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When Mike Nolan came in, he inherited a bunch of hapless Erickson plebiscites, and quickly realized the need for more discipline and structure within the organization. To this extent, he’s succeeded. Players hustle during drills now. They’re held accountable for their mistakes during film sessions. He’s instituted a chain of command, has only one voice coming out of the organization, and has eliminated the backstabbing that had plagued the front office for years.
All of this is obviously a good thing. Only a dunce would argue otherwise. But has he taken his regimented approach too far in its application towards the players? Jamie Winborn, Tim Rattay, and John Engelberger may not have been ideal starters, but they made for incredible backups, and helped us win 12 games in 2001 and 10 games in 2002. If they could contribute mightily during our playoff runs, one would certainly think that Nolan could find a place for them on last year’s 4-win team.
But whatever, I’m over it for the most part. Even though I thought Winborn was 10 times the playmaker Derek Smith is, Nolan needed to make his statement, get his kind of guys, bring discipline to the team by not tolerating lackadaisical attitudes, etc. Like I said, whatever.
My problem now is that the statements aren’t working. If he could banish Winborn to Jacksonville and subsequently make the rest of the 49ers pay more attention to their assignments for fear of being traded to 10-win teams in sunny Florida, then by all means, make the example. But he should only have to make one example.
He shouldn’t have to make an example of Winborn, then make another example of Rattay, then make another example of Rashaun Woods, and so on and so forth until he’s purged a quarter of the roster. If the examples aren’t working, maybe he should stop making them.
Let’s discuss the Rashaun Woods trade. Has he been a tremendous disappointment? Yes, in the sense that he hasn’t come remotely close to replacing Terrell Owens. No, in the sense that he was the seventh receiver drafted in 2004, at the bottom of the first round, and that he probably wasn’t significantly better or worse than the guys drafted in front of him or behind him. Michael Jenkins, the receiver selected before Woods, had 36 catches for 508 yards last year. Devery Henderson, the receiver selected after Woods, had 22 catches for 343 yards. If Erickson had played Woods a little more and Woods hadn’t gotten hurt last year, it is extremely reasonable to estimate that he would have had 30 catches for 400 yards in his second year.
So, he didn’t underachieve based upon where he was drafted. We just expected too much from him, and his shortcomings were magnified by the fact that we are averaging three wins a season since his arrival. Did he have a poor work ethic? Almost everything I’ve read points to yes. Was that exacerbated by the fact that Nolan and Sullivan couldn’t bring themselves to say one nice thing about him last summer, and then put him on injured reserve when he could have come back and played the final two months of the season? Who’s to say?
But I’m not here to defend him. He’s shown himself to be a slacker with a poor attitude, who has no one to blame but himself for getting run out of town. What I’m concerned about is whether he could have helped the team. And I know it was preseason, but the last time we saw him put on the pads he had eight catches for 89 yards. I just don’t understand the urgency to get rid of him. We’re not talking about J.J. Stokes who we kept in a prominent role for eight years, paying him more than T.O. for much of that time. This is someone who, like most rookies, wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup, and then played in two preseason games last year before getting hurt.
The point is that Sammy Davis has played enough to where we can say with some certainty that he will probably never be better than a number three cornerback. We can’t say that about Woods. We haven’t seen him play enough. Sorry, but we haven’t. We can’t definitively say he’s a bust based upon a shaky rookie season and two preseason games – especially one in which he looked awesome.
This would not have happened if Nolan had drafted Woods. If he had, Woods would have gotten the same treatment that Alex Smith got last year. “He’s right on schedule. He’s just been injured a lot. He’s working hard. Things are coming together for him.” And now, we’re hearing rumblings that Derrick Hamilton might not even make the team. What the heck? Do me a favor. Go find yourself a Derrick Hamilton highlight reel from Clemson and a Brandon Williams highlight reel from Wisconsin. Go ahead. This article will still be here when you get back. I doubt there’s a single one of you out there that after watching both highlight reels doesn’t think that Hamilton is significantly better than Williams. It’s not even close. But guess which one is going to make the team?
After acquiring Antonio Bryant, I was cautiously optimistic about our receivers. Now, less so. Bryant is a below average number 1 receiver, but a legitimate number 1 receiver nonetheless. Everyone likes Arnaz Battle, and I’m no exception, but I think we’re kidding ourselves a little bit to say that he’s better than an average number 2 receiver. Since we had already invested two years in Rashaun Woods and two years in Derrick Hamilton, it would have been nice to keep them around for a third year and see if they could contribute this year, rather than pay Brandon Williams to sit on the bench for two years and then see if he can contribute in 2008, and waste a third-round pick in the process.
Yes, I’m bitter about this. You’re telling me that you would rather trade Woods away for Sammy Davis (who will probably be our fourth corner behind Spencer, Harris, and Rumph), cut Derrick Hamilton right when we’re about to find out if he’s good, and spend our third-round pick on a wide-receiver that wasn’t half as good as Woods or Hamilton in college, probably could have slipped into the fifth round, and won’t be able to contribute for a couple years even if he does become good, rather than just keep our two investments and use the pick to draft someone like Frostee Rucker (14.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks last year) or Victor Adeyanju (12 TFL and 6.5 sacks) with our third-round pick. We don’t have a single lineman on the team under the age of 34 that can generate more than three sacks a game, but at least we’ve acquired our sixth halfway-decent cornerback, squandered a chance to get an extremely active and productive 275-pound defensive end, and downgraded our receiving corps in the process! Maybe next year they can start offering specials where you can trade in your season tickets for a trip to Alcatraz.