Rookie Iupati making strides early in 49ers camp
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)
Just four days into training camp, Mike Iupati already has become one of the most prominent and talked about figures on the San Francisco 49ers' revamped offensive line.
That's sort of the way both Iupati and the 49ers had it planned when the team made him the No. 17 overall selection in the draft this spring. They just didn't expect it to happen this soon.
But now that the rookie is settling in at left guard and taking most of the snaps with San Francisco's first-team offense, coach Mike Singletary can't deny he's pleased with Iupati's progress.
''I'm liking what I'm seeing there,'' Singletary said Wednesday. ''He's very mature, he's hungry and he wants to play. He wants to take advantage of every opportunity he gets.''
Iupati is getting plenty of opportunities during the early stages of camp after the incumbent starter at left guard, David Baas, went down with a concussion Monday.
Iupati was drafted to challenge Baas for a starting role as the 49ers look to upgrade a unit that has been one of San Francisco's primary weaknesses in recent seasons.
Singletary already has stated that he expects Iupati and the team's other first-round pick, No. 11 overall selection Anthony Davis, to become starters at some point during their rookie seasons.
Iupati already is there, at least while Baas continues to sit out practice on a day-to-day basis. Could Iupati already be there to stay?
''I can't control that,'' Iupati said. ''That's the big man's call. There's a lot of training camp to go and there are a lot of things I need to work on. But it's intense and it's physical out there, and I'm having fun. This is an early opportunity for me, and I just have to get better every day and keep on grinding.''
Iupati's ability to grind in the trenches has been one of his most impressive qualities. The 331-pound mauler has displayed the power and strength that made him one of the top line prospects in the draft, smothering linebackers more than a few times during team drills.
That's exactly what the 49ers want but haven't been getting enough of in recent seasons.
''We were not good enough up front (last year),'' Singletary said. ''It's as simple as that.''
Iupati and Davis were brought in to change that, and so far the results have been promising.
The 323-pound Davis is on a more gradual learning curve at right tackle, where he's expected to challenge incumbent Adam Snyder for the starting role. But Davis took most of the first-team snaps Wednesday with Snyder moving to right guard in place of regular starter Chilo Rachal.
Rachal collapsed during Tuesday afternoon's practice and was motionless on the turf before he was taken to the locker room on a cart suffering from what the team called dehydration. Rachal watched practice from the sidelines Wednesday and is listed as day to day.
Snyder has previous starting experience at guard, so Davis could see his first-team work increase if Snyder is needed there. But in the early going, Iupati is the rookie lineman who has created the biggest waves.
Tucked in between left tackle Joe Staley and center Eric Heitmann - the two most distinguished veterans along San Francisco's offensive line - Iupati already looks something like a natural.
''All I can say about Mike is he's going to be a great player, and he's already doing a really good job for us right now,'' Heitmann said. ''Obviously, he has all the physical tools he needs to be successful at this level and he's got a great attitude. The more experience he gets, he's just going to keep getting better.''