When you sit back and think about the 2003 NFL draft you have to be satisfied with the way the San Francisco 49ers addressed each and every need that was apparent on their roster. If anyone has an idea of what goes into preparing for a draft you'd know the incredible leg work and many overtime hours it entails to compile immense information on all the candidates in college you may be interested in.
The 49ers did take some chances in this draft when you think that they sat on their draft picks to take the best available athlete at their time to choose. This was not a Bill Walsh type of draft where there was wheeling and dealing going on in almost every round, much like New England Patriot head coach Bill Belichick did in this one. We did not move up or down or acquire additional picks like we are accustomed to.
Should we be upset with that? Well there really wasn't any real opportunity to move up having the 26th pick in the first round we would've sacrificed far too much in order to do so with only seven overall draft picks to begin with. If we could've moved down and acquired more picks, now that is where I would've been satisfied to go. But no matter how you look at it the San Francisco 49ers did make responsible and well calculated picks throughout this draft process.
Having taken a surprise in the first round with the 26th overall pick in Stanford's Kwame Harris to develop as the next left offensive tackle now being held by aging Derrick Deese, the 49ers turned their heads to address pressing needs on defense. These needs became very apparent when All-Pro defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield was let go due to so-called weight problems and lack of productivity, as said by General Manager Terry Donahue.
As I mentioned before this was a shock to Dana that sent ripples of frustration not only with him but also with many that were close to him as well. Dana was never approached about the problems as he claims and restructuring never seemed to be an alternative as well. Dana in my opinion was a proven cog in the defensive wheels on this 49er defense losing him will have ramifications this year due to his size and his ability to clog the middle and stop the running game.
He may have not had the sack total that all of us would've liked but he did do the job that was asked of him every time he took the field. I will admit he did have a drop off toward the post-season end of the 49er reign, but that can be attributed to a variety of things.
Having sent Dana packing and saving money towards the salary cap, the 49ers found themselves with little relief in having journeyman Jim Flanigan penciled in as the starter. Jim played sparingly all season long last year as a rotational replacement for both Stubblefield and Bryant Young when they needed to come out. He is a solid tackle that can hold his own and is a reliable veteran you can count on. But he is not in the same mold or caliber that Dana Stubblefield was or still is now.
The sacrifice that we took by releasing Stubblefield spelled out instant need as the draft started approaching. Everyone knew from scouts to front office personnel that the need to find an honorable replacement was real and pressing. The 49ers have been renown for the draft day process and they have also been renown for drafting high quality players and molding them into the West Coast image that identified them from all the rest of the league.
"It was a good process and we're happy with where we're at," Donahue said. "The reality of it is no one really knows exactly how good your players are going to be until they play and stay healthy and perform and develop their careers. But we're pleased with the two days work that we've had. We've got some really good guys to join this organization."
What was thought to be the most pressing needs on the 49er roster were defensive tackle and wide receiver. These needs seemed to overshadow all the rest because of the losses that we had suffered over the off-season. With J.J. Stokes set to be released after June 1st of this year it created a vacancy there at wide receiver, along with Tai Streets flirtation to get out of San Francisco for good.
With Dana Stubblefield's and Dave Fiore's release instant need was created on both lines with these two veterans gone for good, but Stubblefield's vacancy seemed more taxing because once rookie left guard Eric Heitmann had fulfilled his role during Fiore's injury last season. There really was no real answer to fulfill Stubby's position on the defensive line next to his long time friend Bryant Young.
Jim Flanigan instantly became that role player even though he had only played spot duty throughout the season, but still has starting experience after being with the Chicago Bears. Flanigan probably can handle the job but at what price will the drop-off be in stopping the run and pressuring the passer? These are the real questions that need to be answered. And why did the 49ers go ahead and choose an offensive lineman over a defensive one in the first round? Maybe because this draft was so deep in defensive linemen that it could is my guess?
Or did they see a player for the offensive line that was so talented and positive that they had to make that choice with longevity in mind as to the left tackle position now held by Derrick Deese.
"Certainly, our first pick goes a long way to resolving a constant problem that we've had for a long time here, which is a big, athletic, offensive tackle," Donahue said. "We love our players, but the reality of it is it was time for us to go get a big, athletic lineman with an early draft pick. We haven't been able to do that for quite some time because of our defensive needs and the restructuring we had to go through. We felt we'd gotten to a point we could finally do that."
