Amid the smell of barbecued chicken (courtesy of celebrity chef Guy Fieri's visit), the 49ers held their first morning practice of training camp Wednesday, and an obvious emphasis was third-down situations.
The 49ers needed the work. Last season, they converted only 29.4 percent of third-down plays into first downs, the second-worst efficiency in the league, behind only the St. Louis Rams (28.07 percent).
Even worse was the 49ers' third-down showing in the playoffs, at least from a statistical sense.
They converted only 4-of-15 third downs in their Jan. 14 win over the New Orleans Saints; however, both of the 49ers' touchdown in the final 2:11 came on third-down plays, Alex Smith's 28-yard run and Smith's 14-yard pass to Vernon Davis.
Against the Giants in the NFC Championship game, they were 1-of-13 on third downs, and their only conversion came courtesy of a Giants' illegal-contact penalty on the 49ers' first drive after halftime of that 20-17 defeat.
On Wednesday, Smith completed his first four passes on the third-down drill, to four different receivers: Delanie Walker, Kyle Williams, Brian Tyms and Randy Moss.
Scott Tolzien wasn't as sharp, and would have had a pass to A.J. Jenkins intercepted if C.J. Spillman corralled it better.
--Michael Crabtree did individual conditioning drills on his injured right lower-leg while missing his fourth full practice.
In a light moment afterward, cornerback Carlos Rogers
was asked which of the 49ers' receivers like to talk the most. Rogers' response: "The one that's hurt right now: Crab." Rogers said the two engaged in playful banter one snap before Crabtree got hurt in Friday's session. "I can't wait until he gets back out there," Rogers added.
--Defensive play of the day: Dashon Goldson intercepted an Alex Smith pass that bounced off Frank Gore's hands, and Gore promptly tackled Goldson, accidentally or not.
--Offensive play(s) of the day: Williams caught a 50-yard bomb -- from Colin Kaepernick, we believe -- in a third-and-short situation. Williams later made a diving catch of another Kaepernick pass for a would-be third-down conversion.
--Injury report: Aside from Crabtree, the largest intrigue revolves around fellow wide receiver Mario Manningham, who practiced but didn't appear to participate in many, if any, 11-on-11 drills. Manningham does not show signs of an injury.
Wide receiver Joe Hastings and cornerback Curtis Holcomb did not practice with what are believed to be leg injuries. Rookie guard Joe Looney, activated off the non-football-injury list Tuesday, attended practice but was not seen lining up during team drills.
--Guest list: The 49ers had a couple special guests on hand. If you are a fan of food and reality TV, there was Fieri. If you are a 49er Faithful (note: Fieri is a big Raiders fan), then you'll be interested to know that former defensive assistant Bill McPherson attended practice and is in great spirits, as usual.
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