The San Francisco 49ers have struggled to put together a significant pass rush in recent years, mostly due to inexperience and aging veterans that have lost a step or two over the course of time. Andre Carter has all the makings of an elite pass rusher though going into his third year as a professional defensive end. His talents and abilities have been used to their maximum potential combined with sound coaching and sticking to a specified regimen he has gained valuable experience in learning how to shed elite blockers and find the quarterback.

When I think back to some of the great defensive ends in the 49er realm of sorts I think of Charles Haley and Chris Doleman as the top notch players that have put their signatures on this team over the years. I have enormous respect for the tackle position as well in their contributions to applying a credible pass rush in Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield and Brentson Buckner.

Going into this 2003 NFL draft the 49ers knew that one of the priorities had to be defensive end, coupled with defensive tackle due to the departures of both Chike Okeafor and Dana Stubblefield. Veterans that gave incredible performances throughout the 2002 season but were tainted with controversy in the front office mindset as the season winded down from the post-season defeat at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay.

Why was Okeafor let go? Why didn’t we resign an accomplished pass rusher who finally made a season without injury? Chike Okeafor was brought up in the lineup last season just ahead of John Engelberger who was beaten out for the starting position in performances throughout training camp and in the pre-season.

He was so effective throughout the season that he generated career-high six sacks from the left defensive end position and 32 total tackles. He also went on and produced a total of 26-quarterback pressures just one pressure behind right end Andre Carter for the season.

You would want to think and believe that the 49ers would’ve resigned Okeafor after achieving these highly desired results as they have long waited for someone to step up and assist Andre Carter in the pass rush and acquiring a significant sack total. Putting pressure on the quarterback helps win football games folks. That is the bottom line and allowing someone to go that has proven to finally live up to the standard mystifies me a little.

But when you look at how the 49ers analyzed Chike Okeafor and arrived at their calculated decision to let him walk, it starts to come together. Okeafor played on the left side of the line and was very undersized at that position drawing concerns from both the coaches and the front office. Okeafor also accumulated a history of ailments since being drafted in the forms of back and hamstring injuries, as well as a broken right fibula sustained during the 2001 season. All of these combined had limited Okeafor to just three starts and simple spot appearances in his three-year tenure as a 49er.

As I think back and realize this after we had drafted him, I begin to understand the rational concerns that the coaching staff and the front office had in making their decision not to resign Okeafor based on these facts as they are very evident. At the same time with a healthy season under his belt Okeafor began to prove that the past really was just that the past.

San Francisco did show some interest in Chike Okeafor and thought seriously about resigning him on several occasions. Chike and his agent though were thinking big bucks though based upon his performance in 2002, and were going to go for broke on whoever showed any interest. Okeafor was seeking a signing bonus of at least $2 million, thus putting the 49ers way out of range as that was far too rich for a player with just one proven season since being drafted in the third round out of Purdue in 1999.

“There was nothing chasing him out of San Francisco,” Sims his agent said. “We had very good communication with the 49ers. He wanted to be there. But it became apparent from both sides there was no way financially that they could keep him.”

Chike made several long distance trips in his bid in the off-season to find possible suitors for his services. As with any unrestricted free agent Okeafor was enticed by money and the prompting of his agent to find the best sum of cash he possibly could. The American dream for Chike Okeafor was starting to become so real. He made stops in Detroit, Jacksonville, Arizona, Kansas City, Denver and Seattle.

The Seattle Seahawks under head coach Mike Holmgren made the final commitment to him for two years and a $4 million dollar contract that includes a $2 million dollar signing bonus. This was the American dream for Okeafor and he ran with it, who could really blame him? He investigated the possibilities and he jumped on board with a division rival in the Seahawks, where he’ll be reunited with former defensive line coach Dwaine Board, who joined Mike Holmgren’s staff after the 49ers fired head coach Steve Mariucci.

“The 49ers were up front with us a far as what their parameters were for getting a deal done Andy Sims said. “Terry Donahue and John McVay did the best they could with the parameters set by the organization. They just didn’t have the money to match.”

At that time the 49ers were approximately $1.3 million under the salary cap. This probably was the deciding factor in allowing him to go; realizing there was not enough cap room to offer a competitive deal that would’ve enticed Okeafor to stay on. What the 49ers have made clear is that they expect better contributions from defensive ends John Engelberger and Sean Moran.

Engelberger was slowed last season with a left ankle problem that required off-season surgery and the 49ers are still riding on hopes that former St. Louis Ram Sean Moran will finally come around and be more productive.

“We think he’s healthy and he’s a real good player,” Donahue said. “We feel like he’s a starting player. Sean Moran didn’t enjoy the kind of season we hoped he’d have last year. He has to be more productive for us.”

