The 49ers concluded their voluntary two-day workout on Tuesday by primarily focusing on scrimmaging inside the red zone, with the majority of the team and 7-on-7 work taking place from inside the offense's 10-yard line.
With the offense working on the installment of their goal line offense, and the defense refusing to allow them in the end zone so easily, the spirited workout included several highlight-worthy plays from both sides of the ball.
The 49ers offense came up with a number of touchdowns, led by wide receiver Dominique Zeigler's two touchdown grabs, both of which came on slant patterns from within the 5-yard line. Also catching touchdown passes were wide receiver Josh Morgan, tight ends Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis and running back Thomas Clayton.
Zeigler's two touchdown grabs were quite
different from one another, with the first coming from the right arm of Shaun Hill. It was a shoe-top grab in front of cornerback Marcus Hudson and safety Reggie Smith on a perfectly thrown pass where only Zeigler could make a play on the ball.
The second quick-slant touchdown came from backup quarterback Damon Huard, who sailed a pass, allowing Zeigler to use his 6-3 frame, leaping ability and go-go gadget-like arms to haul in the touchdown in front of a pair of rookies in cornerback Carlos Thomas and safety Curtis Taylor.
"We had a double slant call and our inside receiver opened some room for me and I just beat the corner to the ball," Zeigler said after practice. "Anytime the ball is in the air I just try to go and get it. It was in the vicinity so I was just trying to go make a play for the team."
For Zeigler and his offensive teammates the challenge of scoring against the 49ers defense in tight quarters was quite difficult, especially working primarily from inside the red zone for the first time during OTAs.
"It's hard to score because they know you're going to throw the ball most of the time, especially during 7-on-7," Zeigler said. "You're not going to get the linebackers to come in on a run fake, so you just try to make due and when an opportunity presents itself you have to take full advantage of it."
The offense cashed in several times, but also made a few mistakes allowing the defense to pick up three interceptions on the day.
"Of course, you might have some errors in the red zone," Zeigler said. "But the focus for us is to make sure at least we are in position for a field goal. We don't really want to kick field goals, but in practice we need to make sure we take advantage of every situation and put the ball in the end zone."
The 49ers defense didn't allow too many opportunities to score, as the talented unit locked up many of the end zone passes. All three of the defense's interceptions came from inside linebackers with Joe Staley, Takeo Spikes and Jeff Ulbrich being the recipients of them.
So how were they able to get their hands on the ball and come up with the takeaways?
"With my uncanny knowledge of routes… I'm just kidding," Spikes teased. "I had the back in the slot on man-to-man coverage and I was just able to get in front of him."
Spikes and the rest of the 49ers linebackers vowed to come up with some turnovers earlier in the morning while watching film together in the linebacker meeting room.
"We talked about how the db's are always getting their hands on the ball and we were really mad about that," Spikes said. "So we looked at each other and decided it was our turn to come up with the ball and it happened three different times.
"It's always nice when a linebacker comes up with an interception, we're always pulling for each other to get one."
Both units will look to build off their performances during the upcoming three day mini-camp which starts Friday.
After sitting out most of the offseason rehabbing from ankle surgery, free safety Mark Roman returned to the practice field on Monday. Roman spoke with the media after practice addressing his absence from workouts and his new role with the team as the backup to Dashon Goldson at the free safety position.
"For the last 10 years, I've been Mark Roman – football player. And that's what I do best," he said. "And I'm going to continue to do that. Starting, backing up, it doesn't matter to me because through it all, I'm going to still be who I am anyways. I'm a football player, and I'm going to be that first of all."
Roman said the 49ers allowed him the opportunity to seek a trade in the offseason, but at the end of the day he felt more comfortable remaining with his teammates in San Francisco.
"I was just looking for the best situation I could be in," he said. "Under the circumstances, I felt that was the fairest thing that the 49ers could allow me to do, and they did that. And I'm grateful for that. But, I'm also grateful to still be here and keeping on with the team."
Asked why he decided to return to a voluntary OTA session instead of the mandatory minicamp this weekend, Roman replied: "I wanted to get in and get my legs back under me. Working out and being injured and not getting a lot of football work in. I wanted to come in before the mandatory stuff started and kind of get my legs back up under me."
The veteran safety, who hasn't missed a game in six seasons (three of them with the 49ers), is happy to be back in the 49ers locker room, something he missed dearly while being out of action this offseason.
"Over the last few years, I've made some pretty good friendships. In all honesty, I was really looking forward to getting back in the locker room. I was missing the camaraderie with the guys. I'm just happy to be back, building chemistry and I'm just ready to win."
Sights and Sounds
In the midst of instructing his position
players for the individual part of practice, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula reminded defensive end Isaac Sopoaga one important message while the linemen worked on a get-off drill: "Make sure you get below the bar or you'll knock my Diet Coke over!"
When the team got together for 11-on-11 work in the red zone, one of the first plays from scrimmage got both sides fired up for the rest of the day. It happened on a tipped pass at the line, as Shaun Hill tried to find Delanie Walker over the middle of the field. With the ball on its way, Willis re-routed Walker so hard, the speedy tight end immediately went to the ground.
A few plays later, Willis intercepted Alex Smith's pass intended for Vernon Davis over the middle from the 9-yard line. Hill tried to hit Davis, but Willis read the route, caught the pass and started trucking up the right side of the field. It's too bad the play wasn't live, or we'd never know if Willis would be able to return the ball like he did against Seattle last year for a 96-yard touchdown, shaking the Seahawks offense left and right as he sprinted down the field.
Smith came back a couple of plays later by taking the easy-money completion, finding a wide-open Thomas Clayton in the right flat. A miscommunication from the 49ers defense occurred on the play, allowing the running to go uncovered out of the backfield, resulting in a walk-in score.
After seeing his teammate read a pass over the middle winding up with the ball, Takeo Spikes intercepted a Shaun Hill quick-pass intended for Michael Robinson from the right slot. Spikes read the play and had a nice little running lane down the left sideline for about a 25-yard return.
Later on, Smith hit Delanie Walker on a comeback route for a touchdown. Walker beat the coverage from outside linebacker Marques Harris and Reggie Smith, securing possession in the end zone.
During the only non-red zone 11-on-11 work of the day, defensive coordinator GregManusky motivated his players in his typical fashion by yelling, "It's a must – make a play!" After the defense forced the offense to make an incompletion he shouted, "Winner, winner – chicken dinner!"
Towards the end of practice, the defense picked their third pass off of the day in the red zone when Jeff Ulbrich intercepted a pass from Hill thanks to a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage by the defensive line.
Also getting in the play-making act was newcomer Dré Bly. Hill tried to hit Morgan in the back of the end zone, but Bly reached in front of Morgan and batted the ball to the ground.
Despite the defense coming up with three turnovers, the play of the day went to Vernon Davis, who had the most impressive catch of the day. The athletic tight end ran a skinny post pattern from the 7-yard line catching a laser from Smith, while beating the coverage of Mark Washington and Carlos Thomas. Smith's pass was slightly behind Davis, but the Davis leaped in the air and hauled the pass in with both hands. It was quite an impressive play.
Cornerback Nate Clements sat out for the second consecutive day with a slight case of pneumonia. Clements will not participate in the upcoming minicamp this weekend and will be re-evaluated on Monday.
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