The competitive juices were flowing Monday at 49ers team headquarters.
Both the offensive and defensive units took their daily competition to another level as the team competed in a series of two-minute drill drives at the first day of four voluntary organized team activities.
The drives covered 60 yards of field with 1:30 on a visible clock in the back left corner of the end zone. For both sides of the ball, the two-minute work brought out even more spirited behavior than usual. It even caused head coach Mike Singletary to gather the team mid-way through the practice and demand better execution.
"The last two minutes are the most important period of a game, whether it's before the end of the first half or at the end of the game; it can decide final outcome," wide receiver Brandon Jones said. "If you're able to move the ball quickly it gets the defense out of their regular routine."
The 49ers offense got the best of their competition on the very first two-minute drive. Tight end Vernon Davis caught a touchdown pass on fourth-down from the 6-yard line with one second left on the clock, causing the offense to erupt with emotion.
"I was the No. 1 option," Davis said of
the play in which he leaped in the air and hauled in Shaun Hill's perfectly thrown pass. "All I had to do was get by the inside linebacker [Joe Staley] and hit the middle of the field. Shaun put it in a nice spot and I went up and grabbed it."
As soon as Davis' feet landed in the end zone, the entire offense rushed over to him to celebrate the score, while the defense begrudgingly trotted off the field wondering what had gone wrong.
"It was very exciting because that's a real situation we'll come across in a game," Jones said. "That's how it always happens, and so you love to see it work out in practice."
The offense kicked a field goal on the next series which was all the offense needed, as the coaches informed them prior to the drive that they were trailing by one point in that drive scenario. The second drive was followed by the defense's best performance on any of the two-minute drives.
Inside linebacker Takeo Spikes and cornerback Allen Rossum almost came up with interceptions by reading the routes in front of them in the same series of downs. Although neither of them held on to the ball, Rossum made up for his drop later on by intercepting Hill's pass down the left sideline.
"I think the offense thought we were offsides so they took a shot and he overthrew the receiver [Morgan]," Rossum said of his interception. "I just ran back and got it and tapped my feet eight or nine times to make sure I was inbounds."
The 12-year veteran has plenty of experience playing corner and still enjoys being on an island guarding opposing wideouts.
"It's a lot of fun because it's been awhile that I've been able to cover receivers," he said. "I know the 49ers brought me in for special teams, but we had some key injuries so I've been able to get some reps until other guys get back. It's been a lot of fun and it's still fun to compete."
Rossum lives by the credo of, "The more you can do – the better." The saying matches Rossum's ability to return punts, kick, catch passes, run reverses and play defensive back.
With three more days of OTAs left this week, all of the 49ers understand that maximum effort will only help the team's goal of winning the NFC West Division.
"We're competing hard and that's what we have to do," Davis said. "We're making each other better offensively and defensively. The way we practice has to be the way we play in the game and the competition level out here has been great so far."
Sights and Sounds
As the players stretched to start practice, outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver reiterated the importance of stretching before working out. He walked by some of the defensive players and reminded them to really do a good job of stretching out by jokingly saying, "Cheat on your taxes, but don't cheat on your stretching!"
After getting beat on a dig-route by Josh Morgan as part of the offense's first two-minute drill drive, cornerback Dre' Bly broke up the next ball thrown his way on a deep post intended for Morgan.
Later on the initial drive, Shaun Hill hit Vernon Davis in stride on a quick pass in the right flat as the clock was close to under 10 seconds. But there happened to be a debate over whether or not Davis ran out of bounds or if we would have been tackled by Rossum prior to stopping the clock.
Singletary looked for guidance upon making the decision; ultimately ruling that Davis would have likely absorbed Rossum's hit and made his way out of bounds.
Showing his true friendship to his fellow tight end, Delanie Walker said to Singletary with a smile on his face, "Coach, Rossum's not going to tackle Vernon by himself!"
With Singletary siding with the offense, the ball was spotted at the 6-yard line with one second left on the clock and it also happened to be fourth-down. Davis' third-down catch, with Singletary's ruling enabled him to catch the touchdown on fourth-down and earn play of the day honors.
On the second drive of the two-minute drill, Alex Smith completed two impressive passes, one to Walker on a deep in-route and the other to Jones on a dig-route.
The second team offense had to settle for a field goal, in which Joe Nedney kicked the ball out of the training facility and into the adjacent power plant. The kick caused Justin Smith to sarcastically say, "That thing is gone, good thing we have a lot of footballs!" After practice, Nedney was overheard talking to a member of the equipment staff explaining that he was trying to hit the camera tower with his field goal attempt.
During regular team work, Smith threw a nice deep
ball 35 yards down the left sideline to Maurice Price who beat the coverage of Marcus Hudson.
When the team reconvened for more two-minute drill work, more controversy occurred when both sides debated over a penalty involving Parys Haralson or Adam Snyder. Hill's hard-count caused Haralson to cross the line of scrimmage and also got Snyder out of his stance.
After much debate, Singletary said, "If we're on the road, it's a false start. If we're at home, it's offsides. Well, we're at home!" The news came much to the chagrin of the defense but was applauded by the offense.
Once practice concluded, Davis ran up and down the man-made hill next to the practice fields known as, "Pain." Davis said he runs up the hill every other day after practice because he likes to keep his work ethic intact and stay ahead of his competition.
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