Singletary focuses the 49ers on the fundamentals

Aug 1, 2009 - 9:36 PM By JANIE McCAULEY AP Sports Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif.(AP) -- Mike Singletary's old-school, focus-on-the-fundamentals approach to football showed up all over San Francisco's practice field on the first day of training camp.

The intense, no-nonsense 49ers coach stayed in the middle of the action at all times, his little black journal and pen in hand as he surveyed the scene and stopped players to offer instruction. He leaned over, hands on knees, and at one point jumped in the huddle to talk to quarterback Alex Smith between snaps.

Singletary got after players when he thought they were lagging and - surprisingly - even told them to tone it down when he thought they were going a little too hard in a hitting drill for the opening practice.

The 49ers were in pads from the start, just as promised.

"We still have a long way to go," Singletary said following the initial two-hour workout that was open to some 1,500 fans. "I just want to be honest every step of the way, every practice, every drill, everything we do. I just want to make sure there's not a false sense of security about where we are. Right now we're not very good, but by the end of it we'll be where we need to be."

That "nutcracker" hitting drill, as Singletary calls it, was something right tackle Marvel Smith hadn't done since his college days at Arizona State.

"With the intensity he brings, every practice is going to be like that," said Smith, who made comparisons to Bill Cowher's camps with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Every single play he demanded 100 percent. There's no letdown from beginning to end."

Yes, it's back to basics in many ways for the 49ers in the Singletary regime.

At the start of his first camp, the most intriguing stories will be whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith will emerge as starting quarterback, a receiving corps that's as deep and talented as the club has had this decade, and the timetable for when top draft pick Michael Crabtree will join that group.

The star wideout from Texas Tech still hadn't signed his contract as of Saturday's first session.

Singletary acknowledged he doesn't have time to concern himself with the state of Crabtree's negotiations.

Smith, who reinjured his surgically repaired right shoulder last season, was booed after throwing a ball out of bounds. He followed with a long completion to Brandon Jones.

"I think it's outstanding, because Alex has got to learn how to deal with it," Singletary said of the crowd's reaction. "That's what they're here for, that's what they do. They're fans."

Singletary has repeatedly said he expects Smith would have to win the job from Hill, who's 7-3 as a starter over the past two seasons.

Smith understands the fans want to see him at his best.

"You're kidding yourself if you think you're not going to hear boos and cheers," he said. "That's a very real environment."

Hill, who said he believes he's ultimately going to earn the job, took more snaps with the No. 1 offense, but Singletary also warned about reading too much into that.

"I keep hearing, `It's yours to lose,"' Hill said. "I've been taking the approach it's mine to take."

Singletary, beginning his first full season as head coach after taking over for the fired Mike Nolan last October, is overhauling the 49ers' offense with a philosophy heavily committed to the running game. San Francisco went 7-9 last season and scored only 339 points.

He's not ready to choose a favorite in the QB race.

"The way we functioned today, there are too many other things that are wrong," Singletary said. "Before you can evaluate the quarterback, you've got to make sure it's the quarterback that's the issue. Today, there were just too many other things that were wrong, and it makes it difficult to evaluate the quarterback when so many other things are wrong. ...

"It doesn't matter where he is today. I want to find the guy who can lead this team, and right now I'm not seeing that guy."

By the end of the grueling first practice, linebackers Patrick Willis and Manny Lawson sat in neighboring outdoor ice tubs, smiles still on their faces. For Singletary, that had to be a positive sign.

NOTES: DT Ricky Jean-Francois contracted a staph infection in Miami and was diagnosed upon reporting to team headquarters. He is being treated and won't take the field until the Niners feel he is fully recovered. ... LB Parys Haralson hurt his right hip flexor in the morning practice and was to be evaluated. ... FB Moran Norris received an excused absence for personal reasons. ... The Niners will hold another practice open to the public Aug. 8.

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