Throughout the offseason, there's been plenty of anticipation surrounding the first training camp of Mike Singletary as a head coach. In particular, many pondered over which physical football drill he'd open up camp with.
On Saturday, Singletary didn't disappoint. Especially not to the 5,000 fans who attended both of the 49ers practices.
His first selection was one that focused on the fundamentals of leverage. He calls it, "The Nutcracker."
"I think we got some good work out of that (drill)," Singletary said after the team's first of two practices. "The fundamental part of what we're trying to achieve, I think we took a step today in that area. I just think it's important we understand contact, but even more importantly, it's not just coming out here and hitting people. It's coming out here and learning how to engage and win in a competitive environment."
The players already had an idea of what kind of camp Singletary would have in store for them based on the intense level of offseason minicamps and OTAs. Saturday's first drill was equally as important in developing the 49ers mindset for the upcoming season as it was about playing with proper fundamentals.
"There is just a mindset coach wanted us to get out of that (drill)," Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Staley. "Not only is it about being tough, it's about the mindset he wants our team to have – and that is we are going to go through people. No matter who stands in our way, we are going to go through them. That drill helps with that mentality."
After the first of two Saturday practices, Singletary addressed the media and reiterated that his team has "a lot of work to do."
"That's very evident," he continued. "It wasn't bad, but we just have a long way to go. I want to be honest every step of the way, every practice, every drill, everything we do. I want to make sure there is not a false sense of security about where we are."
Singletary let the team know that he wasn't pleased with the effort after their first workout.
"We just have to be better in everything we do," he said when asked to summarize his morning post-practice speech. "(I told them) We can't waste a drill; we can't waste a practice. We're too far behind the elite teams in this league and we have to earn the right to be amongst them. Before we can talk about a championship we have to practice like and think like a championship team."
While Singletary's morning drill was much of the talk after the morning workout, a lot of questions once again were directed to him on the current state of the 49ers quarterback competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith.
Singletary answered by saying there were mistakes made by other players that affected the play of the quarterbacks. Because of that it makes it difficult for the coaching staff to evaluate the two.
Hill opened up the morning practice running the first-team offense. Afterwards he said there was no added pressure on him being with the first group.
"Going out there with the No. 1 group, there's no added pressure with that at all," he said. "It doesn't really matter what group we are with out there. We are still evaluated on every play, so I didn't read into that at all."
The quarterbacks were the recipients of much of the fans attention early Saturday. Several cheers and boos were heard after passing plays. On one occasion, Smith was booed for throwing a pass away to avoid pressure in the backfield.
"It's funny," Smith said. "You are out there and you are focused and everything like that, but you can't help but hear the fans, especially as loud as they were today. They were excited out there and they are so close to the field out here. It's such a good experience for the fans, the way we set up practice. They are right there in the action. The balls are flying at them. So yeah it was exciting out there to feel all that energy from them."
Both Hill and Smith will have to practice without such attention from the Faithful for the next week. The next open practice for fans who registered for tickets online is Aug. 8.
Sights and Sounds
Easily one of the best sights of the day was seeing a fan in a Tony Romo jersey being greeted with a regular season-size boos. (Once team mascot Sourdough Sam saw the Romo fan, he kindly escorted him out of the bleachers).
During morning stretches, tackle Joe Staley noticed that defensive end Justin Smith had altered his practice pants my making them shorter.
Staley said to Smith, "Nice spandex shorts!"
To which Smith said back, "You have to let your knees breathe!" (Must be a veteran move).
Veteran wide receiver Arnaz Battle and cornerback Shawntae Spencer practiced for the first time this offseason. Tackle Marvel Smith worked with second team during team work, but sat out of "nutcracker" drills. He didn't practice in the afternoon, thanks to Singletary allowing veterans to take occasional practices off.
Rookie quarterback Nate Davis' pass intended for Michael Spurlock was a bit behind during team work, allowing rookie free safety Curtis Taylor to make an interception and return it for a nice gain.
It was the only turnover during 11-on-11 work in the morning session.
"I had a chance to make a pretty good play, but I'm still striving to get better," Taylor said. "There are more plays to be made out there, so I'm not going to let that one blow my head up."
In the afternoon practice, Davis was intercepted again. During team work, he threw a ball behind his intended receiver Maurice Price. But it found its way to cornerback Marcus Hudson, who came up with a diving interception. Close friend and former college teammate Manny Lawson was elated upon seeing Hudson make the play.
Later in the afternoon, linebacker Takeo Spikes saw something from the offense that made him call out before the snap, "Watch out for the flea-flicker!" Sure enough, Spikes was right. Smith handed off to Frank Gore, who pitched back to Smith, who then found Brandon Jones 40 yards down the field for a touchdown past Nate Clements.
Even more impressive was the pass Jones hauled in by out-jumping Clements down the right sideline later on.
It was easily the play of the day.
Jones made quite the introduction to the 49ers Faithful on Saturday by making two spectacular plays in the afternoon workout.
At the end of practice, a fan held up a replica Chicago Bears Singletary jersey and asked Singletary for an autograph. Immediately he obliged and spent the next ten minutes signing for all the fans by the team locker room.
Outside linebacker Parys Haralson suffered a strained hip flexor during the morning practice and is day-to-day.
Also, cornerback Tarell Brown came down with a big left toe sprain and is day-to-day.