So the story line was told in this off-season with Chike Okeafor a great athlete who I had the honor of meeting one night after a game in the players parking lot and having him sign my coveted 49er helmet. I am saddened to see him go and even more saddened that he will be the enemy in the form of a division rival. We do need more production from Engelberger and Moran and I am on board with I’m sure all fans in wishing this to take place.

Also in order to add competition and depth at the defensive end position that includes Andre Carter, John Engelberger, Sean Moran and Jerome Davis. The 49ers added Dewayne Missouri who spent training camp with the Dallas Cowboys last season and spent the 2002 off-season with the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe.

Just last spring with the Berlin Thunder, Missouri tied for second in the European League with 5.5 sacks and tallied 27 tackles, four passes defended and three forced fumbles. The Thunder went on to win the World Bowl Title. Missouri earned All-Big Ten honors at Northwestern as a senior after recording 51 tackles, including 16 for a loss. Missouri is a native of San Antonio, Texas and attended Roosevelt High there. He was born in Germany where his dad was stationed in the military.

The Baltimore Ravens in the seventh round of the 2001 NFL draft drafted him originally. He spent most of his time on the practice squad until Dallas picked him up and signed him to be active. He saw only two games with zero statistics. So what impact will Missouri play in our pass rush? Only time will tell when he cranks up the heat in training camp with the others I guess, but one thing is for sure he comes away from school and NFL Europe with signs of promise.

One thing is for certain and that is that Missouri will add an interesting mix to the pot in training camp this season. Should he make the final team roster it will be a dream come true for him and a positive for us. His immediate competition will be Jerome Davis where he’ll make every attempt to move a step above him in camp. Chike Okeafor has something to offer the Seahawks should he stay healthy and prove all our doubts wrong in the next two years. It will be interesting to see just how well he does play as it will determine rather we made the right choice in not resigning the rising Purdue star in this league.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity to reach my potential,” Okeafor said. “I’ve been playing a little bit out of position. This will be my opportunity to make big plays. That’s the name of the game.” “I’m entering the prime of my life. That was a big factor. I wanted to place myself in the right situation.”

So the San Francisco 49ers found themselves staring at a hole that needed to be filled. The 2003 NFL draft provided that answer in round three with the 89th overall pick when the 49ers selected Miami’s Andrew Williams. It was a peculiar pick as many of us had no idea he would be considered but Miami has a history with our new head coach in Dennis Erickson and I believe it played a factor in the decision that was made.

This is the skinny on Miami’s Andrew Williams at 6-2 and 263-pounds

Before the 49ers considered Williams they invited Miami’s Jerome McDougle in for a visit but with his status as a first round contender it simply didn’t pan out with Philadelphia pulling out all the stops to select him. What strikes that and me the most about Andrew Williams is that he is of the same mold as Chike Okeafor was is being undersized. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 and has been compared to Roderick Coleman of the Oakland Raiders.

Strengths: He has exceptional quickness and speed off the edge, has a good quick first step and adequate closing burst. He plays wide and is always setting his eyes on the quarterback. He has achieved both speed and acceleration in turning the corner and changes direction with relative ease. Can chase down running plays from the backside makes even more plays while in pursuit. Williams also plays with superior leverage against the run, so any doubts about his abilities to stop the run have been answered.

Weaknesses: First off he’s raw and undersized. He may never be anything but a situational pass rusher but the 49ers believe he can bust this theory. He lacks lower body strength and shows some poor techniques in conjunction with the run. Needs work on his hands and in shedding blocks and disengaging from those blocks. He is inconsistent with play recognition and gets too far up field at times taking him out of the play. Williams also must show better pass rushing moves when he does get blocked and doesn’t always manage to get back inside.

Overall: Has matured and learned from one of the best in fellow teammate Jerome McDougle. Has great athleticism and a willingness to learn. He shows exceptional speed and is probably one of the fastest defensive ends in this draft by far. He is expected to go right at head to head with John Engelberger for the coveted starting position. You can expect a great fight come training camp and pre-season, as time will increase the pressure of the situation.

Andrew Williams is raw and is expected to be as he is the rookie defensive end. He is a project by many means but this athlete seems determined to make the best of his situation. In his two years at Miami he played 21 games totaling 68 tackles with 13 of them for a loss. He had 38 quarterback pressures, eight sacks and five forced fumbles. When he became a senior he posted seven tackles in their victory over Florida State and six tackles including a sack, in their victory over West Virginia.

