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The Associated Press
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) chats with running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis. The 49ers will count on the veteran stars for much of their offense this season.
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AP
The 49ers hope to ride Colin Kaepernick’s strong arm to the Super Bowl title after falling just short in the 2012 season.

Ask Jim Harbaugh about one of his players, and you get an avalanche of praise whether warranted or not. Ask Vic Fangio about a player, and you get a frank answer.

Which is why the 49ers’ defensive coordinator’s response about first-round pick Jimmie Ward on Friday was worth noting.

“I like him mentally,” Fangio said. “I think he’s confident without being cocky or arrogant. I think he knows he’s got a daunting task ahead of him, that he was put behind the 8-ball with no offseason work. I think he’s ready to work. I think he’s very coachable. He’s ready to fight through the growing pains.”

Fangio and the 49ers got to see Ward’s physical skills Thursday when he dived for an interception of a tipped pass early in his first team-wide practice. But mental strength is perhaps more important to the nickel-cornerback position Ward is hoping to win this summer.

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Kendall Hunter injured his knee early in Friday’s practice. The severity is not known at this point.

The second full practice of training camp was marked by an injury to running back Kendall Hunter. After catching a quick swing pass from Blaine Gabbert, Hunter tried to juke incoming Perrish Cox, but his right knee locked up and Hunter went to the ground.

A few seconds later, Cox pulled the running back to his feet, but he was on the ground again for several minutes while being tended to by trainers. He later walked off the field with head trainer Jeff Ferguson slowly but under his own power.

Hunter suffered an Achilles' tear in November of 2012, his second season with the 49ers, but made a complete recovery last season. He rushed for 358 yards and averaged 4.6 yards a carry. Hunter has been Frank Gore's main backup since being taken in the fourth round in 2011. LaMichael James filled in when Hunter was hurt in 2012.

On Friday, the running back repetitions were spread evenly among Gore, James, rookie Carlos Hyde and Jewel Hampton. Marcus Lattimore (knee/hamstring) continues to work out on a side field.

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Paul Kitagaki/ The Bee
Vance McDonald appears to be making big strides from his rookie season last year.

Vernon Davis made his offseason debut on Thursday, but the most prominent tight end on the field was his understudy. Vance McDonald had perhaps the catch of the day -- a leaping sideline grab over Antoine Bethea -- and looked solid throughout the session.

Which raises perhaps a dirty little secret about Davis’ springtime absence: It likely didn’t hurt Davis all that much if at all, and it probably helped McDonald’s development quite a bit.

“Yes. I would say, personally for me, absolutely,” McDonald said when asked if he benifitted from Davis’ absence. “It’s like the pressure of: You’ve got to step up. Right now, this is what we have, and you’re the No.1 tight end. I think it was a very good start for me for next season.”

It’s clear that McDonald is more comfortable and more confident than he was at any point last season. A second-round pick in 2013, the then rookie only had eight receptions and had a couple of critical drops.

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Jimmie Ward has the physical tools to play nickel cornerback. But the mental part of that position is perhaps more important.

Ask Jim Harbaugh about one of his players and you get an avalanche of praise whether the player warrants it or not. Ask Vic Fangio about a player and you get a frank answer.

Which is why the 49ers defensive coordinator's response about Jimmie Ward today was worth noting.

“I like him mentally,” Fangio said. “I think he's confident without being cocky or arrogant. I think he knows he's got a daunting task ahead of him, that he was put behind the 8-ball with no offseason work. I think he's ready to work. I think he's very coach-able. He's ready to fight through the growing pains. I think everything about him mentally and emotionally will end up being on the plus side of his ledger.”

Fangio and the 49ers got to see Ward's physical skills Thursday when he dove for an interception of a tipped pass early in his first team-wide practice. But mental ability is perhaps more important to the position Ward is taking on this summer.

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Jose Luis Villegas/ The Bee
Jim Harbaugh was in mid-season form at the start of training camp, refusing to talk about any unflattering story lines about his team.

