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What We Learned from 49ers-Ravens Practices

Posted Aug 12, 2014

Three intense days of joint practices between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are in the books. So what did we learn? The answer is: A lot.

Three intense days of joint practices between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are in the books.

So what did we learn? The simple answer is... A lot.

Both Harbaugh-coached teams agreed that the joint practices were extremely beneficial. We also gleaned a lot of information about standout players, position battles and when the teams would like to face each other next.

So without wasting any more time, let's take a look at the high-level takeaways from the Bay Area team's week on the Eastern seaboard.

Valuable Experience 

There wasn't a negative thing said about the "Harb Camp" experience. The Ravens were accomodating in sharing their facilities and the practices went on without any issues. Both football coaches, plus star players, spoke highly about the joint practices. The only downside of the sessions were on the injury front. Baltimore lost second-year defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore to a season-ending injury. For the 49ers, the team didn't experience any serious setbacks in the practices. Jim Harbaugh said the team "dodged bullets" with minor injuries to offensive lineman Adam Snyder, wide receiver Quinton Patton and rookie linebacker Shayne Skov. However, wide receiver Chuck Jacobs suffered a torn ACL in the preseason game between both clubs. Jacobs was waived injured and is now on San Francisco's Injured Reserve.

Jim Harbaugh said the productive practices went far beyond his initial expectations.

"We got better," the 49ers coach said. "There’s no question about it. I think it was even more so than what we thought. It all started with the two teams with the same mindset and that was to get better and to improve as a football team."

John Harbaugh, Baltimore's leader, echoed his brother's sentiment.

"I feel like we had a week-plus worth of work in," the Ravens coach said, "and it’s not just because of the tempo or the attention to detail, which is part of it. It’s the fact that you see schemes that you’re not going to see. You could practice for months out here, (but) we’re not going to see the things we see because our team doesn’t do those things (on) both sides of the ball. So, (it was) very valuable work."

Jim Harbaugh said he picked up several coaching ideas from his brother. The 49ers coach also stressed that the situational work was one of the key factors in making the trip so valuable for all parties involved. The first-team offense and defense, for example, get limited work in preseason games to avoid injuries. But in a controlled environment like the "Harb Camp" practices, both teams could get in extra work against a quality opponent without subjecting players to potential injuries.

San Francisco's starters were able to face Baltimore's first units in short-yardage, goal line, red zone, two-minute, move-the-ball and special teams periods.

"You don’t get all those situations through the course of a preseason with your ones," Jim Harbaugh said, "and to be able to get most all of them in a weekend is a tremendous advantage."

Colin Kaepernick said facing Baltimore's disguises on defense was the biggest takeaway.

"Similar to our defense, they’ll give you a lot of different looks," the 49ers signal-caller said. "They’ll show you a lot of different things to try and make you think one thing and then bring another thing.  Whether they’re showing something coming off the weak side and then bring it strong or vice versa, they do a lot of different things to try to mess with your mind as a quarterback and as an offense.”

Position Competition Updates 

The practices allowed 49ers coaches and personnel to evaluate the state of competitive position battles. Most notable, the inside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver competitions were watched closely in practice.

At inside linebacker, Michael Wilhoite remained with the first-team defense and remains the likely option to be NaVorro Bowman's Week 1 replacement. Cornerback, however, was more in flux. Chris Culliver practiced sparingly, allowing for others like Perrish Cox, Dontae Johnson, Chris Cook and Darryl Morris to receive first-team reps. In the top defensive highlight for the 49ers in Baltimore, Johnson intercepted Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and returned it 40 yards for a defensive touchdown.

First-draft pick Jimmie Ward remained with the starting defense at nickel cornerback.

"(He's) coming along every day," Jim Harbaugh said. "Competing everywhere. Competing in special teams. The guy is a first-class competitor. If he keeps doing that, can’t help but great things happen to Jimmie Ward."

Elsewhere on the position battle front, Stevie Johnson put together a strong week and has built a lot of chemistry with Kaepernick in his hopes to be San Francisco's third receiver. Veteran Brandon Lloyd is close to returning to the field. He suffered a minor leg injury and has not practiced fully in more than a week, but he did start to work with fellow receivers during individual portions of practice.

Even without Michael Crabtree and Lloyd on the field at practice, Baltimore's star pass-rusher noted that San Francisco has serious threats on offense.

"Any play can explode for them," Terrell Suggs said. "You’re definitely more tuned in (compared) to when you’re playing against your own offense. You look at the guys they’ve got … I don’t think there is another receiving corps like this in the NFL."

Veteran Standouts

Sometimes we've seen a player excel for so long that we lose sight of their top-notch play. Such is the case with tight end Vernon Davis and pass-rushing phenom Aldon Smith.

Both players received a lot of praise for their efforts against the Ravens.

"Vernon Davis is quietly having a great camp," Jim Harbaugh said. "On his assignments. In great shape. Doing just one heck of a job."

"He looks faster than ever," Kaepernick added. "Been running really clean routes. Been mentally on top of everything and I think everyone’s happy with what he’s doing right now."

As for Smith, it was hard for Baltimore's offensive linemen to keep him out of the backfield. When John Harbaugh was asked to name impressive standouts on San Francisco's defense, the Ravens coach fired back, "The outside 'backer, No. 99," John said. "He’s pretty good."

Jim Harbaugh said very much the same thing when asked about Smith.

"He’s had a heck-of-a week here," the 49ers coach said. "He’s had a heck-of-a training camp. He’s really … yeah he’s taken his game to the highest level.”

"I think if you talk to anybody here, he’s at the highest level of that position.”

So when Kaepernick was asked about his fellow 2011 draft-class member, the quarterback offered this:

"He’s a freak of nature out there," Kaepernick said. "When you have Joe Staley come back to the huddle during training camp and is like, ‘I’m really not sure how to try to attack him. I just have to try to slow him down’. So you really can’t block him. That’s a good thing to know when you’re on offense and he’s on defense for you. But he’s looked great. He’s done a lot of good things, he’s in great shape and he’s been playing well."

When is 'Harb Camp 2?'

If everyone has their way, it'll be in February. In Arizona. At Super Bowl XLIV.

"That would be outstanding," Jim Harbaugh said.

If that's not the case, the teams have talked about doing another round of joint practices next year. The biggest complication is that both teams play each other in the regular season. So the next round of "Harb Camp" could be in 2016.

Stay tuned.

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