Training Camp to Pre-Season, 49er’s take the queue

Aug 3, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Expectations and aspirations are at there very highest for rookie and un-drafted talent as they commence training camp officially at The University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.

Players are in contention for roster positions all over the board and under the analytical eyes of all the 49er coaching staff members. Discussions and meetings take place in front of players and away from players as talent is charted and diagnosed.

This is where the core of our team is made, this is where the rubber meets the road and we come out with a final roster and definiteness in the word team. This is where the team will be generated and bonded and led to war for the 2002 season. I am so excited to have the opportunity to make a visit into this treasured realm; I am chomping at the bit as each day goes by.

The football season is upon us, many fans are already ordering their jerseys and pawing through catalogs for the latest and greatest in team apparel as we speak. I know because I am one of them, and I look forward to this time of year each and every season.

While some people are depressed that summer is fading, I embrace it for the thought of another exciting season in 49er history. I wait anxiously all year once it starts and ends, simply for it to start all over again.

News that is breaking and has already gone by will be analyzed, I will attempt to look at many facets surrounding this training camp, and what we can expect to see happen and who will emerge in a positive light.

As well as who has every reason to fear for their jobs. Competition is rampant in this arena of battle, this is where the drafted meet the un-drafted and the rookies meet the veterans. Relationships take form and teaching and learning are fundamental elements in staying alive as an active player.

What they did right in the off-season
The San Francisco 49er’s had probably one of the best off-seasons in all of their history. They were able to not only keep the starters they had, but they were able to finally add depth at almost every position.

Thus balance and consistency will remain with little alteration and adjustment. That may not sound so important, but believe me it is so essential for a team to maintain it’s identity as a unit that knows one another.

They lost only two starters from their 12-4 Cinderella season, going from the pits of a 4-12 season in 1999 and a 6-10 record in 2000. The 49er’s were able to bring most all of their own back home. But of the two that were lost, we replaced them with at equal if not better talent at that, thus an achievement nonetheless.

Three of their four top free agents were resigned starting with veteran center Jeremy Newberry, following with Garrison Hearst and Fred Beasley. Going on without safety Lance Schulters seemed risky but finding a gem in Tony Parrish erased any uneasiness about the decision. Finding an upgrade to replace veteran guard Ray Brown was also a priority and became a reality as they landed Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone.

Free Agency continued to bless the 49er’s as they added even more to sure up depth at key positions, two of the best on defense with veterans Jim Flanigan and Sean Moran. Taking a great surprise move they even made a trade with Miami involving Ex-Bear quarterback will travel Cade McNown.

He is looked at being the Rick Mirer that departed across the Bay. The jury is still out on this move, but the 49er’s are trying to evaluate a potential draft pick they were considering back in 1999 in McNown, although he has failed in Chicago and was exiled the 49er’s believe he can excel in the right system. It will be interesting to watch his progress, and determine if there is anything there to work with or add further to.

Another great shot in the arm for San Francisco was the fact that they were able to add 11-quality draft picks to their roster for 2002. Draft picks I must say that are very high caliber and should be able to contribute in a positive way almost immediately. What is even more dramatic and real is the fact that none of these were drafted knowing they would be immediate starters except for Miami cornerback Mike Rumph in the first round.

The 49er’s were able to draft simply to stock up and add quality depth to their already lethal arsenal. All in all you have to be very happy and very proud of where this organization has taken itself. General Manager Terry Donahue has done an outstanding job in getting the franchise right back on track and into immediate contention again for post-season.

The decision of Head Coach Steve Mariucci to stay with the franchise is also a great relief to me also, I could not give my blessing to just anyone else, for I am convinced that Mariucci is in great part responsible for this team’s growth and it’s maturity.

Let’s look at Pre-Season Priorities
In order to have any real hope of making a run at the Super Bowl, the 49er’s will have to have a healthy and confident quarterback. There is no problem considering that we have Jeff Garcia, two-time Pro Bowler and establishing outstanding records left and right.

However the real question is what is behind him? There is no definite proven back up. Therefore an injury could in most cases devastate this team and send it spiraling out of control to the bottom of the division. Yes that is the worst case scenario, but nonetheless a real possibility.

Tim Rattay the projected back-up quarterback, drafted in 2000 has been in the 49er system for more than two years now, and he has shown significant improvement and a consistency in almost every practice he has played.

But as far as actual game experience? He has almost none, and on top of that he does not possess the raw mobility and talents of a Jeff Garcia.

Making a deal with Cade McNown may look like an insurance policy, but it really isn’t when you think more about it. Simply because he is playing to become the third string quarterback behind Tim Rattay.

