Proving that truth is indeed more interesting than fiction, Mike Singletary's first ever training camp practice this morning was highlighted by a hard-hitting drill he calls ... wait for it, wait for it ... the nutcracker. Yes, it's true. The drill consisted of seven stations at which one offensive player went up against one defensive player in an effort to see who could push the other man back.
Singletary said the nutcracker is superior to the more traditional Oklahoma drill because in the Oklahoma, a defensive player can move around the offensive player. In the nutcracker, there's no way to avoid contact. Said Vernon Davis: "It's like blocking a defensive end or a tackle - you have to engage." The nutcracker requires legs, leverage -- and most important, according to Singletary - fundamentals. The team that has the best fundamentals at the end of the game, wins the game.
So what were the highlights of the first Niners nutcracker? Everyone participated save the QBs, kicking specialists and OT Marvel Smith, who is taking it easy on his back. The players were matched up against opponents their own size. It was hard to follow all the action, but this is what I saw ...
- Michael Robinson seemed to get the better of Patrick Willis in their matchups. Willis' strength, after all, is moving in space and utilizing his speed.
- Fullback Brit Miller actually held his own against Takeo Spikes, a surprise. Willis also gave Miller a shoutout when talking about the drill with reporters.
- Delanie Walker beat Ahmad Brooks on the first go around, but Brooks looked better toward the end. That's a matchup Brooks needs to win.
- Big Bad Alex Boone (BBAB) put Pannel Egboh on his back, but later Demetric Evans did the same to Boone.
- Rookie Bear Pascoe roundly defeated Jay Moore.
- Vernon Davis said he beat Parys Haralson three times out of four.
Speaking of Haralson, he was the only injury this morning. He suffered a hip flexor and is being evaluated. Expect Brooks to be the starting WOLB during the afternoon practice. It turns out that Ricky Jean-Francois doesn't have a spider bite. He has a staph infection, which is what my Spidy sense was telling me all along. (When teams go mysterioso, I think staph). According to the team, RJF contracted the infection while working out on his own in Miami. He was placed on the non-football injury list upon arrival, which essentially documents that the 49ers feel he got the infection away from their facility. The 49ers have had a number of staph infections in the past. Last year Josh Morgan and Keith Lewis were afflicted.
The starting spots were mostly the same as they were in the spring. Some notables: Shaun Hill started at quarterback. Tarell Brown was ahead of Dre Bly at cornerback. (Bly and Shawntae Spencer were the second stringers). Adam Snyder was ahead of Marvel Smith at right tackle. Smith said this was the first time he's had to compete for a starting job since he was a rookie. Still, he said he's not complaining. After all, he's moving to a new team and he's coming off two back surgeries. I'll have more on the QB situation - including a few boos for Alex Smith by the assembled fans - in a later post.
The first practice was just ok, which is what you'd expect from the first practice. Singletary stopped the session three times and afterward reiterated that the team has a long way to go before it can be called a good team. "In a nutshell, we just have to be better in everything we do," he said. In all honesty, the 49ers didn't look that bad. I've seen waaaaaay uglier practices. But Singletary will be very demanding this summer and I expect him to continue this stance throughout. ... I though Isaac Sopoaga, who had several hits behind the line of scrimmage and batted down a pass, stood out. The other Isaac -- Bruce -- also looked good. ... Speaking of batting down passes, Manny Lawson jumped -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- 15 feet in the air to swat down a screen pass. Ok, maybe it wasn't 15 feet, but it certainly wasn't a leap someone dealing with a lingering knee injury could make.
By the way, the Twitter response was overwhelming. Yesterday, I reminded people to sign up to my Twitter account and, like Aquaman summoning his ocean friends, you guys responded in force. Please share any ideas/suggestions on what you'd like to see on Twitter ...
-- Matt Barrows