On Friday, the 49ers’ evening practice featured very few wide receivers taking regular reps. Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins took part in 11-on-11 drills during the end of that session, but besides them the only wideouts available were Anquan Boldin, Chad Hall, Marlon Moore, Chuck Jacobs and Marlon Moore.
Today, that group was joined by A.J. Jenkins, Kyle Williams, Ricardo Lockette and Kassim Osgood, who caught a short touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick at the beginning of practice. Jenkins was more active than Osgood, catching three passes including a 70-yard bomb from Colt McCoy that came about after Jenkins beat cornerback Lowell Rose by at least five yards.
Jenkins isn’t fully healthy, but either he knows he needs to push through the minor aches and pains if he wants to seize what could be a huge opportunity for playing time … or the coaching staff gave him a little nudge.
“He was slowed by not practicing. And he needs reps,” said Jim Harbaugh of Jenkins. “We’re looking forward to him getting those this week, and in the ball game as well. He needs time. He needs playing time.”
In case you hadn’t heard, the 49ers play their first preseason game on Thursday, against the Denver Broncos. While Harbaugh would probably maintain that competition exists at every roster spot and is a good thing for any team, the two position groups that’ll be influenced most by what happens in the preseason are clearly wide receiver and cornerback. Taking that into account, here’s what I noticed during today’s practice.
— Collie caught two passes from B.J. Daniels during the last 15 minutes of practice, pretty soon after he started taking reps. The latter catch was a 40-yarder. Collie and Lavelle Hawkins spent most of practice working on the side, but even with so little time in Greg Roman’s offense I’m finding it hard to believe that Collie won’t end up being one of the top three receivers along with Boldin and Williams by Week 1.
— The passing game wasn’t particularly crisp today. Nick Moody, Perrish Cox, Trenton Robinson, Marcus Cooper and Eric Reid (who played with the defensive first team alongside Donte Whitner today) all deflected passes.
— Cooper probably would’ve had an interception on the pass he broke up, but ended up looking a little woozy after a midair collision with Robinson on the play. Both players looked fine afterward.
— Tramaine Brock and Michael Wilhoite (who played first-team inside linebacker with NaVorro Bowman) both came up with interceptions. Brock wouldn’t talk to the media today, but Carlos Rogers had a lot to say about the fourth-year corner.
“He’s looked good. He’s been stepping up. It’s always a learning process. Especially when you’re coming from whatever number corner he was and playing a lot of special teams, then they ask you to play a big role as the third or fourth corner. It’s a big role. Not only do you have to know special teams, you’ve got to know everything in the playbook. Coaches expect you to know it just as much as one of the starters. They’re going to be on him much more because of (Chris Culliver’s injury),” Rogers said.
“Tramaine will be good. Steady working with him, steady telling him everything I know. He’s got to stay on that iPad a little bit more than he’s used to.”
— Neither Brock nor Nnamdi Asomugha have been what anyone would call dominant during camp, and Harbaugh said the 49ers are currently “assessing” free agent cornerback Eric Wright, who would’ve come to the 49ers in a trade from Tampa Bay but failed his physical. Wright is also facing a court date this week due to a recent DUI arrest in Los Angeles.
— Kyle Williams made a nice diving catch on a Kaepernick pass about 20 yards downfield. He’s listed as the No. 2 wide receiver on the depth chart heading into Thursday’s game, which makes sense (if he can play) simply because he’s the longest-tenured receiver on the team.
— There were a few sacks today, though they’re really only pressures because players aren’t supposed to make contact with the quarterbacks. Cam Johnson got through the line at one point and forced a blown whistle before Kaepernick could get a throw off. Aldon Smith collapsed the pocket on McCoy, who took a tumble as a result. But the most unlikely pass rusher to wreak havoc in the backfield was Lawrence Okoye. Pretty nice upgrade from Friday, when Okoye was asked by defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to run into a blocking shield with his face (photos here if you missed that).
Okoye has a lot to learn (duh), but everyone seems pretty interested in getting him up to speed. After hitting the blocking shield a few times (with his hands this time, not his face), Will Tukuafu took Okoye aside and talked to him for a bit about technique.
— Vance McDonald didn’t have a great day — two drops and a false start. Don’t get too worried, though. McDonald has made several outstanding catches this offseason and is more than bright enough to figure out the snap counts. If the 49ers’ coaching staff is worried about anything with McDonald, it’s in how well he progresses as a blocker.
— Before practice started in earnest, Vernon Davis made a one-handed grab over his back shoulder in a one-on-one drill that drew cheers from a few season ticket holders in attendance.
— Last year, the prospect of returning punts made LaMichael James anxious. But after a year of staring into the sky and judging the flight of an oddly shaped ball while it darts unpredictably in the wind, he’s ready for the challenge.
“The way he catches punts and kickoffs now, you look at him as a trusted agent back there to field punts and kickoffs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s been a lot of time on the jugs. A lot of time catching balls from punters. There was a time there when him and [asst. head coach/special teams coordinator] coach [Brad] Seely and [special teams asst.] Tracy Smith were doing 20-30 minutes of jugs after practice. And that’s where I see the improvement.”
— James said his most difficult work comes during a drill where Seely stands in James’ way as the ball gets kicked (or shot, in the case of the jugs gun), not allowing him to pick up the ball until it’s on the way down.
“I think if you can do that drill you can catch it, because you’re not actually seeing the punt come off the foot,” James said. “When he’s holding you that long, you have to find it in the air and adjust to it.”
Is he ready to be the No. 1 punt returner now?
“Most definitely,” James said.
— Frank Gore had a few carries today. I haven’t attended every practice (today was only my third since training camp started), but it marked the first time I’ve seen him active and in uniform since the Super Bowl (sorry for the reminder). How’d he look? Pretty much the same as always — low center of gravity, feet always moving, extremely difficult to tackle. Gore may not play on Thursday night at Candlestick, but he looks like he’s ready for the regular season now.
— Apparently Andy Lee eats more than anyone on the team. Like, three full plates at every meal. This might have already been reported elsewhere, but I was shocked when someone told me that today. Lee’s probably the skinniest guy on the team.