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From Gene Washington to Ronnie Lott to Bryant Young, San Francisco rookies have a history of coming up big in their first NFL season. The 2003 draft class was unveiled last night, and through their first test, raised hopes that they too will come up big in their first season
Seventh round draft pick Ken Dorsey, showing no signs of the weak arm that made his draft stock fall, connected on 4 of 7 passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Lloyd made an instant impact, hauling in his first catch of his career for a 39 yard touchdown to put the 49ers up 7-3 early in the second quarter.
Not to be out done, Arnaz Battle caught a 15 yard touchdown from Dorsey for the first catch of his career. Battle also recovered a fumble and recorded a tackle on special teams. Aaron Walker, a rookie tight end from Florida, finished with 4 catches for 42 yards, including an 11 yard catch that set up Battle's touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Anthony Adams started the game at defensive tackle and finished with 4 tackles.
The Mariucci era officially came to an end as Lloyd vaulted into the end zone in the second quarter. The 39 yard touchdown pass was proof that Erickson was ready to stretch defenses, a facet of the offense severely lacking under Mariucci.
"It was just a go route." said Lloyd, "Go down there and make a play. That's what Erickson is bringing to the 49ers this year, the ability to go down field and stretch the defense. I hope I can find my spot on the team doing that, cause that's what we need."
Lloyd, a second team All-Big Ten receiver in 2002 at Illinois, showed a good burst of speed separating from his defender for the touchdown. The team will need that speed this year if they want to contend with the secondaries of the Eagles and Bucs.
"I'm definitely going to have to work on my technique, keep going forward from here, cause this is not the end, it's just the beginning. I just have to keep my head on straight, keep listening to TO and Tai Streets and hope I can become a better receiver," Lloyd said.
Since 1998, the team has been looking for a pass catching tight end to fill the enormous void left by the retirement of four-time pro bowler Brent Jones. Eric Johnson has shown signs that he could fill that void, but injuries slowed his progress last year. With 4 catches in his first game, Walker showed a great knack for getting open, and gave the 49ers high hopes that he can contribute this season.
On a defensive line that featured two first round draft picks in Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Haynes, Anthony Adams didn't see much of the limelight while at Penn State. But his constant motor packed into a 5-11, 300 pound frame elicits memories of Michael Carter, a dominant nose tackle for the 49ers during their Super Bowls in the late 80s. Adams contributed 4 tackles and was a main contributor on a line that allowed only 64 yards rushing.
"He was on the field a lot and it seemed like he was making a lot of plays," Head Coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's a warrior. He's a kid who plays very hard."
But the star of the game was Dorsey. Dorsey capitalized on the field position provided to him by his defense and led the 49ers into the end zone on only his 6th play from scrimmage. Dorsey finished with a 146.9 quarterback rating - not bad for his first game in the pros.
"I thought Ken did some really good things," Erickson said. "He's got great feel about him, understands the game, didn't make any mistakes and threw the ball away when he had to. That's part of the learning process he has and every week he is going to get better."
Selected 241st overall, the Orinda, California native is poised to prove his college success wasn't a fluke. After winning the national championship at Miami his junior season and falling short in the title game his senior year, Dorsey's draft stock fell because teams feared he didn't have a strong enough arm to play in the NFL. Despite his 38-2 college record, comparisons were being made to Steve Walsh, another Miami quarterback who lacked a big arm and eventually floundered in the NFL.
"It was tough, but I couldn't ask for a better situation," Dorsey said. "As a quarterback, what better place to learn and evolve as a player? Truly it's a great place to be, 'cause the teammates and the coaching staff give me the ability to evolve as a quarterback."
Motivated by skeptics, Dorsey added 10 pounds of muscle working out in Arizona and has impressed the coaching staff with his arm strength. Dorsey possessed enough arm strength to toss a 15 yard dart to Battle through tight coverage for his first NFL touchdown pass. Dorsey also led the 49ers on a seven play, 29 yard drive in the fourth, closing it out with a 2 yard pass to Jason Isom with 7:46 to play.
"On the first one Arnaz got a great release for me over the middle, and I just tried to put it up for him where the defensive back couldn't make a play and he made a great catch," Dorsey said.
Brandon Doman also made a strong push for the third quarterback spot, finishing 11 of 12 with 101 yards passing. He was also sacked three times, however.
"We both felt comfortable and we were both old enough and mature enough to understand that we have to go out and make good plays and lead the team. I think Brandon did a good job of that, and I'm learning to do it better each day. We're making good progress right now," Dorsey said.
Dorsey has his work cut out for him, but he is off to a good start.