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First Practice in the Books

Posted Jul 29, 2011

It was the first of many 49ers practices to be led by head coach Jim Harbaugh, and it will certainly stand out as a memorable one for many reasons.

For one, the team had not practiced together since last December. And perhaps most importantly, they had never been instructed on the field by their energetic leader. Friday’s first training camp session changed all of that and it signaled the long-awaited return of 49ers football.

“I thought the energy was great,” Harbaugh said at the conclusion of a three-hour, pad-less session. “I thought our guys took care of each other in the format of the practice, understanding the tempo, understanding that we didn’t have the armor on today.”

Harbaugh set the tempo and the 49ers followed.

“You wish you could come up with the formula to try and bottle the enthusiasm and the energy football players have on the first day of training camp,” Harbaugh quipped. “There’s nothing like it. It’s almost the best day of the year. You find a way to harness that and keep it every day throughout the season, then you really have something.”

Luckily for the 49ers, Harbaugh has boat loads of energy and will utilize it throughout the season. The hands-on coach showcased his passion for the game by spending much of the practice observing and encouraging various drills. But not surprisingly, the former NFL quarterback spent significant time with the signal callers.

Rookie Colin Kaepernick received most of the tutelage. He took all of the first-team reps with veteran quarterback Alex Smith unable to practice until the start of the league year on Thursday.

And even with a rookie at the helm, the 49ers offense looked up to speed thanks to player-led workouts over the offseason. Kaepernick completed several deep passes to his tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker and showcased his strong right arm on several occasions.

“It’s obvious they were a great benefit,” Harbaugh said of the offense’s training sessions dubbed, “Camp Alex.”

Kaepernick was the biggest beneficiary of the opening of training camp. And all the repetitions he had in the session gave him more confidence.

“At the start of practice I was like, ‘Let me think about this play, make sure I get it right,’” the 49ers second-round pick said. “By the end of practice, it’s like, ‘Alright, I think I know it now.’”

Plus, Kaepernick and his 49ers teammates were comforted by the energy displayed by their head coach.

“It really gets guys excited when they’re out there,” Kaepernick said. “It keeps you practicing fast and that’s what we need right now.”

Veterans like Davis are feeding off the energy too.

“I definitely feel the excitement,” the starting tight end added. “I like the way guys are coming together. I think we have an awesome chance of making it to where we want to go.”

The 49ers will practice once again on Saturday without pads before having their first padded practice on Sunday.

Notes and Quotes

Perhaps the most noticeable sight of Harbaugh’s first practice had to do with fashion. The team hit the practice fields with game jerseys on and will remain wearing them throughout the season in an effort to make practices game-like. When the team has walk-throughs or practices with shells, they will utilize their old practice jerseys with shorts. Veterans and rookies were in favor of the change. Said Davis, “I like it. It will make things game-like. That’s what we need around here.”

Just as practice began, the team announced the signing of three players. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald agreed to a five-year deal, while Smith and offensive lineman Tony Wragge inked one-year deals. Both Smith and McDonald sounded excited to be back with the 49ers. “It’s great to be out here, finally signed,” said Smith, who will utilize all the mental reps he can get before he’s allowed to practice.

Like Smith and Wragge, McDonald was able to watch practice with his teammates, but could not dress out. However, he was still pleased to be back with the team that drafted him. “It definitely shows that they wanted me back here and I really wanted to be back here. I can’t wait till Thursday till when I can get out on the field.”

49ers Hall of Fame quarterback John Brodie and offensive lineman Len Rohde attended the first practice of training camp and viewed practice with VP of Football Affairs Keena Turner.

Play of the day honors go to linebacker Patrick Willis. There weren’t any turnovers on Friday, but the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker nearly had an interception when he dropped back into coverage and got his outstretched fingers on a pass thrown from rookie quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

The 49ers lost three players through free agency officially on Friday. Linebackers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy signed with the San Diego Chargers, while former center David Baas signed with the New York Giants.

Lastly, the 49ers are without the services of running back Frank Gore, who has yet to report to training camp. Second-year running back Anthony Dixon took the first-team reps at running back in his absence.

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