All in an opening day
Crabtree watched practice wearing protective boot
Crabtree watched practice wearing protective boot publisher
Posted Jul 29, 2011

The 49ers started over again Friday with a new head coach for the fourth time in nine years, and Jim Harbaugh didn’t waste time taking a good look at what he has to work with, sending his crew through a debut training camp practice that closed in on three hours. It was a day of first impressions on the field and also a busy one off it as the Niners continue to lose players without replacing them.

--- Harbaugh spent a lot of time blowing his whistle in his first practice as 49ers coach, directing traffic as his players participated in dual pairings on two fields at the team’s Santa Clara headquarters before coming together for a final hour of 11-on-11 team drills.

--- “We had a really good day yesterday, and I thought we got better today,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll define success if we can come back tomorrow and be better tomorrow than we were today.”

--- The 49ers will want to get better in a hurry in the most elemental of offensive functions: Rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick and new center Adam Snyder flubbed the snap exchange several times during team drills.

--- Snyder snapping to Kaepernick? That’s not exactly the starting battery you would have expected for the first first-team snap of training camp.

--- With Kaepernick and undrafted rookies Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the 49ers had to have the most inexperienced group of quarterbacks to start a training camp in team history, not to mention any training camp in the NFL this season.

--- In attempting to gauge how Kaepernick looked in his first 49ers practice compared to how Alex Smith looked in his first 49ers practice in the spring of 2005, the verdict would be… Noticeably better.

--- Smith was an observer Friday, as he will be until the start of the new NFL year on Aug. 4. But staying true to his team-oriented character, Smith was on the field practically the moment after he could officially sign his one-year deal with the team as a free agent. At 3 p.m. Santa Clara time, all NFL free agents and other eligible players could sign with their teams. Smith was out on the field wearing shorts, hanging close to Harbaugh and other offensive players, not more than a few moments after that.

--- Two other free agents who played for the 49ers last year – defensive end Ray McDonald and offensive lineman Tony Wragge – also signed their new deals with the team and were on the field as spectators by the end of the first hour of practice. McDonald signed a lucrative five-year deal while Wragge is back with the team on a one-year contract.

--- First camp casualty: Before the Niners even hit the field Friday, they already had their first prospect for the injured reserve list. Cornerback Curtis Holcomb, the last of San Francisco’s 10 draft picks this year, ruptured his Achilles tendon during a conditioning drill Thursday and is likely to miss the season. Holcomb will have surgery to repair the tendon and is expected to be placed on injured reserve before the 49ers fill out their summer roster.

---- And when they fill it out is anybody’s guess. The 49ers added no new players to their roster Friday besides the three free agents who already had previously agreed to terms. Meanwhile, that roster continued to see its numbers reduced as free agents that were on it last year sign with other teams.

--- The 49ers continue to bleed veteran defenders, losing free-agent outside linebacker Travis LaBoy, who tied for third on the team last year with five sacks. LaBoy signed a two-year contract Friday with the San Diego Chargers, the same team that stole linebacker Takeo Spikes from the Niners earlier in the week. Both players will be re-united with Greg Manusky, San Diego’s new defensive coordinator who coached LaBoy and Spikes in that role with the Niners last year.

--- And then there’s these guys: The 49ers parted ways with more of their immediate past by releasing two of their best players over the last half decade. Veteran kicker Joe Nedney was cut, as expected, but the team also didn’t waste any time clearing up the status of veteran center Eric Heitmann, who also was released. Both players were designated released/failed physical.

--- Nedney leaves as the most accurate kicker in 49ers history, having made 86.6 percent of his field-goal attempts with the team. Heitmann, a three-time winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award, had been San Francisco’s most consistent offensive lineman since joining the team as a seventh-round draft pick in 2002, when he had the first 12 of his 114 starts as a 49er. Heitmann, who had surgery to repair a ruptured disk in his neck earlier this year, was expected to miss a second consecutive season to injury this year.

--- In cutting loose Nedney and Heitmann, the 49ers dumped two recent roster mainstays, both of whom were among San Francisco’s most prominent and productive players before they were curtailed by injuries last season. The Niners, however, had just one winning season during Heitmann’s nine-year career – his rookie season – and the team was 37-59 during Nedney’s tenure, despite his total of 541 points the past six seasons while leading San Francisco in scoring every year.

--- Nedney’s replacement, David Akers, who agreed to a multi-year deal with the Niners on Thursday, did not join the other free-agent signees on the field. Fabrizio Scaccia will handle the kicking for the 49ers until Akers is allowed to practice next week.

