SANTA CLARA – While inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, a 16-game starter last season remains sidelined after reporting to training camp with a muscle strain, the player who stepped into his spot has no plan on giving it back.
Nick Moody has taken over the starting role for the first three days of camp, working alongside NaVorro Bowman. And Moody believes the experience has given him a lift in his quest to open the regular season as the starter.
“I think it helps a lot,” Moody said on Tuesday. “I mean, just being able to see from day to day how consistent I am with my fundamentals and technique, I think that’s been the biggest help to me.”
Moody was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft to be one of the 49ers’ core special-teams players. He played linebacker in the final 2 1/2 games of the regular season after Chris Borland was sidelined with an injury. Moody recorded 21 tackles during that time. This offseason, he moved a couple rungs up the depth chart in the offseason with the surprise retirements of Patrick Willis and Borland.
Veteran Darnell Dockett is one player who believes Moody has done everything possible to be in the starting lineup this season. Dockett worked out daily with Moody in Miami, and has seen the long, focused hours being invested.
“When you’ve been in an organization with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and guys like that, it’s kind of like, ‘Why not him?’ I’ve seen the work he’s put in and I’m very impressed,” Dockett said. “I’ve told him, ‘The sky’s the limit.’ If he has a big year, I won’t be surprised. Anything less than that will be a disappointment.”
---Coach Jim Tomsula did not rule out the possibility the 49ers could seek help for the offensive line outside the organization, but he said he is not concerned about the unsettled spots at center and on the right side.
According to Tomsula, Joe Looney is in the best shape of his life and catching on quickly at center. Marcus Martin gives the 49ers plenty to be encouraged about with his height and arms at right guard. Andrew Tiller, who spent three games on the 49ers’ active roster last season, is a “heavy-handed guy,” Tomsula said. He also mentioned guard Brandon Thomas, a third-round draft pick who missed his rookie season due to a knee injury.
“There’s enough youth and competition right there to put an edge to things,” Tomsula said. “It’s kind of nice.”
---The 49ers’ emphasis on improving their tempo on offense has placed a value on conditioning of the offensive linemen, left guard Alex Boone said.
“You don’t see a lot of fat guys walking around here anymore,” Boone said. “That’s for a reason.”
Right tackle Anthony Davis retired in the offseason, and the 49ers did not re-sign left guard Mike Iupati as a free agent. Davis had difficulty last season remaining in top physical condition due to injuries to his shoulder, hamstring and ankle, as well as a concussion, that limited him to no activity in training camp and just seven regular-season starts.
The 49ers regularly had problems breaking the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage and getting the snap off with ease before the playclock hit zeroes. Boone said the goal of breaking the huddle with at least :22 on the playclock has been challenging.
“We obviously took a long time last year to get plays off and that was a problem,” Boone said. “I think everybody knew it was a problem. And it pissed a lot of people off, including the offensive line. So for this offense to get rolling, get moving, it’s completely different but at the same time I love it.”
---Offensive lineman Ben Gottschalk underwent a surgical procedure on his foot at Stanford on Tuesday, Tomsula said. His timeframe for a potential return was not immediately known.
---Wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Issac Blakeney will be held out of practice due to leg strains. Ellington’s injury is not the same leg that plagued him during the offseason program. Said Tomsula, “We’re going to make sure we’re good there.”
--Left tackle Joe Staley was scheduled to return to practice on Tuesday after getting a veteran day off. The 49ers will closely monitor the practice time for Darnell Dockett, Aaron Lynch, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter and Jimmie Ward, Tomsula said.
“We’d rather be proactive than reactive,” he said.