LEVI’S STADIUM — The San Francisco 49ers took to their home field for the first time ever Monday morning, practicing in front of a sea of red and gold clad fans at Levi’s Stadium.
An estimated ten thousand fans descended upon Levi’s Stadium to catch a glimpse of their favorite players before the team departs for Baltimore tomorrow, ahead of their first preseason matchup against the Ravens.
While stars on the offensive side of the ball — such as Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin — received the loudest cheers from the crowd as they exited the south tunnel to the field, today’s practice was dominated by the defense.
OLB’s Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith had excellent days in the pass rush, with Brooks notching two sacks and a forced fumble. Smith terrorized Carter Bykowski all day, beating him with both his footwork and strength while reaching quarterback Josh Johnson for two would-be sacks.
Likewise, safety Eric Reid and linebacker Nick Moody both reached the quarterback after the offensive line failed to pick up their blitz on separate occasions.
The constant pressure from the front seven on the defense caused opportunities for the backfield as well, as there was at least four interceptions on the day, including an entertaining pick that featured safety Craig Dahl tipping a Blaine Gabbert pass to safety C.J. Spillman who tipped it to linebacker Chris Borland to complete the trifecta.
Cornerback Chris Cook had a strong day today as well, notching a pair of interceptions that included a 50-yard diving catch in the end zone, taking away a touchdown from Blaine Gabbert who had intended to find receiver Chuck Jacobs instead.
After practice, Cook — who has no career regular game interceptions — spoke about the work he’s been doing to better his ball skills:
“Especially this year, I focused on that mainly in the off-season. I spent a lot of time catching balls and having balls thrown at me. You know, turning my back then turning to look and find the ball. I spent a lot of time doing that in the off-season so I think I definitely improved in that area.”
Although cornerback Perrish Cox has been practicing outside mostly, he fits to move inside to the nickel cornerback position unless rookie Jimmy Ward can win the spot. While the role of the third cornerback has yet to be solidified, Cook said that he has learned to put the competition out of his mind:
“I’m just out here working, man. I don’t even really think about the depth chart anymore. I get my reps, I go out there and make the most of them and try to make plays when they come my way.”
Today’s practice went relatively smooth after tempers flared during the last two. Boldin, who was among one of those ejected for fighting on Friday, was reserved in his demeanor all day. However, some subtle revenge may have been had when the bulky receiver muscled Daryl Morris off his back during a slant route across the middle to break free for extra yardage.
Morris would go on to make an outstanding play by picking a deep-corner pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson later.
Quinton Patton continued his strong training camp — minus his dismal attempts returning punts — with an impressive display at the receiver position today. Patton hauled in nearly everything that came his way, while shaking the coverage of cornerbacks with ease.
After failing to gain much playing time last season following a variety of injuries, the healthy Patton has been able to impress his peers with his skill at his position. Among them is Cook, who is impressed with his athleticism:
“He’s good with his stems, man. At the line he gives you a lot of shake and as a corner you have to be patient when guys are shaking a lot at the line. For most of us at the position, it’s kind of hard not to get antsy and want to reach or want to shuffle one way when he’s giving you those moves. I feel like that’s what makes him a hard cover.”
With it appearing that the healthy young receiver will finally have the chance to make his mark in the NFL, it comes at a time when the 49ers have reloaded their receiver core with a variety of exciting players.
While receivers Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson and Boldin are almost assuredly ahead of Patton on the depth chart, the receiver said he will continue to fight to make himself a part of this team:
“I always fight for a roster spot. When they brought in Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson — hey, more competition. Competition brings out the best of everybody.”
Gore took more snaps today than I’ve seen during any other practice. Gore looked spry, and received loud cheers from the crowd every time he broke through a hole, showing his still blossoming popularity among the fans.
Carlos Hyde received a lot of work as well, although he flubbed the first kickoff return of the day, and let an easy pass go straight through his hands for an incompletion.
The 49ers practice at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning before departing for Baltimore, where they will take on the Ravens in their first preseason game on August 7.