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Big Bang: Okoye delivers biggest blow of 49ers’ first contact practice

07/26/2014 6:18 PM

07/26/2014 6:19 PM

Poor Jonathan Martin.

His counterpart on the defensive line, Lawrence Okoye, was so eager about the 49ers’ first padded practice of the summer that he tweeted about the occasion that morning. Okoye is a massive guy, the team’s weight-room champion, and as a result of going on injured reserve last year, he hadn’t donned pads and hit anyone since August. In other words, he was champing at the bit for some real contact.

That's where Martin came in. The only true contact during the team's first padded practice this afternoon occurred during one-on-one pass-blocking drills between the offensive and defensive linemen. First up was Okoye at left defensive end, against Martin at right tackle.

On the very first snap Okoye sent Martin sprawling seven yards backward and planted him on his back, which of course drew plenty of shouts and murmurs from the assembled defensive linemen. Okoye also won Round 2, though certainly not as decisively.

But it wasn't exactly a banner day for Okoye, who is playing American football for just the second season ever. He didn't do as well when he went against the 49ers best blocker, Joe Staley, on the other side of the formation. Staley's technique and quick feet negated Okoye's brute strength.

And he didn't look all that great in 11-on-11 situations, losing track of the ball once, getting knocked to the ground once and moving too far upfield on a running play and allowing the running back to slip inside him for a solid gain. In all, it was a perfect summation of where Okoye stands right now: He has impressive strength and athleticism but simply needs more seasoning and more practice.

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Plenty of you have been wondering about Tank Carradine. The second-year defensive lineman also looked good in the one-on-one drill. He and right guard Adam Snyder nearly got in a scuffle when, on the first battle, Carradine's hand went inside Snyder's face mask and nearly knocked his helmet off. There was a bit of shoving but it was quickly quelled by defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

Carradine got past Snyder on the second matchup but slipped and toppled onto Snyder. The two helped each other up and gave each other friendly pats on the helmet. (Awww. How cute!)

Some other standouts in the drill: Quinton Dial is one of the biggest defensive linemen on the team (6-5, 318), but he is very quick and agile for someone his size. He looked good not only in the drill but in the rest of practice. … So did guard Joe Looney, who is filling in for holdout Alex Boone at right guard. He won his one-on-one battle with Tony Jerod-Eddie and looked good picking up stunts later in the drill.

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Other than that, there wasn't a lot of hitting. General manager Trent Baalke said it didn't make sense to have a lot of rough stuff on just the third day of training camp and that the team would ramp up to more physical contact.

“When you look at it from a rational perspective, do you really want to go out there and start hammering away on one another Day 1 in pads?” Baalke said. “I think that method has proven to be a little barbaric in nature. But that's not to say that you don't have to get these guys ready to bang. And at some point we will.”

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One of the more fun-to-watch drills today was something I'll call “The Butterfly Net.” While the rest of the team was practicing special teams, the quarterbacks took turns trying to arc long passes into what is best described as an oversized butterfly net.

It was a net with about a 2 1/2-foot diameter opening that was on a six foot post that was planted at the corner of the 5-yard line and the sideline. The quarterbacks were about 40 yards away in the center of the field, and the objective was, well, to put one through the hoop.

Undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner came the closest when he hit the rim. No one put it through. Colin Kaepernick came close on one of his dozen or so attempts by hitting the stand. McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit the stand twice. Then receiver Bruce Ellington wandered in from a side field – he still hasn't joined full practices – and on his first attempt came close by striking the bottom of the net. Even Jim Harbaugh gave it one attempt but was well short.

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Overall, it was a strong day for the quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert continues to be efficient while Bethel-Thompson got a lot of chances and made the most of them. The Sacramento State product hit Stevie Johnson and Chuck Jacobs on two straight passes and finished 6-8 in team situations for the afternoon.

Kaepernick also finished the day strong, including a rifle shot to favorite target Anquan Boldin that threaded three defenders. Of the wide receivers, Michael Crabtree looked particularly good in hauling in several crossing-route throws of various depths and making a one-handed snag early in practice.

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On defense, it was the Tramaine Brock show. He victimized Faulkner, who was terribly late on a throw to Johnson. Brock stepped in front of the receiver for the easy interception. Brock nearly had two others, the first when he nearly pick-sixed Bethel-Thompson on an out throw to Carlos Hyde and the second when he jumped a route by Kassim Osgood on a pass from Josh Johnson.

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How did Hyde perform as a pass blocker, which will be one of the big keys for playing time this year? It's impossible to say as the 49ers didn't run that drill today. Hyde looked good, however, out of the backfield and his Day 1 dropsies seem to have been an aberration.

As for Ellington, the reason he was taken off the PUP list but hasn't re-joined full practices is so he can take part in the less intense walk-throughs. He seems very close to practicing in full, however

About This Blog

Matt Barrows 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 Sacramento Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green. Reach Barrows at mbarrows@sacbee.com.
Twitter: @mattbarrows

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