“Upbeat” is too mild a term to describe the vibe at the 49ers’ training camp. They’re rocking.
Not only are tunes blasting during practice, there’s a live DJ. Administrative assistant Nick Kray — whom reporters covering the team insist is known as DJ Kray Kray — has a pop-up sideline studio under his own shade canopy. From time to time, a player or two will break off a dance move.
This isn’t completely new. Chip Kelly played hip-hop last year. But it can still sound a little cheeky. Dance music for a team that lost 13 games in a row last year?
Sure. Why not? The 49ers are currently tied for first place in the NFC West, have a brainy new coach in Kyle Shanahan and hope is springing eternal.
It is always like this as NFL teams begin the season. Everyone is in the greatest shape of their lives, newcomers are raising eyebrows and all is shiny and new. The 49ers’ new strength and fitness guru, Ray Wright, even installed a ski jump — a steep, artificial-turf hill that players must sprint up.
They love it. Sort of.
“Honestly, (at first) I thought it was a joke,” cornerback Dontae Johnson said. “We do bear crawls up it. Backwards. It’s pretty rough. It is an intensified quad workout, so whatever quad workout you did, it is times ten.”
Very cute. Let’s check back and see how many guys are sprinting up Mt. Shanahan after the eighth game of the season.
So far, no one gets more love than Shanahan. He may be the team’s fourth head coach in four years, but it sounds as if the players are all in. If someone gave you a dollar every time someone called him a genius, you’d have enough to buy lunch by noon.
“Kyle does a great, great job,” said seven-year NFL veteran Jeremy Kerley. “I love how he works with us. I have never seen any coach or offensive coordinator break stuff down like he does.”
He is, however, still a football coach. Although the reports of his fearsome intellect might have you thinking he’s spending evenings reading Descartes, he’s got some smash-mouth in him.
At Wednesday’s scrimmage, running back Carlos Hyde ran full tilt into rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Apparently expecting Hyde to let up, Witherspoon was nearly blasted out of his shoes. Shanahan was asked if he was OK with that.
“Yes I was,” he said promptly. “I wanted them to turn it up a little bit. I think that was a good learning experience for Ahkello. I know it wasn’t fun, but hopefully he’ll appreciate Carlos for it in the long run.”
Witherspoon must be on scholarship. The next day he got another terrific learning experience when 267-pound tight end Vance McDonald gave him the old cleats-over-teakettle treatment. Witherspoon was up quickly and back to the huddle and didn’t appear to get a chance to thank McDonald for the second educational seminar.
“Same guy?” McDonald said. “I didn’t know that. Sucks for him. But that’s coach Shanahan’s approach. It’s a mindset. We’re going to be physical. You’ve got to practice being physical, otherwise you get in a game and you have to force yourself to do something that is not a habit.”