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The San Francisco Bay Area winds are blowing as March closes out and the signs of spring welcome in a new beginning this April with a newly entrenched focus on football in San Francisco. 49er fans have something to believe in now with ownership admitting its mistakes of the past and performing some spring cleaning that included the entire house.
Speculation remains though even after Dr. John York showed former head coach Dennis Erickson and former general manager Terry Donahue the door. In turn he opened it wide with new interpretations of power to new head coach Mike Nolan and Vice President of Personnel Scott McCloughan.
Sports critics and broadcasters have sounded off on the inexperience and youth in position in San Francisco. They have tried to make it sound as if the organization is walking around blindly and has no real plan of direction. I believe in just the opposite as so many of you do though, in that this truly is the dawn of a new era in San Francisco 49er football history.
Actions speak louder than words and Dr. John York has made that abundantly clear over the course of this 2005 off-season. He embarked on a fact-finding crusade to identify and evaluate the entire organization and made the calculated hiring decisions needed after great scrutiny to help restore organization vitality.
As April looms nearer so do the expectations of the up and coming NFL draft. San Francisco holds the first round draft pick in their very hands and are inclined as indicated by ownership and management to use it. How we use it and whom we use it on is the question that has plagued all of our intellects.
The actions we've taken with our own current roster and in free agency have also indicated that this franchise is still very much inclined to staying competitive and hopefully reach that playoff elusiveness of last season.
Franchising All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson was a great way to start and not without any surprise despite his devastating injury last season. With Mike Nolan thinking a 3-4 defensive scheme over the traditional 4-3 scheme we've all been accustomed to Julian Peterson's stock skyrocketed off the charts with this decision.
"He will mean a lot to what we do, whether it is a 3-4 or a 4-3," Nolan explained. "As I said earlier, I believe the 3-4 puts him in the position to make plays more often, but he is a player that can make a lot of plays in the 4-3. So really what it comes down to are the people around him. I will say he probably has more to do with the success we'll have defensively than he does with what scheme we actually play."
Julian Peterson signed a one-year contract just before the 49ers attend their first full mini-camp scheduled to take place at their Santa Clara headquarters April 1-3rd. Although he's still recovering from his Achilles tendon injury, he has made a commitment to being very involved with the team.
He will be paid handsomely after being designated the team's franchise player, in which he'll be paid $7.3 million this coming season. He will not participate in the sense of practicing at the team's first mini-camp, but will attempt to start some drills at the team's second mini-camp scheduled for May 6-8.
As everyone already knows Peterson's last off-season was designated as the franchise player for the 49ers and at the advice of his agent held out of all mini-camps and training camp in order to press for a long-term contract. He fell behind in learning the various systems and schemes and was never comfortable because of the hold out right up until the game against Arizona Oct. 10th where he tore his Achilles' tendon.
Now Julian will be far ahead of schedule in learning Mike Nolan's philosophies on defense and improvising in the 3-4 defensive schemes. Peterson will play a critical role in making the switch successful along with the intensity he brings to the game that others feed off from.
The 49ers addressed the No. 1 key weakness last season by signing former Buffalo Bills left offensive tackle Jonas Jennings for seven years at $36 million dollars. He comes in at just the right time with a line that set a franchise record in allowing 52 sacks last season and only averaged 83 rushing yards per game.
Although Jennings comes with some real durability questions, the risk seems to be worth it in the sense that the team has put an emphasis finally on an area too often ignored. Jonas Jennings placement in at left tackle allows former first round draft choice Kwame Harris to move back to his natural college day position to right tackle. From here we should see an improved rushing attack and a sustained passing attack that provides adequate protection for our quarterback.
"The offensive line is where it all starts," Nolan said. "Because without an offensive line, you don't protect then guy pulling the trigger, and you don't make holes for the guy running the ball."
After signing Jonas Jennings the 49ers made a contribution to their defense by signing one of their own in defensive end Chris Cooper to a two-year contract. He appeared in 10 games last season, starting twice, and helped record 15 tackles and one sack. At 6-5, 285-pounds Cooper was a sixth-round draft choice by the Oakland Raiders in the 2001 NFL draft.
He brings instant depth to our lineup at the defensive end rotation and seems to make an asserted effort whenever I see him out on the field. Chris Cooper was a former standout at Division II Nebraska-Omaha and appeared in 53 games, with a record of 105 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
He ultimately replaces former veteran defensive end Brandon Whiting in which the 49ers terminated his contract after failing a physical. He played in only five games last season for the 49ers before tearing his ACL against the Chicago Bears. He managed to finish the season, his very first as a 49er, with just 10 tackles.
The San Francisco 49ers again signed their own in signing offensive linemen Kyle Kosier and Eric Heitmann to tenders of $656,000, which unfortunately offers little insurance from them signing elsewhere as restricted free agents.
Much of the line's problems were highlighted last season with these individuals and their teammates. Although no one can honestly blame these two for all the offensive problems we had last season a message was sent via the tender that improvement is paramount.
