Finally, a chance to size up 49ers coaches

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Roughly 45 NFL prospects with Bay Area ties spent Wednesday afternoon running through drills at San Francisco 49ers headquarters.

Their local pro day wasn't the story.

For the first time since Jim Harbaugh took over as the 49ers' head coach in early January, his staff was on the field directing actual football players through actual football drills. What a concept.

Harbaugh stood behind the quarterbacks while they threw passes to receivers running three-step slants first, then other routes.

Down the field, receivers coach John Morton showed himself as one of the more vocal staffers, criticizing and encouraging players' techniques at a decibel level high enough to carry clearly for 30 yards on a blustery day.

"I want to see you come off the ball!" Morton shouted.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, a stout man from New Jersey with a background as a defensive lineman at John Carroll University, took the lead in running tight ends through receiving drills. With Roman operating the drills, tight ends coach Reggie Davis pulled players to the side for individual instruction.

Harbaugh chatted with various staffers during breaks in the action. He stood between Roman and offensive line coach Tim Drevno for a while. Later, Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke appeared comfortable joking with one another. The atmosphere was loose and it was clear everyone was happy to finally get onto the field.

The three-plus months without organized on-field sessions seemed much longer for a staff eager to get going. NFL rules governing the ongoing lockout prevent coaches and players from interacting over the phone, let alone on the field. But the period of forced separation could help in some ways.

"One thing this lockout has done that has been positive for us as an offensive staff is just being able to get the trust with the coaches and know each other and comb through our systems and really take advantage of each coach's talent before you present it to the players," Harbaugh said after three hours on the field.

Special-teams coach Brad Seely has a presence more commanding than I had anticipated. He looks like a former offensive lineman and he is one, having played at South Dakota State in the 1970s.

The 49ers ran punt prospects through a drill I hadn't seen before. Each return man held a football in his hands as a punted ball approached from about 40 yards away. The returner would throw the ball he was holding into the air, catch the punted ball and then catch the ball he'd thrown aloft.

Results were comical at times, with footballs bouncing off players.

Linebackers coach Jim Leavitt stood out among defensive staffers. He took the lead in demonstrating drills requiring players to run through padded obstacles, flip their hips as they rounded a corner, backpedal to another corner, maneuver sideways while crossing one leg over the other and then sprint toward a finish line where they started.

Harbaugh watched these drills with great interest and enthusiasm, cheering on some of the 15 players he knew from his days coaching them at Stanford.

Laughter broke out when quality control coach Ejiro Evero, a former player at UC Davis and camp invite with the Oakland Raiders, slipped and fell on the natural grass practice field while trying to keep pace with one of the prospects.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn't known as a yeller and that was evident. I heard him offering instruction a couple times, but others stood out more.

Harbaugh paid attention to the quarterbacks, and to the small stuff. He asked offensive line coaches if they were finished occupying an area he sought to open up for passing drills. He instructed equipment staffers to relocate a water station he thought stood too close to an agility drill's finish line.

Some of the bigger-name college invites didn't participate. Cal defensive lineman Cam Jordan did not attend. Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones, having already helped his stock by running blazing 40-yard times, attended but did not participate.

Nebraska's Roy Helu and Cal counterpart Shane Vereen competed hard and evenly drills for running backs. Harbaugh said he would have to watch the video to see which one came out ahead.

"I loved it, I absolutely loved it," Harbaugh said. "Those guys are highly thought of running backs that are going to go high in the draft. For them to come out here and compete, you could see they joy they had in competing, getting in the one-on-ones, getting in the seven-on-sevens, that got me fired up."