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49er’s cash in from seventh round

Jun 8, 2002 at 12:00 AM

While many NFL teams were savoring the taste of their first day draft picks, the 49er’s were equally enjoying the sweet sensation of having three seventh round draft picks. In a day of age where all rounds are important rounds, the 49er’s had taken great strides in bulking up in depth positions with three picks in the seventh round.

The notion in San Francisco was that the 49er’s would primarily go after defense again, but to many a surprise the 49er’s did not leave the offense abandoned and out on an island so to say.

In the seventh round with their first pick at No. 28 and the 239th pick overall the 49er’s chose offensive lineman Eric Heitmann out of well re-known Stanford University. Heitmann is expected to make a gradual impact in rotation and special downs plays in beefing up the interior part of the offensive line.

The 49er offensive line has endured since Steve Mariucci took over as head coach back in 1997. The line has aged almost to perfection over the years and maintained it’s elite status almost uninterrupted over the past five seasons of spectacular play. The consensus was to build the defense once rebuilding was decided and depends upon the offense to carry itself.

Well it has done just that, and this year has been the first year that the 49er’s having really attempted to address the age question on the offensive line. Drafting Stanford’s Eric Heitmann is a step in that very direction.

Stanford is a university that is famous and well versed in the true West Coast Offense. Heitmann will enter training camp already familiar with some of the very plays he has practiced and played at the college level.

Heitmann who stands 6-3 and weighs 305-pounds played right guard for Stanford, and he comes with impressive credentials. He still must prove to the 49er’s that he can make the final roster cuts, and be a long-term solution for the team. One thing that is going in his favor is the fact that the 49er’s had not yet re-signed reserve center Ben Lynch.

“You know I think the 49er’s, they like athletic linemen,” said Heitmann, a right guard who was a three-time All-Pac-10 selection. “They like guys who are able to move and guys that know the West Coast offense.”

“Coming from Stanford, I think that gave me an advantage, because that’s the type of linemen they like to have at Stanford, too, athletic linemen that can pas protect, that can move and stay up on their feet.”

Heitmann knows that he faces a lot of hard work ahead of him from mini-camps to training camp he will be tested and prodded like never before. What the 49er’s were able to do with Heitmann because of his proximity to the 49er’s training facilities, was bring him in for multiple workouts. That is when they came to the conclusion that he could compete for a roster spot come mini-camps.

Liking what they saw in Heitmann they drafted him with the thought of giving him the shot at the back-up positions along the offensive line. You can expect that he will give it his all and use his knowledge of the system to his advantage. One thing that can be said in his defense is that he has never allowed a sack over his last two past seasons of play.

“It was always a dream of mine to play in the NFL,” said Heitmann. “Growing up, I always admired the elite players in the NFL. I always admired the elite players in the NFL. I always dreamed of becoming a guy just like them. I just can’t believe it. I still haven’t been able to grasp the fact that I’m here.”

Stanford’s Eric Heitmann tale of the tape
Position: Offensive Guard
Height: 6-4, Weight: 305-pounds
Hometown: Brookshire, Texas
Positives: Eric has a thick frame and is able to withstand punishment. He has good quickness and smooth change-of-direction agility. He has been seen firing out of his stance in an instant. He also has displayed the lateral footwork and balance needed to get on to the second level.
Knows how to take proper incline-blocking angles, positioning and working with his lower body to sustain itself. Has good hand usage, locking on with good hand punch on pass protection. Stays under control and gets out well on the pull, especially kicking out on short pulls.
He can also gets to the set point quickly in order to combat the blitz. Has the ability to roll his hips and delivers a strong hand punch with his initial step. He usually always finds his target and lands crunching blocks on screens.
Quickness or double moves from the defender rarely beat him. Is especially effective in blocking in space, as he compensates for a lack of explosion with good arm extension and adjusting to stunts.
Negatives: He really is suited for position blocking, has a tendency to lean and over-extend. He works well in the open, but struggles at times to land on a moving target. He can sometimes be beaten by quick spin moves, as at times he is caught leaning into his blocks. Thus effecting his ability to stand upright and counter the spin. He can also get beat on leverage and lose his anchor against a strong power rush. He is just a tad bit under-sized and could add some bulk in the range of 10-15 pounds.

