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Rookies Enjoy ‘49 U’

Posted by Taylor Price on July 8, 2010 – 3:17 PM

While most of the veterans on the 49ers roster left town at the conclusion of the team’s offseason program, the rookie class stuck around the last week of June for Player Development Week.

Or as 49ers Director of Player Development Tyrone Knott dubbed it, “49 U.”

The week consisted of daily meetings between Knott and the rookies, a visit to a local business, an investment simulation seminar and wrapped up with a trip to the NFL Rookie Symposium.

The entire week brought the group of rookies even closer.

“I knew all the guys prior to that, but I feel like we know each other 10 times more from going through that experience,” rookie tight end Nate Byham said. “We all know each other on the field already, and have become friends, but this was a good experience all around to build on that brotherhood that we’re developing.”

The week began with a visit to local video game manufacturer Namco Bandai, located a couple of blocks from 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara. The players toured the Namco facility and listened to a presentation from offensive lineman Tony Wragge, who recently concluded a six-week internship in the offseason with the help of Knott and Namco’s operations analyst Charmaine Morena.

“I wouldn’t have went on this type of tour if I had a regular job or if I was in college,” cornerback LeRoy Vann remarked. “I think it was a great opportunity to experience something cool.”

Although he’s entering his second NFL season, 49ers defensive tackle and avid video gamer Ricky Jean Francois wanted to be a part of the Namco tour. He also wanted to get first-hand knowledge of Wragge’s experience in the gaming industry.

“It opened up your eyes to the real world away from football,” Jean Francois said. “That’s something all of us needed.”

Another highlight of the week was the investment simulation, which featured teams of rookies investing Monopoly-like money in various stocks to learn about the ramifications of long-term investments. The winning team ended up being linebacker Mike Balogun and offensive lineman Matt Kopa.

“That’s that University of Oklahoma education right there!” Balogun proudly stated to the group upon being announced as the winners.

At the conclusion of “49 U” the drafted players took part in the NFL’s four-day Rookie Symposium, a staple of the NFL’s Player Development programs since its birth in 1997. The gathering of players from all 32 teams in Carlsbad, Calif., provided a great opportunity for players to understand the best way to conduct themselves as they enter professional football.

“It was definitely a long couple of days, that was to be expected, but I really got a lot out of it,” Byham said. “When you think of the Symposium, you think of 12-hour days full of meetings. But now that I’ve gone through it, I was able to take a lot away from it.”

Byham especially enjoyed the lectures from former NFL stars and Commissioner Roger Goodell, but found the separate meetings with the rookies from the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints to be most interesting.

“We did a bunch of activities and brainstormed ideas. We talked about stresses and realities of being rookies in the NFL and how you have to live your life. It was pretty cool. It was nice to have other people to talk to who weren’t just your teammates. You see how we’re all going through the same stresses coming in as a rookie.”

Having graduated “49 U” the rookies hope to take the next step and become members of the 49ers 53-man roster. They’ll have their chance when training camp opens Aug. 2.

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Rookies Lean On Each Other

Posted by Taylor Price on May 18, 2010 – 3:06 PM

What’s the best thing about being a rookie in the National Football League? The fact that there’s never just one on a team.

Fortunately for the 2010 class, each incoming 49ers rookie has a handful of teammates dealing with similar eye-opening experiences this week at the team’s four days of voluntary organized team activities. The rookies will have to adapt to their new surroundings and build bonds with one another quickly as they go through their first experiences in the game of professional football.

But after talking with some of the rookies on Tuesday, it sounds like they’re already leaning on each other just fine.

For 49ers first-round pick Anthony Davis, having a fellow first-round pick in guard Mike Iupati around has been extremely helpful as the two face similar challenges.

“Mike’s my boy,” Davis said when I asked him about spending time with Iupati off the field. “We would go over our plays and just talk about the daily things we go through just being a rookie, like getting the Gatorade for the guys and stuff like that.”

The two offensive linemen have their work cut out for them this week at OTAs as they try to learn an NFL playbook as quickly as possible. Davis said he already feels better with each workout amongst his new teammates.

