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With the release of veteran All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens the San Francisco 49ers created a void that would seem to have no bottom to it. Almost like a black hole spinning in outer space devouring all that got in its way. As much as everyone hated his selfishness and his arrogance including many 49er fans themselves, the one thing Owens did do well was to score points and turn impossible deficits into difference making plays.
Can we honestly say that we have filled that void as we complicated that void even more with the release of Tai Streets who was the second tier wide receiver next to Terrell Owens on our depth chart. With Terrell Owens in Philadelphia and Tai Streets in Detroit these missing links will have a dramatic effect internally on our offensive attack through the air.
What complicates the scenario even more is that we really don't know who will be throwing the ball to the newer receivers come September with new starting quarterback Tim Rattay is rehabilitating from a severe groin injury.
Owens and Streets were a great duo on many occasions and they were devastating weapons when they were deployed in tandem as quarterback Jeff Garcia was able to find one or the other in the open most of the time.
Both had the ability and technique to create separation and to stretch the field of play on any given Sunday. Now we are left with second-year replacement Brandon Lloyd who showed great versatility and ability last year in limited playing time and up and coming Cedrick Wilson who was a sixth round selection back in 2001 after playing as a Tennessee Volunteer.
In 2003 Cedrick Wilson turned heads lining up as the third wide receiver behind Terrell Owens and Tai Streets by catching a career-high 35 passes for 396-yards and two touchdowns. He also was a special teams standout in that he was named the National Football Conference's Special Teams Player-of-the-Week for his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams.
Both Lloyd and Wilson will be at the forefront of our offensive attack, but the 49ers have brought in outstanding talent by drafting Rashaun Woods out of Oklahoma State with the 31st pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft. And they didn't let up there as when the third round cam e around they selected 14th in this round and 77th overall by drafting Clemson's Derrick Hamilton.
What is intriguing about Hamilton is that he fits the same body mold as a Terrell Owens does and he is the team's fastest wide receiver. The reason for that is that he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash for scouts and also excels in punt and kickoff returns, because he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in all-purpose yardage in 2002-2003. He has secured the all-time record at Clemson in receptions, kickoff returns and all-purpose yardage. He decided to forego his senior year at Clemson and enter the NFL via the draft.
The 2003 NCAA season was an outstanding season for Derrick Hamilton as a Clemson Tiger. He led the Tigers with 62 catches for 1026-yards (16.5) average and ten touchdowns. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had Hamilton pegged as a third round selection as he entered the draft as a junior and proclaimed he would've been a first rounder had he stayed on as a senior with Clemson.
Kiper praised Hamilton for his abilities but also said he needed to "kick it up a notch" in the NFL and play with a lot less finesse. Still scouts found him to be a real catch in the third round with the San Francisco 49ers jumping to take him with the 14th pick in that round. A total of ten wide receivers were taken before his selection in a draft class that featured the wide receiver, as it's greatest strength.
"You got a guy like Derrick Hamilton out there who can play wide receiver, also return some kicks and who has some elusiveness to him and also got some pretty explosive skills behind him," www.si.com senior producer Duane Cross said.
In fact Hamilton is the first Clemson wide receiver drafted since Rod Gardner was a first-round pick by the Washington Redskins in 2001. Hamilton's agent Phil Williams proclaimed he didn't mind that Hamilton was a later round pick.
"I've been doing this for 19 years, and if you're a talented player, the big money is not in the draft unless you're in the top of the draft," Williams said. "Do you realize you're a big time player, you actually can end up making more money by being a little later pick?"
Derrick Hamilton is regarded as the top playmaker in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Street and Smith's magazine calls Derrick, "the player with the best football instincts in the ACC."
He has joined Virginia's Tiki Barber (1996-97) as the only players in ACC annals to lead the conference in all-purpose yardage in back-to-back seasons (2002-03). He holds the school's all-time record with 4839 all-purpose yards, breaking the old mark of 4391 by Travis Zachary (1998-2001). Back in November in 2003 Hamilton had one of his best games against Duke in that he had six catches for 133-yards and two touchdowns in Clemson's 40-7 spanking of Duke.
What Hamilton brings to the table is still rather undefined but with a series of mini-camps already concluded in Santa Clara for the 49ers his status remains wide open. He will give the special teams a tremendous boost this season when you consider that we have plenty of opportunity in this unit overall. Certainly Derrick Hamilton will play a crucial and important role in making special teams a unit of measure and respect.
He is a playmaker with a large frame and nimble feet. He has the separation to get open and undoubtedly the athleticism to turn short routes into long ones. He does carry the ball well after the catch, displaying quick acceleration and average power. His hands do need work, in the matter of consistency.
He is able to make circus catches sometimes but has a tendency to drop the balls that are well thrown to him. He also needs to be more affirmative with blocking in addition to shedding the press off the snap.