In agility testing Heitmann had a 5.22 in the 40-yard dash and a 3.0 in the 20-yard dash. He also ran a 1.79 in the 10-yard dash and a 4.6 in the 20-yard shuttle. He had a 7.56 in the three-cone drill and a 12.25 in the 60-yard shuttle. Eric posted a 28-inch vertical jump and an 8’ 7” broad jump. He has bench pressed 225-pounds 33 times and he has bench pressed maximum 420-pounds. He has 33-inch arm length and 9.25 inch hands.

For a 305-pound lineman one would have to be impressed with these agility tests, and in regards to his negative aspects whatever is manageable would be corrected with some sound coaching and additional training.

In 1998 he appeared in every game for Stanford, backing up both guard positions. In 1999 he made All-Pac 10 Conference honorable mention, starting every game at the right guard position. He delivered 73 key blocks/knockdowns. He allowed only 1.5 quarterback sacks for an offense that averaged 467.1 yards per game.

In 2000 he made Second-team All-Pac 10 Conference selection, and started every game at left offensive guard, coming up with 82 key blocks/knockdowns. He led a front wall that paved the way for the offense to average 375.7-yards per game. Another impressive outing.

In 2001 he made All-American first-team choice by The NFL Draft Report, Football News and the American Football Coaches Association, becoming the first Cardinal offensive lineman to earn such honors since Bob Whitfield in 1991. He was added to second-team honors via Sporting News and made All-Pac 10 Conference first-team pick.

He started every game at left offensive guard, and he collected 95 key blocks/knockdowns while never allowing a sack as the offense generated 4967-yards, an average of 451.5-yards per game! This above all else is very impressive folks; this is what a true offensive lineman does in order to graduate to the next level. Heitmann obviously has.

Deep inside though Heitmann has mixed feelings in regards to his draft order, he thought he would be higher in the draft somewhere in the mid-rounds. But he was diagnosed with a back problem that happened at the NFL scouting combine.

These diagnoses seemed to do some damage in regards to his standing in the draft. Heitmann never has once had a back injury believe it or not. But whatever it was that scouts detected it was enough to effect his stock in the draft.

“It’s something I’ve probably had since I was five years old,” said Heitmann, who was miffed at all the drama. “The thing that was surprising about it was I’ve never had a back problem playing football my entire life. My back has never been irritated to a point where I had to miss practice, miss a workout or miss a game.”

This much is true; he is solid all the way around and in my opinion seems to fit the bill as a future 49er offensive lineman. He was the very anchor of the Stanford Cardinals offensive line; he has been the team’s starter at right guard the past three years, coming in with a string of 34 consecutive starts.

He is well defined athletically and he is a great competitor. He is a team leader, on and off the field, which is a definite, plus in these days concerning the league. He is also well liked by his peers and is praised by his coaching staff, and this alone should validate his chances in making a name for himself as a 49er.

Soon after the draft of Eric Heitmann, the 49er’s again drafted to increase the beef on the offensive line. This time choosing Arizona State’s offensive tackle in Kyle Kosier with the 37th pick and the 248th overall pick of the draft. The pressure to perform and to excel is enormous on Kosier considering he was one of four offensive linemen drafted from Arizona State this year.

When you are chosen in the seventh round it is somewhat considered that you have baggage or un-finished business to attend to from college. Even pessimism can sometimes exist in players believing they are being chosen as barrel feeders so to say, because they were chosen so late. Most athletes though shrug this off and go to camp pumped up ready to show up the ivory leaguers of the draft.

