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49ers Continue to Build at OTAs

Posted May 22, 2012

It’s not like the 49ers haven’t been working together, sweating alongside one another over the past five weeks. There have been two weeks devoted to the team’s offseason strength program workouts, followed by three weeks of 49ers Football School sessions.

Now, the players have convened for Organized Team Activities, which signals the start of the third and final phase of the offseason program.

“We’re getting closer, closer to training camp and closer to the season,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley said following Tuesday’s opening OTA session. “It’s exciting. We moved one step closer and now we’re trying to get better every day.”

Without live contact involved in the OTAs, linemen like Staley can work on the technical aspects of their game.

“We’re really trying to get an understanding of the playbook for the young guys and working the techniques that you don’t really get a chance to do during the season, because you’re gameplanning and what not,” continued Staley, who was recently named the NFL’s No. 67 overall player on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2012. “Right now, it’s the best opportunity to try and improve little things, like hand placement and footwork.”

Working on vital parts of his position will allow Staley to prepare for one-on-one pass blocking matchups in training camp with the likes of Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Aldon Smith, to name a few.

So it makes sense why the 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle isn’t bitter about not facing those dominant defenders in late May.

“There will be plenty of time for that when training camp comes,” Staley said.

Perhaps the biggest change to workouts this week were helmets being permitted in practice. Staley made the most of the debut by sporting a dark grey visor shield inside of his helmet.

On closer inspection, Staley is the only offensive linemen to wear the visor, fancied by some of the team’s defensive backs. However, several of the linemen have adopted the same wider face-mask style in OTAs.

“I’ve had the same face-mask, I know Goody (Jonathan Goodwin) copied me last year,” Staley claimed. “A.D. (Anthony Davis) copied me this year. Some of the younger guys are starting to copy me and my face-mask. I had to be a little bit more of an individual, put a visor on it, and see how long it takes for Goody to copy me again and A.D. to copy me again.”

Beyond style, the wider face-mask increases field vision for second-year lineman Daniel Kilgore, who started wearing the face-mask after seeing Staley and Goodwin utilize them in 2011.

“I can see much better with a wider face,” explained Kilgore, last year’s fifth-round pick, who’s worked at center and guard this offseason. “It’s more of a personal preference. I like mine open.”

The face-mask discussions are just one of the many conversations from the linemen that linger from the field into the locker room.

With Goodwin back for the start of OTAs, the 49ers linemen appreciate having their most experienced player back in the fold.

“I think South Carolina changed him a little bit,” Staley teased. “He was used to watching primetime television at 8, I saw a Tweet yesterday from him complaining about the first NBA Playoff game being done early…

“It’s awesome having him here, he’s so knowledgeable of the offense,” said Staley as he sat up straight on his locker stool to share his thoughts. “He goes in and doesn’t miss a beat. He’s a great veteran leader on the offensive line, but in the time he was gone, Kilgore stepped up and did a really good job running the calls and everything. He got valuable reps at center that he probably wouldn’t have got, so it was beneficial for the whole line.”

Kilgore echoed the sentiments of Staley, the vocal lineman.

“It definitely benefitted me being able to take the snaps with the ones,” Kilgore said. “I know Goody’s a great player and a great teammate. I know he’s been working hard as well, probably as much, if not more than I have.

“I’m glad he’s back so I can learn from him.”

Goodwin has even made a habit of sharing insight with Kilgore while practices are taking place.

“It is very much like having another coach,” Kilgore said. “I come back after a play, I ask him a question and he’ll give me tips.”

Having a mentor like Goodwin, who has 10 years of experience and a Super Bowl ring to his credit, is a big plus for the second-year lineman. However, it’s nothing like having a full offseason to pick up knowledge and momentum prior to training camp.

As Kilgore can attest, not having a full offseason was a difficult experience entering the NFL. That’s why second-year players like Kilgore are very much enjoying taking part in the offseason program.

“Today was a big day,” joked second-year safety Colin Jones, who made 8 special teams tackles in the regular season and added three more in the postseason.

It might’ve been the first OTA exposure to a portion of the 49ers roster like Jones, but it was certainly welcomed.

“I feel like coming in training camp you’re thrown into the fire,” shared Jones, who’s added more bulk to his 6-foot, 208-pound frame as he looks to compete for playing time at safety this coming season.

“At times, I was just lost, completely,” Jones admitted. “But this offseason and the OTA today was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I think it was good for me and everybody else.”

Jones especially appreciated seeing Pro Bowl specialists David Akers, Andy Lee and Brian Jennings take part in the practice session.

“I think it’s great to see all them back here,” Jones said. “Today we did punt team and got Brian back in there snapping the ball so we could get timing. It’s great that they came back.”

Timing is key for special teams players, too. And just like the linemen who rely on physicality to make a living, special teams players will have to wait for later in the summer to really let their physical play stand out.

Until that time, OTAs will continue to allow the players to get reps and a better understanding of what they’ll be asked to do in the coming season.

“I feel like I learned a lot last season. I struggled early, but slowly started to pick up the scheme,” Jones added. “I want to keep that going with these OTAs and into camp.”

With players allowed to line up opposite one another without contact, Kilgore sees it being beneficial in getting a feel for defensive formations.

The hitting might be around the corner, but Kilgore isn’t rushing to get to it either.

“As an offensive lineman, we hit every play so it’s actually nice not to hit,” Kilgore added. “You could still work your technique, your steps, your hand placement, everything but actually hitting. Once training camp gets here we’re going to have to buckle up but it’s nice to be installing it now, working on what we have to get done and focusing really on our techniques.”

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