On top of that it will take him time just to learn the playbook and establish himself in camp, he will battle newly drafted quarterback Brandon Doman for this particular roster spot. That will be a feat that will take everything he has.

Taking additional steps to insure that Garcia stays healthy have to be made, and the 49er’s did just that with the free agent signings of center Jeremy Newberry and guard Ron Stone as well. But will it be enough?

Many 49er fans including myself have reservations and the possibility of an injury is always there, but just compensation would be justified in having an experienced back up. However on the hindsight the reality of the salary cap and adding to other needed positions creates thinness in other important areas.

In another area of extreme need is the 49er’s inability to solidify it’s nickel and dime defenses, having been burned by arch rival division juggernaut St. Louis Rams for three straight years. The 49er’s were burned yet again when they were defeated by the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs last season as the Packers attacked the 49er’s with three wide receivers sets knowing that the 49er’s were weakest in this area.

Having little backfield depth at any quality level resulted in us packing our bags and heading home after Green Bay’s triumph. Many teams last year aired the ball out on the 49er secondary in an attempt to exploit their weak nickel and dime defense. Green Bay was mentioned but the Dallas Cowboy fiasco was another I remember.

San Francisco this year answered that call by drafting Miami’s elite cornerback Mike Rumph in their first pick of the draft. The 6-2 corner has a reputation of shutting down one side of the field with Miami.

He will be depended upon immensely to do that with us. What hasn’t been mentioned is the fact that both starting cornerbacks in Jason Webster and Ahmed Plummer will both have added a year in experience. Manifesting a secondary that will be greatly improved.

On the safety side of the ball Zack Bronson is coming off a career season, and signed an extension. Tony Parrish is right in his prime and is expected to be even better than Lance Schulters for whom he replaced.

Adding to that formidable defense the 49er’s again addressed it in the draft by picking rookie Kevin Curtis in the fourth round, out of Texas Tech. The 49er’s have some players that are ready to breakout as well and the mixture should be enough to generate some real big plays this season. Overall the secondary looks very good except for the season ending injury incurred by cornerback Anthony Parker.

Another area of weakness that was identified early into the season was the lack of an impressive pass rush and sack percentage. The 49er’s struggled all of last season except towards the ending of the second half. We came in ranked 27th overall in sack percentage and totals. However we were ranked sixth in interception percentage and totals with 24 of them.

As I look back on the season last year I saw a defense not making sacks in numbers, but still it was applying significant pressure to the quarterback to make them hurry a lot. More game schemes and strategies must be worked on and implemented this season, to take advantage of new and improved personnel.

We did add two journeymen to our defense that I feel will enhance the rotation and the depth overall. By adding Sean Moran and Jim Flanigan we made the line more creative and much more refreshed overall.

The idea of moving Pro Bowl veteran defensive tackle Bryant Young around to end has also been schemed and applied. It may be a possibility of seeing more of that in games this year, just to knock the opponent off balance.

The 49er’s will also have a great linebacker corps. In adding third round pick Saleem Rasheed to the mix and another year of experience for Jamie Winborn as well. The talent at this line of the defense is incredible and deep.

Both Julian Peterson and Jeff Ulbrich will return to their projected positions and play even better with well defined knowledge of the system now, and hopefully be even stiffer in run defense.

Camp secrets and concerns
The San Francisco 49er’s began rebuilding their defense in 1999, that was the first area they felt was necessary in order for them to be competitive once again. The front office under Bill Walsh made no qualm about where they were headed in that direction. Well all of that hard work and targeting the right players has finally paid off and some we are still waiting on.

One dynamic talent that the team is very high on ad I am too is defensive end Andre Carter; he is the secret weapon that the 49er’s hoped to unleash. They drafted him for that sole purpose to make the opposing quarterback’s life a complete misery.

Carter was overwhelmed at the enormity of the NFL last year and had to become acclimated to his surroundings as well. However he is expected to pick up right where he left off and with another year of knowledge and experience he should have a stellar season. He has added needed weight and mental preparedness.

And by the way Carter will not be intimidated by veteran opposing tackles either, he plans on showing them no remorse and plans on getting around or through them every time. Just last season, he showed improvement in every week he played.

He won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after a two sack performance in the final game of the regular season. I was watching that game and came away mesmerized at how agile and quick Carter looked in each sack that he registered, he is able to invoke double teams this season allowing others to reap from the bounty he should have.

What many don’t understand is that the 49er defense is now on the map, so watch out! We have not been mentioned among the very elite as of yet, but I believe that status is forthcoming very soon. In the months of December and January, we held our last five opponents to a total of just three points. So with more talent, more experience and up until now good health we can really accomplish something.

