San Francisco 49ers Blog with Matt Barrows logo
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

G5P2MFK0E.2
Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP
Justin Smith, the 49ers’ top defensive lineman, said he was hampered by a shoulder injury last year.

If Justin Smith wasn’t his usual havoc-causing self last season, there was a good reason.

The 49ers defensive end today revealed he suffered a shoulder injury during last year’s training camp and played through the season with the injury. Smith had surgery this offseason, which is why he did not take part in any of the team’s spring drills.

“You use your arms in football quite a bit for (playing) inside,” Smith said when asked if he was hampered in 2013. “It was what it was.”

Last year at this time, Smith also was coming back from a torn triceps. It was the first major injury of his career and it cost him two and half games at the end of the 2012 season. He returned for the playoffs that year but was not nearly as effective as he had been during the team’s 2011 playoff march when he took over games against New Orleans and the Giants.

GGG2MGOMU.2
Paul Kitagaki/ The Sacramento Bee
Frank Gore said he welcomes competition from a bevy of young running backs this year.

Asked how he’ll deal with a challenge from a phalanx of young and talented running backs this year, Frank Gore today smiled and said, “I’m from Miami, man.”

He could have left it at that. Gore became the hard-nosed running back he is today by fighting for carries, espcially 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. Gore was leading McGahee for the starting spot in 2002 when he blew out his knee and had to sit out the season.

“I’ve been out there competing ever since I left high school,” he said. “I’ve been with top guys who have been in the league. It’s all to get each other better, and I’m up for it. One day, they’re going to have to get this role. But while I’m here, I’m going to look at it as a challenge.”

This year, Gore leads a group of upstarts, including 2013 draft pick Marcus Lattimore and this year’s second-round pick, Carlos Hyde. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Jewel Hampton round out the 49ers’ group of tailbacks in training camp. It’s easily the most talented group Gore, 31, has faced in his 10 NFL seasons.

Vernon Davis is in the building.

The 49ers tight end, a no-show for the team's mandatory minicamp last month as he sought a more lucrative contract, was among the veterans in the 49ers' locker room today. This, according to an Instagram video from safety C.J. Spillman, who posted a clip of Davis greeting teammates Glenn Dorsey, Quinton Dial and Kassim Osgood this morning.

Veterans like Davis reported to camp today. The first practice is tomorrow. Davis is currently the fourth highest-paid tight end in the league. He has said he wants to be paid commensurate with his value to the offense, but he has sent mixed messages about how entrenched he was in his position. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month it wasn't “the end of the world” if he didn't get a new contract.

GC02MAHP5.4Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com
GA42MAJQJ.4FRE
Brian Blanco/AP

Where have you gone, 2011 49ers?

You remember that squad, right? New coach. Plucky attitude. Made-for-Lifetime-Channel story lines.

Sure, those 49ers certainly worked hard and the stakes were high. But there also was a wonderful levity about the team. Everything was new and unexpected. Coach Jim Harbaugh had a blissful, year-long honeymoon. Every word and expression – whoooo’s got it better than us? – was pure gold. The players lapped it up. The fans and media did, too.

Expectations also were light and fluffy. After all, the team hadn’t made the playoffs in the previous eight seasons. And the long offseason lockout that year prevented the incoming coaches from even laying eyes on their team until late July, making a postseason run improbable.

G6B2M933Q.2
Beck Diefenbach/ AP
Take a good look: This could be the final season for the 49ers’ bell cow back, Frank Gore.

The competition between Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde, both of whom were big-time running backs in big-time conferences, has captured the imagination of fans and fantasy football pundits alike. I know I've done at least two national radio interviews in the last week where that has been a hot topic.

As juicy as that battle might seem, however, the reality of the situation is that neither young runner is likely to see significant carries this year as long as Frank Gore is healthy. Or walking. Or upright.

Gore, you see, is going into the final year of his contract, which also happens to be his 10th season with the 49ers. A decade with one team is a huge milestone, especially for a running back. One of the walls inside 49ers headquarters is dedicated to the men who have played 10 or more years with them. It's a relatively small group and there's only one running back, Joe Perry, whose portrait is on that wall.

Perry is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the 49ers have retired his number. If Gore plays this season, he will be the 49th player on the wall -- a fitting number for a player who propped up the offense during its darkest years.

GIE2M6TRM.2
Matt Barrows/ The Bee
Grass at Levi’s Stadium doesn’t need to be watered as much as other types used in the Bay Area.

The 49ers have built the first sports stadium in the country to be awarded LEED Gold status upon completion, owner Jed York announced on Monday via Twitter. A LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is recognized as the premier mark of achieving environmentally friendly architecture. The Ravens -- whom the 49ers will visit next month -- have the NFL’s only other LEED Gold building. They got it by retrofitting M&T Bank Stadium last year.

