49ers Wrap Up May Practices
Yesterday, the team saw the practice field for the last time in the month of may, wrapping up a four-day OTA session in which the offense appeared to make strides and the defense appeared to make due with less.

So let's take a look at each day, followed by a summary afterward. Note that OTAs (organized team activities) are mostly drills and run-throughs for early evaluations--it is mostly no contact and none of the players are in pads. In fact, it's against league regulations to wear pads this early--that's not allowed until June training camps.

Day 1 (Monday, May 17th)

Offense: What was most clear on the first day of practices was the way QB Alex Smith carried himself. He had a command of the huddle and the players on the field. He not only tested his offensive players, but he was seen addressing defensive players and quizzing them. This is radically different from last season. At this point a year ago, the team was working on figuring out how to line up in the huddle. With Jimmy Raye returning as the team's offensive coordinator, the group as a whole looks much more confident.

The backup center position was occupied by Tony Wragge, a deviation from recent practices in which Cody Wallace was the backup. This is probably a confirmation of past rumors of the team not being very impressed by Wallace. Wragge will need to show versatility if he wants a spot on the final 53-man roster.

The offense looked like you'd expect, there was some rust to shake off but for the first time in a long time a 49ers May practice session looked like a team on the same page. Alex Smith overthrew a few passes, recently acquired WR Ted Ginn dropped a few passes, but beyond that, it seemed to be a productive first day.

Defense: The defense was patchwork at best. That isn't to say it didn't play well, but several key contributors were not present. Projected starting cornerbacks Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer elected to continue working out on their own as opposed to attending the voluntary OTA sessions. LB Manny Lawson was not present, it's the final year of his rookie contract and he has been reportedly upset about it--he desires an extension, though Singletary is of the opinion that he will be there "when it matters" (Read as: mandatory).

Still, this allowed younger players like Tarrel Brown and Phillp Adams to get playing time. Adams impressed on the first day, snagging an interception and playing at every cornerback position, left, right, and third for the nickel. 

Ahmad Brooks was the starter at left outside linebacker, which is a definite plus for the team when you consider Manny Lawson's contract situation. Brooks has been used as a situational pass rusher and is now getting time on all three downs in practice--perhaps Lawson doesn't fit into the 49ers future plans? Or at the very least, they have a backup plan.

Special Teams: It's all about returners this offseason, and where the 49ers were weak in 2009, it seems they are much stronger in 2010. Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr. and LeRoy Vann fielded punts from the jugs machine and displayed a lot of quickness. Kyle Williams looked the sharpest out there.

Day 2 (Tuesday, May 18th)

Offense: WR Jason Hill had a very good day, and it's something he needs for him to be back in 2010. The 49ers carried six wide receivers on their roster last season, but that was only because they had no clear number one. Now they do, with a reliable target in Michael Crabtree and a resurgence TE in Vernon Davis, so the team figures to keep maybe five at most. So Hill, who has been in Singletary's dog house on more than one occasion, will need to step up his game.

3rd string quarterback Nate Davis battled hard to show he can play well given an opportunity, and spent his limited playing time throwing mostly good passes, sans one or two. 2nd stringer David Carr, who was acquired this offseason, looked shaky, but rebounded nicely after a couple bad passes with a solid pass and grab with Crabtree.

Tony Wragge continued to backup the center position behind Eric Heitmann, and last season's starting LG, David Baas, also saw snaps at the backup center. Baas probably wants more money than he's getting if he's going to start--but he won't start. The team wants to see if he can go back to his college days and play some center, and turn him into a backup in favor of first round pick Mike Iupati.

Defense: Taylor Mays saw reps with the third group of safeties and played mostly on the left side, the "Free Safety" position, which coach Singletary insists is interchangeable with the "Strong Safety" position in Greg Manusky's version of their 3-4 defense. It's not entirely the same, from watching, but I suppose the team is focusing on Mays' coverage abilities, which is always nice. He sure does look fast out there.

Special Teams: Brandon Jones joined Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and LeRoy Vann in returning punts from the jugs machine. Williams again looked the sharpest, though it's not this huge margin.

Day 3 (Wednesday, May 19th)

Offense: Wide receivers Ted Ginn, Dominique Zeigler and Kyle Williams all stepped it up. Williams saw a lot of time in the slot, and is the only player on the 49ers roster who is built for such a role. Zeigler made some good catches, and Ted Ginn had a nice battle going on with CB Karl Paymah and catches were made. Alex Smith looked better each day, with some bad passes sprinkled in, but nothing major. 

Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree missed a good portion of the sessions, as they were subject to random drug tests, which we can assume they've passed. 

Defense: Like I said earlier, just about everything today focused on passing, and to their credit, the cornerbacks made life hard for Smith and his receivers. Keith and Reggie Smith broke up a pair of passes, Karl Paymah had a good day, and as a whole the defense kept the session as close as they can without being able to fly into their targets.

Special Teams: Williams, Ginn, Vann and Jones were fielding punts again, and on day three it was almost sad to watch. The wind carried the ball in such a way that all four players had trouble even fielding the punt.

Balls bounced off hands, chests, heads, feet and players well down; but to their credit, they always got back up. 

Day 4 (Wednesday, May 20th)

Offense: Smith opened with a beautiful pass... to linebacker Parys Haralson--who gladly obliged him and snatched it out of the air. Beyond that, Smith looked probably the best he looked in the four day span, efficient, collected, and assertive. 

Defense: The defense was also good, and kept the offense from having too many highlights. LeRoy Vann, who figures to be almost exclusively a returner, broke up two passes as a CB this session. Justin Smith showed off some serious movies with a finesse roll to switch his stance, and UDFA Patrick Stoudamire looked good, getting a piece of a pass and generally being around the ball.

Special Teams: The unit recovered well from day 3's disaster, fielding punts cleanly and looking good.


Overall the feeling in the first OTA is positive. The team is miles ahead of where they were last year at this time, and had mostly everyone there on offense for continuity. On defense, they were missing a few players, but it gave them an opportunity to see more of the young cornerbacks and Ahmad Brooks in an every down situation. Their next session for organized team activities will be next month, from June 7th through June 8th.


Quick note, sorry it took me a couple days to get a new article. I had a family emergency and also took up a bigger role at another site I write for. I am back to regular posting and will have my Weekend Prospecting up on Sunday, as well as a post looking at the depth charts of each day of OTAs the 49ers held.

Good info. Hope all is well.
Forget that Alex was not the only one learning a new offense every year. It sounds like Stoudamire is living up to your expectations. What do you mean that Kyle Williams is the only one built for the slot position? It seems that position, although a lower target priority, is crucial for outside and deep speed.
Stoudamire looks good, I initially expected him to beat out Phillip Adams but what I need to remember is that the team scouted both of those guys, you know? They know what they know, and right now Adams is getting more looks. The feeling is that Adams has more potential but Stoudamire is more athletically gifted from the get go.

And Kyle Williams is the only receiver on the team who clearly fits into the slot role. He's done it before, he has the tools, and he's comfortable there. Looking at the 49ers roster the last couple years, they haven't had one.
You are right, that's my point. The Niners needed to improve speed to the outside to offset defenses stacking against the run and deep speed to open the middle. It looks like no COP RB, so improving the slot speed may be the last piece to the puzzle. Can Williams or Ginn be that guy?
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