Here’s the transcript from Jim Harbaugh’s first press conference of training camp that was provided by the 49ers public relations staff. Apparently, he really enjoyed his own birth. The event was the first for Harbaugh in the team’s new spacious auditorium on the ground floor of Levi’s Stadium. -- Matt Barrows

“Welcome. Nicer setup than we had before, huh?”

You like it?

“I do.”

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First-round Jimmie Ward, taking part in his first full-team practice, was one of the standouts of the session.

'First impressions' was one of the themes of the opening practice of 49ers training camp today. And no one made a better one than first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward, who was coming back from a Jones' fracture (foot) this spring and didn't get on the field until recently.

Ward lined up with the second-team defense and, as planned, played the slot cornerback position. He turned in one of the interceptions of the day – Aldon Smith had the other – when he dove for a pass that was deflected by cornerback Chris Cook. The pass was thrown by Colin Kaepernick and intended for receiver Chuck Jacobs. Kaepernick also threw the pass Smith picked off. It was meant to be a dump-off to running back Kendall Hunter.

The best way to describe Ward: rangy. He's got long arms and is quick in and out of his breaks, which is ideal for the nickel spot. He's certainly not huge, and he looks more like a cornerback than a safety. The reason he's listed at that position is due to the way he hits, which wasn't allowed during Thursday's non-padded session. The team won't have a full-contact practice until Saturday.

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The Associated Press
San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis participates in drills during training camp on Thursday.

Aldon Smith said Thursday he will meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York some time in the “near future” to discuss the incidents for which he was sentenced last week, but a date has not been set. Goodell will decide on any suspension for Smith, the 49ers’ top pass rusher, shortly thereafter.

A judge last week sentenced Smith to 12 days on a work crew after he pleaded “no contest” to DUI and gun possession charges. He is expected to serve that sentence on Mondays, a day off for the 49ers. Smith voluntarily entered an alcohol rehabilitation center following his September DUI and missed six weeks of the season. A month later, Goodell said that stint would be considered when doling out any punishment.

The DUI arrest was the second in 11/2 years for Smith, who was pulled over in Miami Beach after his rookie season. Those charges later were reduced to reckless driving.

A police spokeswoman in Los Angeles also said Smith was suspected to have been drinking in April when he was arrested for allegedly making a bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport. Smith’s blood-alcohol content wasn’t tested, however, and the bomb-threat charge was dropped.

GP32MPJ0S.7Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com
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AP

Asked how he’ll deal with a challenge from a phalanx of young and talented running backs this year, the 49ers’ Frank Gore turned toward his questioner, smiled and said, “I’m from Miami, man.”

He could have left it at that.

Gore, the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, sharpened his skills and hardened his resolve by fighting for carries as a younger man, especially at the talent-laden University of Miami, where he first competed with Clinton Portis for a role in the Hurricanes’ backfield and later did the same with Willis McGahee. Portis, now retired, is 30th on the all-time NFL rushing list; McGahee, a free agent, is 37th. Gore is 29th.

After the 49ers drafted him in 2005, Gore quickly wrestled the starting job from incumbent Kevan Barlow, and he has been dispatching challengers since. Whether it’s been Barlow, Brian Westbrook, Brandon Jacobs or LaMichael James, the common thread of playing running back for the 49ers over the past decade has been frustration and a lack of playing time. Gore hardly ever leaves the playing field.

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Marcus Lattimore is still dealing with complications from his 2012 knee injury and is not fully healthy for the start of training camp.

Jim Harbaugh said the 49ers “hit it out of the park” when it came to Wednesday’s conditioning test with everyone receiving a passing grade. But a number of players, including one prominent young player and four draft picks, didn’t take part due to injuries.

That list includes running back Marcus Lattimore, who will begin training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Harbaugh said that team doctors evaluated Lattimore and “we do what’s best for the member of the team.”