And if there is ever a more deserving individual that needs recognition for this feat it is defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. I am a Mora fan because he was the scapegoat for so many incidents during our rebuilding process; he weathered each storm professionally and has a well-defined unit as evidence to that fact.

Great emphasis sometimes is placed on the draft and rookie star players; little is said of what the second-year players will do with a season under their belts. Big things are expected from both parties but even more from the sophomores in the class.

Rising stars like Andre Carter, Ahmed Plummer, Jeff Ulbrich, Jamie Winborn, Jason Webster, Julian Peterson and John Engelberger will all be expected to step up in a big way this season. Anything other then that will be a disappointment.

The fans are hungry for victory, especially after coming so close in Green Bay in the post-season. Some of these players mentioned above have about one year experience, that is including injury time as well.

Usually players that have spent at least a year in the system show marketed improvement on many plays, Last year Plummer and Webster made that very apparent, this season look Carter, Winborn, Ulbrich and even Kevan Barlow to have breakout type seasons. Making the final roster a long shot

This year anyone on the 49er roster has to be concerned, the majority on the roster will be waived and will seek employment elsewhere. For instance in 2000, the team invited 25 rookie free agents to camp and only four made it.

Tackle Dan Goodspeed, defensive tackle Cedric Killings, running back Jonas Lewis and safety Ronnie Heard. Last year, out of a rookie free agent pool of 24, only two remained with the team Defensive tackle John Schlecht and linebacker Quincy Stewart.

Just toady I can count eight rookie free agents on the roster, and honestly they are all long shots. It's also very conceivable that all 10-draft choices will have a difficult time making the roster. The reality is that employment with ant NFL team is a difficult prospect, many of these young and talented athletes will be packing their bags soon and heading away.

It is the nature of the beast so to say, an unfortunate cold ending to someone's dream and aspirations to become someone bigger than life, and land an exclusive contract. You have to commend anyone willing to take the shot and try to succeed, should you achieve anything it is just further icing on the cake.

The comparisons to other known training camps give the 49er’s a significant edge in this one, and offers so much more promise in picking quality talent. In fact the most irritating part of the entire training camp will be putting an interruption in the form of a real televised pre-season game the 49er’s are scheduled in against the Washington Redskins being played over in Japan.

Other differences are the expectations, many times the 49er’s were faced with situations where what they had was what would start. The uncertainties that revolved around both the defense and the offense was sometimes a drama unfolding, like a soap opera that changed it’s supporting cast often. But this year the periods are already in place pretty much as to who goes where.

“We would draft them, sign them, then start them,” coach Steve Mariucci said. When asked to recall what recent camps have been like. So goes the notion that the 49er’s having not really been in a hurry to establish contracts for all their draft choices. They have the leverage and the commodity of waiting due to a solid starting lineup and being so stocked with talent.

“We feel like we know who the starters are,” said Mariucci. “These young kids are fighting for a spot on the team and in the pecking order, the depth chart, fighting for spots on special teams. It’s a little different than the last couple of years.”

Out of all this stability though there are areas where the 49er’s have legitimate concerns and questions as to whom will emerge the starting stars in this years lineup. Training camp and pre-season play will in most cases prove to be the battleground where these open questions are answered.

One the 49er’s will need to determine who will be their starting kicker and punter this season. Incumbent Jose Cortez seems to be facing an uphill battle with fourth-round draft choice Jeff Chandler. However he does have the edge on him as of now in overall kicking percentages and field goal successes.

On top of all that, Incumbent Jason Baker will have to eliminate a push by strong-legged Andrew Bayes coming out of NFL Europe. This is where special teams will be formed around and hopefully is promoted to being a better unit than last year’s.

Two the 49er’s need to certain as to who will be their back-up quarterback. Here, is where Tim Rattay comes in, he is the Incumbent and has a distinct advantage with knowledge of the system and no real threat to unseat him.

With the acquisition of Cade McNown, the former Chicago Bear starter and former Miami Dolphin in exile, he does have more experience then Rattay. But his skills have been questioned, as has his heart to play the game at times.

His demeanor with former teammates and cooperation has been well illustrated. He will also be faced with competing with a young Brigham Young quarterback in Brandon Doman taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft.

With five pre-season games on their plate, the 49er’s will have plenty of time in order to make their decision regarding the quarterback merry-go-round. They also plan on working Jeff Garcia only in a limited role in order to preserve his elbow that became sore last season and bothered him during the regular season schedule.

