SANTA CLARA — For the first time since 1993, there is no Bryant Young in the 49ers locker room.
When it comes to leadership, who could possibly fill those extra-large shoes?
After the first practice of training camp Friday, coach Mike Nolan identified a surprising candidate.
Patrick Willis, a mere 23, has emerged as an outspoken force.
"It's not because he's been asked or pushed into that role," Nolan said. "It has to be a natural thing. If people force it, it doesn't work."
Nolan said that the linebacker began taking steps at the end of last season when he asked a few times to address the team in the locker room before a game.
That's nervy stuff for a rookie, even for one who made the Pro Bowl.
For the wisdom that only a veteran can offer, teammates might seek out free-agent acquisition Justin Smith, an eight-year veteran.
In what ways will Smith be counted on to fill Young's void?
"I didn't ask him to take part in any of it, because I think that it comes naturally," Nolan said. "If Justin has leadership skills it will show in his play. It's pretty evident that he's a good player, and he'll take on the role that suits his personality."
As for Young himself, the retired four-time Pro Bowl selection will be around as a frequent visitor this season. No official role has been established.
Linebacker Manny Lawson, who suffered a knee injury after two games last season, ran around well during practice and made a terrific leaping interception of an Alex Smith pass. "I don't know if he's 100 percent," Nolan said. "He's probably close." ... Joe Staley, listed at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, was felled by a tiny bug. The left tackle sat out practice because of what is believed to be an infected insect bite on his foot. Staley was on antibiotics and is listed as day to day. Damane Duckett started in his place. ... Defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin sat out because of an left-calf problem and underwent a precautionary MRI. The 49ers do not believe the injury to be serious. ... David Baas continues to rehabilitate from a torn pectoral muscle and is expected to be sidelined all of training camp. ... Veteran receiver Isaac Bruce, who turns 36 on Nov. 10, is healthy, but the team will limit his practice time as a way of keeping him fresh. The plan calls for him to get just enough time to develop some chemistry with the quarterbacks. ... Bruce and Bryant Johnson lined up as the starting receivers.
— Daniel Brown, MediaNews staff