“It’s going well, every day I’m getting a little better at it,” the No. 11 overall pick said. “Every day you have to give it all you got and then the next day you’ll be able to give it a little more.”

Davis instantly picked up on one of the major differences between the pro game and the college game – the concentration needed to be successful.

“Every play is like… if you’re not giving it everything than it won’t be enough,” he said.

Good thing for Davis is that he’s got a solid group of veteran linemen to learn from. He’s even picked up a training tip or two from right guard Chilo Rachal.

“Chilo has been helping me out a lot, just how to operate at this level basically. He’s always doing extra work (after practice) trying to be the best.”

Likewise, undrafted linebacker Mike Balogun is relishing the opportunity to work with the talented defensive players on the 49ers roster.

“I’m fortunate with this whole situation,” Balogun said. “I’m very grateful to come in and play with guys like Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis. Those are guys who you can definitely learn from. Takeo’s been in the game for years and Pat’s probably the best one in the league right now. It’s a pleasure and I’m grateful.”

And just like Davis and Iupati’s relationship has blossomed, so has Balogun’s bond with 49ers third-round pick Navorro Bowman. The two inside linebackers were roommates at the team’s first rookie minicamp and have continued to build on their friendship since.

“We’re constantly talking,” Balogun said. “After meetings, on the field, when we’re in the hotel, we’re constantly talking because we’re together. We’re always asking each other ‘What’s this?’ or ‘What did you have on that play?’ We have to communicate if we want to get better.”

Notes and Quotes

Greg Manusky wore a microphone at practice today for TV49. Check out 49ers.com next week to relive the practice through the eyes of the 49ers defensive coordinator. It’s guaranteed to have some quality sound bites as well.

Keith Smith came up with the first turnover of the day, intercepting a deep Alex Smith pass intended for Michael Crabtree 35 yards down the center of the field. The veteran cornerback timed his jump perfectly and beat the second-year wideout to the ball.

Vernon Davis always looks fast after the catch, but it seems like he’s running with even more of a purpose once the balls in his hands this year. After a nice deep drag over the middle for a 10-yard gain, Davis flashed his Pro Bowl-caliber explosiveness, darting past multiple defenders as he took off 50 yards down the field. I remember Gary Plummer once telling me how Jerry Rice would run to the opposite end zone after every catch in practice to replicate doing it in a game. It appears as if Davis is trying a similar approach this year. He’s already taken off down the field a couple of times this week, should be interesting to see if it continues.

Reggie Smith became the second player with his namesake to come up with a turnover on Tuesday. Smith was the was the lucky recipient of an overthrown pass from backup quarterback David Carr to wide receiver Josh Morgan during 7-on-7 work.

Later in skelly (7-on-7) work, Morgan made an impressive catch on a flag route thrown by third-string quarterback Nate Davis. The second-year signal caller showed nice pocket presence, stepping up and to his left to make the deep sideline throw to Morgan, who used his big body to shield safety Curtis Taylor away from the ball.

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye spoke with the media after practice on the state of the 49ers offense. Asked what are some of the things the unit can do this year that they couldn’t do 365 days before, Raye responded: “We’ve come almost 180 degrees from a year ago in terms of the basic, fundamental understanding of the words and the nomenclature of the system and trying to get passed that point. We’ve expedited that part of it so we don’t have to spend as much time on the rudiments of what we are doing, that we can review that and get onto the basic things. This is the first time that they would have had an opportunity to see cut-ups going into the next year. The work they did a year ago, we use that as teaching tools to advance and go forward as we install. So, we have some things that we identify that they are doing good and bad, and so it helps us tremendously where we are starting point-wise from when we walked in here February a year ago.” (Watch Raye’s press conference by clicking HERE).

The 49ers received a special visit on Tuesday from 15-year-old Brandon Dale of Santa Clara, who has been diagnosed with liver cancer. Brandon and his family spent the day watching practice, touring the facility and even met with players and coaches after practice. Brandon also spent time with his favorite player, linebacker Patrick Willis. TV49 caught up with the Dale’s after their visit and we’ll have much more on their experience.

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