SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ defense made it difficult Thursday for the offense to merely function.
The team returned to practice after the first day off of training camp, and the defense clearly won the day.
Every throw was contested, and defense coordinator Jim O’Neil’s unit supplied an abundance of passes broken up.
“That’s one thing coach O’Neil says, ‘Be aggressive when it comes to the ball,’ “ 49ers rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson said. “So if he has it, take it away from him. We want the ball. We don’t want anybody else with the ball. We’re a real selfish defense.”
Robinson (6 foot 1, 185 pounds) helped set the tone for the 49ers’ defense with an interception of a Colin Kaepernick pass during a 3-on-2 period early in practice. He broke up another couple Kaepernick passes during 7-on-7, and got his hands a Blaine Gabbert throw to Jerome Simpson.
“That’s the reason I came,” said Robinson, a fourth-round pick who last played at LSU two seasons ago. “I’m a long, rangy dude.”
Robinson was not alone. Jimmie Ward also picked off Kaepernick during 7-on-7. Chris Davis, Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser, Tramaine Brock also broke up at least one pass during the two-hour practice.
QB struggles: All aspects of the 49ers’ passing game struggled. During team drills, Kaepernick completed 6 of 14 attempts, while Gabbert connected on only four of his 13 throws. Kaepernick had one long touchdown pass, while Gabbert found DeAndrew White with a 5-yard touchdown in a red-zone period. Kaepernick had two interceptions in 7-on-7 drills on virtually identical throws outside the hash on the right side. Those were the only two interceptions of the day.
Offensive play of the day: Kaepernick had his first deep connection of camp during 11-on-11 drills when he hit Torrey Smith with a perfectly thrown deep ball behind the coverage of Brock.
This ‘n’ that: It was a tough day for the passing game. When the 49ers’ defensive backs were not batting down passes, the receivers were doing it on their own. Devon Cajuste, Bruce Miller, Jerome Simpson, Vance McDonald, DeAndre Smelter, Je’Ron Hamm and Garrett Celek each dropped passes. . .
Defensive end Arik Armstead used his 6-7 frame to get his hands up and bat down a Kaepernick pass at the lime of scrimmage. . .
During a one-on-one pass rush drill, right tackle Trent Brown locked up Aaron Lynch, while Ahmad Brooks used a speed rush to beat Anthony Davis around the edge. . .
Quarterback Jeff Driskel hooked up with fellow rookie Aaron Burbridge on a deep post pattern for a touchdown during a 7-on-7 drill against Acker. . .
Rookie Will Redmond had a strong sequence during a red-zone drill with a pressure on a blitz leading to a Gabbert incomplete pass. On the next play, he defended against Rogers in the end zone.
Quote of the day: ”You mean this morning?” – 49ers offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins on whether he’s learned anything from new coach Chip Kelly.
Modkins went on to answer, “I learn something from Chip every day. This has been fantastic for me, professionally.”
Daily transactions: The 49ers claimed defensive back Cleveland Wallace (San Jose State) off waivers from the Houston Texans. The 49ers waived linebacker Lenny Jones to make room for Wallace.
Bumps and bruises: Wide receiver Bruce Ellington appeared to have discomfort in his right hamstring after a one-on-one period. He continued to practice. But late in practice, he appeared to sustain a possible finger dislocation on a play in which Ward broke up a Kaepernick pass in the red zone. . . .
Receiver Eric Rogers went down briefly with what appeared to a knee injury during special teams. He did not return to practice. Earlier in practice, Rogers made a nice catch of a back-shoulder throw from Thad Lewis against Ward.
Injury report: Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (knee) worked with the strength and conditioning staff on a side field. . . . Safety Jaquiski Tartt (quad strain) remains on the active/non-football injury list. He is expected to be cleared for practice shortly.
Next practice: The 49ers are scheduled to return to practice Friday at 10:25 a.m.