You’ve probably seen shots of Kyle Shanahan calling plays from the coaching booth while a television analyst notes how intelligent he is. You’ve probably read quotes from his quarterbacks about how detailed his meetings are. You’ve probably read that he’s a master of X’s and O’s.
That braininess – a clever play call here, an usual design there – certainly has been on display so far in 49ers training camp. But so has something else: The first-time head coach is trying to build a bully.
Practices in Santa Clara are as physical as they’ve been since Mike Singletary was the head coach. And they’ve been more grueling than those run by Chip Kelly, who aspired to run opponents out of Levi’s Stadium with his fast-paced offense.
“I feel like overall, endurance wise, we’re at a level that we haven’t been at in the past,” tight end Vance McDonald said on Thursday.
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Kelly was famous for charting and monitoring every detail of a player’s physical condition. But a year after Kelly was here, Shanahan and his staff decided that a number of 49ers players were too thick or too plodding. So they sent them home after the final spring minicamp with specific workout plans and target weights for when they reported for training camp on July 27.
Even someone like McDonald, who didn’t appear to have a milligram of fat on him last season, decided he should drop five pounds to function better in Shanahan’s demanding practices.
“They just want you to go and look the same on the 75th play as you did on the first play,” he said. “That’s what coach Shanahan wants. Whatever weight you need to be in to do that, that’s where you have to play.”
After a particularly rugged and long Thursday practice that sent several players to the sideline with sprains and tweaks, Shanahan was asked if he was OK with so much rough stuff.
“Yes, I was,” he said. “I wanted them to turn it up a little bit.”
Asked if he thought 228-pound tailback Carlos Hyde took advantage of an unsuspecting rookie, Ahkello Witherspoon, a day earlier with a massive hit that sent Witherspoon sprawling backward, Shanahan shook his head.
“I didn’t mind it,” he said. “I think Carlos taught him a little bit of a lesson that will kind of help him in the long run.”
Those who have played for him in the past say the ongoing training camp is similar to those run by his father, Mike Shanahan.
“They have very similar approaches: When it’s time to work they want you to work. And when it’s time to hit, they want you to hit,” said tight end Logan Paulsen, who spent four seasons under Mike Shanahan in Washington where Kyle served as his offensive coordinator.
Receiver Aldrick Robinson was there at the time, too. Robinson, however, said he couldn’t recall Mike Shanahan ending his practice with wind sprints, which his son did to close both Thursday’s and Friday’s sessions.
Kyle Shanahan said he didn’t like his players’ conditioning during a Thursday “move-the-ball period” in which the first-team units ran as many as 13 consecutive plays. So he figured wind sprints would do the trick.
“That’s just Kyle,” Robinson said with a smile. “He’s seen what he’s seen out of us and he reacted. That’s who he is. He’s a reactive guy. He reacts on what he sees. And he’d seen that we were a little tired. So he made us run a little bit more.”