At the close of the 49ers' minicamp yesterday, Jim Harbaugh began his press conference by praising LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Lloyd and Bruce Ellington for their efforts this spring. Then he went on to name just about everyone else on the roster.
My list of standouts isn't quite as long. But first a couple of caveats …
First, the spring sessions are meant for young guys and newcomers. Long-time veterans – guys like Ray McDonald and Frank Gore, for example – were on hand but didn't practice much. Second, given that the practices are non-contact, it's a lot easier to evaluate a wide receiver than it is, say, an inside linebacker. With that in mind …
Bruce Ellington. That familiar spring visitor, the hamstring injury, felled a number of wide receivers, who do more running than anyone else. But not Ellington. As advertised, he showed excellent strength and stamina. It was also obvious that the playbook began to click for him the deeper he went into the spring. He became quicker as a result, something that really was apparent in the recent minicamp. Many of you noted my mancrush for Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks prior to the draft. Ellington may not be quite as fast and explosive as Cooks, but he has many of the same qualities, including drive and toughness.
Quinton Patton. The second-year receiver shook off a scare about his foot, which he broke last year, to finish with a good minicamp. He was prolific in Wednesday's session, and he looks to make a big jump in his second season. He also served up the most memorable image – at least in my mind – of the session when, in the locker room following the final practice, he power-dunked over coach Jim Harbaugh. See, it's become a game inside the locker room where there is a Nerf hoop. The players lure someone to walk under the hoop and then one of the players, usually Patton, poster-izes that person with a vicious dunk. (Laughter ensues). The victim on Thursday was none other than Harbaugh, which to me signals how well-liked he is – just one of the guys – in the locker room. Of course, there were roars, absolute howls, after it happened, although some of the players noted to Patton that he actually missed the dunk. A few minutes later, the game came to a halt when Patton's next power-dunk ripped the rim from the backboard.
Chris Cook. He was the beneficiary of Chris Culliver's absence and of an ankle injury to Eric Wright, who retired this week. That meant that Cook took nearly all the first-team defensive repetitions at right cornerback. He did not stand out with any interceptions – a shortcoming of his – during any of the open practices. But there also was no press or jam coverage permitted, which is Cook's specialty. That is, Cook had a good spring and we still have yet to see him in his element.
Darryl Morris. He also benefits from Wright's retirement in that it means there's one less player competing for nickel cornerback duties. Vic Fangio likes Morris' quickness – he may be the fastest player on the team. He also likes Morris' smarts, which is what won Carlos Rogers the job the past three years. That Morris also shines on special teams is a bonus.
Tank Carradine. It's clear he's back from the knee injury that hampered him his rookie season. It's tough to evaluate defensive linemen in spring, but Carradine certainly showed the explosion off the line of scrimmage for which he was known at Florida State. It was a positive spring for him.
Blaine Gabbert. Harbaugh says there are four quarterbacks competing to be the No. 2 quarterback. Mmmm. Gabbert had, by far, the most repetitions after Colin Kaepernick. And while none of the passers were terribly accurate as the team breaks down and reinstalls its offense, Gabbert looked solid.
Dillon Farrell. This is an obscure one, yes, but I'm including him because I constantly heard offensive line coach Mike Solari lauding Farrell on Thursday. The undrafted rookie played center at New Mexico the last two years. But he also has experience at tackle, and that's what he was playing – right tackle, with the second-team offense – this spring. Farrell proved to have quick feet and, as you would expect from a center, is a quick learner. It will be tough for him to land a spot on the 53-man roster, but versatile linemen always are coveted on the practice quad.
Vernon Davis. Whether he deserves a raise is highly debatable. What's not up for debate is the down-field threat Davis presents. The 49ers did not have one this spring, especially at the tight end spot.
Alex Boone. Boone has been very good for the 49ers and he is certainly underpaid. But he has no leverage. The 49ers have an abundance of interior offensive linemen, and they talked up de facto right guard Joe Looney until they were blue in the face. It wasn't hard to decipher their message.
Stevie Johnson. You can't criticize someone for getting a hamstring strain. But the fact of the matter is that Johnson missed some valuable time to create a rapport with Colin Kaepernick. A year ago, by contrast, then-newcomer Anquan Boldin used the spring to develop chemistry with Kaepernick. The result? He had a 208-yard performance in Week 1.
Jon Baldwin. Ditto Baldwin, who could have shown he was a deep-threat alternative to Vernon Davis but instead spent most of the time rehabbing on a side field. The veteran who stayed healthy and definitely showed a connection with the quarterback was Brandon Lloyd.
What? You have more questions about the 49ers' spring drills? Fine. I will be hosting a chat today at 11 a.m. You can ask any question you want, but I will only answer the good ones. Questions that begin, “HEY MATT CAN WE TRADE _______” will be tossed out immediately. Www.sacbee.com/live.
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