OTA Takeaways Week 3: Passing Game Struggles

Michael Crabtree (Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers opened an OTA practice to the media Tuesday in which Vernon Davis and Alex Boone remained absent while continuing their unhappiness with their current contract. It was a rough day for the team's passing attack. Or it was a better day for the defense, as Jim Harbaugh tabbed it.

The 49ers opened up their OTA practice session to the media again Tuesday. It was a relatively nondescript practice with one underlying theme: the passing game struggled.

Afterwards Jim Harbaugh credited his defense for getting hands on balls. But overall, it was clear Colin Kaepernick and his group of receivers - mostly reserves - weren't on the same page for most of the afternoon.

"(The passing game) just wasn't clicking as much today," said Harbaugh. "Better day for the defense, better day for the secondary. I thought our linebackers made some real good plays on the underneath coverage. Corners were breaking up balls, got hands on balls. Same with the safeties, they're doing a good job anticipating and covering a lot of ground back there. Real pleased from that standpoint.

"We're making plays on the defensive side of the ball right now."

Part of that could be because of the continued absence of Vernon Davis, who is away from the team because he's unhappy with his contract. Last offseason Kaepernick and Davis connected for explosive plays almost daily during both training camp and OTAs.

Anquan Boldin wasn't on the field either, but he did participate in the first practice open to the media two weeks ago.

Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson and Quinton Patton were there for the early portion of the practice and worked on individual red-zone routes with Kaepernick, but all cut out roughly half way through to resume individual workouts in the team's weight room and side field. Crabtree remains on his own program after tearing his Achilles during OTAs last year.

"He's taking an approach that he's not the way we did last year, not the way some of our other receivers are right now," Harbaugh said. "He's working the entire practice. He's just doing individual, doing some routes on there. Then he moves over to a workout-type of phase. That's the plan. We tried it one way last year and now we're trying it a different way and hopefully we can hit the sweet spot of having him really burn once we get to the training camp and the season."

Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington led the receiving corps for the day that also included Chuck Jacobs and Devon Wylie getting a volume of reps. But overall, it wasn't a banner day for the offense.

The 49ers have two more OTA sessions this week (both closed to the media) before beginning their mandatory minicamp June 17-19 next week. Per NFL rules, those practices will be open to the media.

—On the Davis front, Jim Harbaugh said he expects his star tight end to participate in the mandatory sessions next week, despite Davis' absence from the facility to this point. Tuesday Harbaugh echoed Davis' sentiment last week in an interview with ESPN.

"If it's mandatory, I think I should be there," said Davis. "My foot could get stuck in the grass, and I may not be able to get out ... but if it's mandatory, I think I should be there."

Davis is the third-highest paid tight end in the league on average and has two years remaining on his front-loaded six-year, $42.7 million deal. He's due to become the 49ers' second-highest cap figure this season making $7.343 million.

Coming off his second 13-touchdown season Davis is likely hoping to cash in on his leverage in the form of an extension and more guaranteed money. But with Crabtree and Mike Iupati entering their contract years, Davis' situation might not be on the 49ers' front burner at this point. We'll know a lot more about the situation if Davis decides to participate in the mandatory minicamp next week, or not.

How important is Davis to the offense?

"Important," Harbaugh said. "Very important."

Alex Boone also remains away from the team after reportedly wanting a new contract. Boone also has two years left on his deal.

Meanwhile, the 49ers have done some significant work on the interior of their offensive line this offseason, including signing Daniel Kilgore to an extension, drafting Marcus Martin and drafting Brandon Thomas.

San Francisco also added former Dolphin tackle Jonathan Martin via trade, who the team is hoping can learn to play guard.

There's no question Boone has outperformed his four-year, $6.54 million contract he signed before becoming a starter. But given their depth at his position, it doesn't appear as though the 49ers will be willing to bend for his new contract demands.

—The 49ers have brought in quarterback guru George Whitfield and former offensive lineman Bob Whitfield as coaching interns as part of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship. They will work with the team for the remainder of the offseason, including training camp.

Harbaugh said he has known George from his time in San Diego where he's been known for training quarterbacks during the pre-draft process.

Bob - a former NFL lineman of 15 seasons - went to Stanford, where Harbaugh has obvious connections.

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