Three free agent acquisitions in Ron Stone and Tony Parrish will be closely monitored throughout camp and pre-season to identify who will emerge as a leader. This is needed in order to mentally replace departed veterans Ray Brown and Lance Schulters. However the consensus and I believe I speak for the majority of fans, is that it will be no problem at all considering their successes both on and off the field.

“I told Ron he can’t be Ray Brown, and I told Tony he couldn’t be Lance Schulters,” Mariucci said. “They’ve got to be themselves, contribute, and they’ll be respected. When you lose guys like (Brown and Schulters), somebody picks up the slack, somebody else blossoms as a leader. I fully expect that to occur.”

Four other concerns for Mariucci will be the return of return man Vinny Sutherland, who was arrested for drunken driving and just recently underwent six weeks of alcohol rehabilitation. The same now can be said of first-round pick cornerback Mike Rumph although at a lesser degree.

Several players also will take more time than others due to nagging injuries that have slowed their development will. Those include veteran safety John Keith and rookie defensive lineman Josh Shaw. This complicates their involvement and overall awareness of the system, a puts them unfortunately at a distinct disadvantage for playing time.

First rookie to sign kicker Jeff Chandler
Fourth-round draft pick Jeff Chandler solidified his hold on the starting kicking position by agreeing to terms with the 49er’s on a contract over three-years, a contract worth $1.23 million and includes a $330,000 signing bonus. The battle between Incumbent Jose Cortez who suffered in the second half-last season and the rookie brought in to apply the heat just got more interesting.

Chandler, a University of Florida talent and the first kicker drafted last April, will receive the league’s minimum base salaries through 2004 and a chance to earn $265,000 in incentives, according to his agent, Paul Healy.

“Being in the position I am, I guess that helps a little,” Chandler said by telephone from his native Florida. “I don’t think just being a fourth-round pick puts me in the lead, though. It’ll be who kicks the ball better.”

Jose Cortez has much to be concerned with, usually when a team signs someone to that type of contract with a bonus means a commitment has been made already. Cortez who missed seven of his final 14 field goal attempts last season, just signed a one-year, $300,000 tender from the 49er’s on May 30th.

Jose Cortez started off strong and came to the NFL in a peculiar situation, being a part of the now defunct Extreme Football League he was picked up by the 49er’s. He made the team in last year’s training camp and started the season with 11 straight field goals.

It also included the game winner (24-yards) in overtime against the Falcons in the season opener. Cortez then went into a slump, in getting the ball even off the ground, with four of his next nine attempts getting blocked.

I feel the battle of the kickers is a good one. And I support the decision to draft Chandler as a statement that this part of the game needed retuning. Obviously as I recall last season, Cortez needs to find a consistency that can be relied upon, he was fabulous in the beginning but longevity is also a crucial element to being successful.

The 49er’s also reached agreements with two seventh-round draft picks, offensive lineman Eric Heitmann and Kyle Kosier, said their agent, Kenneth Zuckerman.

Both player’s deals will have the league’s minimum base salaries over three seasons, with Heitmann, a guard/center out of Stanford, receiving a $29,000 signing bonus, and Kosier, a guard/tackle from Arizona State, a $24,000 signing bonus their agent said.

Jim Mora adds an assistant to the secondary
Great news came to the 49er defense when longtime NFL great Gill Byrd joined the 49er coaching staff in training camp. Byrd a former two time Pro Bowl cornerback of the San Diego Chargers will in fact assist Jim Mora and Brett Maxie with the formidable 49er secondary, with added intensity.

What is most peculiar is the fact that Mora coached Byrd during his days as members of the Chargers organization and Mora continually uses game footage of Byrd as examples for his cornerbacks. So why not bring the film to real life?

“I show Jason Webster and Ahmed Plummer tape of Gill all the time,” said Mora. “He had great technique, among the best I’ve ever seen. This is a great opportunity for our guys to learn firsthand from him.”

Byrd has been contemplating coming back into coaching for sometime now, his children were the catalyst for his coming back, ironically they were the reason he got out as well to spend time with them.

Since he retired as a player Byrd has worked in different capacities in the NFL. In 1998 he was a fellowship coach for the Carolina Panthers where he worked with Maxie. He later accepted a position with the Green Bay Packers as the Director of Player Programs. No longer with the Packers, but still living in Green Bay.

Byrd talked to Mora about resuming his coaching career. Mora would’ve been a fool to not accept his offer to help out, a teacher of his style and technique and a fan of his play making abilities Mora jumped at the chance to make him an assistant.

“We talked quite a bit and he’s told me he wants to get back into coaching,” said Mora. “He got out of it to spend more time with his children, but they want him to get back in it. The timing works out great for us.”

