49ers get back to work, ready to play catch-up
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – Patrick Willis set three alarm clocks just so he could be at the San Francisco 49ers headquarters exactly when the NFL lockout lifted. He even set the ringer on his cell phone to full blast.
“It’s loud,” the linebacker said. “It won’t allow you to sleep in.”
The 49ers certainly didn’t want to waste a moment.
With a new coaching staff waiting for them inside, a steady stream of players entered the team’s facility Tuesday for the first time in months.
New coach Jim Harbaugh had quick meet-and-greet sessions with players and quickly sent them into meetings with coaches some had never met before. Others were scheduled to have a physical, and still more began giddily filling up their locker ahead of the start of training camp Thursday.
“It’s like the first day of school,” left tackle Anthony Davis said.
Free agent and former starting quarterback Alex Smith, first-round pick Aldon Smith and second-round pick Colin Kaepernick were among the first to arrive. There also was a constant flux of undrafted rookies and others hoping for a spot on the training camp roster.
One notable absence was running back Frank Gore, a two-time Pro Bowler who went down with a season-ending fractured hip at Arizona on Nov. 29. He has been training in Miami and is expected to arrive when camp opens.
The team is allowed to negotiate with rookies and its own free agents already, although Smith can’t re-sign with the team – as expected – until Friday.
President and CEO Jed York, general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh have all indicated the team will not be big spenders in the free agent market. Instead, they hope to maintain some continuity on the depth chart.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend money on people that are not on your roster currently,” York said. “I think that’s where we are always focused, making sure that we signed our own guys.”
San Francisco’s training camp figures to be a major test of the new regime.
The 49ers are among a handful of teams with a new coaching staff, and the summer-long lockout has a potential to do even greater damage with so many unknowns. Only about two dozen offensive players who attended informal workouts led by Smith have any knowledge of the playbook, and that brief study time doesn’t compare to the rigors of training camp.
Something the 49ers have been eager to begin under the new coach.
Harbaugh arrived to great fanfare when the franchise lured him away from Stanford, where Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck is returning from a team that won the Orange Bowl. Harbaugh signed a $25 million, five-year deal to replace the ousted Mike Singletary.
San Francisco hasn’t had a winning record or made the playoffs since 2002.
“We have to make it happen because I’m tired of losing,” Willis said. “I want to experience what it’s like to win. “I guess it has been since my freshman year in college since I’ve had a winning season and it sucks, big time. I feel optimistic this season. I can’t wait to get it started.”