SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers started their first practice in pads Monday morning, setting the tone with the anticipated return of the Nutcracker drill. The drill puts an offensive player against a defensive player in a confined area and each player tries to overpower the opposition through a blocking style.
The drill, which made its debut last training camp, was on full display as players line up outside a painted red line approximately one yard in length. However, head coach Mike Singletary only required players from the the linebacker, defensive line, offensive line, fullback and tight ends to participate. Singletary explained that he only wanted the drill to be realistic to in-game situations, saying that these players were going to be most similar to those of the players in the drill.
Singletary emphasized the importance of leverage during the drill. Cautious of the injury toll the drill had on players last season, Singletary said that the battle would not last more than three seconds or when the whistle blew.
“I want our guys to understand the whole leverage point of football,” Singletary said of the modified Nutcracker drill. “It’s all about keeping your face up. You can’t play this game with your head down; that’s where accidents happen.”
Inside linebackers matched up with guards and fullbacks, outside linebackers with tight ends, defensive ends with tackles and nose tackles with the centers. Each player received at least two or three reps in the Nutcracker drill before returning to normal drills.
One of the most anticipated matchups put linebacker Parys Haralson up against tight end Vernon Davis. In 2008, both players had a practice scuffle and since then, both have been paired with each other in such drills. During Monday’s practice, both Davis and Haralson only matched up once, with Haralson drawing the upper hand in leverage before turning, losing footing and being thrown down by Davis.
With many Nutcracker drills going on in rapid fashion, it was hard to pinpoint any specific standouts. With offensive guards lining up against inside linebackers, the guards had a clear upper hand in the drill. Both rookie draft picks guard Mike Iupati and tackle Anthony Davis looked solid in their battles. Guard Chilo Rachal may have been the most impressive in the drill, receiving praises from coaches.
A notable change in the Nutcracker drill was the pairing of nose tackles versus centers with a quarterback. Nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois jumped the snap on a couple occasions, but still looked very aggressive.
- Guard David Baas had a mild concussion towards the end of practice. Mike Iupati took his spot with the first team.
- In route running drills, both Ted Ginn and Michael Crabtree stood out in their precision in running the route and catching. Dominique Zeigler struggled a little with breaking off the bump and run on the line.
- There was a lot of emphasis on running back plays. The first drill of the game put members of the secondary and linebackers in mock tackling drills. The majority of the 7-on-7 drills also focused on running plays.
- Alex Smith tried to hook up with Ted Ginn twice during 7-on-7 on deep passes. Both fell incomplete, Smith said it was a good sign of what Ginn can help bring to the passing game.
- Smith said that his expectations for the team are higher and that he hopes that the team will be full prepared for the regular season.
“We’ve got to go get this right,” he said after practice.
- The biggest hit of the day came courtesy of fullback Brit Miller. On a blitz by linebacker Pary Haralson, Miller squared up and knocked Haralson onto his back.
The afternoon practice is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. and is open to the public. Fans planning to attend must bring a printed ticket that they received upon signing up a couple weeks ago.
Follow me on Twitter for updates. Check me out here @SLam49ers
SB Nation Bay Area: Follow Sam’s columns on Bay Area sports