patrick Willis
ILB: Jeff Ulbrich
SS: Michael Lewis
FS: Mark Roman
CB: Walt Harris
CB: Nate Clements
Other notables: Brandon Moore and Dontarrious Thomas were the second-team tandem at inside linebacker; Atiyyah Ellison played both LDE and NT; Ray McDonald and Louis holmes were backing up Justin Smith at RDE; Ashley Lelie saw perhaps more time with the first-team offense than he did through three months last season.
* I'll be damned if Tully Banta-Cain didn't look positively svelte -- nothing like the 280 pounds at which he showed up last offseason. Banta-Cain, Haralson, Jay Moore, Roderick Green and Shaun Richardson composed the outside linebacking group.
* The 49ers have a whole mess of inside 'backers. They are Willis, Ulbrich, Thomas, Brandon Moore, Larry Grant, Ezra Butler and Dennis Haley. Brandon Moore picked off a J.T. O'Sullivan pass during team drills.
* And finally, somthing I have never experienced during an NFL practice -- music. Nolan had the team's training staff set up speakers on the sideline that pumped in a CD of NFL Films classics. You know, "The autumn wind is a Raider" kind of stuff. Nolan said he reasoned that there always is background noise when a team plays so it made sense to practice with background noise. "If we find some (music) that adds a little spice, we'll add that, too." Nolan said. Asked about the musical selection, Justin Smith said he found it "interesting." Indeed.
-- Matt Barrows