It's the dog days of camp.
The heat is physically and mentally draining. The players are sore. And the two-a-days are starting to take their toll.
Safety Michael Lewis knows this, but the nine-year veteran refuses to let his teammates succumb. So he did something about it at Wednesday morning's practice.
"Don't throw rocks at the throne," he barked at the offense whenever the defense made big plays. "Don't throw rocks at the throne."
That's all it took.
Those six words during the team period were all the 49ers needed to hear to have arguably their most spirited practice of this year's training camp.
"I'm out there trying to get everyone's competitive juices flowing," Lewis said. "When the defense and the offense go back and forth like that, you can definitely tell it boosts morale and picks us up.
"This was one of the best practices we've had, especially there at the end, and I think it's because we were so competitive with each other. We talk trash, but it's out of love."
Practice had been spirited up until the final team period, but it rose to another level once the trash talking heightened.
The 49ers were doing what they call an "ownership period" where the coaches step back and let the players call the plays themselves. Making the period even more intriguing was the fact that it was in the red zone and it was the final period of practice.
The defense started off strong and didn't budge. The defensive players weren't quiet about their play either, and the offense wanted to do something about it.
"We're competitors," fullback Moran Norris said. "We're not just going to sit back there and let our defense beat us, we're going to do something about it."
And they did.
On the final play of the period quarterback Alex Smith completed a short touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Morgan, which gave the offense room to jaw back at its counterpart.
The two sides left the field immersed in healthy, competitive trash talk.
Practice was supposed to be over at that point, but head coach Mike Singletary wanted to capitalize on the intensity and let the players settle it on the gridiron.
He signaled them back to the field, and the passion grew.
"When Coach brought us back out there I think everybody was pumped up and ready to go," safety Dashon Goldson said. "We definitely stepped it up to the next level."
Singletary set the ball on the 15-yard line and gave the offense five plays to score.
The offense inched towards the end zone, but the defense was there every step of the way. On the final play of the drive, Smith lobbed a four-yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker who caught it near the back left corner of the end zone.
Both sides erupted.
Walker said he got both feet in for the score.
"I had two feet dragging, touchdown all the way," he said. "Go over there and look, there are drag marks. We can go back and look at the tape, I know I was in."
The defense insisted he was out of bounds.
"Delanie's had some great catches, but not today," Goldson said. "The defense won that one."
While bragging rights were on the line with Walker's catch, Singletary and his coaching staff accomplished their goal. They got the players to take ownership on the field, and in the process it re-energized the players, fired up their competitive spirits boosted team morale.
"I can definitely see that energy sticking around for a while," Lewis said. "When we're out there and it's that competitive it's more fun.
"The coaches wanted us to take ownership, and we did that."
Notes and Quotes
The competitive banter began even before the ownership period. It took off during red zone work near the end of practice when rookies NaVorro Bowman, Keaton Kristick and Phillip Adams all recorded interceptions within a few plays of each other. "Mike Lew got all that talk started when those rookies got those picks," Walker said. "We wanted to quiet him down, but we had to prove it with our play."
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye praised running back Anthony Dixon and tight end Nate Byham for their "tremendous" improvement in pass-blocking from the Indianapolis game to the Minnesota game.
Raye also said that while David Baas is the leading candidate to replace the injured Eric Heitmann as the team's starting center, nothing has been set in stone. Raye used an analogy from the recent PGA Championship Tournament to clarify where Baas stands. "He has the lead in the clubhouse. Now the rules official may come and say it was a sand trap and it's a two-stroke penalty, but I think he's the leader in the clubhouse… If the guy bogeys at [hole] 18, then he has a chance, he has a real chance." To watch Raye's press conference, click here.
San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan attended Wednesday's morning practice to see the level of intensity and get a feel for how Singletary interacts with and motivates his players.