The 49ers are very excited about Williams and firmly believe he will be a productive candidate in their rotation with Carter and Engelberger. Certainly the need was pressing for the 49ers after the departure and signing of Chike Okeafor by the Seattle Seahawks. Addressing the offensive line in the first round the 49ers then opted for defense in the next two rounds with Anthony Adams at tackle and drafting Andrew Williams in the third.

Both Adams and Williams will assume the important roles that both Dana Stubblefield and Chike Okeafor played in before they were released. Both have enormous shoes to fill in that these were proven veterans that are being replaced with raw and developing talent.

The verdict will be out on this until we actually get to see both Adams and Williams in action come training camp and pre-season. They will have the burden of proof on their shoulders as they scratch and fight for a position on this roster in the final days of August.

“We filled two positions where we lost starters on the defensive line,” Donahue said. “We were able to get an inside pass rusher who has exceptional quickness and an outside pass rusher who is going to be able to come off the edge with a high degree of intensity and speed. Those things will help our pass rush, which we needed to help.”

Maybe it is the answer to our pass rushing mediocrity in the league. Lord knows we need help there and Lord knows it isn’t getting done with the personnel that we had. Maybe new blood and youth will prevail over seasoned experience and football intelligence.

Adams and Williams will need to play at the top tier of their abilities to survive in the NFL. They like so many others will need to sell their services to us as an organization and as fans as well. I hope and pray that we can finally come to a conclusion in this clear indication of weakness in the 49er defense. We need a pass rush to survive in this league and to get us deeper into the playoffs, for without a rush we may never see the big game again.

“Andrew is one of about six defensive linemen Miami played. Great speed, probably the fastest of them all, probably about 4.65 or something like that in the Combine, 260 pounds. He’s a great pass rusher. Obviously that’s an area that we needed some help. Fortunately, he was there (for us),” said Dennis Erickson.

“I like how he plays. I watched him play. Sometimes it was hard to tell those guys apart. He plays the run real well. He’s a great edge pass rusher. Great speed like I said earlier, and basically that was what we were looking for. So really in the last two picks, we thanked we helped ourselves as far as the pass rush was concerned. When you look at Miami, Miami alternates those guys so they don’t miss a beat.”

As you can see the Dennis Erickson stamp is all over this pick. He had a great deal I’m sure in selecting this athlete. The analysis on Williams had him going in the fourth round of this draft and the 49ers took him in the third. In a pool rich in defensive ends and tackles did we get the best available player at the time of our pick? That has to be the question we ask ourselves and we’ll have to have that finally answered come the regular season.

There is no question that the 49ers upgraded their pass rush with the selection of these two men. But that upgrade will have to pay dividends almost right away in order for us to cash in on the biggest pot of them all. The window of opportunity for both player and team is small in comparison with teams and players a few years ago. Pressure to excel in everything you do nowadays is so intense that professional football mandates almost instant success or you’ll feel the ramifications for a long time to come.

Williams has a swagger about him a confidence like you wouldn’t believe. It is almost bordering on snobbish but he plans on using that confidence to become better than what he is. He wants to mold his frame into the perfect quarterback killer, because he’ll be playing opposite one of the best up and rising stars in the game in Andre Carter.

One thing is for sure and that is that Andrew Williams will be given every opportunity to shine this year. The coaching staff will work hand in hand and help correct the flaws that he has been labeled with most of which he will be able to correct with some sound assistance and conditioning. Andrew Williams is the future of the pass rush in regards to the San Francisco 49ers and he will be a productive part of the rotation should he stay healthier then Chike Okeafor did in his first few years as a 49er.

“We’ll play him at right end and let him compete against John Engelberger. Obviously, he’s a guy with great pass rush skills. So yeah, he can be a guy we can use in pass rush situations,” added Erickson. “We’ve got Andre at one end and John at the other end. What we’ve done with both of those picks is help (upgrade) the pass rush, which makes a heck of a difference on third down, and it’s obviously a problem we are going to take care of. I’m really excited. I’m excited about all three picks. They’ll help us that much and in particular with the pass rush. It’s really going to make a difference for us. They’ll have an impact next year, no question about it.”

The optimism is high for the 49ers and with Dennis Erickson running the ship almost anything can happen. There have been some new twists as far as mini-camp goes and Erickson is starting to make the team into his image now. Erickson so far has given us no reason to believe that there will be a fall off from Steve Mariucci and he’ll do everything in his power I’m sure to make the transition a smooth one and fan friendly.

“They’ll find a coach who is very involved in practice, in all areas of practice,” said Erickson. “I might spend more time with the offense, but I’ll be involved in defense and special teams as well. They’ll also find a coach who is energetic and supportive. I’m not a yeller or a screamer, unless I have to be.”