San Francisco though carries a proud name in offensive linemen; this very organization has made prizes come out of almost nothing. Many un-drafted free agents never considered by other teams work hard and find success within the 49er organization and move on to being the elite linemen any team would trade for.

The competition though is steep and the price of glory is great. When you are up against experience and advanced knowledge for the game, you tend to be left behind until you acquire more skills and knowledge of the system your trying to learn. This is the mental state of a seventh rounder, and it makes the pressure that much more apparent.

“Unlike them, I got to make the team and show people here that I can play,” said Kosier, a 6-foot-4, 291-pound tackle that also played guard during his four-year career at Arizona State University. This was said in referring to his teammates being drafted before he was. “The other guys, they’re all pretty much shoe-ins to make their teams. I’ve go to come, work hard and make this team. I’ll do whatever I can to do that.”

Arizona State has struggled to maintain it’s identity in the college ranks of football the past few seasons, but it did not deter professional scouts from raving about it’s offensive linemen overall.

For one tackle Levi Jones (10th pick overall by Cincinnati), second center Scott Peters (124th overall selection, Philadelphia) and third guard Travis Scott (130th, St. Louis) being taken well ahead of Kyle Kosier. Does it make him any less valuable? Certainly not in the eyes and minds of the San Francisco scouting department and front office personnel.

Kyle possesses a keen sense of great athleticism and raw toughness as a lineman. He is also very mobile, and runs well and play hard on every down. The aggressiveness is certainly there and the will to mature and grow seems to be gathered in the right circle as well.

“We had a lot of experience,” Kosier said in explaining how four linemen from the same team landed in the draft. “We all played pretty young and played through our careers together. The offensive line has always been strong at Arizona State.”

Obviously for a college to yield such quality offensive linemen is a testament to that college’s coaching staff and training regimen overall. Even though Arizona State has relapsed over the years in ranking at the college level, talent and ability still abound at this proud university.  “Some people are surprised by the number of linemen taken, but we all knew we had talent and could potentially have a chance to play in the NFL.”

The chances weigh heavily against Kosier in making the final roster cuts in August, the competition there will be intense. It is said should he not make the active roster the best possible scenario would be for him to land on the 49er practice squad. However there are some silver linings in the clouds above that make his chances more intriguing.

He is very versatile as a lineman, as a junior at Arizona State Kosier played 11 games at right guard for a team that averaged 379.3-yards per game. The following season, Kosier than played 11 games at right tackle for a Sun devils squad that increased its offensive output to 426.4-yards per game. During his career, Kosuer started 23 games and ended his stay as an All Pac-10 honorable mention selection.

Kosier makes no qualms about his teammates, in fact he salutes the teammates that were drafted ahead of him and wishes all of them the very best. He has indicated that he has learned a great deal from his teammates and coaching staff over the course of four seasons. Arizona State is well known for having some of the best athletes in the nation on the college level. It was made blatantly apparent from the numbers drafted this past April in the 2002 NFL draft.

Arizona State’s Kyle Kosier tale of the tape
Position: Offensive Tackle/Guard
Height: 6-5, Weight: 293
Hometown: Peoria, Arizona
Positives: He is a well-defined athlete with the ability to add more bulk to his frame if needed. Has good functional ability to gain the upper hand in leverage when coming off the snap. Sticks well with his blocks and maintains his position, using his leg drive and hand punch to wall off and finish the play.
Has great athletic agility to accelerate to the edge and seal up the inside. Displays good footwork and hand usage dropping back in pass protection. Has the technical ability to read stunts and blitzes well. Sustains blocks easily once he is engaged in one. He sets himself in leverage using his hands in gaining separation.
Has the ability to kick-and-slide motion while making adjustments on the move. Always keep his feet moving to follow through as he steps up to neutralize on coming linebackers at the point of attack. Kosier seems to have done solid homework in my opinion, and seems to be another premier product manufactured by Arizona State.
Negatives: Has lacked good balance and body control. Makes good initial contact, but lacks explosion coming off the snap. Better suited as an in-line-blocker, working well in limited space. Needs to think about adding more bulk to his frame to withstand punishment. Has had shoulder surgery that needs looking into from the 2000 season.