The 49ers’ stadium achieved the certification through a number of means, including water use. About 85 percent of the water used in the stadium is recycled or “gray” water. The type of grass used, Bermuda Bandera, also requires up to 50 percent less water than other types used in the Bay Area. Another major reason for the green designation is Levi’s Stadium’s solar panels, which will sit atop the three bridges that lead to the stadium as well as the roof of the tower suite. The team expects that the power generated from those panels will offset the power used in the 10 NFL games played there each year.

The 49ers also used recycled products in the construction -- recycled wood, for instance, in the luxury suites. The building also is surrounded by public transit options, and the 49ers have a plan to accommodate cyclists on game days.

GTR2M6OC8.2
file/ file
If Alex Boone’s holdout continues as expected, Joe Looney is the frontrunner to replace him at right guard.

We continue to examine the 49ers’ most intriguing training-camp battles today with a look at what has been one of the most stable spots in recent years, the offensive line.

Right guard

Here's what is working against Alex Boone as his spring, it's-not-serious-yet holdout turns into a summer, ok-now-it's-serious holdout: The 49ers can insert at least four players at his starting right guard spot while he is away. Which is to say: They have options.

Seldom-used Joe Looney got the lion's share of the repetitions there in the spring. Looney, who is one of two players left over from the team’s weak 2012 draft class, filled in at right guard in a game against the Rams last season and got kudos from everyone including, notably Boone, for his performance. "I thought Joe Looney did a great job stepping up today - hell of a performance coming off the bench and kicking some a---," Boone said after the win against the Rams. "Can't be more proud of a guy for that. I know he's going to be ready for (next) week."

GFT2M1OUP.2Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./ pkitagaki@sacbee.com
San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) jubilates with San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (53) after St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens (10) was sacked in the fourth quarter in a game at Candlestick Park Sunday December 1, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.

Over the next three days, I’ll try to hit on the most intriguing battles in 49ers training camp, which gets underway with a Thursday practice.

As usual, the 49ers have a stacked and established roster with few starting spots in doubt. And as usual, the most desperate competitions will be among young players trying to make the 53-man roster and eight-man practice squad. But injuries and holdouts could make this summer’s competition a bit spicier than in recent years and put some starting spots up for grabs. To wit:

Inside linebacker

This competition gets top billing because it’s for a starting spot, because there’s a nice array of competitors, and because it’s such a visible position. That is, the 49ers’ inside linebackers make a lot of plays against the run, in coverage and as pass rushers, and it will be fun to watch how they stack up on the practice field and in preseason games this summer.

GT62LN3I2.3
David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post file
On the shore of Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Pahokee High School quarterback Anquan Boldin strikes a pose in November 1998. Boldin, now a veteran wide receiver for the 49ers, grew up in a government-built housing project on the outskirts of Pahokee. He used his football talents to escape the poverty-ridden town, but has given back to the community via his Q81 Foundation in the form of college scholarships and other donations.
GT62LN3HO.5CTR
Greg Trott/ The Associated Press file
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

“They have better uniforms, newer cleats. They have twice as many kids on their team. They live in fancy homes, drive fancy cars. They’re going to college, and their rich parents will pay for it all.

“You? All you have is heart and hustle. You’re the sons of bean pickers. You’ve had to work for everything you’ve got. Everything they’ve got has been spoon-fed. And today you have a chance to take something from them ...”

Anquan Boldin, the 49ers’ veteran wide receiver, grew up hearing variations of that speech – after practices, before games, in the locker room before tearing into the humid Friday night air for the second half. It might as well be the anthem of his hometown of Pahokee, Fla., a town just shy of 6,000 residents that typically attracts media attention for two reasons: football and misfortune.

In 1928, Pahokee was struck by the second most deadly storm in U.S. history. The Okeechobee Hurricane killed at least 2,500 in south Florida, many of them poor field workers who now rest anonymously in a mass grave in another part of the county. In the 1980s, the region had the highest per-capita rate of AIDS in the world.

GKU2LNI9H.3
LiPo Ching/ San Jose Mercury News
San Francisco 49er Aldon Smith leaves court after sentencing at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, July 18, 2014.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was sentenced Friday to serve three years of probation and to spend 11 days with a work crew after he pleaded no contest to drunken driving and weapons charges.

The sentence came after Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Daniel Nishigaya reduced three felony counts of possessing illegal assault rifles to misdemeanors. The judge noted that Smith has no criminal record involving violence, but warned the 24-year-old football star that if he violates any of terms of his probation, he will be sent to jail for 11 days.

Smith was also told to serve 235 hours of community service and pay nearly $4,000 in fines.

Prosecutors said Smith didn't receive special treatment in the case.

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

FOLLOW US | Get more from sacbee.com | Follow us on Twitter | Become a fan on Facebook | Watch Bee news, lifestyle videos | View our mobile versions | e-edition: Print edition online | What our bloggers are saying
Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by Careerbuilder.com
Quick Job Search
TODAY'S CIRCULARS
Sacramentoconnect.com SacWineRegion.com SacMomsclub.com SacPaws.com BeeBuzz Points Find n Save