Erickson has made only minor changes to the 49er playbook that is chalk full of football schemes and information. He feels that what the originators did with the playbook has worked and continues to work with the West Coast Offense, he simply has added his own flavoring so to speak.

“We tweaked it a bit; we added a few things and took some things out,” said Erickson. “We’re keeping the same terminology on offense and defense. Really what we do here is pretty similar to what I’ve done elsewhere, with the exception of the terminology.”

The first mini-camp that was held in early May was a success in Dennis Erickson’s eyes even though the weather was cold and blustery. The team is practicing at their own headquarters in Santa Clara and will remain there all during the off-season thanks to a failed agreement between the 49ers and the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

The 49ers have long complained about the University’s inability to provide office space for their personnel and security for its players. They also believe the field was left in poor condition for much of the time and attributed season ending injuries to many of its players on the condition the field was left in. Many times the field was not secured solely for the 49ers but local teams and sports activities were allowed to be played on that field when the 49ers were in town.

This in all led the 49ers to think twice about their stay there and the money involved in maintaining a facility so far away from headquarters. The University didn’t take the time or the energy to try and come to a compromise in maintaining anything the 49ers were complaining about or at least concerned about.

Thousands of dollars in revenue and tourist activity was lost with the removal of 49er training camp from Stockton. I had the wonderful opportunity to go there last year and I was so overjoyed to be a part of that because I was a VIP guest there at a friend’s request and had access many would only dream about. Now all of that is gone and fan based interaction with the players has been severely compromised.

In my opinion that interaction is sacred and holy to all 49er fans that care and adore their team. I happen to be faithful follower and have already heard about the pain many are enduring knowing that their access to be next to the players at a practice facility has been negatively effected. There are few plans in place to remedy the situation just empty promises so far from headquarters that there will be spot appearances here and there by the team in practice.

It appalls me to think that the 49er ownership has taken this matter where it concerns fans the most and have treated it like it was of little substance at all. The ideology of the ownership to not analyze the fact that fans will be the losers in this drama is of little concern to them in my opinion and makes me sick to my stomach because this way of thought is so foreign to our senses as 49er fans.

The 49ers held their first mini-camp successfully under the watchful eyes and ears of Dennis Erickson. The practices under him will be faster paced then under Steve Mariucci and there was no yelling and screaming. He has streamlined the way practices are to be and tardiness is not tolerated at all. On his first day he spent most of his time with his quarterbacks and receivers.

You can be impressed with both Jeff Garcia and Tim Rattay because Dennis came away pretty impressed with their accomplishments on this day. He also is applying a new terminology into the 49er offense that calls for more passes and deeper passes which will force the receivers down the field including tight ends and even fullback Fred Beasley.

The huddle offense has also been trimmed down cutting out unnecessary verbiage that was being used before and allowing the offense to move quickly to the line and attack. Erickson will have his stamp on this offense I can tell you that with certainty because offense is his game and he’ll do everything he can to help capitalize on every situation.

“A lot of enthusiasm. It’s very impressive. We talk about practicing hard and trying to get what you can out of practice. Obviously when you’re not in pads, you’ve got to understand how to practice. Particularly the veterans know how to practice,” said Erickson. “Go full speed, stay up and you’re able to get some things done out of it. I was really impressed with that, and then the rookies of course have got to learn how to practice like that because sometimes when you want to make the team and you’re going real hard you just got to learn to make sure you stay up so we don’t get any injuries. I was impressed with the enthusiasm, which we should have enthusiasm in the first mini-camp.”

The 49ers will continue to hold a series of mini-camps at their Santa Clara headquarters and Dennis Erickson will continue to gauge where the team is and how advanced some of the players are under his watch. The mix of rookies and veterans has begun, some of the rookies remain in school to finish out their school term but will join the rest of the team shortly. Oh and by the way Andrew Williams looked impressive during one-on-one drills on the first day of mini-camp so the process is on going folks.

Again I can’t help but comment on the role of ownership and their inability to address important issues, as they are abundantly apparent in my eyes. The status of training camp being closed to fan participation is disturbing. The only concessions so far are that there will be some appearances made by the team here and there so that fans will have access.

So little is the importance that ownership has placed on this and their relationship with its very own fans. And of course the contract negotiations for Terrell Owens, where are they? We have been expecting the 49ers to open up talks soon after the draft and make a concerted effort to sign Owens to an extension. Here it is almost the end of May and there has been no movement.

Where are our priorities folks? Hopefully something will transpire soon, and Owens will be given our sole attention and sincerity, let us not forget he is our main playmaker so let’s make him an offer he cannot refuse.