The San Francisco 49ers have a well-deserved day off on Monday.
So with this in mind, it’s time to empty the notebook and take a look at some of the top observations from the first four practices of camp.
1. Crabtree Bursting
One-handed catches 30 yards down the field. Beating press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. Developing chemistry with a number of quarterbacks. That’s been Michael Crabtree’s training camp experience in a nutshell. The veteran play-maker was used sparingly in offseason workouts but that hasn’t been the case in camp. Crabtree is bursting off the ball and showing no signs of his Achilles tear in 2013. Crabtree looks better than ever.
2. Spreading the Wealth
We know Colin Kaepernick has chemistry with Crabtree, as well as with tight end Vernon Davis and veteran receiver Anquan Boldin. What we wanted to see was how he’d mesh with new targets Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. After four camp practices, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Kaepernick has dished the rock to open targets throughout camp and has developed strong chemistry with his new targets.
3. Gabbert Heats Up
Is there a true competition to be the 49ers backup quarterback? It doesn’t feel like it. Sure, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson have been given second-team reps at times, but those two quarterbacks haven’t been as hot as Gabbert, especially over the weekend. During the weekend's final two practices, Gabbert completed 14-of-18 pass attempts. He also fired two touchdown passes on Sunday, finding tight end Vance McDonald in a red-zone team period.
4. On the DL
Members of the 49ers defensive line have a right to be upset. Throughout the spring, the attention was on running backs and receivers. What about the d-line? The first four sessions, sans Pro Bowler Justin Smith, have featured a physical group that is constantly making plays. In particular, second-year linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial have been tough to block. Couple their ascension with fellow reserves Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs, and San Francisco will have a formidable line rotation for the upcoming season.
5. Not so Raw Hyde
Carlos Hyde. All eyes are on you. The 49ers have lost two running backs to injury so far. Kendall Hunter suffered a torn right ACL and LaMichael James went down with an elbow injury, which isn't considered to be as serious, according to multiple reports. That means the rookie runner will have a chance to be Frank Gore’s backup this season. So far, Hyde has shown he can stand out in a crowded, 90-man practice field.
6. Go D.J.
Another rookie standing out includes fourth-round draft pick cornerback Dontae Johnson. Jim Harbaugh said the 49ers have a second tier of cornerbacks “working” to be prominent backups. Johnson, the North Carolina State product, is standing out among the group. He’s a 6-foot-2, 200-pound corner who has been competing well against Boldin and the team’s other veteran receivers. Johnson nearly picked off Kaepernick on Sunday. Had he recorded the turnover, Johnson might have been the talk of town.
7. Ward Up
Not to be forgotten, first-round pick Jimmie Ward made quite the camp debut. He intercepted Kaepernick in his first training camp session and did so by making a diving catch. Ward has been lining up with the second-team defense at safety and has sprinkled in first-team reps at nickel cornerback. There was an occasion where he was beat on a crafty route by Crabtree and other times when Ward was in position to defend other receivers. Ward is impressive as a slot defender and could really seize the opportunity when he’s allowed to hit the opponent in preseason games.
8. On Guard
Joe Looney has provided “wow” moments, according to Harbaugh. He’s been lining up at right guard throughout camp and has looked solid while creating rushing lanes for Gore and company. It’s a great thing to have Looney get so many reps in camp. Should Alex Boone return, Looney will be more seasoned if he's needed to play down the road. The same thinking applies to new tackle Jonathan Martin. If the 49ers need a swing tackle, Martin is getting plenty of action at right tackle in camp.