--- This team needs to find another veteran wide receiver ASAP. If Michael Crabtree is going to be out four-to-six weeks with a foot injury, as some reports suggest, then the 49ers better start coming up with an alternative plan of what they’re going to do without him.

--- Crabtree watched practice with a protective boot clinging to his left foot. Harbaugh would not discuss Crabtree’s injury or give a timetable for his return.

--- But the Niners need him back yesterday. Of the 10 wide receivers that took the field for the 49ers on Friday, at least five aren’t likely to ever see the light of a Sunday afternoon inside a NFL stadium.

--- On the first individual drill for receivers, when wideouts ran in a straight line toward new receivers coach John Morton, who tossed a point-blank pass at them, it only took five passes before the group recorded its first drop, with rookie Ronald Johnson dropping the soft throw delivered right between his hands.

--- But Johnson looks like a keeper, as he has great burst out of cuts and accelerates quickly with the ball in his hands. Keeping the ball in those hands, however, might take a little work.

--- Kaepernick looks a bit light through his lower body, but he simply towers over other offensive players. This is one quarterback who won’t have any trouble seeing over the line of scrimmage, and the ball gets out of his hand quickly and gets where it’s going in a hurry.

--- Kaepernick looked like he was just lobbing the ball while overthrowing speedster Ted Ginn on a fly pattern, which would seem like a difficult thing to do.

--- Speaking of towering… Now listed at 6-foot-8, an inch taller than his listed height of last season, Alex Boone looked like the leaning tower of Pisa as he stood up defenders at left tackle.

--- The 49ers were wearing their cherry-red and gold game uniforms for their first practice, with the names of each player across the back of their uniforms just like on game day. That’s a departure from previous training camps, when the team wore plain red and white jerseys. It also means no tape across the front of helmets for rookies, who used to wear their names on that tape so that they could be identified during the early stages of camp.

--- Friday’s practice was closed to the public, but the sidelines were filled with more than 150 youth, high school and college coaches, who were on hand as part of Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke’s outreach program to USA football coaches.

--- Rookie running back Kendall Hunter is small – way small – but he looks like a match-up nightmare on swing passes out of the backfield.

--- Contrast Hunter to Anthony Dixon, who still is listed at 233 pounds – as he was last year as a rookie – but is packing way more pounds, perhaps as many as 20 more, on his 6-foot-1 frame and promises to bring a wallop this season as Frank Gore’s primary backup.

--- And since we’re dropping Gore’s name, he was conspicuously absent from Friday’s practice, his holdout now official and likely to be a recurring topic until he finally arrives.

--- Ricky Jean Francois is another player who looks bigger now than his listed weight of 295, which would be understandable as he attempts to make his mark this year at nose tackle, where 295-pounders can get pushed around.

--- Somehow, it’s difficult to buy Snyder as this team’s starting center after watching him trying to establish himself at tackle and guard all these years.

--- Throw C.J. Spillman’s name into the mix at safety. He – and not Taylor Mays – was with the regular starting unit along with Reggie Smith at the position.

--- There was a USC product playing throughout the day with the first offensive unit at right guard. But instead of regular starter Chilo Rachal, it was the anonymous Nick Howell, who was signed to San Francisco’s practice squad last December and finished the 2010 season there.

--- Ahmad Brooks lined up with the first team at left outside linebacker in place of free agent Manny Lawson, and the 49ers could do worse if that never changes this year. Brooks was already getting a little chippy in his regular matchups with right offensive tackle Anthony Davis, who clearly looks in better shape than he was at this time last year.

--- The 49ers are going to be just fine – and maybe even better – with NaVorro Bowman instead of Takeo Spikes lining up next to Patrick Willis at inside linebacker.

--- Might want to keep an eye on youngster Keaton Kristick in the linebacker mix, because that’s something San Francisco’s coaches certainly will be doing. Kristick worked his way up from the practice squad to the 53-man roster last October, and with Spikes gone, it looks like he intends to stay there.

--- It’s good to see cornerback Phillip Adams back at full strength just seven months after suffering a devastating ankle injury in Week 16 last season.

--- Until something changes, Tarell Brown and third-round draft pick Chris Culliver are running 1-2 at left cornerback now that Nate Clements is gone. Both players appear solid, and Culliver makes a good first impression as big and fluid, but the Niners would be in much better shape at cornerback if they could have those two players as their top two reserves at the position this year.

--- That means the 49ers still need to find a starter-quality cornerback. As training camp practices begin, this team still needs to find a lot of things.

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