OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Joe Flacco got plenty of opportunities to show off his big arm in Saturday's practice, hitting his speedy receivers, especially newcomer Steve Smith, on several deep passes. On Sunday, however, the 49ers defense struck back.
The unit had a strong outing, highlighted by rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson's pick-six interception when Flacco tried to hit his receiver on shallow sideline throw. Another young cornerback, Darryl Morris, also came down with a long, arcing pass from Flacco in the corner of the end zone.
More passes were knocked away, including one by linebacker Aldon Smith, who drifted 15 yards into coverage to swat away a pass intended for a Ravens receiver. As has been the case throughout training camp, Smith was very sharp as a pass rusher, and Flacco threw several balls out of bounds or in the dirt as Smith approached him.
Asked if there were any 49ers players who jumped out to him, Ravens coach John Harbaugh laughed. “The outside linebacker, No. 99,” he said. “He’s pretty good.”
Asked the same question, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a similar answer: “He's practicing well,” he said of Smith. “I think our safeties are practicing well. Those are some of the guys that come to mind immediately.”
One of the themes of the joint practices is that they give players a chance to compete against opponents whose strengths are different than their own team's. Baltimore, for example, has plenty of speed at wideout, certainly more than the 49ers, who prefer bigger-bodied pass catchers who are good blockers and who can operate in traffic.
In that way, these sessions have been a welcome test for the defense. “They have a few more speed receivers and it's good to go against that speed,” Fangio said. “The running game is different. I've done over 20 of these joint practices in my days, and they're always very good and very beneficial.”
Both sides, however, suffered casualties. Adam Snyder, playing left guard, seemed to injure his left knee when the left side of the line collapsed and he was caught in the pile. He was seen favoring his leg during one-on-one pass-rush drills as well. Receiver Quinton Patton walked into the training room and did not return while linebacker Shayne Skov appeared to sprain his ankle. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman had no information on either Snyder’s nor Patton’s condition.
For the Ravens, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore appeared to suffer an Achilles' tear, John Harbaugh said, and the practice session on that field was halted as he was carted away. Baltimore cornerback Asa Jackson suffered a minor ankle injury.
The teams had their first live tackling drill, a goal-line scenario between second-team units. Defensive ends Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial and outside linebacker Chase Thomas all flashed at times during the drill. The real standout for the 49ers defense was inside linebacker Chris Borland, who had at least two tackles – both offenses had two series each – including a stuff for no gain.
The aggressive Borland is in his element in goal-line situations. After practice, Patrick Willis called Borland a “pit bull” and said he reminded him a little of NaVorro Bowman in that they both play low to the ground and never seem to lose their stride in pursuit.
The second-team offense didn't look great in the tackling drill, although Jewel Hampton bounced one of his handoffs to the outside and scored a touchdown. Blaine Gabbert had tight end Derek Carrier wide open on a rollout to the right, but he badly overthrew the target in the back of the end zone.
On offense, Colin Kaepernick had a stronger outing than he did Saturday, hitting Bruce Miller for a leaping touchdown in the corner of the end zone in seven-on-seven drills and finding Anquan Boldin throughout the day. One of Boldin's touchdown catches was a near mirror image of his score against the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Boldin also worked out of the slot at times. On one of those occasions, he seemed well-covered by linebacker Josh Bynes. Kaepernick threw the ball anyway, and Boldin snatched it away from the linebacker and was off for what would have been a 60-yard touchdown. Boldin is saying his goodbyes to Baltimore with gusto.
Josh Johnson and Vernon Davis hooked up for the longest play of the day (also the longest play ever). Practicing a scenario in which the offense is backed up on its own 1-yard line, Johnson found Davis running down the seam by himself. He hit the tight end in stride, and he didn't stop until he reached the opposite end zone.
I watched the pass-rush drills between the 49ers linebackers and the Ravens running backs and tight ends. It was a decidedly one-sided affair for the 49ers, especially Smith and fellow outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who had their way with tight ends Crockett Gilmore and Nathan Overbay.
Lynch continues to look good, and he later had a would-be sack of quarterback Tyrod Taylor during team drills. For the second straight day, Lynch also was part of a minor flare up, this time with Baltimore linebacker Austin Spitler.
Still, the practice participants again were overwhelmingly well behaved. Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs even went so far as to say that the opponents are working together – Joe Staley has been his counterpart -- to help each other improve. “You never would have thought the two teams would get along so well,” he said before pausing. “I guarantee you if we get together in Arizona (in the Super Bowl), it's not going to be brotherly.”
More evidence of togetherness and cooperation: On Saturday, the Ravens wore their white uniforms, which are presumably cooler in the August sun, while the 49ers were in red. On Sunday, the 49ers got to wear their whites.