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This month the San Francisco 49ers face a very daunting task in selecting the very first pick of the 2005 NFL draft. There have been many speculations and draft experts continue to mull over the potential pick the 49ers may make to jump start a franchise decimated by salary cap violations and leadership mediocrity.
The San Francisco 49er front office is in very different hands then it was just a short time ago. We all know about the famous years back in the 1980's and 1990's where we found a knack for winning both championships and Super Bowls. We were under the sure fire hands of some very elite front office personnel that had a distinct separation from many others.
We were under the direction of legendary Bill Walsh, John McVay and Bill McPherson all of whom contributed to the exact science of five Super Bowls. Now we have an owner married into the family of the DeBartolo's and front office personnel that have names like Terry Tumey, Scott McCloughan and Paraag Marathe.
What is so ironic is that all three have a combined NFL experience level of 19-years, which is less than that of Bill Walsh himself. It makes you wonder sometimes where it is that we are going with Dr. John York at the very helm and assistants that are just beginning to breakout on the scene in the NFL.
This is a very young front office that is really in its rookie season together so in all actuality mistakes are likely to be made despite the assurance from an owner that believes otherwise.
Mistakes are made though by even the best evaluators of talent inside the NFL. So are we to get overly nervous about this particular draft or do we take hold of our faith and trust these guys to make the right decisions. I will take the later so that I can still see the youthfulness on top of my head and worry about the increasing numbers of white hairs tomorrow.
Dr. John York maintains he knows what is in the best interests of the San Francisco 49ers. He has admitted to his mistakes of many in which he observed his franchise record one of its worst seasons in franchise history by going (2-14) on the season. He defends the notion that both Tumey and McCloughan's football experience is very underrated and it will help raise this franchise from the depths of professional oblivion.
Back just a few years ago the 49ers hired a head coach with little experience at selecting top player personnel at the NFL level. That being Steve Mariucci, but he then had in his front office Dwight Clark, Carmen Policy and John McVay to assist him. They did just that by responding to the needs at hand and as a franchise the 49ers reached the National Football Conference championship game in Mariucci's rookie season.
Under Mike Nolan our new head coach, we have a front office that we know very little about other than it's young, it's relatively inexperienced and it's working together right now for the very first time.
In fact Bill Walsh himself for the first time in a very long time will not be consulted in this draft as indicated by Dr. John York himself. Bill Walsh worked behind the scenes after stepping down as general manager of the franchise to make away for Terry Donahue his handpicked successor.
He was made a team consultant and had a minimal size office inside the Santa Clara complex. His footsteps in those halls gradually became fewer and fewer as General Manager Terry Donahue exerted his control and did so with devastating results. Bad personnel decisions were made and contracts extended when they shouldn't have been.
The salary cap slipped and Bill Walsh powerless to do anything slowly became an afterthought as time wore onward. Dr. John York held on to the belief that Terry Donahue was still the best man to get the franchise back on track, but after selecting Dennis Erickson as head coach and observing a mutiny orchestrated by fans at Monster Park on a weekly basis he soon realized that a drastic change was necessary.
"Scott McCloughan comes from a background in which he's grown up in the NFL and where he's been paid to do this for a decade," said York, after an annual NFL owner's meeting. "So he does have experience. Terry Tumey does have experience. The person with the least experience is Paraag Marathe, and he understands the salary cap better than anyone we had in this organization."
"I would argue in comparison to the 49ers and the way they handled the salary cap (in the past), you can give me all the names you want but until Paraag got here we didn't know how to deal with the salary cap."
Dr. John York's convictions are that he has the front office personnel to make the right decisions in this up and coming draft and have already made good decisions regarding free agency. These are the people that are entrusted with finding, signing and keeping the very players Mike Nolan will coach into the future.
Both Terry Tumey and Paraag Marathe have been right here the past two years when the 49ers went (9-23), including last year's (2-14) disaster. Scott McCloughan, who is considered one of the best talent evaluators in the business on the college circuit, comes to the 49ers after spending five years with a Seattle Seahawk franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since 1984.
Is this reason for concern? Certainly one would think so. I have always been a firm believer in Bill Walsh and his marvelous ability to make personnel decisions look so easy. He is a master at identifying raw talent and making it work within the framework of his West Coast doctrines and philosophies. Now we are entrusted to a camp of youthful minds that will try and make the right selection for us at the very top of the list.
This very well could be the most important pick in the history of the organization, especially if it is to move forward on a competitive level ever again. This same group was responsible for awarding a $12.5 million signing bonus to free agent Jonas Jennings, an offensive tackle most scouts throughout the league consider little more than adequate.
