With the return of outside linebacker Manny Lawson along with cornerbacks Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer, the 49ers had all players under contract available at the start of the team's three-day mandatory minicamp.
Only nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin was absent on Thursday. The restricted free agent has yet to sign his one-year tender, after the 49ers designated him as their franchise player earlier this offseason.
The void left by the eight-year pro just might be a blessing in disguise, as younger players like Ricky Jean-Francois gain more experience in the system and ultimately add depth to the 49ers defensive line. And while the 49ers backup outside linebackers and cornerbacks have also benefitted from more repetitions, the sight of three more defensive starters allowed the vets to get back in the flow of things with the offseason dwindling down.
After electing to train away from team headquarters this offseason, all three of the veterans said they were glad to be back with their teammates, though they hadn't been too far out of the loop.
Lawson spent the majority of his offseason working on his all-around game in Arizona, in what the fifth-year outside linebacker called "a new look" to his offseason training.
Clements had been in contact with many of his teammates including Spencer, while training with close friends and other NFL athletes at the same sports performance facility as Lawson out in Arizona.
But Clements did more than just talk to teammates; he kept tabs on the action by checking out daily Twitter updates from local reporters.
"I admit I've been in Arizona, but I haven't been too far away. I follow y'all on Twitter," Clements said to a group of chuckling scribes.
When it was time for Clements to report, the 10-year veteran felt anxiousness about getting back to work with his teammates for the first time since suffering a broken scapula against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8 of the 2009 season.
"I try to be a professional when it's time to come in and work," Clements said. "I'm going to make sure I'm always going to be in shape. It's not just this year, it's over the years."
Spencer had been in communication with his position coaches, head coach Mike Singletary and most of the team's defensive backs. The seven-year veteran said he benefitted from training close to home last offseason and decided he would keep the same routine in 2010.
"It was the same decision I decided to make last year after my knee injury," Spencer explained. "My approach was still the same, I still had to do rehab for my knee and that's the way it's going to be for the rest of my career."
With three of the 49ers defensive starters joining their teammates, the locker room scene resembled a mini family reunion prior to the start of practice.
The rest of the players welcomed in their teammates with open arms.
"I'm happy to see all the guys who weren't here. I'm happy to see all of us as one," said running back Frank Gore. "I'm ready to get on the field and finish what we were doing."
One of Gore's linemen, center Eric Heitmann echoed the sentiments of the two-time Pro Bowl back.
"I think it's great to have everybody back together, working to achieve our goals. It's nice to see everybody at the same time."
As one of the team's six captains, Heitmann understands how important the minicamp is, being that it's the last on field work the 49ers will have for the next seek weeks. Heitmann said he and the rest of the captains feel responsible for getting the younger guys up to speed and letting them know how important the time off is before training camp begins on August 2.
"When you're older guy on the team, I can't believe I'm saying that, but when you are in the role like the one I'm in now, you're as good as everyone is as a whole, so you feel obligated to teach the younger guys," Heitmann explained. "All it's going to do is make this team better, and I definitely understand that."
Notes and QuotesLawson, who led the 49ers with 6.5 sacks last season, said he wants to get more sacks in 2010, but not at the expense of wins. "If we increase as a defense overall, regardless of how many sacks I get, as long as we do (better) on defense, I'm good with that."
As a proud University of Pittsburgh alum, Spencer was pleased to see another Panther drafted by the 49ers in consecutive seasons. Spencer approached rookie tight end Nate Byham in the locker room on Thursday to check in and offer advice. "He said it's been tough and I told him, 'Just keep swinging. Keep your head up and stay positive.'"
On the practice fields, Alex Smith began the day firing two deep balls down the middle of the defense. The first was a 30-yarder to tight end Vernon Davis, who got past safety Dashon Goldson's coverage down the right hash marks. The second took place a few plays later when Smith hit tight end Delanie Walker on what looked like an identical play, only mirrored to the other side of the field.
Backup quarterback David Carr was intercepted during the first 7-on-7 period by linebacker Matt Wilhelm. The veteran inside 'backer read Carr's eyes and stepped in front of a pass over the middle. But before he could pick the pass off, Wilhelm bobbled it a few times before securing possession.
One of the more interesting sights on the day was seeing Ted Ginn catch two separate quick passes and then race off down the left sideline. What made it even more fascinating was seeing 49ers defensive players Joe Staley and Taylor Mays chase after Ginn from behind on the respective plays.
Linebacker Takeo Spikes continues to help out in various ways during any special teams period. As he enters his 13th NFL season, Spikes does not participate in special teams any longer. He does however, help out the quarterbacks during the period by pretending to be an H-back while the signal callers walk through various play calls from the day. The extra passes caught by Spikes almost paid dividends later in practice, when he correctly read a pass from Nate Davis and almost came up with the interception.
The best play of the day took place in the final team period of practice, as Smith found wide receiver Jason Hill on a deep go route down the left sideline for a 37-yard touchdown. Hill beat cornerback Karl Paymah off the line and hauled in the perfectly thrown ball in front of safety Reggie Smith.
Just like Wednesday's practice ended with a Curtis Taylor interception in two-minute work, Thursday was much of the same. On what appeared to be a false start by the offensive line, Smith tried to fire the ball out of bounds, but was picked off by cornerback Tarell Brown to close out the first two-minute scenario. On the next drive, Smith's pass sailed over the head of tight end Joe Jon Finely and ended up in Taylor's hands to close out practice.