Northern California is a beautiful place, with some of the country's most photographed landmarks and amazing vistas around almost every corner. The 49ers practice facility (which is also their training camp site) in Santa Clara is not near any of that. It sits in a corporate park-like area (Cisco System's headquarters are nearby) and is bordered on one side by a power station and on another by tracks for a commuter train. The noise of the train racing past mixed with the sounds of planes that have taken off from the San Jose Airport gives it the ambience of El Segundo. You don't even get a glimpse of faraway beauty because of the smog smothering Silicon Valley. The players get to sleep at home and probably care little about the lack of character, but it is a surprisingly drab setting in an otherwise picturesque part of the country. (That said, the Santa Clara site remains a significant step up from the 49ers previous training camp locale, in Stockton, Calif., a city that earlier this year
Before camp began, Snyder met with head coach
"This is not a young an inexperience group anymore and we're more settled," say center
In a way, it might be best for Smith to serve as Hill's backup for a spell. He is undoubtedly the more talented of the two, but fans won't cut him much slack. If he comes in after Hill has struggled or gets injured, he will have a little more wiggle room and he needs that.
With first-round pick
The biggest name from the rookie pool, Crabtree, is not around and that hurts when wide receiver is a position in need of an upgrade. But in third-round pick
Midway through practice, guard
• The team did not run the now famous "nutcracker" drill on the day I visited, in which two players of similar size smash into one another. It had been one of the highlights of the early part of camp, and proof that Singletary wanted a more physical approach.
• Next to the practice field is a mound covered in grass that has been called Mount Mike and Singletary Summit. After Smith threw an interception off a deflection during an earlier practice, Singletary banished him to the top of that hill for the final 20 minutes of practice.
• It's hard not to root for Smith, a likeable guy.