49ers Begin Offseason Strength Program

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Monday had a first day of school type of feel at 49ers headquarters.

With the team's nine-week offseason strength program officially beginning, a number of veterans, second-year players and free agent additions made their way to the rapidly changing confines of 4949 Centennial Blvd., to take part in two different workout groups.

Under the rules of the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement, the team's OSP will have three phases, beginning immediately with a two-week period that keeps activities limited to "strength and conditioning" as well as "physical rehabilitation."

Defensive captain Joe Staley seemed to be enjoying the start to this year's program. The five-time Pro Bowl linebacker cooled down after his workout by conversing with new teammates Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham, who both signed with the 49ers after winning Super Bowl XLII with the New York Giants.

"We added on some good players, some guys who are really going to help make a difference. And that's what we need," Willis said after working out in the morning group. "We're not a pride team; we're about doing everything we need to do to get it done. It's good to have these guys."

Before saying anything else, Willis stopped, looked at Manningham passing him in the locker room and jokingly remarked, "I'm going to steal his jacket. I can't fit in it, but I'm about to take that…"

Willis chuckled at his new teammates and then began to assess the first day working with a majority of the 2012 team.

"It was a good turnout," Willis said. "We're eager to get back at it and get started and pick up where we left off."

The same can be said for Jacobs and Manningham, who look to repeat their 2011 success with a new club.

"I'm just trying to go back to where we just came from," said Manningham, who met San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays over the weekend before attending his first day of training with the 49ers. "This team has Super Bowl potential; I'm going to ride with them. This is my new team. I know they're going to ride with me."

A similar sentiment was spoken by Rock Cartwright, a veteran running back and special teams contributor who also joined the 49ers via free agency. Cartwright, too, liked seeing so many new teammates at once.

"Pretty much everybody was here outside working. It's a great sign," he said. "I'm looking forward to continuing to grow with the guys and move in the right direction."

Cartwright has already built relationships with his new teammates having played in Washington with cornerback Carlos Rogers and against players like Jacobs many times in NFC East divisional play.

"It's always good to see familiar faces, especially Carlos," Cartwright said. "Knowing Brandon, I always used to holler at him after the games when I was in Washington. Guys are welcoming me with open arms, so far, it's been good."

The biggest change for Cartwright has been getting to know the program installed by head strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama.

However, new players will have plenty of time to understand Uyeyama's expectations. Under the new CBA, only strength coaches can be on the field during the first two weeks of the strength program. Also, quarterbacks may throw to uncovered receivers.

"He knows exactly what he's talking about," Cartwright shared. "When you have a guy who knows what he's talking about, takes care of your body and tries to do the right things, it's always a plus."

Cartwright will have to wait until the second phase of the OSP to work with the rest of the 49ers coaching staff.

Coaches can be on the field for the three-week-long second phase of the program. At that point, offense and defense can't go against one another during the second phase. However, in the third and final, four-week-long phase, a total of 10 days of organized team activities can take place with helmets for the first time, but no other pads permitted.

For now, however, the emphasis will be on understanding the offseason strength and conditioning gameplan from Uyeyama.

Willis, himself, always looks forward to training with the 49ers strength staff, especially after working with Uyeyama for the past five seasons when Uyeyama served as an assistant before his promotion prior to 2011.

"Since day one when he came in as an assistant weight lifting coach, I've always been fascinated," Willis shared. "He had a knack for knowing guy's bodies. He won't just give you something right out of a book, or give it to you because it's something he's seen, he actually goes through it and does the workout himself to get a feel for it.

"He actually applies it to each guy. He doesn't force every guy to do the same thing or do it the same exact way."

Players like second-year cornerback Chris Culliver enjoy getting to know new teammates, but make sure to maximize the time with the training staff. The nickel cornerback said he'd like to have a better sophomore campaign in 2012. In his mind, hard work in the OSP will have him in position to take greater strides.

"I want to be better than I was last year, help my team out and try to have a big sophomore season," said Culliver, who recorded 36 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception as a rookie. "The chemistry and the bond, seeing people here is definitely a positive step to what we're trying to achieve."

Culliver will get a chance to improve later in the offseason by matching up with the likes of Manningham and the other 49ers wideouts. But for now, the new 49ers and the veterans will enjoy the two-week period of strictly strength and conditioning work.

"It's a new beginning, so I definitely have to prove myself all over again," Cartwright shared. "I'm excited about the opportunity and I'm going to do my part.

"Hopefully we can get to the Super Bowl, but it starts here first. When you have almost 100 percent participation in the offseason that means a lot and it shows a lot. Guys are serious about their jobs and what we have in front of us."

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