You half expect to see players wheeled away on stretchers, with choppers at the ready to bring the wounded to a trauma center, so fearsome is the reputation of Camp Singletary .
It’s not that way, of course, although I got an admittedly small sample size seeing three 49ers practices (two in shorts and shells, one in pads) on Tuesday and Wednesday doing some sub work for 49ers beat writer Dan Brown.
In fact, a 49ers session isn’t really all that much different from the Raiders practice I watched Thursday in terms of intensity.
A few contrasts and observations, worthwhile in that the two teams play a week from Saturday in Oakland and in the regular season Oct. 17 in San Francisco:
—Apparently the only par or better NFL passing game in the state of California is in San Diego . Saw Alex Smith throw an interception to Nate Clements on his first seven-on-seven drill, an interception to Patrick Willis on his first pass in a team drill, and a later deflected interception to Clements in the end zone.
I’m told this was a good day.
An NFL personnel guy I respect once told me Smith could some day be a decent NFL quarterback so long as he played in a system that allowed him to work primarily between the hashmarks and minimize the amount of deep outs and other passes he doesn’t throw well. His weaknesses were hidden in the spread offense Smith ran at Utah.
Based on visual evidence, sounds about right.
—If you didn’t know anything about Smith, David Carr or Jason Campbell, watched them practice and then were asked to determine the No. 1 pick of the draft, the last answer you’d come up with would be “Smith and Carr.’’
Smith’s issues I already addressed. Carr has a strange delivery I’d forgotten about from a training camp trip to Houston with the Raiders a few years back. He throws it from his chest, at a low arm angle. Campbell’s the classic, angular dropback thrower who throws a beautiful ball and also has good mobility.
– No sign of the “Nutcracker’’ in the practices I saw, but I’m told it’s not the get-after-it session it’s reputed to be, more of a Greco-Roman leverage-fest.
The fact is, the 49ers are even more diligent about keeping players off the ground than the Raiders, and jump all over anyone who exceeds the whistle by a fraction.
Lamarr Houston would get yelled at a lot more in Santa Clara .
And 49ers assistants do yell _ defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and tight ends coach Pete Hoener in particular. Other than offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, and to a lesser extent, secondary coach Kevin Ross, Raiders coaches are more instructors than screamers.
– Wide receiver Michael Crabtree didn’t practice other than running a few routes during drills after a neck injury although he looked fine. Veteran players _ even some who haven’t been around long _ get days off called “veteran courtesy.”
– Singletary is a lot like Cable in that he is detatched for long periods of time. But unlike Cable, who goes in to work with his specialty from time to time, Singletary never went near the linebackers.
The only thing I him say was, “Catch the ball, son’’ after a dropped pass.
Like Cable, Singletary brings the team together after practice for a final talk, but is mostly content to watch.
They even talk the same. When asked about drills which pitted running back Frank Gore with linebacker Kevin Willis, Singletary said it was “because iron sharpens iron.”
Cable, referring to tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly working against Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle, said “it’s like iron sharpening iron.”
– Forty-Niners receivers as a group make a lot more effort to come back for a pass and fight for the ball than do Raiders receivers.
The 49ers have one intriguing talent in Dominique Zeigler, a second-year receiver who made a number of plays in the three practices I saw.
– It’s easier to cover 49ers training camp from a practice perspective because you can move up and down the sideline and aren’t confined to a penalty box.
It’s harder to cover a 49ers training camp from an interview perspective because all their players come off at the same time and head to a closed locker room. You have to depend on the P.R. staff to get players to wait until podium sessions are done _ and some naturally don’t want to wait.
In Napa , Cable talks at the podium after practice, then players go to the field house to work out and trickle out gradually, one of the best situations in terms of player access in the league.
—I talked to 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye on my second day at a 49ers practice. It’s Day 206 and Jackson’s public vision of the Raiders offense goes unstated.
– The fan element makes for a much different atmosphere. One of the sessions I saw was open to the public, and fans cheer and root for the players as if they’re in a game. Some Raiders practices may have a couple hundred fans as invited guests, but they’re lectured before hand to stay quiet and and not cheer or attempt to communicate with players.
HEYWARD-BEY AND FATIGUE
The last time I saw Darrius Heyward-Bey practice, he missed the last few plays of a goal line session and was talking with a trainer, moving his upper body as if trying to get comfortable and ever-so-slightly reaching with a hand behind his left leg.
Got to be the hamstring, right?
If that’s the case, then why wouldn’t Heyward-Bey be rehabbing during practice like Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson and Paul Hubbard, the other players with hamstring issues? Those three are gone for most of practice, wandering out only occasionally to see what’s going on.
One of the worst things you can do with any muscle pull is to simply stand around and watch, letting it tighten up further. Heyward-Bey has done exactly that in each of the four practices he missed.