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NFL notes: Colin Kaepernick shows 49ers something new

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Jeff Driskel, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Thad Lewis, from left, throw during training camp on Sunday. (Associated Press)
San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Jeff Driskel, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Thad Lewis, from left, throw during training camp on Sunday. (Associated Press)
From wire reports

Colin Kaepernick’s training-camp debut Sunday garnered approval from 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, who saw something he hadn’t seen from Kaepernick in a while.

“He’s got a smile on his face,” Baalke said.

Kaepernick had a relatively uneventful day in Santa Clara, California, sharing first-team snaps with Blaine Gabbert, the fellow sixth-year veteran who seized Kaepernick’s job at midseason last year. Both quarterbacks completed 7 of 10 passes in 11-on-11 drills. Kaepernick threw an interception in seven-on-seven action.

“It felt great just to be back on the field to start with, and then to get into the offense and really sink my teeth into it and get comfortable with it,” Kaepernick said. “I felt good with everything that I was doing.”

Baalke is as curious as anyone to see what comes from a quarterback competition in which Kaepernick is finally engaging at full health. But Baalke has to recuse himself as a judge.

“Both Colin and Blaine, we’re going to roll out the ball and give them equal opportunity,” Baalke said. “That’s really up to the coaches, when they get reps, how they share reps. I don’t have anything to do with that, nor do I want anything to do with that.

“Coach Kelly and his staff will determine who plays, who doesn’t.”

Less than six months ago, Kaepernick sought to play elsewhere, requesting a trade that never came to be despite serious courting from the Denver Broncos.

“It’s behind us. It makes no difference, at all,” Baalke said of the trade discussions. “We’re glad he’s here. The coaching staff is glad he’s here.

“As you saw today, he’s ready to go. His weight is up and has gotten most of that back. He feels good. There’s no complications from injuries of the past and he’s ready to go.”

Baalke wants Kaepernick and all players to use this time to get comfortable with the coaches, not the embattled general manager, who didn’t deny that he has yet to have a sit-down, heart-to-heart discussion with Kaepernick.

Baalke was on the field for Sunday’s 90-minute practice and watched as Kaepernick and Gabbert modestly fulfilled their duties of completing short, quick passes in the fast-paced offense.

Said Gabbert: “This is not my first quarterback competition and it definitely won’t be my last.”

That’s because Gabbert said everyone should always be looking to compete for a job, which he did last year in seizing Kaepernick’s.

Kaepernick was smiling not only on the field but off it at the media podium, where he was gregarious and upbeat, a far cry from his interviews over the past couple of sour seasons.

“It’s going to be an even competition, and I’m here to compete,” Kaepernick said.

Limited by his surgeries (left shoulder, left knee, right thumb), Kaepernick lost weight during the offseason, but he apparently gained it back with a healthy diet and trademark training regimen.

“Yeah, I’m definitely putting a lot of weight back on,” Kaepernick said. “I don’t look like my high-school self anymore. I feel like I look more like an adult now.”

So do Kaepernick or Gabbert have to emerge as a bona fide starter to keep Baalke (or his potential successor) from seeking a new quarterback next year?

“That answers itself. If neither were to step up…” Baalke said before cutting himself off. “We’ve got some guys in that room that can step up and play.”

Anthony Davis will begin at bottom of depth chart for 49ers

Right tackle Anthony Davis sat down with Baalke for a productive discussion about his return to the team after a year-long retirement, and both men insist they have moved past any issues between them.

Davis was reinstated by the NFL on Saturday and took part in his first practice after missing all of the offseason program under new coach Chip Kelly.

On April 1, he posted on Twitter: “Dealing with Trent is giving me a headache.”

“You put all that stuff to rest. We had an excellent conversation,” Baalke said on Sunday. “Everything’s in actions. Words are words and A.D. and I have had a pretty good relationship, special relationship, dating back to 2010. There’s been times we’ve gone at it and he understands why and we move on. Everything’s very positive at this point. Now it’s blending back in, going to work, and I think he’s very prepared to do that.”

Baalke does encourage his players to be “responsible” when it comes to social media.

“We talked about everything man-to-man. Got past it. And now we’re on the same page,” Davis said.

He was part of Baalke’s first draft class after taking over as GM, selected 11th overall in 2010 out of Rutgers, and he became an immediate impact player. He has started all 71 games in which he has appeared, as well as eight playoff games.

Davis also chatted with left tackle Joe Staley about a series of critical tweets last Nov. 28 several days after a 29-13 loss to the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks. One post read: “Cant be soft playing Oline, disrespecting the game. Im preparing my body to play my brand of football. Couldn’t just go thru the motions.”

Staley said he welcomed back Davis and “we’ve had all the conversations we need,” while noting his teammate is “fitter than I’ve ever seen him.”

