Today was my first chance to check out the 49ers’ facilities. Although I’ve spent time in the press boxes of the Giants, Sharks, Cal Bears and Stanford Cardinal, the last frontier was Santa Clara, home of the NFL team I grew up watching.
The first thing you see pulling towards the facilities is the new stadium, and it leaves its mark. The angle visible from the street is the open corner of the stadium, where even from level ground you can see the wide expanses inside beyond the staircase. They’re building it incredibly fast, and while it’s still a work in progress the potential is visible. For someone whose only two NFL stadium experiences are Candlestick and O.Co Coliseum, it’s a pretty exciting thing to see.
The media trailer & squeezing what you can out of press conferences
My day pass was waiting at the gate, and after BASG showed me where the media trailer was, I stole Kevin Lynch’s desk for the day (sorry, Lynchie). I had a few minutes to handle the Wi-Fi situation on my archaic laptop, which was surprisingly more than enough time. Maybe my computer sensed I was anxious or something. It generally takes about 45 minutes for ol’ trusty to get acquainted with a new wireless signal.
Although a good handful of the beat writers had already taken off for Kansas City, the media tent was still pretty full for interviews with Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick and Joe Staley. Harbaugh provided some entertainment with his discussion on dreams and goal lists, while Kaepernick was in mid-season form (which is to say his answers were short, to the point and calculated). A lot of people are critical of Harbaugh’s demeanor towards the press, but I find his sessions usually have a little more personality than his quarterback (who is well-versed in the art of saying nothing, thanks to his coach). Does it make for some colorful quotes? No, but the 49ers traded those out for winning football, and I’m sure fans prefer the latter.
Eating on Jed’s dime
Staley turned out to be a no-show (he’s been injured all week and stood on the sidelines during practice today), so lunch followed interviews. I critique my press lunch experiences pretty harshly (I’m sure we all do), and this was a knockout. BASG told me today was the last day the media was fed, so I guess I got lucky. My previous standard was the Stanford press box, which featured a spread of focaccia turkey sandwiches, salads and those cookies with the M&Ms in them. The Santa Clara spread was a full salad bar, rice and pasta with two different kinds of chicken and a separate dessert bar. I half expected to pull out the credit card once I was done serving myself, but it was all complimentary. A far cry from press box hot dogs, and perhaps a sign of better things concessions-wise when the 49ers call Santa Clara home in 2014.
After finishing up writing on the press conference I ventured out to the field on my own (okay, I wasn’t on my own, I was following Chris Biderman around like a spaniel). Immediately to the right of the media tent is a small practice field which backs to the 49ers’ enormous workout barn. Here is where I found Marcus Lattimore working out by himself, while Michael Crabtree stood talking to Patrick Willis and a few others riding on exercise bikes. Apparently this was the first time BASG had spotted Crabtree at practice (not surprising), but Willis has been around quite a bit (not surprising either).
Practice started with stretching and some punting drills, which featured Andy Lee receiving a snap and pretending a punt before dropping the ball and having an assistant coach launch one from a jugs machine behind him (they’ve got to save the golden leg!). B.J. Daniels and LaMichael James both dropped punts — the latter received some words of encouragement from Tom Rathman for it.
Afterwards they moved onto red zone 7-on-7s, which featured a little bit of Kaepernick and a whole lot of Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien. They alternated out players and ran plays from varying sides of the field with varying position groups. Once it reached full 11-on-11s, the first-team offense faced blaring music from giant speakers in the near end zone. All I could think was how rough it must be to live in the houses across the street from the practice field.
It wasn’t a fully padded practice so how much can truly be gleaned from it is questionable. Still, much focus was on the wide receivers, with all eyes on A.J. Jenkins. In 11-on-11s he ran a 15-yard curl and came back to catch a bullet from McCoy. The reception drew quite a reaction from his offensive teammates, who seemed like they were well aware of what’s at stake for the former first-round pick.
The highlight of practice, however, came from Chad Hall, who made a ridiculous catch over the head of Donte Whitner in the back of the endzone. Whitner wandered off to the sidelines to complain to the makeshift ref about Hall’s feet being out of bounds, but to no avail. He stayed complaining for at least a few minutes.
As practice closed and we were starting to walk away, a small eruption grew from the stretching players on the practice field. We turned around to see Lawrence Okoye stand up as “Teach Me How to Dougie” came blasting on the same speakers providing the faux-crowd noise earlier. Okoye didn’t need to be taught, though. He already knew, and he danced while the team cheered him on.
I found my way into 49ers facilities on the last day of media availability for practice, which I suppose is pretty lucky. I’m sure not all days involve players dancing or Harbaugh talking about his dreams. Still, if this is the first of many more, you won’t find me complaining.