In his agility testing he ran a 5.09 in the 40-yard dash and a 2.89 in the 20-yard dash. He went on to post a 1.79 in the 10-yard dash and a 4.49 in the 20-yard shuttle. He posted a 7.34 in the three-cone drill and had a 29.5-inch vertical leap. He had a 9.0 in the broad jump and he has 31.5-inch arms and 9.5-inch hands.

In 1997 he was red-shirted as a freshman. In 1998 he moved from the defensive line to the offensive line. Played in one game as a Sun Devil in Arizona State’s rout of 55-22 over California. In 1999 he played in 10 games as the line’s top reserve lineman. He started the final two games at right guard.

In 2000 he started every game at right offensive guard despite playing with a nagging shoulder injury that would irritate him most of the season. (He underwent surgery immediately after the Aloha Bowl). Cleared the way for the offense as it totaled 4,551-yards, an average of 379.3-yards per game.

In 2001 he made All-Pac 10 Conference honorable mention. Shifted to right tackle in fall drills, starting every game. Posted 90 key blocks/knockdowns as the offense averaged 426.4-yards per game. A very impressive result. “I know the expectations here are really high,” Kosier said. "I just got to go out there and show them that I can play and I belong.”

Bottom line is that Kosier seems like a good fit with the 49er’s, but now he has lots to prove from a seventh round perspective and as a rookie also. He will face enormous challenges and will have to execute with very little error to be considered. He has the ability and the will to succeed, I find him to be in football a very long time. He is a refreshing prospect compared to some that I’ve seen.

With their very last pick in the 2002 NFL draft the 49er’s selected yet again for defense, choosing Tennessee’s Teddy Gaines with the 45th pick in the seventh round, and the 256th pick overall. One thing that stood out for Gaines was his amazing speed, in some respects one could relate this pick to boosting our sagging special teams unit. In my opinion it could use all the speed we can allot to it.

Gaines is a two-time Tennessee state champion in the 400-meter dash while in high school, he was eventually tapped by the University of Tennessee as a receiver. His hands were sterling to say the least, to go right along with his speed. (4.3 in the 40) speed. He played the position of wide receiver as a senior at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport; he hauled in 42 passes for 898-yards and 12 touchdowns. But the lure of playing cornerback was always in the back of his mind.

A team that faces the offensive blitz-minded St. Louis Rams needs all the cornerbacks it can muster in order to have extreme coverage. It is with this in mind that the 49er’s drafted Gaines in order to compliment their coverage here. Gaines in order to make the final roster cuts will have to astound the coaching staff with his blazing speed and coverage skills in order to stand a chance.

Special teams would also be a good foundation as mentioned before for him to have a significant impact should there be room left over. He could even make the practice squad which would help him acquire more time to become stronger and develop up to the pro level so as to compete.

“He’s got great character. He’s a tough kid and probably his biggest assets would be his speed and his quickness,” Tennessee defensive back coach Larry Slade said. “He’s got a great work ethic that he’s going to surprise some people.”

Even though Teddy Gaines was selected late in the seventh round he still considers himself fortunate to be playing for the championship caliber San Francisco 49er’s. He finds the prospect of being able to play at the professional level very rewarding and intriguing.

“It was great. It was probably the best day of my life. I don’t want to say I was giving up hope or anything, but when they called, I was just surprised. It was a great feeling,” Gaines said. “I’m just glad for the opportunity. It’s a great organization. I’m ready to get in there and try my best.”

Gaines college career at Tennessee was one where he was a starter for two years, during that time he recorded 81 tackles (67 solo) with 18 passes deflected during his career. He was actually one of 10 Volunteers that was selected in the draft and he feels that being on this caliber of a football team will ease his transition into the NFL.

