'Nutcracker' drills define 49ers' Camp Singletary

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Nothing captures the essence of 49ers training camp under Mike Singletary as well as the primal "nutcracker" drills you might have heard about.

I'm not sure if the 49ers can sustain this type of pounding through a full camp without wearing down during the season. Singletary would be a more credible judge of the matter and he thinks these one-on-one battles will actually help players endure.

The setup is simple. One player steps into a lane wide enough to accommodate one NFL-sized person. Another similarly sized player from a corresponding position group steps into the lane across from him. They lower into three-point stances, their helmets perhaps a foot apart, before launching into one another violently. They lock onto one another, churning their legs until one man prevails decisively.

Singletary learned the drill as a player under Mike Ditka in Chicago, except Ditka allowed players to slip past one another. Ditka's rules weren't tough enough for Iron Mike, so Singletary modified them, requiring players to run through one another. Picture two vehicles on a narrow roadway accelerating into one another from a foot apart, each driver pinning the accelerator until someone prevails.

The drill itself, though a compelling spectacle, isn't as revealing as the way 49ers players attacked them. They're enthusiastic. They respond to the coaches' intonations. When a player loses decisively, he often begs for an immediate rematch. "He wants more, Chi," a teammate yelled to Chilo Rachal after the guard powered through defensive end Kentwan Balmer. Rachal obliged. The two went at it again. Rachal won again.

Singletary stood to the side, challenging players to do better and calling them out if they appeared to accept defeat. Teammates hollered support for their position mates. Guard Adam Snyder seemed to fare well. Vernon Davis, fiercely competitive and not always an impartial arbiter of nutcracker outcomes involving himself, magnanimously congratulated Manny Lawson after the linebacker defeated him.

Good stuff.

I've got quite a few more notes from 49ers practice, with another practice scheduled for this afternoon and four more before I leave Wednesday. Patrick Willis rested with what the team called a very minor ankle strain. That was the newsiest note, albeit a small one. Back in a bit.