Asked if the issue is with Lattimore’s surgically reconstructed knee or the hamstring strain that bothered him in the spring, Harbaugh said, “a combination of the two” before referring questions to team doctors, who are off limits to the media.

Also out of action to start camp are draft picks Marcus Martin, a center, Bruce Ellington, a wide receiver, Aaron Lynch, an outside linebacker and Kaleb Ramsey, a defensive lineman. Lynch hurt his hamstring in the spring while Ellington and Martin suffered minor ankle injuries away from the team facility during the recent break. Ramsey’s injury is unknown. Harbaugh said none of the rookies are expected to miss much time with Ellington returning the soonest.

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AP Photo
San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith talks to reporters during an NFL football training camp on Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Santa Clara, Calif.
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File/ File
Aldon Smith will meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell in the near future. Goodell is expected to issue a suspension shortly thereafter.

Aldon Smith today said he will meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York some time in the “near future” to discuss the incidents for which he was sentenced last week but that a date has not been set. Goodell is expected to decide on any suspension for Smith, the 49ers' top pass rusher, shortly thereafter.

Last week, a judge sentenced Smith to 12 days on a work crew after he pleaded “no contest” to DUI and gun possession charges. He is expected to fulfill that sentence on Mondays, a day off for the 49ers. Smith voluntarily entered an alcohol rehabilitation center following his September DUI and missed six weeks of the season. A month later, Goodell said that stint would be considered when doling out any punishment.

The DUI arrest was the second in 1 ½ years for Smith, who was pulled over in Miami Beach after his rookie season. Those charges later were reduced to reckless driving. A police spokeswoman also said that Smith was suspected to have been drinking in April when he was arrested for allegedly making a bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport. Smith’s blood-alcohol content was never tested, however, and the bomb-threat charge was eventually dropped.

Smith countered the allegation he had been drinking in L.A. by saying he's been sober since going to the alcohol rehabilitation facility in September. “I've been able to maintain (sobriety). It's going good,” he said.

GRA2FN0RH.4Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./ pkitagaki@sacbee.com
Tight end Vernon Davis, pictured against the Cardinals in a game last October, has hauled in 93 passes, including 18 touchdowns, for the 49ers the past two seasons.

Vernon Davis’ training camp holdout ended before it began.

The 49ers’ tight end, who skipped all the spring practice sessions while seeking a more lucrative contract, strolled into the locker room Wednesday morning with the other veterans and was embraced by teammates.

“Vernon is not the type of person that is going to walk out on his team like that,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said later in the afternoon.

Kaepernick had to be thrilled to have Davis in camp. He caught 15 of Kaepernick’s 24 touchdown passes last season and was the 49ers’ only deep threat. Despite new weapons at wide receiver, the 49ers’ passing attack was decidedly lackluster without Davis this spring.

The 49ers kick off training camp with another stacked and established roster, and as usual few starting spots are in doubt. But there is at least some intrigue. Injuries and right guard Alex Boone’s holdout make the summer competition a bit spicier than in recent years. The first practice is at 2:30 p.m. today. Here are the top battles:

INSIDE LINEBACKER

The 49ers won’t rush NaVorro Bowman’s recovery from an ACL injury, and the smart money is on him returning after the team’s Week 8 bye. His absence creates a good competition among four players with little – or no – NFL experience. Michael Wilhoite, who started two games in place of injured Patrick Willis last year, will get the first shot at the job. He’ll be challenged by third-round pick Chris Borland, second-year player Nick Moody and undrafted rookie Shayne Skov. Skov’s advantage: He’s familiar with the defense from his days at Stanford and is familiar with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, his defensive coordinator with the Cardinal in 2010.

RIGHT GUARD

For 49ers blog posts before May 2014, go to the blog archives

MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

49ers Blog Archives

Note: The 49ers blog switched blog platforms in May 2014. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


Matt Barrows on Twitter

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