Gaines although small for a cornerback has a knack for catching up to receivers and staying with them step by step. His coverage skills are very god as he is able to match up well with some of the faster type receivers as they are in full sprint. He also has great anticipation for when the ball is going to hit it’s target. He is almost always right there to make an attempt on the play.

“Playing against Florida and people like that and putting him out on an island against guys like (Gators receivers Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell), I think that really goes a long ways in helping him at the next level because he’s not going to have a whole lot of fear,” Slade said. “He’s done it before. Teddy’s going to do well.”

But in the final analysis Gaines will have to make his mark on special teams if he is to have a shot at making the team or even via practice squad. So the expectations relating to his quickness and his speed will be very high and he’ll have to make that happen to keep that hope alive.

Tennessee’s Teddy Gaines tale of the tape
Position: Cornerback
Height: 5-10, Weight: 173
Hometown: Kingsport, Tennessee
Positives: He is well balanced in his backpedal, Has the ability to turn his hips while coming out of his cuts and breaks aggressively to the ball. Drives on the ball quickly and anticipates the deep pass well. Has taken the proper angles to the receiver in zone coverage. He has proven to be an effective return specialist with the moves to be a breakaway threat.
Negatives: Has been reluctant in press coverage. Is not that aggressive playing off his blocks. Can be seen being to passive at the line of scrimmage. He is just a marginal blocker, and tends to count on his speed to compensate for the large cushion that he allows. Takes too much time to register the play in his head, and struggles to adjust to the ball while in flight. He has been caught peaking into the backfield, causing receivers to easily separate from him.
In agility testing he registered a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash. In 1998 he saw most of his action on special teams. He also filled in as a reserve cornerback and made one tackle. In 1999 he played in every game as a reserve defensive back and special teams operative. He manufactured 16 tackles (10 solos), including three for special teams.

In 2000 he started every game at right cornerback, recording 35 tackles (30 solos) with a fumble recovery and an interception. Ranked second on the team with eight pass deflections. In 2001 He played in every game, starting six games at left cornerback, as he shared that position with Andre Lott. Finished with 29 tackles (26 solos) and seven pass deflections.

Where do we consider him? What will the 49er’s do to keep him? These are questions that will have answers one way or the other throughout training camp. It is here where Teddy must address all his negatives and tine them down to marginal at best to succeed. “Whatever they want me to do I’m willing to do. Special teams? I’m real up on special teams. I’m ready to work with (special team’s coach Bruce DeHaven), learn from him and work with him to just be the best player that I can be,” Gaines said.

49er’s coach Steve Mariucci adds, “He’s going to have to be a special teams guy. I don’t know that he’ll be a punt return guy. We’ll probably work him out at it and see if he can do it.”

This seventh round was a bonanza in the making; great athletes are found here all the time and come from here as successes in the league. Make no mistake about it that the 49er’s evaluate talent brilliantly, after all we have some of the best minds in all of football right inside the front office and on the sideline.

We can attest to the fact that great decisions are made from here each and everyday. It is the true nature of this business, one that is cold and calculated at times but necessary in order to stay alive and maintain continuity and consistency. The draft by all accounts in my mind was a great success, we came away from this draft richer and more in depth at many positions than we have ever been.

The time is ticking and the clock must be managed all season long once again in order for us to reach the next level. One of prestige and one of excellence. One that is birthed from a championship feels in the form of a dynasty of old. The San Francisco 49er’s are that closer to dipping onto the frosting on the cake. The draft has been a friend rather than an enemy; it was a great year in talent and acquisitions.

I hope that you have enjoyed my analysis on the draft over the course of time, right before and following. In my opinion the draft is the single best series of entertainment and enlightenment in the football off-season down time. I hope that you have come away with a sense of interest and a little bit more informed about these new breeds that wear the red and gold.

The opinions 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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