SANTA CLARA -- On Friday new wide receiver Torrey Smith said he was building good chemistry with Colin Kaepernick and on Saturday he proved it. The quarterback and his new down-field weapon connected several times during the night-time practice at Levi's Stadium, most notably on a 50-yard pass to the corner of the end zone over cornerback Marcus Cromartie. Smith later caught a sideline pass from Kaepernick that got a nice ovation from the several hundred fans in the west stands.
The other receiver who stood out was undrafted rookie DeAndrew White. That shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who was reading these posts from the spring sessions. White, who played opposite Amari Cooper at Alabama, was prolific in May and June, and he continued that trend on Saturday. He had several catches, including a nearly length-of-field reception at the very end of practice when just the rookies and first-year players were still on the field.
He also was one of three players returning punts. That is, the 49ers seem to be looking ahead and wondering what other skills White brings to the table if he ends up being one of the players gunning for the last of the 53-man roster spots next month. The others on punt-return duty were Bruce Ellington, who went through a full practice after dealing with a hamstring issue in the spring, and Aussie Jarryd Hayne.
Reggie Bush did not take part in the practice. Jim Tomsula said he noticed the veteran was tight after Friday's conditioning test and did not want to risk an injury. Darnell Dockett (ACL) and Aaron Lynch (?) also seemed to be held out of practice. Jimmie Ward (foot) went through individual drills but did not take part in any 7-on-7, 11-on-11 or team sessions.
Never miss a local story.
As predicted, the offensive line was the same as it was at the end of the last minicamp: Joe Staley played left tackle, Alex Boone was at left guard, Joe Looney played center, Marcus Martin was the right guard and Erik Pears the right tackle. There was a lot of mixing and matching beyond that. But significantly, Boone also spent time at left tackle with the second-string unit. That is, the 49ers seem to be grooming him to be Staley's backup.
First-round draft pick Arik Armstead lined up at left defensive end with the third-string defense. He looked very good during one-on-one pass rush drills, getting his pads low -- not easy for a 6-7 guy -- and gaining leverage on Martin whom he pushed backward. Armstead was part of the third-team line along with Garrison Smith (NT) and Lawrence Okoye (RDE) because a.) He missed nearly all of the spring sessions and b.) Because the 49ers are so deep along the defensive line.
Quinton Dial (RDE), Ian Williams (NT) and Glenn Dorsey (LDE) composed the first-string line while Tank Carradine (RDE), Mike Purcell (NT) and Tony Jerod-Eddie (LDE) were the second-team line. Again, Dockett, who is not yet a year removed from his ACL tear, was held out of practice.
As far as other rookies ... Eli Harold was very active throughout practice and had a good showing against Staley in one-on-one pass drills. ... Tight end Blake Bell had several nice catches, including an over-the-middle haul on a pass from Gabbert with Harold in coverage. Bell lined up a lot as a fullback/H-back, something he did a lot of at Oklahoma. ... With Ward not practicing in full, Jaquiski Tartt was a second-team safety alongside Craig Dahl, who had an interception. ... Punter Bradley Pinion boomed one of his kickoffs out of the back of the end zone. If he keeps doing that, his job title could end up being punter/kickoff specialist.
Another interception was turned in by Nick Moody, who 'started' at inside linebacker due to Michael Wihoite's (leg strain) absence. Moody stepped in front of tight end Vance McDonald on a short, out pass from Gabbert for the interception and had a strong practice overall. Shayne Skov and Philip Wheeler were the second-team inside linebackers.
NaVorro Bowman looked better than he did in the spring. During an up-the-middle blitz early in the session, he put a spin move on Martin that had the right guard grasping at air. On that particular play it would have been impossible to tell that Bowman was returning from a major knee injury. (Martin did not have a great practice).
Tramaine Brock and Shareece Wright were the first-string cornerbacks with Brock playing on the left and Wright on the right. Brock looked particularly good, including when he broke up a pass intended for receiver Jerome Simpson.
Finally, the Levi's grass. I don't know what the Great Plains looked like after the historic buffalo herds moved through, but I'll bet it looked something like the field following both a high-school all-star game and a 2 1/2-hour 90-man NFL practice on Saturday.
The sides of the field where the units conduct their individual drills were particularly chewed up and several team employees -- including Tomsula himself -- were seen replacing divots. Unlike last season when a Levi's practice had to be halted, none of the players were slipping, and safety did not seem to be an issue.
As of now, the next seven practices also are scheduled to be at the stadium in an effort to increase the comfort level in the still-new facility. Tomsula noted that the center of the field looked good and that the team might have to reposition the individual drills. He said the 49ers always could move to their regular practice fields if conditions become unsafe but that, as of now, he planned to practice at Levi's on Sunday.
“We’ll reserve our right to make decisions as we need to,” Tomsula said. “They’re going to roll it and work it all night, but we’re not going to come out if it’s not good.”
The 49ers painted the end zones of Levi's Stadium. The background is black and the letters and numbers in "49ers" are red. The scheme seems to be a nod to the alternate, all-black uniforms they will wear twice this season.