Trouble focusing. Sweaty palms. Stiff neck. Irritability – especially when a loved one suggests you watch golf or tennis. I’ve seen this combination before. It sounds as if you might be suffering from football withdrawal.
Oh sure, you may have dealt with mild issues in previous Julys. But the symptoms – including a sense that time is moving excruciatingly slowly – likely are more acute this summer. After all, the 49ers’ first training camp practice isn’t until Aug. 1, later than it has been in more than a decade. The calendar is largely to blame. Labor Day is Sept. 7, the latest date possible, and the season starts at the end of that week, the latest it can possibly begin.
Another reason is that the 49ers held their mandatory minicamp, the last session of the spring, on June 9-11 and then broke for the summer. That’s one week earlier than they’ve been cut loose in previous years and a week earlier than all but four other teams. (Because they have a new coach, the 49ers were granted an extra minicamp session, which meant they also began the offseason earlier.) Consequently, the span between the final spring practice and first training camp practice is 51 days. Last year, it was 35 days.
It also shows the differing philosophies between the 49ers’ current and former coach. Jim Harbaugh viewed the 49ers’ facility as a sanctuary. Harbaugh believed there is no finer place than a football facility, and he wanted his players there grinding as much as possible.
A good argument could be made that they ultimately were ground down by this concept. That’s what Alex Boone said in his interview with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” in April. Boone noted that Harbaugh’s intensity jump-started the middling 49ers when the coach arrived in 2011. But Boone said it became tiresome in ensuing years. “I think he just pushed guys too far,” he said.
It also starts to explain the huge number of injuries the 49ers suffered last year, as well as their unprecedented rash of retirements.
First-year coach Jim Tomsula, on the other hand, wants to give his players as much time off as possible so they are fresh and energized for the start of the season. Tomsula’s theory is that if his guys start to miss football, like you, they’ll be eager for its return. The 49ers see this as Tomsula’s strength – his insight into his players’ makeup and a sensitivity toward what they need and how they’ll respond.
In his players’ eyes, Tomsula’s spring practices were a success. The sessions were fast-paced. There were no major injuries. And the 49ers concentrated on correcting every component – getting to the line of scrimmage quickly, for example – considered problematic under Harbaugh. Left tackle Joe Staley, who is suddenly the veteran voice of the franchise, called it one of the best offseasons he has experienced since joining the team in 2007.
“Everybody’s very focused and excited,” he said. “I think with a new coaching staff, (there is) new energy, new ideas, I think that has something to do with it as well.”
Now the question shifts to whether Tomsula can sustain that momentum in training camp. Can this nice guy who is attuned to his players’ feelings step on the accelerator when needed? Can he toughen them to compete in the rough-and-tumble NFC West? Can he push them the way Harbaugh successfully did when he became the coach?
There are still 12 more days before we start to find out.