The 49ers’ first full-squad minicamp practice included appearances by two players who mostly have been silent this spring but will be vying for starting roles in the summer.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been fully cleared for practice, but Tuesday’s session was his most extensive of the year. Minutes before the session began, coach Chip Kelly said Kaepernick, still recovering from shoulder, knee and thumb surgeries, would be held out of seven-on-seven and team drills.
Kaepernick, however, threw a number of passes in seven-on-seven situations, including a nice touch pass to tight end Blake Bell down the sideline. He was held out of team situations that, because there is a pass rush, could involve an accidental collision and an injury.
First-round draft pick Joshua Garnett turned in a final assignment – a paper about religion – at Stanford at midnight Tuesday, making him eligible to practice about 11 hours later. League rules prohibited the guard from practicing with the 49ers until Stanford’s quarter ended, although he was permitted to participate in last month’s rookie minicamp.
Like all the team’s rookies, Garnett started on the third unit and got a few snaps at left and right guard. He seemed ready for the rapid-fire pace of Kelly’s practices; Garnett has kept in touch with players and coaches and watched the sessions he missed on a team-issued iPad.
Garnett said he mimicked the workouts as best he could on the practice fields at Stanford.
“Just staying in contact with the other rookies and asking them what they were doing and trying to double that running,” Garnett said. “Go through it on my own and maybe do like a 10-yard sprint after that. And then give myself five, six seconds and go on to next play and really try and emulate it by myself. I can’t go against somebody, but I can at least get the tempo down a little bit, which I thought would help me out.”
Kaepernick had been limited to shadowing the other quarterbacks in practice. He is expected to be cleared for full practices when training camp begins next month, when it’s expected he will have regained the strength – and weight – he lost during his recovery.
Quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said Tuesday the spring is mostly dedicated to learning the offense, not so much competing for roles, and in that sense Kaepernick is where he needs to be.
“We have a lot of tools – film and virtual reality – for him to get reps with his brain,” Day said. “He’s doing that and he’s also rehabbing. So he’s got a lot on his plate. The good news is that in the preseason we’ll have a bunch of practices and a bunch of preseason games to get everyone ready for September.”
On Tuesday, Kaepernick’s repetitions were real for the first time this year.
He looked a bit rusty in warmups. But when the seven-on-seven drills began midway through practice, he seemed to find a rhythm. The quarterback pecking order Tuesday seemed to be Blaine Gabbert, Kaepernick, Thad Lewis and rookie Jeff Driskel.
“He completed some passes,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said of Kaepernick. “He made a few tough throws in some tight windows. I wouldn’t say it was a bad first day at all.”
Et cetera – It was the first mandatory practice of the year. Everyone under contract was on hand, including nose tackle Ian Williams (ankle) and defensive end Glenn Dorsey (ACL), who are rehabilitating from injuries. Cornerback Dontae Johnson, who suffered an apparent leg injury last week, did not participate, but his injury does not appear serious.
▪ The 49ers will scrimmage against the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos before their preseason games against those teams. The session with the Texans will be in Santa Clara, the first time another team has scrimmaged there.