What should be one of the better battles of 49ers training camp has been a one-man show so far.
Nick Moody has taken most of the snaps at inside linebacker while the guy who manned the spot last season and in the spring, Michael Wilhoite, has been sidelined by a leg strain. Wilhoite is not expected to be out for long, but no timetable has been announced for his return.
In terms of speed and athleticism, Moody, out of all the team’s young inside linebackers, is perhaps most similar to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, the two players who made the position so special for the 49ers in recent years. Willis retired in March, and Bowman is returning from a knee injury that wiped out his 2014 season.
When he arrived at Florida State, Moody played safety, a position that sharpened his coverage skills. Playing next to Bowman in the 49ers’ first full-squad practice Saturday, he darted in front of tight end Vance McDonald for an interception, and he has received steady praise from coach Jim Tomsula during the offseason.
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For Moody, the challenge has been technique and the nuances of the position, which he feels he’s beginning to master after being drafted in the sixth round in 2013.
“The most fundamental things at linebacker never really were harped on, to me anyway,” Moody said. “But I feel I get a lot of that this year. It’s really stressed, every day.”
Moody said he was in his element Tuesday during the 49ers’ first padded practice of training camp.
“I’ve always liked contact since I was a little kid,” he said. “It’s the fun part of football.”
Before his first full-contact NFL practice, running back Jarryd Hayne said he had to prepare for his opponents’ individual styles. Moody’s style, he said, was to simply run over blockers and ballcarriers.
Is that an accurate scouting report, Nick?
“Most of the time,” he said. “If I think I can, I probably will.”
Hayne’s first hits – Hayne’s first padded practice was perhaps a tad overhyped.
The event brought two crews of Australian television reporters and plenty of questions over the past two days. But the 49ers did not do any live tackling, and the biggest collision he encountered was during a blitz pick-up drill when he and Moody were matched up. (Hayne handled it well).
Still, it was a busy afternoon for the newcomer. With veterans Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter held out of practice, Hayne was part of the rotation at tailback with Carlos Hyde, Mike Davis and Kendall Gaskins.
Hayne’s highlight came when he caught a short pass in the flat and turned upfield for a 15-yard gain.
Et cetera – Wide receiver Bruce Ellington will not practice after straining a leg muscle Monday. The team already has been without rookie receiver Issac Blakeney, who also is battling a muscle strain, and veteran Jerome Simpson, who was given the day off for personal reasons.
▪ Offensive lineman Ben Gottschalk had a surgical procedure on his foot at Stanford Hospital on Tuesday, Tomsula said.
▪ Joe Staley returned to his left tackle spot after getting a rest Monday. Tomsula said a veteran of Staley’s stature routinely will get days off. “We’re not going to have him going five, six, seven days in a row,” he said. Similarly, Bowman did not practice Tuesday.