Offensive Coordinator Ted Tollner had some good things to say about the wide receivers after the first mini-camp in that Brandon Lloyd was making progress in grasping the concepts on the 49er passing game and Cedrick Wilson and Arnaz Battle were crisp in their first appearances at camp. The rookies were very much overloaded with studying and grasping the fundamentals but they worked hard in making some plays.
Cedrick Wilson said this in regards to the 49er offense: "Coach Tollner and Coach Erickson are really trying to put their stamp on the offense. They want this offense to be better. We don't want to look the same." All indications are that Head Coach Dennis Erickson will keep the typical West Coast offense instituted 25 years ago by Bill Walsh. But a lot of the playbook's confusing verbiage will be eliminated, something Erickson made some attempts at last year as well.
"We're streamlining it a lot more, which is beautiful," left tackle Kwame Harris said. "We're cutting down on unnecessary jargon that was in last year. It's how coach Erickson likes it. Coach Erickson is really pragmatic. He thinks if it doesn't make sense or have a purpose, get rid of it."
We should see and we all want to see Dennis Erickson more involved in this year's offense. He will play a more critical and analytical part in the running of the offensive strategies. He will have incorporated a lot of his ideologies and philosophies upon the 49er playbook, as we know it. Going downfield more will be a staple of the Erickson offense like it has been for so many years.
Still the 49ers continue to flirt with acquiring a veteran wide receiver with visits from D'Wayne Bates and a rumor that Jerry Rice may be cut loose from Oakland and may rejoin the 49ers. I say leave well enough alone and let us take our lumps, not to say that I have anything negative about Jerry Rice.
In fact if Jerry Rice would comeback to end his career in San Francisco I would more than welcome it as long as it wasn't all about the money. In fact I would want him to comeback at a minimum to show good faith to the team and its financial predicament.
Enough young and revitalized talent is on this roster to generate success though and I expect Derrick Hamilton to be a big part of all that. Derrick overall has impressive size and speed numbers. He really runs well and is versatile on the field. Along with his return game, he has seen the backfield frequently and has seen some reverses. One more year at Clemson though probably would've gone a long ways in securing better hands for him.
Clemson's Derrick Hamilton drafted 14th in round three and 77th overall
Derrick stands 6-foot-four and weighs 213-pounds. He has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.50 but has run faster then that as of late. He has been compared to Justin McCareins as a wide receiver.
Strengths: He is a big, playmaking receiver with good body control and open-field running skills than most receivers at his size. He often worked out of the slot while he was a Clemson Tiger. He has quick footwork and agility to avoid jams. He does use his hands well to consistently beat press coverage.
He has the ability to make smooth cuts and can create separation on his downfield routes and has the height to compete for jump balls. He also has enough body control to adjust while the ball is in the air. He does have the agility to catch balls while in traffic and runs with adequate power and can pick up yards after contact. He is an adequate blocker as well and is a difference maker in any one given game overall.
Weaknesses: Sometimes has trouble separating from elite cornerbacks in man-to-man situations. He doesn't always set up defensive backs they way he should and runs lazy routes when he's not the primary receiver. He needs more aggression and physical cornerbacks have no problem muscling him off from his routes. He shows inconsistency in catching the ball; allows it to get to his pads too often. He needs to find a second gear in running away from defensive backs.
Overall: Hamilton is an explosive wide receiver and punt returner with great size and great speed. He may not be in the elite category of wide receivers because he was drafted in the third round, but he should develop into one in a fairly limited time at least by next season.
As the San Francisco 49ers continue their mini-camp rotation the molding and development of young players will continue to happen. Growth within is what Ted Tollner is looking for and the elimination of errors in assignments, alignments and techniques. Increased confidence will come to players as they continue to practice and strengthen their overall skills.
With this comes an acceptance level where they reach a certain plateau of performance in that they are measured by their talents and abilities according to what is expected of them and their position.
Within the passing game your going to look for a lot of different things such as route running, ability to catch the ball properly, ability to throw the ball on time, your progression reads, your accuracy of your quarterbacks are but a few things that coaches will look for.
The weaknesses listed by Derrick Hamilton are all matters that good coaching can alleviate for the most part. As with any rookie the adjustment period from the college level to pro level is very steep and mired with setbacks. There is no doubt that are passing game will have its moments and even very bad performances in games, because we are as you all know are dealing with inexperience and youth, which can only mature through trial and error.
"We're going to miss Terrell Owens. We're going to miss him as a person and as a player," Brandon Lloyd said. "At the same time, we have to move on. The young guys are eventually going to be the veterans of this team."
As much as all of us would like for this season to be a shoe in, the facts are indisputable that we will struggle. How much is yet to be determined. But we will have setbacks and we just might surprise a lot of people in which that is my ultimate hope.
As a draft we all should be proud of where management placed us and what they were able to accomplish. Rashaun Woods and Derrick Hamilton are sure examples of just that and we will accomplish the ultimate equation that all teams should have in chemistry from within and that is teamwork and striving to meet the same goal or target.