“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever seen, too,” he said.

Davis said he weighs 332 pounds, way down from the 365-370 he played at during the 2014 season when he ended the year on the sideline because of a concussion. He said his symptoms were gone shortly into the offseason and he is completely healthy.

Davis said he skipped the offseason with his team because he wasn’t quite ready to return. He has been working on both the mental and physical sides of his game, and posted on social media he now meditates.

Davis will have to earn his way back up San Francisco’s depth chart at right tackle as he makes his comeback. Erik Pears and second-year pro Trent Brown have the head start at right tackle over Davis, who retired last June at age 25 after his 2014 season was cut short by a concussion.

“A.D. is going to start on the bottom,” Kelly said. “… I told him he’s got a blank slate, just like every other player and just like every other coach here. We’re all new. I wasn’t here in the past.”

Davis wore his familiar No. 76 jersey and shook hands before practice with new defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro.

At one point Davis headed one direction with a group of players when center Marcus Martin hollered “A.D.! A.D.!” to get him back in the right place.

Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins ends short holdout

It was something Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith hoped wouldn’t drag out, and in the end it lasted just one day.

After missing the opening day of training camp, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins ended his holdout following the Texans’ first practice.

The Texans removed Hopkins from the reserve/did not report list and granted him reinstatement to the active list on Sunday afternoon.

Hopkins, who is scheduled to make $1 million in base salary this season, and the team were still in constant communication. Smith said the dialogue was positive throughout the short holdout.

During the holdout, Hopkins was being fined $40,000 per day he missed, but now because of his return he will be able to cash in on a $445,004 roster bonus on Wednesday.

Hopkins is coming off the best season of his career with 1,521 yards receiving, third-best in the NFL, 111 receptions and 11 touchdowns.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for DeAndre Hopkins,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I love coaching the guy and I speak for everybody here that he’s a heck of a player and when he comes back he’ll be thrown right in there. That’s the way it’s going to go.”

With Hopkins briefly holding out and J.J. Watt still recovering from back surgery, the focus and attention weren’t fully on the players participating in the team’s first practice, but rather on those that weren’t.

“It’s the National Football League, things happen whether it is injuries or anything else you just have to coach the guys that are out on the field,” O’Brien said. “Once we get into our meetings and we come out here, we’re just focused on coaching the guys that are out here.”

Even though Watt couldn’t practice, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year jogged his way around the edge of the field on Sunday.

In late July, Watt had a herniated disc removed from his back, which was an injury suffered during last season but began flaring up during the offseason.

As far as his body overall, Watt says he feels good but is listening to everything the doctors say to ensure a speedy recovery.

“I can’t be out here for long periods of time right now, I still have the stitches in,” he said. “Can’t really sweat it out too much out here and I can’t stand for that long. As soon as I’m healthy enough to come out here and stand up I will, I’m going to be out here helping with whatever I can.”

Watt said he will get back onto the field as soon as he’s cleared by the doctors, but didn’t rule out the possibility of missing some playing time. He has never missed a game in his NFL career.

“I can’t put a solid start date on when I’m going to be able to play,” he said. “Never missed a game in my five years. In 2012 I missed all of training camp, didn’t have a problem there. Don’t see this being a problem. I don’t plan on missing my first game now but I can’t promise it.”

Peyton Manning appears on Saints practice field – in a tie

A lanky 6-foot-5 man in a button-down, long-sleeve shirt and tie walked onto the field during New Orleans Saints training camp in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, bringing a mixture of fond and painful memories to veteran safety Roman Harper.

After a brief and friendly chat, Harper gave recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning a hug.

“I was still angry, because last time I saw him, confetti was going all his way,” Harper, who spent the past two seasons with Carolina, said in reference to last season’s Super Bowl that was won by Manning’s Denver Broncos.

“He said we were even and we laughed about it,” Harper added, alluding to the Saints’ Super Bowl triumph over Manning’s Indianapolis Colts to cap the 2009 season.

“At the end of the day you just tip your hat off to him and understand that we’re all competitors. He was able to do it for 18 years in this league and be able to be so great for so long. It’s just amazing that he gets to go out on top the way he did.”

Saints coach Sean Payton has mentioned the possibility of adding a fourth quarterback to the roster during preseason and smiled at a lighthearted question asking whether that’s why Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner and five-time NFL MVP, showed up.

In fact, Manning was attending the Grocery Manufacturing Association’s leadership forum, also hosted by the luxury Greenbrier Resort, where the Saints are holding training camp for a third straight summer.

Manning was on a list of guest speakers for the conference that also included retired four-star Army general Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, and members of the Beach Boys.

“It just happened to time up with our camp,” Payton said. “And it was good having him out here. You know, he had a chance just to be around our guys. And someone with the success he’s had, it was good seeing him.

