It wasn’t a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone, but as singular plays go there was one in particular that could signal good news for Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree, who has missed practice ever since the first day of training camp due to a right lower leg injury, was back in uniform today. He didn’t take part in any team drills, but he ran around quite a bit and caught some balls before the rest of the team started tackling each other.
During a one-on-none drill during the first hour of practice, the ball hit the ground on an incomplete pass to Ted Ginn. For whatever reason, Crabtree dove on the ball like it was a fumble … and actually looked like he was enjoying himself in the process. Yes, it looked kind of strange that Crabtree decided to create his own mini fumble drill. The good news: a man who was still nursing an injury probably wouldn’t dive to the turf unnecessarily.
Since Crabtree didn’t take part in contact drills today it’s doubtful he’ll see his first ever preseason action on Friday, but barring any setbacks he should be back soon. You know, because setbacks for Crabtree rarely happen in August. Moving on…
I missed Saturday’s practice (where apparently the highlight was Jim Harbaugh taking a spill while trying to catch a pitch on a fake field goal play), but Monday’s affair wasn’t quite as lopsided in favor of the defense as what we saw on Friday. However, the defense definitely was the stronger unit once again.
The 49ers hope going against one of the better defenses in the league helps further the development of Colin Kaepernick. One thing about Kaepernick — when he does show some glimpses of what he can do, he can look quite impressive. For instance, Kaepernick whipped a bullet that was caught about 15 yards down the middle of the field by Konrad Reuland, the type of pass perhaps no 49ers QB has ever completed — at least at that velocity.
But Kaepernick isn’t going to set any accuracy records anytime soon, and he’s quick to tuck the ball under his right arm and run. That’s a fine strategy during practice, when hitting the quarterback is prohibited. Also, running down the left sideline after going through his reads is a great way to limit interceptions (like the one Kaepernick threw to Tramaine Brock). But unless he wants to lose limbs during these upcoming preseason games, Kaepernick’s going to need to be more judicious when it comes to running (usually he likes to go to his left) or staying in the pocket.
Harbaugh talked about Kaepernick’s immediate future after practice — specifically the plan for Friday, when the 49ers play their first preseason game at home against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Colin Kaepernick is making some real strides. He needs to play football games and he’ll get that opportunity to do that Friday night in this preseason,” Harbaugh said. “As it stands now, he’s the No. 2 quarterback and he’ll be the No. 2 quarterback in the game on Friday night.”
While Kaepernick is No. 2 on the depth chart, Harbaugh gave no specifics on how many snaps he’d get against the Vikings. But the former second round pick possibly has the most to prove of any QB on the roster. Alex Smith is the starter. Josh Johnson doesn’t have extensive game experience, but five starts and 177 attempts dwarfs what Kaepernick has done in his career. Scott Tolzein has nothing to lose, really, since not many expect him to make the roster and he’ll probably go against third- and fourth-stringers during the preseason.
“Colin specifically, he needs that work. It’s been a long time since he’s played in game action. I kind of liken it to a golfer who does nothing but play the same course over and over and over again,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers’ cornerback depth — a bit of a question mark last season, especially before the 49ers knew what they had in Chris Culliver — looks like a strength in 2012. Brock, Culliver and Perrish Cox all picked off passes on Monday, and Tarell Brown might be the best player in the entire secondary. Carlos Rogers has looked fine as well, and seems to be the unit’s vocal leader. Last year the 49ers suited up four cornerbacks on gamedays … it’ll be a tough battle to see who stays on the active roster this season. As Harbaugh said about the quarterback situation this afternoon, that situation could be “fluid.”
When asked about standouts so far during camp, Harbaugh specifically mentioned Ahmad Brooks and Kendall Hunter.
“Ahmad, don’t know if he doubled, tripled, quadrupled his salary. But this is the best shape he’s been in. People are saying this is the best off-season he’s had,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes people tend to go the other way when money enters the picture like that.”
When it came to Hunter, Harbaugh mentioned improvements in the running back’s “instincts” and “vision.” Harbaugh also said Hunter “really has a chance to have a big year.” However, I wonder if the talk about Hunter is another way Harbaugh is trying to throw us off from the real story…
LaMichael James hasn’t gotten a ton of reps that I’ve seen, but he certainly looks like he belongs in the NFL. He isn’t just fast, he seems efficient in how he runs, where he goes.
This has nothing to do with how James will fare as a running back or a punt/kickoff returner, but on Friday they had some of the second team skill position guys match up against some defenders (mostly DBs) after a special teams drill where players returned kicks (James didn’t drop a single ball shot high up into the air by the machine). For the most part, it was the defensive players who were given the ball and tasked to beat the return guys one-on-one in the open field.
I’m not sure if James played defensive back in high school (I imagine he did), but nobody could get past him. And this was a drill where several offensive players (A.J. Jenkins, for one) got burned by defensive ballcarriers. Here are a few photos, starting with Jenkins:
At Oregon, James had time to bounce around before squirting through the gigantic hole of his choice. He won’t be able to do that in the NFL, but I don’t believe that’ll be a problem.
— Just so it doesn’t like like I’m bagging on Jenkins unnecessarily, he did make a few nice catches on Monday (including a first down pass along the left sideline from Kaepernick). However, none of Jenkins’ receptions looked as impressive as an Alex Smith pass down the right sideline which dropped perfectly over Vernon Davis’ outside shoulder. The pass went for a 25-yard gain near the end of practice during 11-on-11 drills. Afterward, a jubilant Davis hurled the ball underhand straight up, at least 40 feet high. If you’re betting on a 49ers receiver to surpass 1,000 yards, he’s probably the smart guy to take.