SANTA CLARA – This is what I saw at the 49ers’ Sunday practice.
Jim Harbaugh started off practice by running a drill with tight ends and linebackers while other players worked elsewhere. Harbaugh kneeled down and called the play in his gravelly football voice like a man gargling marbles. At his signal, the linebackers tried to rush past the tight ends. The backers were intent on sacking the imaginary quarterback — no quarterbacks took part in this drill.
Harbaugh likes to get down and dirty with his players. In some ways, he still thinks like a player. It is one of the best things about him.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson ran an incorrect pattern in an early passing drill. Colin Kaepernick took him aside and explained the drill at length, even using hand motion to demonstrate where Johnson should have gone. It was a case of the quarterback telling the receiver how to do his job.
Kaepernick knows the offense inside and out.
When Kaepernick walks toward center to start a play he is tall and athletic, the prototype of the modern quarterback. He looks perfect.
Starting cornerback Chris Culliver did not look for the ball on a long pass, not even when his coaches yelled, “Ball!” Not looking has been one of Culliver’s problems.
Now, Harbaugh was working with the special teams guys. He wore his hat backwards and held a big red pad for players to run into. Harbaugh is the ultimate football geek. In the good sense.
The quarterbacks practiced getting bad snaps from center. They practiced balls going over their heads, balls flying to the side, balls zapping between their legs. Harbaugh practices for every possible contingency. You name it, he’s practiced it.
Vernon Davis was by himself. He often stays by himself. When he was not involved in an early drill, he stretched alone. He is a serious athlete always working on his flexibility. Jerry Rice generally stayed by himself. Then Davis got a ball boy to throw him passes. Short passes. Long passes. Davis never stops working, does not acknowledge the concept of down time. Rice was exactly the same.
Carlos Hyde took the first handoff in run drills. He took most of the handoffs. He is big and strong. That we know. He showed much more. He is quick and elusive side to side. He has good hands. Quarterbacks threw him passes as he ran out of the backfield – he caught one for a 25-yard gain. This throwing to a running back is a new look for the 49ers’ offense. Hyde is very important to the running and passing game.
Along the east side of the practice fields, you can see a row of condos with second-floor windows looking right onto the practice field. Some enterprising condo owner should sign up with airbnb and rent out a second-floor room to Niners’ opponents.
In seven-on-seven drills, the 49ers practiced passing in the red zone. On third-and-5 from the 14, Kaepernick missed a receiver in the back right corner of the end zone. Have we seen that before?
Harbaugh supervised a four-minute drill, the kind of drill a team uses to run out the clock in the fourth quarter. The first two plays were handoffs to a back. If the offense had not converted, the third play was a pass.