No Super Bowl runner up has ever won a championship the following season, but that doesn’t seem to bother Jim Harbaugh.
“Firm believer that if you have to talk about what you did yesterday, no matter how good it was, then you haven’t done much today,” he said before his team took the field to open training camp.
Harbaugh’s message has appeared to rub off on his quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who enters training as the team’s starter for the first time as a pro entering his third season. Kaepernick and Harbaugh both addressed the ascending star’s busy offseason that included being on a major magazine cover in the buff while fans purchased his jersey more than any other player in the league.
“Kap is a diverse guy. And the coaches love him, the players love him. It’s unique in that way, maybe, for a quarterback. You don’t always see that, but I see that with Kap,” Harbaugh said.
“He’s universally respected in the locker room and loved by his teammates. I guess I see that from the 25 to 35 demographic too, buying jerseys."
Kaepernick wasn’t quite so willing to discuss his off-the-field popularity since bursting on to the NFL scene last season after taking over for Alex Smith. But he was willing to offer insight to the adjustments he’s making in his leadership position now that he’s become fully immersed in the role.
“I think if your players, your teammates don’t respect you, if they don’t feel that you’re someone that they can come to, talk to, associate with, they’re not going to follow you,” Kaepernick said.
“They’re not going to play as well for you on the field and they’re not going to perform for you. So to me, if I can build that relationship and make sure my players and my teammates are comfortable and feel like I can help them.”
There’s little question Kaepernick’s encore to his outstanding 2012 has become the focal point of the 49ers offseason, as has the way teams all over the league are adjusting to the read-option attack that’s become en vogue thanks to the influx of athletic quarterbacks.
And to help counter, the 49ers added former defensive guru Eric Mangini, a disciple of Bill Belichick, to help on the offensive side counteract forthcoming defensive adjustments to the team’s new-wave offensive scheme.
Mangini has expressed in interest in returning to the sideline to become a head coach again one day, so a reasonable transition from his work on television would be to join one of the more renowned coaching staffs in the league.
“We had an opportunity to add a great coach, strictly be on the offensive side of the ball helping us in a lot of different ways, mainly game-planning looking at future opponents. Seeing where they possibly have a weakness or what strengths, weaknesses coming up with that, helping us come up with that and helping us come up with a game plan,” Harbaugh said.
Earlier Thursday, the 49ers announced wide receiver Kyle Williams had been activated from the active physically unable to perform (PUP) list and participated in practice fully.
Williams suffered a torn ACL in Nov. 25’s win in New Orleans and missed the remainder of the season. He spent the bulk of the team’s offseason program rehabbing his injury and his return for training camp had been uncertain.
The return of Williams comes at a welcome time as Kaepernick and the rest of the offense starts adjusting to life without top wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who tore his Achilles tendon in OTAs and will be out for the foreseeable future.
And outside of the veteran acquisition Anquan Boldin, the 49ers enter 2013 with a relatively obscure group at wideout.
“We don’t feel like that in our room at all. I don’t think the rest of the guys in that locker room feel that way either. They know what we have here and we know what we have here. Losing a guy like 15 is going to hurt…so we’re going to have to pick up the slack,” Williams said.
As the 90-man roster is currently constructed, the other receivers in camp are Chuck Jacobs, Quinton Patton, Kassim Osgood, Chad Hall, A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore and Charly Martin.
Defensive lineman Justin Smith spoke to the media and declared he is 100 percent healthy after having surgery after the Super Bowl to repair his torn triceps. Much of the discussion during his time at the podium was about his return and whether or not he wore down from so many snaps over the last two seasons.
“I think it’s just a part of football,” Smith said. “I think some years you’re going to have more injuries, some years you’re going to have less injuries…it’s football. People are jumping into each other so bad stuff is going to happen once in a while.”
Smith showed resentment towards the league’s new rule for the season that forces players to thigh and knee pads in game. He said he hadn’t worn them in 11 years.
In regards to the rule, Harbaugh said he won’t force players to wear the pads outside of a practice or two before the team’s first preseason game. He said he recommends players wear the pads during practice to get used to them, but that it’s their decision should they elect not to.
The quote of the day might have come from Harbaugh when asked about remembering the hardest hit he had ever taken as a player. He said he couldn't remember any specific play, but offered an invitation to a backyard gathering instead.
“I got some scars. Sometime I’ll have you over for a barbeque and I’ll strip my sleeves and show my scars. I usually do it about once a year for my neighbors. Feast my neighbors and talk about days gone by. But today’s not the day,” Harbaugh said.
On the Field
The most important thing to take away from the team’s first day of training camp is all active players came away healthy.
After individual drills broke and the team went into 11-on-11s, Craig Dahl and Ian Williams lined up with the first team’s base defense. First round pick Eric Reid also received plenty of reps, but it appears the coaching staff has given the veteran Dahl the edge in the early going. Williams looked spry during his reps, as he competes with Glenn Dorsey for snaps at the nose tackle position.
Kaepernick found A.J. Jenkins for a first-down gain on a “third-and-ten” play down the left sideline on an out-route. Jenkins fell to the boundary but appeared to make the catch in bounds.
There’s little doubt Boldin is Kaepernick’s favorite target dating back to OTAs. He hasn’t shown any problems catching Kaepernick’s high-velocity passes and the pair connected on a number of passes Thursday.
Jenkins lined up opposite Boldin with the first team offense, but Williams and others shared time.
To start 11-on-11s, rookie tight end Vance McDonald was on the far field as Garrett Celek took reps as the No. 2 tight end opposite Vernon Davis.
Patrick Willis picked off a pass after Frank Gore couldn’t corral a Kaepernick pass in the flat. Gore bobbled the ball and Willis made a nice play to get two feet in bounds while locating the ball.
Aldon Smith made a nice play deep down the middle of the field in coverage during 7-on-7s to break up a pass from Kaepernick to Boldin. His progression in coverage could be something to watch this year considering his overall length and athleticism.
Former Stanford safety Michael Thomas intercepted Colt McCoy down the right side of the field. Thomas was a practice squad member in 2012.
McCoy and undrafted rookie tight-end MarQueis Gray have developed some chemistry and connected on a number of passes in team drills.