49ers kicker Todd Peterson bolted back home to Atlanta with the Falcons after resurrecting his career after his 2002 release by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was seen as an important commodity but had desires to play out the rest of his career back close to home.
We answered back by acquiring former Tennessee Titan kicker Joe Nedney. Nedney tore his anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee in the 2003 season opener for the Tennessee Titans opener, and then missed his entire 2004 season when he tore his left hamstring. He had suffered an ACL tear to his left knee back in 1998 as well which really sends up red flags in my book as to why are we signing a guy like this?
Joe Nedney, is a former San Jose State Spartan, who has spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders and the Tennessee Titans. Since joining the league as an un-drafted free agent in 1996, he owns a field goal percentage of 74.7% (127 of 170) and has converted on 98.5% of his extra point attempts.
Being a nine-year veteran in the NFL should also be something to hang your hat on. There are questions though when you consider he hasn't kicked in a game since the 2003 season. As a Tennessee Titan, Nedney suffered a torn ACL while making a tackle against the Oakland Raiders in their opening game. He then attempted a comeback but was placed on Injured Reserve.
He will battle in mini-camps and training camp against Kirk Yliniemi and Chace Long for the kicking duties of the San Francisco 49ers. I believe his real competition will be up against Kirk Yliniemi who as a rookie last season kicked very well in competition with Todd Peterson.
"This is definitely a rebirth as far as I'm concerned," Nedney said. "What's ironic is that I think the 49ers are going through the same thing."
Joe Nedney is a left-footed kicker, who has been plagued with one injury right after another. One has to be concerned with his ability to stay healthy but such is life in the NFL. I believe the three-men competition in mini-camps and throughout training camp will identify Nedney at his best or his worst.
Rumors are another source of interesting information when browsing the news throughout the NFL. At one this month Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James was considering San Francisco as his new destination if interest was there. But head coach Mike Nolan made it clear that Kevan Barlow would carry the ball this season.
"Kevan is our back," Nolan said. "He has to perform. He has to perform at a better level than he did last year, and it's our anticipation he'll do that."
The Pittsburgh Steelers came in and extracted wide receiver Cedrick Wilson from us earlier this month a move that the 49ers may and may not regret. We made an attempt to re-sign him, a starter who finished with 47 receptions last season, but Mike Nolan could not fathom matching the four-year, $8 million dollar contract offered by the Steelers.
With Cedrick Wilson's exit come questions for our other young wide receivers in Derrick Hamilton and last season's first round draft pick in Rashaun Woods. Both remain a mystery on this roster as both received very minimal playing time last season.
Rashaun Woods struggled to grasp the new pro system during early spring mini-camps so veteran wide receiver Curtis Conway was brought in as insurance to beef up the young squad. He then missed most of training camp with hamstring problems that left him staring from the sidelines.
Now Woods is on a mission to erase the stigma that has labeled him last year. After shattering every meaningful Big 12 receiving record during his previous four college seasons, the adjustment to the pros was not really an adjustment at all, but a shock.
"It's probably the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with," Woods said. "I mean, it hurt me to go out on the field and have it be the least I've played in years and years. It's very difficult, just for the fact I really feel like I can play at this level and I hate the fact that I (didn't) contribute more. To come from being a guy who was basically idolized, and then trying to work his way all the way back up from injuries and stuff like that."
But when you look at his very minimal playing time in which he had just seven receptions, he still led the team with a hefty 22.9 average yards per reception. In most cases throughout the season former head coach Dennis Erickson spoke highly of Woods in every practice and even spoke routinely of getting him more playing time, but that never really happened.
Under Mike Nolan, a new offensive coordinator and a new wide receivers coach Rashaun Woods will once again get a big fat chance that we all hope he'll take full advantage of. Rumors of resurrecting Former Miami Dolphins wide receiver David Boston continue to be played out as well. The 49ers have shown relative interest especially since he has a history with current wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan already.
Miami cut David Boston after failing a physical. He tore his patella tendon last August, and then needed a second surgery in October when his knee became infected. Still the 49ers search for some kind of veteran wide receiver that will make the squad more efficient.
"The best years (Boston's) ever had, he was coached by Jerry Sullivan," Nolan said. "And I'll leave it at that."
Under Sullivan's guidance when they were paired in Arizona where David Boston became a rising star, he led the NFL with 1,598 receiving yards on 98 receptions in 2001 and was selected to the first Pro Bowl of his career.
In 2003 he signed with the San Diego Chargers where he started 14 games and caught 70 passes for 880-yards and seven touchdowns. After just one season, he signed with the Miami Dolphins and hasn't played since due to injuries.
The possibilities are endless for our franchise. Mike Nolan has a plan and is implementing that on a daily basis. Excitement has been renewed in the Bay Area and throughout the country for 49er land. I am excited for the up and coming draft and free agency period that continues to offer juicy tidbits of depth to our rotation.
San Francisco can and will rebound from a dreadful (2-14) season and God help us should we ever see that kind of season again. The ball is at midfield and the enemy is on notice as of now. We can make this work folks so let's get it started.