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Pick Party: Defense Gets Competitive

Posted Jul 30, 2011

New 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did not distribute playbooks until the start of training camp, but estimates that he’s installed 20 to 30 percent of the defense.

“We’re trying to establish our base concepts in these first few days so we can build on those and then add as we move forward,” Fangio explained following the second day of his first training camp with the 49ers. “We’re going to add, but we wanted to make the first few days relatively as painless as much as possible.”

The coordinator said the 49ers have been smart about aggressively installing his 3-4 defensive scheme to this point.

And despite having limited knowledge of the defense, players appeared to be comfortable on Saturday as the defense recorded three interceptions in a lively practice at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

Six-year linebacker Ahmad Brooks got the pick-party started when he hauled in a deflected pass thrown by rookie Colin Kaepernick during a seven-on-seven period.

Brooks’ play got the competitive atmosphere going on Saturday. And for his efforts, new linebackers coach Jim Leavitt ran over to him immediately following the play for a high-five and a pat on the back.

“It’s training camp, so you have to do your best to make the team and get noticed,” said the outside linebacker who aims to show he’s a complete player and not just a pass rusher. “Getting the first interception of camp, I think I set the tone for the defense today and that was a good thing.”

Fangio told reporters that the 49ers defense needs a lot of work to do and isn’t looking for anyone to feel sorry for them. It’s up to Fangio and his staff to get the defensive players up to speed in a timely manner.

The defensive coaches will also have to keep a keen eye on several position battles slowing unfolding in camp.

With veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes leaving the team via free agency to San Diego, the TED linebacker position in Fangio’s defense is up for grabs.

But so are several positions on the defensive side of the ball. Fangio estimates that only a couple of players are entrenched as starters. He named linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive tackle Justin Smith as locks to start on opening day.

“We’ve got a lot of jobs open,” Fangio said, before noting that several safeties on the 49ers roster are in contention to start this season. Until the team settles on its depth chart, the coordinator will continue to rotate the secondary’s last line of defense.

“All those guys fighting for it,” Fangio said.

One of those players in contention is second-year safety Chris Maragos, an undrafted rookie in 2010, who made his way on to the 49ers 53-man roster at the tail end of the regular season.

Maragos came up with the second of three deflected interceptions on the day. Such plays will give Maragos a leg-up in the competition as he tries to showcase his talents to a new staff. Maragos credited his offseason training for the goof start to camp. He trained rigorously with college teammates over the summer and feels prepared for the position battle that lies ahead.

“I think one of the greatest quotes that I was focusing on all offseason is ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,’ Maragos said. “Really, that’s what I’ve based my whole career on, working and I’m a firm believer in you reap what you sew.”

Notes and Quotes

Fangio didn’t spend much time with his players this offseason because of the NFL’s work stoppage, but he did visit extensively with Willis during the special teams period of practice. Willis has no role on special teams and thus was able to get one-on-one instruction from the coordinator.

It appears the 49ers have tremendous depth at the punt returner position. The following players all fielded punts on Saturday: Wide receivers Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and Ronald Johnson, defensive backs Reggie Smith and Chris Culliver and running back Kendall Hunter.

Play of the day honors go to first-year tight end Colin Cloherty, who made an impressive one-handed catch during the seven-on-seven period. Clohertly was blanketed by a linebacker, but still showed tremendous focus to stab the ball out of mid-air with one hand.

Rookie Ronald Johnson out of USC also had a good day catching the football. The sixth-round pick caught several quick slants in traffic and received on-field praise from head coach Jim Harbaugh.

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