“One of his great traits is he likes being around players and this type of teaching atmosphere,” Payton continued. “It was limited time because his commitments were across the street. But I’m sure it was a good break for him, and it was for us.”

Manning was not available for interviews but released a statement on his visit through the Saints, saying he hadn’t been to a Saints training camp since he was in high school in the early 1990s. He recalled attending a practice with his father, Archie, a former Saints quarterback who at that time was part of the club’s radio broadcast team. During that practice, Manning threw passes to a couple of members of the local media.

“That was actually the time I think I started to believe I could be a pretty good quarterback,” Manning said in apparent jest. “That was a real major milestone for me, working out with the media at an NFL training camp. So it’s fun to be back and it was great to see Drew Brees, who has been a longtime friend and an individual I have a great deal of respect for. And it was fun to be with him and the other quarterbacks.

“Obviously, it goes without saying, but I have a lot of respect for Sean Payton and the job that he does,” Manning added, noting that Payton attended his retirement party several weeks before training camp. “I really appreciated him coming out.”

In addition to attending practice, Manning also dropped in on some team meetings on Saturday evening.

As reserve quarterbacks Luke McCown and Garrett Grayson took a series of snaps during 11-on-11 drills, Manning and Saints star Drew Brees stood together, chatting. Tight end Coby Fleener couldn’t help but become a little reflective at the sight of the two star quaterbacks together.

“Seeing Peyton out here and seeing Drew out on the same field, it’s still kind of mind-boggling to see that much awesomeness at quarterback,” said Fleener. “And I’m super thankful to have Drew as mine.”

When it was Brees’ turn to get back under center for a few more snaps, one of his completions was a long touchdown pass over the middle to Fleener.

Steelers WR Brown wants contract, but won’t hold out

Antonio Brown made it clear that he wants a new contract, but never considered holding out despite greatly outperforming his current deal with the Steelers.

The wide receiver spoke about his contract status for the first time following the Steelers’ first padded training camp practice at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Brown insisted he’s focused on preparing for the upcoming season and not his contract situation.

“The Rooney family has been first class with me,” Brown said. “I would never hold out. It’s not a good representation towards people who have been taking care of me.

“I’m a first-class guy … and the first way of getting better is showing up. So I’m always going to show up, do my part and be ready to go.”

Brown currently has two years left on his current contract, which expires in 2017. He established franchise records by recording at least 120 receptions and 1,600 receiving yards in consecutive seasons. The 28-year-old Brown also set NFL records, becoming the first player in league history with 526 receptions in his first six years and the first to catch at least 125 passes in consecutive seasons.

He believes that kind of production deserves a reward.

“I know you have to take care of your guys,” Brown said. “If a guy underperforms, you get rid of him. If a guy over performs, you take care of him. That’s the kind of business we’re in.”

Brown said his agent Drew Rosenhaus is in talks with the team and he hopes an agreement can be reached. The Steelers historically do not give players new contracts until there is one year remaining. The team has said it will only negotiate with quarterbacks when there are two years left on a contract.

Brown currently makes an average of $8.3 million, less than the $14 million average earned by the top five receivers in the league. Last season, the Steelers paid Brown $2 million of future salary to appease the star receiver.

Brown didn’t indicate if he would be satisfied with another restructured deal.

“It’s solely up to my agent to handle that part,” said Brown, who signed a five-year, $42.5 million deal in 2012, after his second NFL season.

“I don’t know what they can do. I know there’s a lot of possibilities. Right now, I’m focused on getting better each day and bettering my game.”

If Brown is upset about his contract, it certainly doesn’t show. Brown, who appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” during the offseason, arrived at training camp in a custom-wrapped black-and-gold Rolls-Royce and regularly acknowledges fans with a wave and a smile during practice.

“I love camp because you get a chance to interact with fans, and I get to compete against other guys,” Brown said. “It’s the beginning of the journey. It gets you ready for the season.”

Brown, a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler, said he’s trying to grow in all areas and seeks continued improvement even after he set the NFL record for most receptions in any three consecutive seasons.

He won’t have Martavis Bryant on the opposite side after the talented wide receiver was suspended for one year because he violated the league’s drug policy. Star running back Le’Veon Bell could also sit out four games after missing multiple drug tests.

It could affect the team’s Super Bowl aspirations, but Brown isn’t worried.

“In the course of the year, there’s always going to be adversity,” said Brown, who missed the Steelers’ January playoff loss to Denver with a concussion. “The only thing we can control is how we deal with it.”

That’s the way he’s handling his contract situation, too.

“I could get into contract talk, but that’s not my focus,” Brown said. “I’m confident in the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers in getting something done. Right now, I’m just focused on the season, working on my game and continuing to get better.”

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