But what has really changed on that note? The 49ers still had glaring defensive needs and did the organization make a mistake by not drafting a defensive tackle over an offensive one? The answer to that may have to wait and see as the season transpires right before our eyes. If I was to say I would side with the reasoning that an offensive tackle was necessary due to the fact that this area has been neglected for so long, but you have to wonder also if losing Stubblefield will come back to haunt us.
For now Stubblefield will look across at us from the opposite side of San Francisco Bay, where he now resides as a dreaded Oakland Raider. The very team he once vehemently hated due to their antics and actions displayed against the 49ers every time we played them. Now he joins them in a fit of rage and revenge that he wants to envelop us with, because he feels like the once honorable 49er organization has betrayed him.
Now Dana seeks justice in the form of the silver and black of a Raider, the most despised opponent the 49ers have in this league purely based on a rivalry from age old past games. The fan base of the Raiders has become intolerable over the years as all of them have cashed into the evil gothic look and come adorned in garb that would welcome the coming of Satan himself.
Another look at the defensive line you would wonder at what happened to Bryant Young last season as his production was far below average from what he has done in the past with this organization. The drop-off was apparent as the season wore on and many wondered if Young had what it took to be one of the elite in the league again. What many did not know was that Young was suffering with a shoulder injury throughout the season that sapped his strength and irritated him to no end.
His best pass rush moves were always something special to see, as I always centered in on Bryant Young with the defense on the field to see his best moves made right before my eyes. You didn't see much of that in 2002 and it made you wonder if Young really was on the decline of his career. Young played though at a high level no matter what the pain was and did so to the point where he made his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl despite his lack of positive statistics.
"As long as I was out there, I just had to fight through it," Young told the San Francisco Chronicle's Kevin Lynch. "We all have to play with injuries."
And let me tell you if anyone does with pure raw power it is Bryant Young, for it is something that he never uses as an excuse for anything. Despite the aggravated pain and the aches and limps he goes out on that field and does what is asked of him every time he gets the word go.
Young did have surgery in February to repair the ligament and remove a cyst in his shoulder. He has since been held out of most contact drills in mini-camps but is expected to be at full strength once full training camp begins in July. Still it foes to show you how paper thin the line can be at times when you lose a proven veteran in the likes of a Bryant Young and even a Dana Stubblefield.
All of the coaching staff and the front office though have full confidence that Young will return in much better shape and overall health in the 2003 season and will have a better impact on the pass rush with his shoulder at 100%.
However he will have to have a partner opposite of him to allow him to make proper penetration by taking away the double-teams he is so accustomed to. Young has achieved that reputation over the years and even now teams will look to double-team Bryant Young out of mutual respect for his abilities as a pass-rushing defensive tackle.
The 49ers went a step further to address the defensive tackle vacancy left by Stubblefield in acquiring St. Louis Ram retired defensive tackle D'Marco Farr. They wrote up a mutual one-year contract that would pay him a veteran's minimum salary for him to make a comeback into the league. Farr played seven seasons as a Ram and was an arch old enemy to the 49er offensive line for a long time.
Farr, 31, wanted to make that unbelievable comeback into the league but he has been out of football shape for a long time and has many injuries over his career that have weakened his knees to a point where a comeback is 50/50 at best.
Farr attended some mini-camp sessions but soon found just how out of shape he really was and experienced the excruciating pain he never wanted to feel again in his knees. Farr had surgeries on the lateral meniscus cartilage on both knees that led to his first retirement. He experienced those same symptoms of knee pain once practicing with the 49ers. He also reported 19 pounds heavier than his original playing weight of 280-pounds as well.
Since then Farr has cleaned out his locker at the 49er facility and left packing putting his great comeback on hold as for now. Farr would've been a nice fit in our system based on his knowledge of playing against it for so many years. His experience as well would've been invaluable at a time where we had just lost credible experience in Dana.
Even so he was seen as a long shot to make the final 49er roster anyhow placing emphasis on the draft like no other that whoever is drafted would have to make an immediate impact in their rookie season. The pressure to be under the salary cap and to still field a credible team is always taxing on any proven organization, the 49ers were no exception but you have to wonder at this point if money is really an issue now with Dr. John York's antics and involvement.
