© Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Training camp is back, though saying it’s “back” sort of implies that this a return to how training camp used to be. The training camp of 2020 is one already defined by the opposite of normalcy: nasal swabs, face masks, Zoom press conferences, buzzers to let players know if they’ve come within six feet of one another.
The immediate result of these precautions on a team which is coming off a Super Bowl loss, when at least a handful players have already had to decide to leave behind their families for the foreseeable future, appears to be a heightened sense of urgency in finding redemption for falling just short a season ago.
Currently, the 49ers are in the acclimation period of camp which included a maximum of 60 minutes of conditioning on the field and 60 minutes in weight rooms. This portion continues through August 11.
On August 12, a ramp-up period begins, including non-padded practices designed to prepare players for padded drills. The real stuff begins August 17, when pads can come on and practice can begin.
Normally, full training camp practices would already be underway. If all held as originally scheduled, the 49ers would soon be heading to Denver for an August 15 preseason opener, followed by three more games. There’s no longer a preseason, and that ramp up to the season opener at home against the Arizona Cardinals, on September 13, leaves the team with less than a month — 27 potential days, not including rest days — to practice in earnest with pads on.
On Monday, Kyle Shanahan intimated that a once-impossible proposition of full contact drills and practices, might be necessary.
Efficiency and energy, then, are at a premium. In Santa Clara, that does not seems to be an issue.
“The energy right now is just crazy, especially during these walkthroughs, guys are really amped up,” said Raheem Mostert on Wednesday. “It’s more-so a run through, a little miniature practice. I know I’m not allowed to say that, but it’s just so awesome. The energy is just unbelievable and we love each other and this is a family and a brotherhood. We’ll fight for it, so we’re definitely feeling like, ‘Hey, look, we’re back in our Super Bowl form. We’ve got some unfinished business and we’re ready to take care of it.'”
Based on the accounts of Mostert, Fred Warner, Richard Sherman and Jimmy Garoppolo — the four 49ers made available to media thus far since the outset of training camp on August 3 — the 49ers have felt an immediate and substantial boost from reuniting in person. Those Zoom meetings didn’t have exactly the same effect.
You won’t find a team in the NFL, or probably any professional sports league, that opens the season with the goal of anything other than winning a championship. Some of those goals, though, are made in earnest, with a heightened sense of their tangibility. The 49ers fall into this category.
They also have less to learn. Most of this team is comprised of returners. There are new additions of course, in key rookies like Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk, and on the offensive line, in Trent Williams and Tom Compton, but the core is the same. Warner said Wednesday that’s allowed these early days on the field to, “…just run so much faster, so much smoother, and we’re able to set the tone right away.”
“George [Kittle] emphasized it in the Super Bowl, he will be back,” Mostert said. “And I think that was everyone’s mentality. I feel like we’re going to be back this year and we’re actually going to win it. That’s our goal. That’s our mindset. We don’t care what happened in the past. The past is the past and we’re going to move on and we’re going to dominate this game the way we know how to.”
Mostert and Warner have manifested that mentality with an outward confidence.
Warner debuted on the NFL’s Top 100 list this year at No. 70, as voted on league wide by his peers. An expected accolade, in his mind.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised at all,” Warner said. “I feel like I competed at a high level last year. I think my peers they saw that.”
Mostert, fresh off an amended contract and rescinded trade request, had some similar, self-confident declarations. Earlier in the offseason, Mostert said he was putting on muscle mass to prepare for an increased ball-carrying load, potentially of 20-plus times per game.
“I am the starting running back,” Mostert said. He later clarified that the “starter” mentality is one instilled in him by the 49ers’ legendary running backs coach Bobby Turner, who told the group, per Mostert, that the room has at least “five-to-six” starters within its ranks.
They all believe they are starters, Mostert said. While he’s never technically “started” a game, head coach Kyle Shanahan said last year he views the starter as whoever carries the ball the most, and down the stretch. By the end of the season, it was obvious that was Mostert’s responsibility, and it would be a surprise if he didn’t retain that role from the outset of this season.
Mostert made it abundantly clear he feels he’s up to the task, saying that whether it’s as a gunner on special teams or as a running back, he wants people to see him as the greatest of all time. The 28-year-old is not particularly interested in whether statistics or perception support that, but rather, in filling opposing teams with a specific feeling of dread at the prospect of facing him.
“I just want to go out there and be dominant,” Mostert said. “When I step out onto that field, I want everybody to say, ‘That’s a bad mofo. He’s somebody that we can’t take lightly.’ I want to put fear in other teams’ eyes.”