NinersDigest Q&A: Camp Harbaugh all business

How is Camp Harbaugh different than 49ers training camps of the past? Did the NFL lockout leave San Francisco players out of shape for their summer sweat? Why do the Niners seem to have this urgency to rid themselves of safety Taylor Mays? Is Jed York a good CEO, and is he leading the 49ers on the right path toward success? NinersDigest answers your questions and more inside.

Q: What are some of the more notable differences that have been seen in 'Camp Harbaugh' through the first week of practices from Camp Singletary and Camp Nolan? Obviously, the playbook installations may be a little different, but how about the basic way that Harbaugh manages the camp, and delegates to his coordinators and position coaches? What about the atmosphere of the camp? Are the differences stark, or not as big as one might expect with an entirely new regime being put in place?
--- Pudding

Craig Massei: The differences are actually rather significant. Obviously, the three-hour practices sessions are different, but that length is probably as much due to the new CBA rules that limit the amount of time a team can spend on the field each day during training camp. It makes sense to pack it all into one practice session instead of two shorter workouts, but doing it all at once has led to an increased tempo, which has a lot to do with the way Harbaugh is running things. And make no mistake about it – Harbaugh is running things. The only whistle you'll hear during practice belongs to Harbaugh, and he uses it as a practice monitor, signaling when a new period is to begin and end. There are no air horns blaring or digital timers to watch – staples of previous training camps under the coaches you mention. After two weeks of summer sessions, this camp definitely is taking on a different look than its immediate predecessors, reflecting Harbaugh's determined, no-nonsense approach and the new regime's attempt to trim the fat wherever possible, never a frivolous moment to find. That feel of a "let's-get-down-to-business" approach is prevalent throughout Camp Harbaugh. If you think of Singletary's camp as being a rough-and-tumble session being run by a Hall of Fame legend who could be equal parts drill sergeant and down-to-earth former player, think of Harbaugh's as a cleaner, more efficient and more corporate environment where the clear bottom-line goal is winning games, and everything else is just prelude to get there. And have we mentioned yet that there actually seems to be a legitimate offensive design in place now? Yeah, you could say that's a rather stark difference.


Q: With all the safeties in camp right now, are any of the young guys being considered for a position change to cornerback or maybe linebacker?
--- 1628046

CM: The linebacker suggestion sounds like an obvious reference to Taylor Mays, whose talent is being wasted with a team that lists him on its depth chart today as a third-string safety. At 230 pounds on a strapping 6-foot-3 frame, Mays is an athletic talent who wouldn't need to add too much more weight for a position switch, but it's not going to happen with the Niners. As defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week in rejecting such a possibility, "He's just got a safety build to him. Playing linebacker and lining up thick on a tight end or a tackle and having to do combat with 260-, 270-pound tight ends, and 300-, 320-, 340- tackles, don't believe that fits his game right now." Or maybe ever. The only safety on the roster I could see making an immediate move to cornerback is Reggie Smith, who played some corner in college at Oklahoma, but the Niners have been grooming him to be a safety for years, and that's where he fits into their plans now – he was the starting free safety throughout training camp before going down with a knee injury at the end of last week. Smith will be back for the season, where I expect he'll continue to line up as one of the safeties that will regularly dress on game days, whether he starts or not.


Q: During the offseason, there was speculation that the lockout might mean that players showed up to camp out of shape (more so than in a lot of years). We've already heard whispers that Edwards is not in football shape yet. Has this been as big of a problem as some of the fans/media thought it would be? Or are the Niners players in relative shape this year? I ask because, like with every training camp, the injury bug seems to be popping up.
--- Soda

CM: You don't have to whisper Soda – Edwards was out of shape when he arrived in camp a week ago. That happens with some individuals, obviously. But for the most part, this was like any other year for players. They knew that they'd be hitting the ground running at some point this summer, so this offseason was essentially no different for them, as far as staying in shape and staying ready. Today's NFL players know their jobs are a year-round occupation, and they – or most of them, at least – take care of their bodies accordingly. Maybe some conditioning was missed by not having offseason minicamps and OTAs, but these players are no dummies – they know they have to stay in shape and stay prepared with so much competition out there and such a fine line between making it and not making it in the NFL. For the most part, I thought the team was in very good condition during the early stages, considering the missed offseason. The injuries you are seeing, well, they are a part of every training camp. Not to downplay your suggestion, because perhaps an injury or two has resulted from a lax offseason approach. But a big problem? That would be a definite no.


Q: Why the (seemingly) sudden and urgent desire to trade Mays? The method that the 49ers used (a league-wide "mass e-mail") to alert teams that they wished to dump him seems unusual in the NFL and one year seems like a rather short period to decide to give up on a player.
--- Minstrel

CM: I can't understand this one either. I wouldn't say it boggles the mind, because Mays has some clear deficiencies in coverage, and apparently he hasn't made a lot of progress in that area since last season. But for a new coaching staff to give up so quickly on such an athletic talent who possesses obvious skills… The only answer is that there's a strong feeling among the team's brain trust that Mays doesn't fit the system, and they'd like to get something in return for their investment in him, because the guy still has to have some value around the league. Mays clearly isn't one of GM Trent Baalke's "guys" – if it had been Baalke's decision alone, he likely would have drafted somebody else in Mays' second-round slot last year – but the fact that Mays availability has become public knowledge obviously has driven down his price, since he still is a 49er today, and likely will stay that way until a good enough offer arrives.


Q: Wondering if Jed York is on the right path to becoming a successful owner? What are your observations on Jed York?
--- Jackmaul

CM: I've felt all along that this whole Jed-York-running-the-team direction has a lot of promise. York has been groomed for this, and in some ways, he was born for this. He was hanging out on the sidelines as a little kid with Bill Walsh and Super Bowl champion-players, and while that might not necessarily mean anything in the overall scope of things, the point is that this is in his blood and – even more importantly – this is in his heart. Now, if York was clueless, this would all be irrelevant. But he's not. He's sharp and well-educated, and he's still in the midst of his graduate course in football administration. Remember that Jed was part of the interview team when Mike Nolan was hired in 2005 and he has been gradually introduced to the intricacies and big-world policies of running a NFL team ever since. That same year, York joined the 49ers' front office as "special projects manager," a position in which he was able to rove around the building and see how every facet of the organization was run from the locker room downstairs to the executives' offices upstairs. York has a harder edge to him publicly now than he did a few years ago, but that comes with the territory. He's running the San Francisco 49ers. That's not for the weak. And York isn't. While York's path hasn't brought the 49ers to the doorstep of instant success – that Mike Singletary thing didn't exactly work out – I would say give the guy more time before you stop believing he can take them there.

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