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Singletary lets players ease into the grind of training camp in shells instead of full pads

Mike Singletary gave his players a day to ease into the intense grind of training camp.

The San Francisco 49ers took the field in shells only Sunday afternoon for their first practice, a day before two-a-day workouts in full pads begin in earnest.

The Niners originally weren't set to start camp until Monday, then Singletary decided late last week to instead get going a day earlier and add Sunday's workout to the schedule. This is Singletary's second training camp in charge and he is determined to take this team to the playoffs after a seven-year absence. San Francisco finished 8-8 last season in his first full season, ending a franchise-worst streak of six straight losing campaigns.

That wasn't anywhere close to good enough for the perfectionist Hall of Fame linebacker turned coach. In many ways, this should be a less stressful camp for Singletary.

This year, there's not the daily drama of 2009 when everybody waited for rookie receiver Michael Crabtree to finally turn up and sign his contract — which he eventually did in early October after the 10th overall draft pick missed the first 71 days.

Crabtree, in his No. 15 jersey, sprinted down the sideline with ease under the afternoon sun to run a route Sunday.

The team's two first-round selections this year, offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, taken 11th and 17th, respectively, both were in uniform for the start of camp. They signed five-year contracts Friday.

One of the first drills they did was pound their large bodies into the blocking sleds. Singletary expects both players to compete for starting jobs out of camp and become starters at some point as rookies.

Sunday was just the start for these two in what will be one of the most physically demanding months they've had so far in their young football careers. Veteran offensive stars Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, and several defensive starters, too, called last year's camp among the toughest they'd ever experienced.

And Singletary is committed to another rigorous preseason to get his team ready.

The 49ers haven't advanced to the postseason since the 2002 season and made two many costly mistakes — most notably late in the game on the road — last season to earn the franchise a trip.

Quarterback Alex Smith begins this year's camp as the starter after entering as Shaun Hill's backup last year then eventually earning the job in late October. With all of Smith's work at team headquarters this past spring, the offense should be ahead of schedule at this stage.

While the team looks largely the same this summer, it will be interesting to see what happens with Trent Baalke leading the way for football operations in the front office. He was promoted to vice president of player personnel in May after leading San Francisco through the draft, stepping in following the abrupt departure of former general manager Scot McCloughan.

The 49ers and McCloughan had what Jed York called a "mutual parting" in March. York would only say it was a "private personnel matter."

Baalke has been a regular fixture on the sideline during offseason practices and certainly will be eager to see how his recent moves work out this season.

Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco's starting nose tackle who is seeking a new contract, was the only no-show Sunday. The 49ers designated Franklin their franchise player earlier this year, but he's yet to sign a one-year tender of $7.003 million. It's unclear how long he plans to hold out.