On the Field
There was plenty of news regarding injuries from 49ers camp Sunday. First, linebacker Darius Fleming – who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee – appears to have reinjured the same knee in a serious way. In OTAs Fleming appeared to hurt the same knee, but the prognosis was better than expected and he’s continued to stay on the field. Fleming was activated from the PUP list July 25 and has been participating with a brace on that knee. But Sunday, during a special teams coverage drill, Fleming hit the ground hard and was unable to get up on his own. He clutched his left knee and could not put any weight on it. More on this as it develops.
After tweaking his hamstring in Saturday’s practice, receiver Kyle Williams did not dress for Sunday’s afternoon session. There’s no indication of the severity of his injury, but it would appear as though he’ll rest as a precaution until he’s fully healthy. Given the state of the team’s wide receivers, there’s no reason to rush him back and risk re-injuring himself.
Ricardo Lockette appeared to injure his right hip while trying to make a one-handed catch in the end zone down the left side of the field. He stretched and received treatment on the field and continued to practice, but pulled up on a route with the ball thrown his way late in the day. His prognosis is unclear.
On a more positive note, receiver Marlon Moore had a good day Sunday. He continues to showcase his speed and willingness to attack the ball in the air. With Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Williams and now perhaps Lockette dealing with injuries, Moore has an opportunity to distinguish himself in the battle at wide receiver.
After having a rough day Saturday, rookie tight end Vance McDonald had a very nice practice Sunday. Colin Kaepernick found him on two different corner routes down the field during 11-on-11s. McDonald also had a good showing in one-on-one blocking drills against linebackers.
Ian Williams has been getting reps with the first team base defense. The third-year nose tackle out of Notre Dame shows good explosion off the ball and quickness into the backfield. He was a handful for Alex Boone when the first team offense was lined up against the No. 1s on defense. Williams is lighter on his feet than the 49ers’ former nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and more apt to rushing the passer in base situations. The question about Williams is if he can be stout against the run. Run stuffing is where newcomer Glenn Dorsey might have an advantage.
First round pick Eric Reid had a strong day, making his first interception of the summer on a pass from Scott Tolzien. He later deflected a pass intended for Anquan Boldin.
Reid was paired with Craig Dahl on the second unit while C.J. Spillman got reps alongside Donte Whitner on the first team. Dahl had a rough day in coverage Saturday, which could be the reason why Spillman was working with the first group.
The 49ers will enjoy their first off-day of training camp Monday.
In the Press Tent
Before practice, head coach Jim Harbaugh was questioned about defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye, the former British Olympic discus thrower who is playing football for the first time. After spending the entire offseason program working on becoming a viable player in the NFL, Saturday was the first time he wore his full assortment of pads.
Harbaugh said he sought out the 6’6”, 304-pound 21-year-old before practice began. It reminded him of the first time he put the armor.
“I asked him how he was doing. Thought it would be an interesting guy to talk to before the start of the first padded practice,” Harbaugh said.
“I remember my first padded practice. Pee Wee football, Ann Arbor Michigan, 1973, was so excited to put the gear on, I slept with it all around my bed that night. I put the thigh pads on wrong, top part of the thigh pads were sticking down. The narrow part was sticking out.
Okoye is a project for defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who has a background with NFL Europe. And like any player, it’s been tough to gauge any progress during OTAs without putting the pads on.
Now that there’s contact in practice, Harbaugh saw some things he liked from Okoye.
“The arm length, that really stands out in the pads more than it did not in the pads,” he said.
Harbaugh would elaborate further about what he meant when speaking about Okoye’s length, considering it was there even without the pads. He mentioned his ability to “lock out” offensive linemen as a plus.
Aldon Smith has taken notice of Okoye, calling him a “strong guy” from his work in the weight room and has taken steps to help his new teammate.
“It’s going to be something for him to learn, to drop his hips and sink down. But I think this is his first year playing football…he’ll continue to improve,” Smith said.
It would be a long shot to consider Okoye a candidate for a spot on the 53-man roster, but if he progresses the way the team hopes, there’s a good chance he could find himself on the practice squad. The 49ers seem very intrigued with his potential and hope Tomsula can mold him into a player of value down the line.
Vernon Davis made a dramatic appearance in the media tent before practice began, taking hold of the microphone himself instead of using a stand. His session was highlighted by comments about the continued evolution of Kaepernick and his development since taking over the starter’s role midway through last season.
“What you saw (last year), you saw Colin developing into a great quarterback and you saw the rest of the guys including myself following him and just trying to figure him out,” Davis said.
“I can tell you this, from the time he started, all the way up to the Super Bowl, totally different guy right now. Touch. Precise decisions. He’s talking more, he’s being a leader, he’s working hard. He’s working extremely hard.”
Davis has looked sharp early on in training camp and has taken the majority of his reps with the wide receivers. Kaepernick has connected with Davis on a number of down-field throws in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 team drills, highlighted by a deep corner route toward the end of practice Saturday.
There isn’t likely much to read into regarding Davis practicing with the wideouts. He’s been in the league for seven seasons and has a firm grasp on his blocking assignments. For now, he’s working to refine his route running and chemistry with Kaepernick while the team looks to replace Michael Crabtree’s production.
“I’m just here to contribute. I’m a piece of the puzzle. That’s all I am. I’m not here for statistics, I’m not here to go to the Pro Bowl, I’m just here to do my job. And that’s all I can do. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m up for it. I’m up for the challenge,” Davis said.
Aldon Smith said his drop in production toward the end of last season was a result of a variety of factors. He noted his shoulder injury that became a problem in Week 11’s win never had to time to heal properly. And when Justin Smith suffered a torn triceps muscle in Week 15, it allowed opponents’ to focus their blocking schemes on him.
“The double teams, triple teams at times,” Smith said. “Of course not having Justin beside me they could add a lot more attention on me. The shoulder. I’m not a man of excuses, but being hurt doesn’t make anything easier.”
Aldon said Justin Smith looks healthy during camp and the two are looking to pick up where they left off last season. Their two-man pass rushing attack in which they would run various stunts and pulls against opposing blockers allowed Aldon to notch 19.5 sacks in the season’s first 13 games. But when his shoulder injury worsened and Justin came back as a shell of himself, Aldon didn’t have another sack for the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
Entering his third year in the league, Smith was asked about his evolution as a professional and the changes he made in his life since being a rookie in 2011.
“The consistency and the way you take care of your body. Your time management. Those are the important ones. As long as you manage all those things and do what you’re supposed to do. However you want to be remembered in this league. You can treat yourself like you want to play for three (years) or you can treat yourself like you want play for 13. So that’s how I learn,” he said.