SANTA CLARA — Mike Singletary gave his players a day to ease into the intense grind of training camp.
The San Francisco 49ers took the field in shells only Sunday afternoon for their first practice, a day before two-a-day workouts in full pads begin in earnest.
“I’m ready to put the pads on,” linebacker Patrick Willis said with a grin. “We all know training camp is a brutal time in this sport, but also the time that gets us ready.”
The 49ers originally weren’t set to start camp until today, then Singletary decided late last week to instead get going a day earlier and add Sunday’s workout to the schedule. With the 49ers installing schemes Saturday night and again Sunday night, the coaches decided to put Saturday’s efforts to work on the field Sunday.
This is Singletary’s second training camp as head coach and he is determined to take this team to the playoffs after a seven-year absence. San Francisco finished 8-8 last season in his first full season, ending a franchise-worst streak of six straight losing campaigns.
That wasn’t anywhere close to good enough for the perfectionist Hall of Fame linebacker turned coach. In many ways, this should be a less stressful camp for Singletary. There’s continuity and experience on both sides of the ball.
The players understand Singletary’s demanding style, so even the coach acknowledges this camp might not be quite as hard as his first one in charge.
“I don’t know that it’s going to be grueling,” Singletary said. “The first few days, yes, but there is a point that we have to get to, to kind of take a look at these first few days and look at what we’ve accomplished, where we are and take that next step. But right now, I’m sure they’re going to say, ‘This is a really tough camp.’ ”
This year, there’s not the daily drama of 2009 when everybody waited for rookie receiver Michael Crabtree to finally turn up and sign his contract — which he eventually did in early October after the 10th overall draft pick missed the first 71 days.
Crabtree, in his No. 15 jersey, sprinted down the sideline with ease under the afternoon sun to run a route Sunday. Last year at this time, he was working out in Tampa, Fla., with whoever he could recruit to practice with him each day.
So, this is his first camp. Yet no rookie hazing now that he’s a second-year pro.
“I did enough of that last year, man,” he said, noting he brought his share of buckets of fried chicken to his teammates.
The team’s two first-round selections this year, offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, taken 11th and 17th, respectively, both were in uniform for the start of camp. They signed five-year contracts Friday.
One of the first drills they did was pound their large bodies into the blocking sleds. Singletary expects both players to compete for starting jobs out of camp and become starters at some point as rookies. They lined up with the second-team offense Sunday.
“I don’t want to throw a couple of rookies in and risk that they can’t swim,” Singletary said.
Singletary is committed to another rigorous preseason to get his team ready.
The 49ers haven’t advanced to the postseason since the 2002 season and made two many costly mistakes — most notably late in the game on the road — last season to earn the franchise a trip.
Quarterback Alex Smith begins this year’s camp as the starter after entering as Shaun Hill’s backup last year then eventually earning the job in late October. With all of Smith’s work at team headquarters this past spring, the offense should be ahead of schedule at this stage.
Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco’s starting nose tackle who is seeking a new contract, was the only no-show Sunday. The 49ers designated Franklin their franchise player earlier this year, but he’s yet to sign a one-year tender of $7.003 million. It’s unclear how long he plans to hold out.
“I don’t really have a lot of concern,” Singletary said. “It’s very important for us as a football team to understand that Aubrayo has to do what he thinks is best for him. I’m not going to try and dictate one thing or another. I’m going to let him do what he has to do.”