SANTA CLARA – It’ll never be found on any stat sheet, but on Friday linebacker NaVorro Bowman recorded his first interception against a starting NFL quarterback in 17 months.
Whether he was inbounds when he picked off Colin Kaepernick’s pass intended for tight end Vance McDonald in the end zone is up for debate. But it didn’t seem to matter to Bowman.
“It gets me back in the play-making mode,” Bowman said.
Bowman took part in drills Friday for the first practice of the offseason program in which he participated while the media were allowed to watch. He practiced three times this week and would have participated in a fourth, if the 49ers had another day scheduled, he said.
Bowman moved much like the player who was voted first-team All-Pro in three consecutive seasons before the devastating knee injury in January 2014 wiped out a full season.
He admitted that he’s experienced some good days and some bad days. He took a significant number of repetitions during practice, and was seen on occasion grabbing and bending his left knee between plays. He said the brace he’s required to wear has limited him physically.
“I don’t like it,” Bowman said. “It’s not allowing me to run as fast as I’d like to, but it’s keeping my knee safe, and that’s the most important thing.”
--During the warmup period, wide receiver Jerome Simpson got an earful for a dropped deep ball and then not being more aggressive while going for another pass. But once the 11-on-11 drills started, Simpson had a standout day.
Simpson showed his speed and athleticism when he made a leaping catch at the sideline against Antoine Bethea, then performed a flip while he was off-balance, remained on his feet and continued to run down the field. He later caught a deep pass from Colin Kaepernick against the coverage of cornerback Dontae Johnson down the right sideline.
--Jarryd Hayne must earn his spot with the 49ers on special teams. He looks comfortable fielding punts, but he is going to have to distinguish himself running down the field on punts and kickoffs to have any chance of earning a spot on the 53-man roster. At this point, it’s unreasonable to think he can make the team solely as a running back. While playing rugby league in Australia, he probably never heard anyone talk about his pad level . . . because he never wore pads in his former career. The pads do not go on until training camp, and he will have to make a quick adjustment. Hayne runs too upright to succeed as an NFL running back. Maybe he’s just unsure of himself, too, but he does not exhibit the kind of explosion and short-area quickness that’s a necessity at his position.
--Tight end Vernon Davis has been a regular attendee during the 49ers’ offseason program, but he had a family commitment on Friday and did not participate in the voluntary workout. That provided a few more reps for the backups. Vance McDonald made a couple grabs, but also dropped a pass from Blaine Gabbert near the sideline.
--Other players who did not take part in any on-field work were: fullback Bruce Miller (excused while he faces a vandalism charge), running backs Carlos Hyde (leg strain), Mike Davis (rookie premiere in Los Angeles), receivers Anquan Boldin (not taking part in voluntary workouts), Bruce Ellington (hamstring), DeAndre Smelter (knee), defensive back Jimmie Ward (foot), tight end Derek Carrier (foot), offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore (leg), offensive linemen Alex Boone and Anthony Davis (not taking part in voluntary workouts), defensive linemen Darnell Dockett (knee), Glenn Dorsey (arm), Arik Armstead (prohibited to participate until Oregon completes final exams), linebacker Aaron Lynch (hamstring), and specialists Andy Lee and Phil Dawson (not taking part in voluntary workouts).
--Kaepernick was off-target with a few of his pass attempts early in practice. He overthrew tight end Garrett Celek early in practice and promised that he owed him one. He got him back near the end of practice with a deep pass down the seam, on which Celek made a remarkable catch while surrounded by tight coverage.
--Rookie tight end Blake Bell made a nice outstretched catch down the middle on a pass from backup Blaine Gabbert.
--Tight end Asante Cleveland, who appeared in six games as an undrafted rookie, had a good day. He was featured on a tight-end screen near the goal line on which Kaepernick made a nice jump-pass.
--The defense also had some moments. Cornerback Keith Reaser broke up a Gabbert pass and could’ve had an interception when he stepped in front of Simpson’s in-breaking route.
--Linebacker Nick Bellore intercepted a Gabbert pass that Nick Moody deflected before it got to intended target Dres Anderson.
--Cornerback Kenneth Acker intercepted a Dylan Thompson pass that deflected off Bell’s hands. Each of the 49ers' three quarterbacks threw one interception.
--Undrafted rookie receiver DeAndrew White made a nice catch from Gabbert at the sideline against Johnson, but he failed to get both feet inbounds. Last season at Alabama, it would’ve been a reception.
--Quinton Dial again worked with the first team at Justin Smith’s old position. Tank Carradine was working with the second unit at right defensive end.
--The team drills featured a brief skirmish featuring guard Joe Looney and Carradine.
--Tramaine Brock and Shareece Wright were held out of 11-on-11 drills. The 49ers have been shuffling their cornerbacks regularly. Chris Cook and Marcus Cromartie on Friday worked with the first team. Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser lined up with the second team, and Kenneth Acker and Mylan Hicks were with the third unit.
--The 49ers are working a great deal on their “tempo” during practice. Now, during 11-on-11 drills, the defense lines up on one side and the offense on the other. Substitutions are practiced as part of those drills.
“We’re just trying to work through the mechanics of a game day on the sidelines, yellow lines, the organization of that,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “Substituting, substituting at a pace and just the way we operate.”
--Rookie punter Bradley Pinion is 6-foot-5, 229 pounds with a leg to match. He hit several directional punts that exceeded 5 seconds of hang time.
“I mean you’re seeing the same thing we’re seeing,” Tomsula said. "He’s booting it. But again, you don’t have a live rush. We’re not going to christen anybody anywhere right now.”
--The 49ers are hosting small groups at practices during organized team activities. This week, they invited kids from the 49ers Academy on Thursday and Wounded Warriors on Friday.