Vernon Davis isn't attending minicamp. And two of the 49ers' top three (expected) wide receivers – Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson – aren't taking part in anything beyond team drills. So it might be expected that the defense has the upper hand on the offense in mid June.
That was the case today as three defensive players came away with interceptions, one of which would have been a sure touchdown. It came when left outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks read an outlet pass from Colin Kaepernick to his check-down, running back Jewel Hampton. Brooks stepped in front of Hampton for the easy INT. It was reminiscent of one he had in the preseason vs. Matt Schaub and Houston three years ago.
The other interceptions were turned in by Perrish Cox – currently the team's top nickel cornerback – who picked off Josh Johnson and by safety Eric Reid, who victimized McLeod Bethel-Thompson on a pass to Quinton Patton.
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Asked if first-round pick Jimmie Ward, who is not expected to practice until training camp, probably would be the team's nickel back this year, Vic Fangio said, “I don’t think you can assume that. He’s going to certainly get every opportunity to. But he’s missed all this time and he’s learning and he’s a rookie, etc. And we’ll all have to be a little patient with him. But he’ll certainly get every opportunity to.”
Of course, Fangio preached caution last year at this time about whether Eric Reid would start at free safety. Reid ended up starting all 19 games.
It wasn't all bad for the offense. Patton had perhaps the most prolific day of any receiver. He looked quick and sharp, especially on passes over the middle, and he was a favorite target of all four passers today. (Rookie Kory Faulkner rarely gets opportunities in team drills).
Rookie Bruce Ellington also looked sharp. He has excellent acceleration, getting in and out of breaks quickly and turning up field on a dime. He's fluid and may be the fastest of all the wideouts. He beat fellow rookie Dontae Johnson on a deep pass from Bethel-Thompson during one-on-one drills early in practice.
Some of you have asked about second-round pick Carlos Hyde. Running backs – especially big, between-the-tackles running backs – are tough to evaluate during non-contact sessions because, um, there's not a lot of contact permitted.
Hyde, however, has shown nice hands out of the backfield. One of his gifts is that he moves like a smaller man. Today he caught a swing pass during red-zone drills and then outraced Cox to the pylon for a touchdown. ... I didn’t think that Marcus Lattimore was quite as spry Wednesday as he was Tuesday. He seemed to be favoring his hamstring a bit, which may have been the result of going full bore -- or close to full bore -- in Tuesday’s session.
Jim Harbaugh talked up Tank Carradine before practice, saying “you see the flashes and the strength and the ability. Kind of gotta pull him back because we’re not in live situations out here in practice.” Some of us rolled our eyes because that's the kind of effusive praise Harbaugh typically heaps on any player he's asked about (See: Jenkins, A.J.).
But Tank delivered in the afternoon session. Playing right defensive end – Justin Smith's normal spot – Carradine flushed Blaine Gabbert from the pocket on one play and chased him to the sideline. On another close to the goal line, he forced Hampton to bounce outside and get “tackled” for what would have been a loss
Harbaugh said that Smith was “working through something,” which is Harbaugh code for 'Smith is dealing with a slight injury.' Injured or not, a veteran of his standing would not be expected to do much in a June minicamp. After all, Ray McDonald isn't taking a lot of snaps, either. Said Harbaugh of Smith: “He hasn't been cleared to practice yet, but he will be for training camp.”