So I guess there is a little reason to worry here folks, especially knowing he has durability issues and has a track record already of injuries. Every young team though has to have a starting point and certainly this is where we are now under a new head coach and a new front office.
The San Francisco 49ers have whittled their first round draft prospects to four people now. All four offer a dynamic dimension to the team that is needed and will be entertained as they make their individual appearances at the Santa Clara practice facility.
Of the four eligible prospects they are as follows: Michigan's Braylon Edwards, Miami's Antrel Rolle, Utah's Alex Smith and California's Aaron Rodgers. Many believe the 49ers are close to selecting the star quarterback that will take us into the next decade of success, while others feel an elite wide receiver or cornerback is even more pressing than a quarterback.
The San Francisco 49ers held their very first mini-camp under new head coach Mike Nolan and assistant head coach Mike Singletary. It was made clear right from the beginning that anything that was done in the past will remain in the past as both made it abundantly clear that hard work is right straight ahead for all. Both Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary ran 49er veteran players through fast paced, intensive practice sessions to gauge where they are at right now.
Former All-Pro linebacker now turned assistant head coach of the 49ers Mike Singletary made a passionate speech to the players about being the absolute worst football team in the NFL. He urged the team to "chew it up and spit it out," referring to the immense embarrassment that the team has been subjected to all last season and up until now.
"It was so inspiring," running back Kevan Barlow said. "He had me ready to go play. Anything coming from one of the greatest linebackers who ever played, that's motivation. You could see those eyes, man. His eyes started getting all big, even when he was talking."
In order to create a new atmosphere of teamwork Mike Nolan had running back Kevan Barlow move his locker in the dressing room back among the rest of the running backs. For several years, Barlow's locker was across the room next to the defensive backs due to some altercations with fullback Fred Beasley.
Just something as little as this can create disharmony among the players and division. Something Mike Nolan wanted addressed right from the get go that we are a team and will operate as a team, not as a band of individuals. The first mini-camp also was a series of experiments as the new 49ere staff looked at running the 3-4 defensive schemes and moved players in and out of particular positions.
"I belong over here," Barlow said "I had plans on coming back over here anyway. I didn't want to be, like, the individual guy. I don't think there's any problem with Fred. Some people might not get along off the field, but I feel like I get along with everybody on the field."
Some of the movements on the offensive line included rookie Justin Smiley taking snaps at left guard, but it didn't mean anything negative in terms of Eric Heitmann losing his position as he moves back to his natural position at right guard. The moves are part of new offensive line coach George Warhop's philosophy in counteracting the 52-quarterback sacks that the offensive line surrendered just last season.
"I feel like I'm back home," Smiley said. "Coach Warhop has said that it's not so much the left side, right side as it is the quick side and the strong side. The quick side suits my game more because I can get out and run a bit. I'm not a big mauler."
"I've played with my right hand down most of my football career anyway, so this isn't that big," Heitmann said "It took me awhile to get my footwork back, but I'm fine with the move."
On defense the San Francisco 49ers lost free safety Ronnie Heard to the Atlanta Falcons this off-season but it was a loss the 49ers are better off at, especially with the way Heard played all last season. Dwaine Carpenter is penciled in and is taking snaps at that position now but has competition from a newcomer just signed from the Seattle Seahawks in Arnold Parker.
There have also been some discussions on converting cornerback Mike Rumph to the safety position but for now Mike Nolan has made it clear he'll compete for his cornerback position with Ahmed Plummer and Shawntae Spencer. Some of the other new alignments have veteran Bryant Young, a defensive tackle his first 11 seasons in the league, moving to left defensive end in the teams 3-4 alignments.
Andre Carter , a premier defensive end whose career looked in jeopardy after moving to a 3-4 alignment will be an outside linebacker. Both Mike Nolan and new defensive coordinator Billy Davis have some interesting twists and new alignments that will send a message to the opposition right from the beginning.
That the gloves are coming off and that the San Francisco 49ers are clearly under new management and direction, meaning players will be put in positions that reflect their strengths and they will be given an opportunity to perform at a high level to highlight these strengths.
"Every year it's always different. It's always a challenge. That's what keeps me on my toes," Young said. "This year is learning a whole new scheme and playing a different position. For me, we've always had pretty much the same defense."
It will be different this year, important decisions lie ahead. The San Francisco 49ers need to make this pick a monumental one, one that will help reshape our future and set a foundation for current and future success.
As 49er fans this is a splendid time to celebrate and be watchful of the future. Let's prove the critics and skeptics wrong and breakout those jerseys and wear them with pride starting now.