The 49ers didn't go into this decision blindly in bringing in Farr realizing he might not even make it to training camp. He had an escape clause in his contract to do just that with no financial commitments to either side. Farr cleaning out his locker in Santa Clara and acknowledging it may be too much for him all but relinquishes his future as a possible 49er.
"He may decide he does not want to play," Erickson told the Contra Costa Times. "He's been sore and it's been two years since he's played. He's such a tremendous competitor. Great players want to comeback, but you've got to be realistic, too."
It does not appear that he will make that transition in my opinion, but the 49ers will hopefully continue their search in finding answers to the position. They did sign Travis Kirschke earlier a seven-year pro who has been with the Detroit Lions ever since. In six seasons he has started 10 games and has totaled 114 tackles (60) solo and 2.5 sacks. He has also forced one fumble and recovered two of them. His best season was in 1999, when he posted career highs in every category with 39 tackles (19) solo and two sacks.
Travis may not add starting caliber to the line but he does provide solid depth along with second-year tackle Josh Shaw who is expected to make a big splash in training camp and the pre-season.
Shaw has been rehabbing an injured knee that left him out in his rookie year with the 49ers, but the 49ers drafted him anyways knowing the condition he had. Shaw is a promising overall athlete but he is not the 300-plus tackle the 49ers covet to clog the middle of the line against the run. He does have great agility and speed though that will come in handy in pass rush situations; he will be used in this purpose along with Flanigan and Kirscke.
"We are delighted that we have reached an agreement with Travis," General Manager Terry Donahue said. "He is a highly competitive guy who has outstanding experience and a great work ethic. He will come in here and compete for a starting job."
So there you have it folks the low down on the defensive tackle situation. One that promises to be interesting as the 2003 season unfolds. There will be a great fight for who finally lands the position opposite Bryant Young, although it seems Jim Flanigan holds that advantage right now. What we do know is that replacing the feet of a Dana Stubblefield a proven field general will not be easy, in fact it will a great challenge for someone to step up into that role and prove themselves.
The skinny on Penn State's defensive tackle Anthony Adams 5-11, 290-pounds
The San Francisco 49ers addressed their need at this position in the second round with the 57th overall pick in this round, drafting Anthony Adams in a deep class of prominent tackles in this class. Adams ran the 40 in 5.30 and has been compared to Indianapolis Colt's defensive tackle Josh Williams.
He has been playing at Penn State in the very shadow of the No.1 pick in the defensive tackle class in Jimmy Kennedy. He benefited from this experience in playing next to one of the best in the business. He also improved his stock at the Senior Bowl showing incredible quickness and hustle along with the ability to penetrate.
Just how will Adams contribute to our defense? He will compete with others for the spot next to Bryant Young there is no doubt. What was thought to be Josh Shaw's place eventually would be a contest of manhood, as Shaw must prove himself all over again after sitting out and rehabbing his knee. The battle between Adams and Shaw will be a contested one and one to watch in training camp and in the pre-season where it will be ultimately decided.
Unseating veteran Jim Flanigan will be very difficult to do based upon his experience and knowledge of the system. But these two along with Kirschke will play hard to be the No. 1 back-up at the tackle position, providing great competition and proven depth in rotating linemen in and out of the game.
Adams the Nittany Lion out of Penn State played 48 games in his career there, posting 166 tackles and adding 6.5 sacks from his interior position. The 6-0, 300-pounder also tacked on 33 tackles for a loss. And as a senior he recorded 67 tackles and two sacks while earning Second Team All Big Ten-conference honors. One thing is for sure and that is that the 49ers are looking at him to have an immediate contribution to our pass rush and run defense.
"He's very explosive, very quick, has great speed and was one of the better interior pass rushers we saw," said Dennis Erickson. "He'll help us right away." "He's built like some of the great defensive tackles in the league," said Erickson. "Warren Sapp is 6-0, maybe 6-1 on a good day and I know because I coached him at Miami. Now I'm not comparing Anthony to Warren Sapp just yet as a player, but his size gives him great leverage."
Anthony Adams had a great career with Penn State especially with the way he closed out that career with nine tackles (eight solos), a nine-yard sack, two tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. He has a proven trademark in achievement and the benefit of playing for one of the greatest colleges in football achievement in Penn State. He seems to have the inner mechanics and hard work ethic to come in and get the job done.
Strengths: Is able to establish great leverage with above-average lower body strength. Also shows good initial quickness and is able to get off the ball and penetrate with power.
