The 49ers finished their 12th and final organized team activity on Thursday, signaling the end of the team's 14 week off-season conditioning program.
"A lot of guys were amped up today, excited and out there talking a lot," said safety Dashon Goldson. "We came out here and worked and got a lot done today. We stayed focused even though it was the last day because we know that's something we have to do every day we come out here."
With safety Mark Roman missing the OTA's in order to recover from shoulder surgery, Goldson enjoyed getting a chance work with the first-team defense. The second-year safety took advantage of his reps and churned out one of the more impressive off-season performances with several heads-up plays.
"I went out there and did pretty good coming back in my second year," said Goldson. "Last year I was playing a lot slower last year because I was learning the system. I felt more comfortable coming in this off-season, and it put me in the situation to play faster."
His partner in the backend, safety Michael Lewis, is seeing faster play from his entire unit.
"Last year was a struggle sometimes, but I know this year is something totally different," said Lewis. "We've improved. Everybody was here working and that's a big plus when you have pretty much the whole team in here trying to get better. It's going to be a fun defense this year and we are looking for great things obviously."
The offensive unit also walked away from the off-season program with a greater sense of understanding of coordinator Mike Martz and his complex system.
"I think once we started in mini camp it did seem kind of thick, but once you learn this system and take it one day at a time, one play at a time it starts to generate in our heads almost like a computer," said center Eric Heitmann. "The plays are coming out fast, the guys are on point and they know what to do. I think that's what's important going into training camp - that guys understand the system and know what they're doing."
Hit with some off-season departures and some position transitions, the 49ers offensive line greatly benefited from the opportunity to work together as a unit. With guard David Baas unable to practice as he recovers from his pectoral injury, Tony Wragge worked with the first-string line which featured Heitmann, Adam Snyder at left guard, Joe Staley at his new spot of left tackle, and Jonas Jennings at his new place on the right side.
"For me, I wanted to use this time period to gel and be on the same page with my center calls," said Heitmann. "This is also the time for guys to have the opportunity to learn more positions and to prove that they're more versatile than just playing in one spot. It's definitely been good, and it's a benefit to have guys playing different positions because when you get into a game and a guy goes down, you need to have guys ready who can play that position. It's important to learn more than one spot."
Rookie Chilo Rachal was one of those offensive linemen learning a new spot as the former USC guard used the three weeks of practice to transition to right tackle.
"I think Chilo has definitely shown the ability to do some great things out there," evaluated Heitmann. "With any rookie coming in there are going to be some things they have to do to get their technique where it needs to be at the NFL level. Chilo has definitely shown the ability to understand and appreciate that technique and that's something he's going to have to continue to work on. From what we've seen, it's all been good."
Not to be cheated too much, Rachal and the 2008 rookie class will visit the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Sunday and then return to Santa Clara for an additional four days of work with strength coach Duane Carlisle.
"Since the rookies didn't get to come in until the latter part of our program, it's just an opportunity for them to get in a few more days of conditioning before we let them loose," said head coach Mike Nolan. "We want them to leave here with a good understanding of where they need to be at physically when they check back in for camp."
Veterans on both sides of the ball couldn't stress enough how important it is to correctly handle the month off before training camp.
"It's important mentally to get away a little bit, but it's a fine line of not getting away too much," said quarterback Alex Smith, who plans to take his playbook with him wherever he goes. "You have to continue to workout. You make all of these strides in the off-season and you can't let it go to waste by slacking off in the last month. So for me, I'll stay in shape and throw, stay in the playbook, but also get away a little bit so when you come back, you come back fresh."
A veteran of six training camps, Lewis concurred, "I think you need some alone time away from football, spend time with the family and get your mind off of football because when you get back here in July, it's time to go. Being in shape for camp is the most important part. You'll be taking 20 or so reps on a period and if you are not in shape, it's going to show. Coaches are evaluating every play, every day so it's very important to come back in shape, know your assignments and execute."
LB Manny Lawson progressively saw more action during the three weeks of OTAs, including some plays in Thursday's team period.
"It made my day," said Lawson.
The 49ers hope to have Lawson, along with DT Joe Cohen, LB Melvin Oliver, and S Mark Roman ready to go for the start of training camp. G David Baas is the only player the 49ers do expect to still miss time once the team returns for camp.
The rookies final commitment before returning for training camp will be a trip to San Diego for the NFL's Rookie Symposium. The league's annual orientation will begin on June 29 and conclude on July 2.