Coordinator Robert Saleh said earlier this month that the theme of his 49ers defense this year will be “extreme physicality.” On the second day of mini-camp, reporters got a glimpse at what he meant.
There is no tackling or hitting allowed in the voluntary session, but the 49ers defenders did everything short of that. One emphasis this offseason appears to be rallying to the football – something for which one of Saleh’s former teams, the Seattle Seahawks, are known – and on Wednesday ball carriers were swarmed by five or six defenders, each intent on trying to pry the ball loose. At times it looked like a pride of lions jumping on an injured buffalo.
Among those doing the swarming: middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who did not appear limited in one of his first practices since suffering an Achilles tear last year. The group succeeded once in dislodging the ball with running back DuJuan Harris, although Harris was able to get the ball back.
The top play of the practice for the defense may have been cornerback Rashard Robinson’s leaping interception on a sideline pass from Brian Hoyer that was intended for receiver Rashad Ross.
With Tramaine Brock no longer on the team and Jimmie Ward playing safety, Robinson is a frontrunner to start at cornerback this year. He and Dontae Johnson were in the starters roles on Wednesday.
Here was the two-deep depth chart on defense. Arik Armstead, who has been lining up in walk-throughs at the “Leo” end spot – among other positions – did not take part in the team session as he is still coming back from shoulder surgery. Eli Harold also would have figured into the mix at the strong-side linebacker spot, but he is dealing with a toe injury.
LDE: Tank Carradine, Zach Moore
NT: Earl Mitchell, Mike Purcell
DT: DeForest Buckner, Quinton Dial, Chris Jones
RDE (Leo): Ronald Blair, Aaron Lynch
SLB: Ahmad Brooks, Dekoda Watson
MLB: NaVorro Bowman, Brock Coyle
WLB: Malcolm Smith, Ray-Ray Armstrong
FS: Jimmie Ward, Vinnie Sunseri
SS: Eric Reid, Jaquiski Tartt
CB: Rashard Robinson, Will Redmond
CB: Dontae Johnson, Prince Charles Iworah
NCB: K’Waun Williams
On offense, newcomer Aldrick Robinson caught several passes from Hoyer. So did Pierre Garçon. The best catch may have been turned in by former Sacramento State star DeAndre Carter, who made a diving catch down the sideline on a long throw from Matt Barkley.
The offensive line was composed the way it looked last year: LT Joe Staley, LG Zane Beadles, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Joshua Garnett and RT Trent Brown. Newcomer Jeremy Zuttah did not take part in any of the team drills.
Et cetera – Others who did not practice in full: WRs Bruce Ellington (soft tissue) and Eric Rogers (ACL rehab), RB Raheem Mostert and TE Blake Bell (head).
▪ Ellington presumably would be among the punt-return candidates if he were healthy. Those filling that role Wednesday were Ross, Carter and Jeremy Kerley.
▪ The 49ers are giving three players tryouts: CB Steve Williams (Cal), OL Tim Barnes (Missouri) and OL Kitt O’Brien (Ball State).