Run blockers have a tough time moving him and have a low center of gravity. He displays good footwork and has amazing agility for a man with his frame. He finds the ball in the backfield and just never stops hustling to the ball.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal height and great speed and the burst to create a consistent inside pass rush as a one-gap tackle. He did control gaps well in college but he could get swallowed up at the pro level because of his lack of bulk. He also needs to establish better pass rushing moves and the use of his hands in disengaging from blocks.
Overall: Adams has proven himself as an average tackle but needs to rise up and grab that above-average status. With the right system and sound coaching that will certainly come. He flashes both strength and ability and has a never stopping motor in which he generates as the game wears on. There are times though where you see him losing some of his intensity and is slow to redirect himself and has some inconsistent techniques. He also needs to make sure he is using his hands properly in shedding blockers and moving on to the attack.
Although not as highly coveted as his teammate in Jimmy Kennedy he will mature and develop quickly in my opinion. Coaches will target many of his weaknesses and he will be forced to work hard on diminishing those to a minimum.
"I love competition and I play football," said Adams. "I've been playing the game for as long as I can remember. I will come in and play hard and be as competitive as possible."
One thing is for sure though and that is that the defensive line will be a line influx or a state of transformation. Not only does the tackle position become a question but the end position opposite Andre Carter also becomes one with Chike Okeafor now departed to Seattle.
The run defense on the San Francisco 49ers allowed 4.2-yards per carry last season. How do you think it will be this season with the side opposite Bryant Young lighter and less experienced? You need a massive two-gap tackle to clog the middle and none of the players we have or drafted fit that prototype. So where does that leave our run defense? It leaves it as being the same or worse in my opinion.
You do the math where does that leave this defense? You also need a tackle that size to bear weight on the pocket and collapse it so that you can get to the passer or allow someone else to.
No one on the roster is of that size or caliber. By passing on a defensive tackle in the first round the 49ers have really gambled on believing Anthony Adams can bulk up and maintain his agility and quickness at the same time. A better fit may have been Oklahoma State's Kevin Williams or Georgia's Johnathan Sullivan. But that is not to be. Believing D'Marco Farr could make a comeback after two years and serious injuries is yet another gamble the 49ers took.
How many more gambles are they willing to take? It makes you wonder where the front office is going in this direction or should I say several directions under the ownership of Dr. John York. The 49ers in my opinion still need to find a veteran tackle with size and stature that proves to be a two-gap clogging machine in the middle. Losing Dana really compromised us in this area; therefore it is up to the management of this team to find the correct remedy.
No one is saying Anthony Adams won't be a great player. My hope is that he will be and will develop into that tackle that can do both. But there are serious questions as to who is going to step up now and do it. Can Jim Flanigan honestly take over and prove more capable than a Dana Stubblefield? We will have to wait and see I guess, just like so many other areas that are being tinkered with this season.
One thing is for certain Bryant Young will deliver this season because of his track record to do so and his hard work regimen. With 100% health you can count on him almost every time he takes the field, but it is as vitally important that we establish a player alongside him that will alleviate some of the pressure that he will be under in the form of double-teaming and sorts.
Always choosing the cheaper alternative can comeback and bites you folks. Dr. John York seems to be tranquil in his belief that we will remain competitive despite cutting away at veterans and replacing them with youth and inexperience. I am all for injecting youth into the team as well but veteran leadership and qualities are needed as well on the team to formulate and expedite training of that very youth.
It is the fans that will have to suffer in the long run if we should have another 1999 season or even a 2000 one. You want to believe in your heart that the organization is genuine in its thoughts and commitments to both it's players and it's fans. They have proven little in theory on that basis this year already. From head coach to varied positions labor has been cut and fat has been trimmed. Departments have been gouged and new restrictive budgets have been established, creating the atmosphere that 49er land is not the land of milk and honey anymore.
It is starting to dry up awfully fast if you listen to the right people and hear the disturbing reports coming out of Santa Clara. We are the ones that made this organization strong and created the aura that is being a 49er. Sure great ownership and management had a hand in it as well, but that part is eroding now more than ever right before our eyes.
I like General Manager Terry Donahue but when he is handicapped by an owner that meddles too much and believes the 49ers should start out on a different path of overly restrictive financial constraints. And compromises fan based opportunities to interact with the players by moving training camp and bans purchases to celebrate winning the division title, it tells me something just isn't right with this organization.