More Gore Roar; Smith and Davis too
August 5, 2006 at 9:06 AM
By Brett Pahler
I was walking around the other day, when it dawned on me that the 49ers may be on the verge of creating something that I’ve witnessed only twice in my lifetime. When I discovered this, I was happy for an unprecedented three straight hours. Like a flush in poker, it’s unfolding right before our eyes.
The 49ers are on the verge of establishing triplets. Meaning, triplets in the mold of Aikman-Emmitt-Irvin and Manning-James-Harrison triplets. I admit, this might seem like lofty company for a quarterback whose QB rating last year was 40.8, a running back that carried for 608 yards, and a tight end that has never caught an NFL pass.
But when it gets down to it, there really aren’t that many tandems that I would trade Alex Smith, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis for. Obviously, I’m factoring in age, as only an idiot wouldn’t trade these guys for Trent Green, Larry Johnson, and Tony Gonzales if they were looking to win this year. But would you make that trade if you were priming for a Super Bowl push between the years 2008 – 2014?
Nor would I trade them for any such trio in the AFC North, AFC South, NFC East, or NFC North. I would probably trade them for Tom Brady, Corey Dillon, and Ben Watson, but only because of Brady. Ditto for the Colts. I would trade them for Rivers, Tomlinson, and Gates. I’d consider trading them for Leinert, Edge, and Fitzgerald, but I’d really have to think about it. It’d be tempting to trade them for Delhomme, Williams, and Smith, just because Smith is so good, but I wouldn’t really want Delhomme. (Who would?) I realize that nobody out there is shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Alex Smith, but other than the Chargers, the 49ers may be the only team that can claim to have burgeoning triplets.
Assessing them individually, the single thing I am most excited about this year is Gore running behind Jonas Jennings and Larry Allen. Davis, Bryant, Lawson - all those guys will be exciting, but nothing will compare with watching Gore rip off 5.5 – 6.0 yards per carry running behind those guys. Remember last year when Gore would get hit and simply not go down? I remember a play in the Indianapolis game where he got hammered by three Colts, and yet managed to bounce off all of them, and would have broken it had not a defender caught his shoelace. He’s a little bit like Reggie Bush in that sense. Not in the sense that it takes three defenders to corner him, but in the sense that you’re not going to bring him down unless you, and maybe a couple of your teammates, are 110% focused on getting him, and even then you might need a little luck. The amount of stress that puts on a defense cannot be understated. You’re not going to bring him down if you’re being chip-blocked. You’re not going to bring him down if your feet aren’t firmly planted. Unlike Barlow, he doesn’t expect to go down upon contact. He expects to run you over. And he was doing this stuff last year while running behind Anthony Clement.
The second thing I am excited about is, well, our 6’3” 253-pound freak of a tight end that is faster than your average cornerback and stronger than your average offensive lineman. When the 49ers first started getting serious about drafting him, my initial reaction was that this guy is incredible, but he’s still a tight end. Why not draft A.J. Hawk or someone with the sixth pick and then grab a Mercedes Lewis or Leonard Pope in the second round? Then I saw the video highlights. Oh my gosh. This guy isn’t a slightly stronger, faster, Jeremy Shockey. He’s another Terrell Owens. And he’s going to be covered by people like Chris Claiborne. Even Dr. York’s perception of reality isn’t this lopsided.
Brief segue. I actually secretly think Dr. York is an okay guy. Evil to the core, but still an okay guy. Think about it from his perspective. You’re this brain-surgeon or something, hate sports, hate everything that’s good in life, and then you inherit this team that you hate and serves as an incessant drain on your finances. And it’s not like you can just appoint the right people and let the thing run itself. It requires your constant attention. You have to deal with blackouts and new stadiums. And because your team is so bad, which has way more to do with Donahue’s salary-cap voodoo than you, you have to pay people like Erickson millions of dollars simply not to coach the team. And you’re doing all these charity events and attending owners’ meetings and all sorts of things that you couldn’t care less about. And on a daily basis you have to work with a bunch of jocks that are in to sports, and the same type of people that have ridiculed you for being a dork your entire life. And you hate it. You wish you could just go back and into the shadows you emerged from and sell the team, but you can’t, because you’re keeping it for your son, who loves the team.
Given the fact that he probably hates sports, I think Dr. York is doing a reasonable job. He doesn’t have the Bob Kraft personality, but that’s not really his fault. He’s pushing for a new stadium. He has no problem spending up to the salary cap. And most importantly, he doled out the cash to can Dennis Erickson and Terry Donahue. We should name a street after him for that alone. It seems like he wants to win. And I don’t have any basis for this, but it seems like he wants to win -- not for him, but for us.
But this article is about the triplets, the last of which is obviously Alex Smith. None of us know if he’s going to achieve greatness, but we can be reasonably certain that he’s not going to be a dismal failure simply because he has great intelligence, an incredible work ethic, and he refuses to make mistakes. What do all the Bledsoes, Plummers, Harringtons, and Bollers have in common? They kill you with the crucial mistake when it matters. They’ll throw it back across the middle or something. Always something. That’s why quarterbacks like Jeff Garcia and Chad Pennington can succeed when they have half the arm-strength of, say, a Bledsoe. Knowing what not to do with the ball is more important than having the physical ability to do pretty much anything with the ball. Smith’s final year in college, he threw for 32 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. A 2-1 ratio is superb. 8-1 is unheard of, regardless of the offensive system.
The development of those three guys, along with the addition of Antonio Bryant, Larry Allen, the returns of Eric Johnson and Jonas Jennings, and the general cohesion that might start to develop along our offensive line, the 49ers should be fun to watch on offense this year. Plus, to say that our match-ups with opposing defenses are intriguing would be like saying that Brittany Spears peaked a few years ago: a woeful understatement. Right now, they’re trying formations with Delanie Walker as the fullback. The dude runs a 4.47. We could run formations with Bryant split wide, Gore as H-back, Walker as F-back, Davis and Johnson as tight ends, and have defenses legitimately worried about the pass in the flat to our fullback. What’s next? Kwame Harris distancing himself from a linebacker with his 4.5 speed on a tackle release?
As for defense, I think we’re going to be every bit as lousy as last year. We’ve lost our two best edge-pass-rushers, and it would be nearly impossible for Lawson to replace that production in his rookie year. Nolan is getting as much water out of the stone as he can, and to that extent I think more games this year will have a winnable feel to them, but overall I don’t see a lot of improvement on this side of the ball.
But that’s okay. Teams like Seattle and Indianapolis built their offenses first. And teams like Seattle don’t even have triplets. Hasselbeck is in the Jeff Garcia mold. Bounces around in relative anonymity, has a few great years, and then experiences a Ben Affleck-esque decline. Places like Seattle and Arizona will never be able to support a winning football team over the long haul. It’s the equivalent of Mischa Barton trying to carry the cast of her own show. While we’re here, can’t you just picture Matt Leinert banging his head against a wall somewhere right now, asking what he did to deserve to be drafted by the Cardinals? Anyways. I’m rambling.
The point being, the 49ers appear to have a nice little nucleus of young players on offense. Neither Smith, Gore, Hicks, Davis, Snyder, Smiley, Baas, Harris, Heitmann, Bryant, and Battle have played more than four years in the league. Jennings has played five years. If these guys continue to progress, we should be one of the best offenses in the league over the better part of the next decade. And it won’t be some wide-open offense where you have two or three spectacular wide receivers, but lack the line or running game to pick up your 3rd-and-1’s. Basically, we’ll be the exact opposite of the Detroit Lions. Anytime you can say that, you have to be feeling pretty good about yourself.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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