I forgot today was the first open practice at Levi’s Stadium, until I took the Great America Parkway exit off 237 and saw more traffic in left and center lanes than I’ve ever seen on that stretch. It was around 11:45, a little over an hour before practice, so I had plenty of time. But with only about 10,000 red-clad fans in attendance, I have to wonder how rough the traffic is going to be when 68,500 fans pack the place (and all those surface streets).
The 49ers and the city of Santa Clara have a little over a month to figure that out, but today the team was concerned with getting their footing — literally. The turf at Levi’s Stadium is lush. The ground is dry and flat as can be, but it seems softer than Candlestick’s grass. The team seems to like it, but Jim Harbaugh wanted to make sure they played with caution in order to avoid sustaining any further injuries.
“Really good, really good. Players commented. It’s a little bit different than our grass field at the practice field, little bit more Bermuda in it. Thought it was good, really good traction. A lot of people were happy,” said Harbaugh.
“We found out real quick what cleats we want to wear,” said Perrish Cox, who intercepted Colin Kaepernick on a fade throw to David Reed in the right corner of the end zone. “We haven’t felt it when it rained, or (any other) kind of weather change. But we got a beautiful day today, and it was great.”
The scout team saw more action today than any other practice so far, but for the most part the key participants got reps. Here are some basic stats I calculated from today’s work (mostly 11-on-11), and these numbers are far from official.
- Colin Kaepernick: 14-for-17, one interception
- Blaine Gabbert: 13-for-18, two interceptions
- Josh Johnson: 14-for-20, one interception
- McLeod Bethel-Thompson: 9-for-18, one interception
- Chuck Jacobs: eight receptions
- Quinton Patton: six receptions
- Anquan Boldin: five receptions
- Devon Wylie: four receptions
- Jewel Hampton: four receptions (all checkdowns)
- Bruce Ellington, Will Tukuafu, Derek Carrier and Asante Cleveland: three receptions
Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd were not on the field, and Stevie Johnson had a couple catches. There were a few nice grabs made, including a diving catch by Jacobs on a comeback route (McBLT threw the pass) and a pretty 20-yard pass from Kaepernick to Boldin along the left sideline, but the real story was the INTs.
Here’s Chris Cook during warmups, lobbing a pass to a teammate.
After this pass, Jimmie Ward wanted in on the fun. It appeared as if they were taking turns catching passes from the same guy, after all.
But Cook was in the mood for some takeaways.
That continued during practice, as Cook picked off two deep passes — one from Blaine Gabbert, and the other by Josh Johnson. (The INTs I haven’t mentioned: Darryl Morris caught a deep ball from Bethel-Thompson, and Chris Borland came down with a pass from Gabbert over the middle that was tipped by Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman.)
Cook’s an interesting case, because the 49ers love his size and athleticism. However, he was a borderline bust-type player in Minnesota, in part because he had the kind of hands that cause announcers to spout the old cliche: “that’s why (fill-in-the-blank cornerback) doesn’t play receiver.” Cook clearly took that to heart after signing with the 49ers.
“I focused on that mainly in the offseason. I spent a lot of time catching balls and having balls thrown at me, turning my back and then turning and and looking to find the ball,” Cook said. “I feel like I’ve definitely improved in that area.”
Miscellaneous Practice Notes
— Frank Gore had seven carries and a catch today. He also garnered the loudest cheers of anyone on the team after his first few carries. With this year possibly being his last with the 49ers, expect a lot of long, appreciative ovations for Gore this year.
— I haven’t gone overboard in my praise of the new stadium yet, because I want to see what it’s like with a full house and a real game taking place first. But the scoreboards above each end zone are incredible. Not only are they enormous, but the picture is ridiculously bright and vivid. Not that anyone reading should care, but they also made our jobs a lot easier today because we could watch replays of nearly every snap.
— Ahmad Brooks got to go against a few scout team tight ends and tackles, and it wasn’t really fair. He had a few “sacks” (no contact), and knocked the ball out of Bethel-Thompson’s right hand with a quick swipe to force a fumble.
— The 49ers can’t afford to lose another running back (they signed one today: undrafted free agent Glenn Winston out of Michigan State), so I’m sure some people got nervous when Carlos Hyde muffed a kickoff and appeared to suffer a hand injury of some sort. But it was just a fingernail that got “a little bloody around the edges” according to Harbaugh. After a brief rest, Hyde participated in the rest of practice. After returning, he did drop a 10-yard pass that hit both of his hands.
— Aaron Lynch is an interesting prospect, and not just because he’s a very, very large human being. Don’t be surprised if he gets a sack or two in the preseason.
— Speaking of preseason, Harbaugh said Kaepernick would get two series at the most on Thursday in Baltimore. If the first drive is a good one, that might be all.
— Tony Jerod-Eddie and Mike Purcell are going to get their chances to earn Glenn Dorsey’s snaps at nose tackle (rough news over the weekend for Dorsey on that bicep tear that’ll keep him out at least through the regular season). But this is Quinton Dial’s job to lose. He’s a bit tall for the position, but there’s no doubt he can handle guards and centers. Dial is a mountain.
— I’m the opposite of shocked that Jon Baldwin got cut yesterday. The 49ers had to get rid of A.J. Jenkins simply to avoid the weekly questions about his production (or lack thereof), but Baldwin came into camp in lousy shape and never seemed to care all that much about what was going on.
— I’m sensing that Borland could end up starting alongside Patrick Willis by Week 1. Michael Wilhoite is still the favorite, but Borland is one of those “always around the ball” kind of players, like Eric Reid. Borland had a tipped pass to go along with his interception.
— Shayne Skov, on the other hand, does not appear to be of much use in coverage. He could be someone they use on running downs, but I’m not sure why they 49ers would use him over Borland or Nick Moody at this point. It’s still early, though.
— The wind didn’t seem to be a problem at all on a gorgeous afternoon at Levi’s. Phil Dawson nailed a field goal from 53 yards and made it look fairly easy. No matter what, one has to figure it’ll be easier to kick at Levi’s than the Stick.
— I could be wrong, but Vance McDonald looks a lot more sure of himself this year. He had some good practices and preseason performances last year, but it seemed like he was more of a physical freak than a football player as a rookie.
— “I’m always fighting for a roster spot. When they brought in Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson, hey, more competition. Competition brings out the most in everybody,” said Patton, who’s jealous of Boldin’s nickname.
“That’s Uncle Anquan, to me,” Patton said with a smile. “I really want to call myself ‘Q’ because his name starts with an ‘A.'”
— One last photo before I get out of here and make the hour-plus drive back to San Francisco: Bruce Ellington making a sideline catch during individual warmups.