This morning's session was a spirited one, highlighted by the first skirmish on the field between the offense and defense. More about that in a later post, but noticeably absent was tackle Jared Gaither, who had either cramps or a lower back muscle strain and the team's trainers held him out as a precaution. TE Davon Drew tweaked a hamstring yesterday and was not on the field. CB Fabian Washington, who practiced in the red "no contact" jersey, was more than likely just given the day off.
The players are looking fit and ready to hit. In early 11-on-11 action, the full contact drills have Willis McGahee running off left tackle for a TD and then Marc Bulger hits Donte Stallworth in the back of the end zone for a TD. Speaking of Stallworth, he has looked outstanding so far in camp, running around like a rookie and catching everything in sight. He should be matchup nightmares as the team's #3 receiver going up against the opponents' #3 defensive back.
The wideouts are now going one-on-one with the defensive backs and Walt Harris knocks the ball away from Anquan Boldin. Stallworth blows past Travis Fisher for a long pass. Chris Carr makkes a great play on a pass intended for Derrick Mason. "Q" makes a sweet leaping grab over Prince Miller and finally Stallworth crosses over the middle to catch a pass in front of K.J. Gerard.
Once again, in team drills, Stallworth shines as he makes a leaping sideline grab, drawing oohhs and ahhs from the crowd follwed by a nice TD reception on a pass from Marc Bulger.
On the Special Teams' side, neither kicker has a clear advantage, as Graham's only miss today was a 50 yarder while Cundiff hit all his attempts, other than one that was blocked by K.J. Gerard and returned by safety Haruki Nakamura.
One of the good things I noticed was when rookie TE Dennis Pitta caught a pass over the middle and took off across the field chased by Nakamura. Pitta, technically sound, transferred the ball to his outside arm to protect it from Nakamura's reach.
Fellow rookie TE Ed Dickson gets into the act over the middle as well from Bulger, despite LB Dannell Ellerbe drawing the ref's yellow penalty flag for defensive holding. Bulger seems to be firmly taking hold of the backup QB role. As far as the tight ends go, in Todd Heap's absence, both rookie TE's are getting tons of reps and making the most of it. Davon Drew's injury, depending on how long he'll be out (reportedly until Monday or Tuesday), certainly won't help his chances of making the final roster.
Back to 11-on-11 full contact drills and there's Ellerbe once again putting a hard lick, this time on Willis McGahee, stripping the ball for Nakamura to recover. Rice runs tough for a first down, running over Haruki for the last few steps.
As practice ended, Terrell Suggs walks by without his pads on and I tell him "you look skinny," to which he smiles and reponds, "thank you."
After signing autographs for a while, I ask Anquan Boldin, "What hurts more, catching balls from Joe or signing your name 1,000 times?" Boldin's reply is "Neither one of them, it's all cool!"
At the podium is Special Teams coach Jerry Rosberg. Focusing on the kicking competition, he says, "...when the dust clears, we'll have our kicker." I asked him about the options he has in the return game:
Rosberg: "Well, we have a number of guys. The depth chart in preseason was very full. We play a lot of guys, we have different situations and some guys who have strted in the reseason, it really doesn't mean much as we want them to get reps. So Jalen (Parmele) is out there, we have Prince Miller, who is new to our club, we're giving him reps. David's (Reed) going to be out there taking return reps, Zbi's back there because he wants to return the ball. Mark Clayton's back there. Donte's back there. We have a lot of guys back there so when we start the first pre season game, we'll see who lines up and we'll go from there."