SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’s called a nutcracker drill, but it’s really a collision of bodies on a practice field – two players running into each other at full speed until someone gives. Or until they stand off in a sort of truce.
Mike Iupati, the San Francisco 49ers’ rookie offensive guard, smiled Monday when he was asked about participating in the camp’s first nutcracker pitting offensive linemen, fullbacks and tight ends against defensive linemen and linebackers.
”It was crazy and intense,” Iupati said. “It’s fun going against those big boys.”
There’s lots more to come. Niners coach Mike Singletary said he plans to run the nutcracker several more times during camp as a way to teach players proper leverage. But he knows not everyone enjoys the drill, and in fact it resulted in several injuries last year, including one to guard David Baas, who missed almost all of camp as a result.
”I want our guys to understand the whole leverage point of football,” Singletary said. “It’s all about keeping your face up; you cannot play this game with your head down. Some guys are focusing more on technique and getting off, and some guys are just trying to get it over with, just trying to run and get through it.”
But it’s drills like the nutcracker that may help Singletary and his coaching staff decide on his starters. The 49ers drafted two offensive linemen in the first round – Iupati and tackle Anthony Davis – and although both are working out with the second unit, the hope is that they’ll win spots in the starting lineup at some point in camp or early in the season.
Iupati said he understands that he has the opportunity to win the job, and he’ll have a chance to work with the first unit after Baas, the incumbent starter, suffered a mild concussion late in the morning session that may keep him out for a few days. Iupati took several snaps with the first team during the morning session.
”David is a great guy, very physical, and a great player,” Iupati said. “I’m working hard to try and win something, but I’m not going to say I’m going to do it.”
Even so, those are the expectations. For the starters, Baas and right tackle Adam Snyder, their task in camp is trying to hold off the rookies, or at least keep a spot on the roster.
”I think it’s important to keep the mindset that I just need to go out and do the best I can and not worry about what’s going to happen at the end of training camp,” said Snyder, who was considered by some to be the weak link on the offensive line last season. “They drafted a guy to play my position, and I’m glad he’s here. He’s pushing me and getting better, and everything is just going to play out.”
How soon – or if – Davis and Iupati are ready to step in is a question that will answered in the next few weeks. There’s no timetable, Singletary said, but it’s clear the coaches will have their eyes on the rookies looking for a sign that each is ready.
”It’s one of those things that I think we’ll know it when we see it,” Singletary said. “When you’re looking at a rookie offensive lineman, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Well, when he does this or when he does that.’
It’s something that we have to let unfold, and as we watch it closely and monitor it, it will speak out and we’ll know.”