It wasn't exactly "The Offense Strikes Back" during Wednesday's padded practice at Levi's Stadium, but it was a much better showing for Colin Kaepernick and his offensive line (see below) than the previous three. Kaepernick was 7-9 during 11-on-11 and team drills, although one of his misses was a costly one and turned into an interception by inside linebacker Nick Moody.
The 49ers were working in the red zone at the time, and Kaepernick seemed to stare down his intended receiver, Torrey Smith. Moody, who had dropped to the goal line, simply stepped in front of the receiver for the easy takeaway. The 49ers offense scored only one touchdown during the red-zone drill -- when Blaine Gabbert flipped a short pass to running back Kendall Gaskins.
The 49ers were back at Levi's Stadium because they were playing in front of thousands of season ticket holders. The divot issue that cropped up during Saturday's and Sunday's training-camp practices at Levi's returned, and rookie running back Mike Davis went to the ground awkwardly when he cut on a particularly chewed up portion of the field. Davis got up slowly but returned.
Late in the practice, the full-team session was run at half speed. And the practice ended after two hours, which is shorter than normal. The 49ers said afterward that the abbreviated session was predetermined because they only had four healthy inside linebackers and did not want to overburden them. They said it was not due to the field conditions. The 49ers have a day off on Thursday and are back on Friday. They have not said where Friday's and Saturday's sessions will be held, but Sunday's will be back in Levi's Stadium in front of 20,000 fans.
Inside linebackers Nick Bellore (illness), Philip Wheeler (muscle strain) and Michael Wilhoite (leg strain) all sat out the session. The healthy linebackers were NaVorro Bowman, Moody, Desmond Bishop and Shayne Skov. Skov had a particularly good practice with several 'hits' in the backfield and another near interception. (He had one Tuesday, too). On one play, he timed his blitz so well that he nearly snatched the handoff between Gabbert and Davis.
The daily one-on-one pass-rush drills favor the defensive linemen. In game situations, a defensive lineman won't know whether a play is going to be a run or a pass. And he might be going against two offensive linemen or getting chipped by a running back or tight end. In practice, they merely can fire off the line of scrimmage.
The defenders have been winning -- handily -- the one-on-one battles in training camp, but Wednesday was different. The offensive linemen got momentum early when Alex Boone stonewalled Quinton Dial and Joe Staley did the same with Eli Harold. They never relinquished it, at least in one-on-ones. (The two-on-twos, in which the defensive linemen run stunts, favored the defense.)
The only offensive linemen who was soundly beaten was Marcus Martin, who was knocked backward by Tony Jerod-Eddie. Jerod-Eddie, who has been the second-team left defensive end, had a strong day. Other players who stood out were Skov and tight end Vance McDonald, who caught several passes. The tight ends in general were prolific with Derek Carrier and Asante Cleveland both catching long balls along the sideline.
The offensive line was better during team situations, although there was miscommunication on the left side between Staley and running back Carlos Hyde when Aldon Smith came in for a lightly contested ‘sack.’
A day after his busiest practice as a 49er, defensive lineman Darnell Dockett went through individual drills but not team drills. Meanwhile, Arik Armstead was struck in the thigh early in practice and did not take part in any team drills as a precaution. He remained on the field and the injury is not believed to be long term. Kaleb Ramsey took Armstead's normal snaps at left defensive end with the third-team defense.
Safety Antoine Bethea had his foot stepped on but returned to practice. For the second day, the 49ers used alignments in which they had three safeties in the game at one time.
Rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt did not practice after bruising a toe in Wednesday’s session. Receivers Bruce Ellington and Issac Blakeney continued to miss practice with leg strains but Jerome Simpson returned from an excused absence.
Running backs Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter continue to be held out of team drills.