Most of the spotlight during this weekend's mini camp has been on the 49ers offense, but the defense stole the show in Sunday's fifth and final practice.
Safety Dashon Goldson broke up a deep bomb to Isaac Bruce when he batted the ball down at the last second, whie cornerback Marcus Curry pilfered a pass early in practice. Safety Mark Roman forced and recovered a fumble, as did safety Keith Lewis who popped a ball out from running back Michael Robinson to force a fumble.
Things then turned down right nasty in the red zone with a flurry of turnovers. Defensive end Ray McDonald appeared to have tipped a pass that was picked off by safety Michael Lewis. Lewis' attempt to lateral it back to Nate Clements wasn't a success, but a few plays later, Lewis intercepted a deflected pass and adeptly tossed that one back to Roman for extra yards. Lewis again brought his playmaking ability on the following play when he intercepted a shovel pass.
"That's something we strive for," said Clements. "We try to create turnovers every day in practice because we know that when game situations come with live bullets it will carry over. We try to create at least three turnovers in every practice. It was fun, and battling and competing against each other is definitely making everyone better."
The defense may have enjoyed cackling over their steals, but head coach Mike Nolan did not.
"Football should be fun, and obviously one side as you saw it there was really enjoying it because there were some turnovers, but the other side was not," said Nolan. "That is the urgency and detail that I'm talking about. You can't have that. It is no fun for the entire team when one side is sloppy. If somebody makes a great play, that would be different. But in a couple of those occasions, there were three or four turnovers and I know only one was a real good play. The other ones were sloppiness."
While wide receiver Bryant Johnson agreed that the offense got sloppy, the former Arizona Cardinals divisional opponent appreciated the fact that the defense never let up.
"It is definitely not fun when you turn the ball over, especially in the red zone, and we kind of helped them do it by not catching the ball and having tipped passes because those can get intercepted," said Johnson. "But, it's good because you do nothing but make the team better and they did a wonderful job today. I know from playing in Arizona last year, this defense is pretty tough to go against and with Mike Martz here we are going to be even better on offense. So, it's good to go against a group of guys like that on the other side of the ball. Iron sharpens iron so we are just going to try and make each other better."
Unlike the offense that is still learning the Mike Martz system, the defense does have the advantage of being in the second year under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, and it showed over the course of the three-day camp.
"It's the second year so we were a little more on the same page as a defense, with more communication and we were flying around a little bit and definitely taking a step in the right direction," said linebacker Jeff Ulbrich who took most of the reps with the first-unit at TED this weekend. "We've got a core group of guys who really understand the defense and then you plug in some new pieces like Justin Smith and some of the other guys we've got out here and it just takes it to a whole different level."
DT Joe Cohen, LB Manny Lawson and DE Melvin Oliver were held out of the three-day camp as they rehab their ACL injuries.
LB Shaun Richardson missed his second practice after suffering a groin injury during Saturday's morning practice. CB Donald Strickland also missed Sunday's practice due to an illness.