The 49ers hold training camp at their year-round training facility and office complex a few long spirals from California's Great America amusement park, just off Route 101. Located 40 minutes south of San Francisco, it's not a classic training-camp atmosphere. The players stay at the local Marriott Hotel, not in a dormitory complex. The teams that do it this way like it because it doesn't disrupt their schedule and doesn't force them to move out of their regular- and offseason comfort zone.
1. The Niners face a big decision at quarterback this year: Can Alex Smith, the former top overall pick, finally stake his claim to this job and win it for the foreseeable future? Everyone in the organization loves this kid. But most of the balls he threw in the practice I saw today had some flutter to them. The question that Smith has to answer is whether he has enough arm to win in the NFL.
2. Coach Mike Singletary takes care of his veterans at camp. Often the Niners will have two long practices in a day (by long, I mean up to 2.5 hours apiece), but he'll usually give his vets one of them off.
"This is the toughest camp I've been a part of," 13-year-veteran Takeo Spikes told me. "But I've got a lot of respect for Mike for treating veterans the right way."
3. Star in the making: Safety Dashon Goldson. The Niners think he is the right combination of big hitter and rangy center fielder, and at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he's big enough to help in run-support. This could be his breakout year.
I doubt that Ted Ginn, the former ninth overall pick acquired from Miami for a fifth-round draft choice, will ever become the productive receiver he was drafted to be. San Francisco is not asking him to catch 70 balls. The Niners would be happy if he could be a field-stretching deep threat to take some of the pressure away from the bigger offensive threats, tight end Vernon Davis and wideout Michael Crabtree. Look for Ginn to return either punts or kicks and be that third or fourth receiver who gives San Francisco the element of speed it lacked last year.
The Niners, with two picks in the middle of the first round last April, pulled a surprise by making both offensive linemen. Early in camp, guard Mike Iupati has a better shot to start opening day than Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis. Davis is still a kid, just 20, and came to the NFL needing a Singletary infusion of work ethic. He is likely to open the season behind Adam Snyder at right tackle.
Iupati, who played guard throughout his career at Idaho, has adjusted well to NFL weight-training and playing in space when the Niners go to multiple-receiver sets. Strange to think that a guard from Idaho would be pro-ready in his first camp, but that's how he looks. It'll be an interesting battle between incumbent David Baas and Iupati, but I think Iupati will win.
I had to rush through lunch today, but I did manage to get a piece of fish that any fine seafood establishment would be proud to put on a plate for $34.95. My entree at the San Francisco training table: seared sesame Ahi tuna on a bed of romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, with balsamic vinaigrette. Though I had to rush through it, it was the perfect light lunch.
1. One of the things running back Frank Gore doesn't get enough credit for is his blocking and heads-up play as a hot receiver when protection breaks down. Gore's one of the best in the league at this thankless but important task.
2. Several in the 49ers organization, including personnel VP Trent Balke, stressed to me how mature Vernon Davis has become. He sets a good example in practice, which I noticed in the morning workout. And he was convincing in a post-practice interview that the coaching change to Singletary two years ago helped him grow up as much as any single event in his life. "I want to be the best tight end in football, but more important than that I want us to win," he said. He mentioned a lot of team-first things like that to me, almost as if he's been programmed. If this is the real Davis, the 49ers are going to have a very important Singletary disciple in the locker room.
3. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who had a terrific year last season and was slapped with a franchise tag by the Niners, is not in camp. He's holding out, demanding a long-term deal rather than the one-year, $7-million franchise-player offer San Francisco has presented. It's a funny thing. Franklin has played seven years in the NFL. He's probably made a a total of about half the money he's being offered this year. But in his position, I'm sure he figures that this contract could be his last payday. So it's hard to blame a guy who may never be at the NFL ATM again for trying to maximize his worth.
4. San Francisco's quarterback depth chart is, frankly, a little scary. There's no guarantee Smith is the man for the job, and if he isn't, David Carr is not exactly the kind of safety net to feel really comfortable with. Carr had an inaccurate morning throwing the ball. He's had a few of those in his career. Behind him is Nate Davis, who no one in San Francisco rates as a great prospect.
5. At every San Francisco practice, Singletary stands apart from the group and makes notes about what he's seeing. Often he'll keep score between the offense and defense as to which unit is making winning plays. Last year, the defense dominated. This year, the offense is catching up. "The competition's closer -- a lot closer,'' Singletary said. About time.