Expectations run high even for Pre-Season Play
Looking back on the 2001 season, I am still amazed at the fact that we left the season at 12-4. No one would have thought that would’ve been a possibility considering the rebuilding years of 4-12 and 6-10.

However this franchise was determined to make its mark and it did in high fashion. On their way to the 2001 season though you would’ve believed the skeptics in predicting a fortunate .500 average year.

Especially with the way we played in pre-season, we lost three out of four games and came off a horrendous 35-7 thrashing at the hands of the Denver Bronco’s. Doubts had entered every mind, including my own as to how we would be able to compete. Especially where obvious weaknesses were still revealed.

Although we cannot put a lot of precedent in pre-season, they still seem to be an important factor in identifying position development and sorting through the strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole.

Much of the time deals with individual player analysis above anything else, basically to see if they have what they say they have, and can perform it on the field.

The game itself and the final score most of the time is unimportant and really does not serve as a barometer to what happens come regular season. However I am a supporter of pre-season and believe it to be more beneficial than harmful to the league itself.

“Boy, we were miserable in the pre-season, just awful,” said Dana Stubblefield. “The coaches were mad at us, we were mad at ourselves, it wasn’t good. I don’t think we really knew what to expect coming out of the Denver game. We just knew we needed to be better.”

What transpired from that horrible Denver game to the regular season opener was incredible, I remember as I watched that game at how intense they were when they took the field. I remember that as being a boost to my ego and so many others, the 49er’s were back, and regardless of what happened before in pre-season this was a clean slate and we were ready for the season.

“Our mindset was changed against Atlanta in the opener,” added Stubblefield. “We came out and played with intensity we hadn’t shown. We grew as a team in that first game and that set the tone for the rest of the year.”

Pre-Season is just that, but players still put a lot of thought and energy still into their games rather it be for pre-season or regular season. The mental barriers still need to be overcome and their performance still needs to be evaluated and diagnosed for the coaching staff to make necessary adjustments.

The judging still has to be done, when it comes down to final cuts and trimming the roster for regular season. So can there be any lesser importance to a pre-season game? I think not.

The expectations both from this team and its fans are of course are very high; knocking on the door in the playoffs does not satisfy us. Nor should we accept anything less, before there were legitimate reasons and circumstances as we tried to rebuild. Patience was something out of the ordinary for us; we had always achieved lofty goals as a franchise.

But this season signals a promise that is on the horizon not so far out of reach. With all that has been accomplished in this off-season and in this last draft we are poised to strike deep into the heart of the playoffs. Injuries of course are the very obstacle we must avoid.

“Our mindset is that we are a good, young football team,” said Steve Mariucci. “We are cautiously optimistic about this season. But we still have things to accomplish before we can begin to talk about Super Bowls and that sort of thing.” “We still have to beat the Rams; we still are a very young team; our division is still tough with the addition of Seattle. So are we excited? Yes. But we still have work to do.”

I along with so many of you believe we can rise to the occasion and that we can finally beat the Rams. I am tired of facing this lethal juggernaut and falling victim to their aerial and running attack. I believe that if we can split this season with the Rams, we can certainly take a shot at the division title or at the very least a wild card.

On defense, if San Francisco is to stay at pace with the Rams the defensive secondary will have to shut down the airwaves for Kurt Warner and company. With that in mind that is the entire reason the 49er’s drafted elite cornerback Mike Rumph in the first round. And at the same time drafted two other defensive backs in Kevin Curtis and Teddy Gaines and on top of all that added Tony Parrish via free agency.

“This is a different type of corner than we have here,” Donahue said of Rumph. “He’s bigger than our two starters and he presses at the line of scrimmage. We felt all along that we wanted a physical corner and we got him. Needless to say we were very excited that he is available for us.”

Terry Donahue being the crafty general manager he is under the tutorship of former general manager Bill Walsh has made every effort to rebuild the team with financial success in mind.

In this past off-season we lost no major personnel for the first time in awhile. And with an excellent draft and key free agent signings, we have the ability and the talent to go toe to toe with the St. Louis Rams.

“We are very cognizant of looking at both the short-term and the long-term health of this team,” General Manager Terry Donahue said, noting the team’s salary-cap troubles. “We have been very careful that what we do won’t cripple or hamstring our organization in the future. And we’ve added a great group of players without putting the organization in harms way.”

What really needs to be said and astonishes me to this day is looking back on the season last year, we lost two of the best offensive dynamics to this team in Jerry Rice and Charlie Garner.

However San Francisco still managed to finish second in the NFL in third-down percentage, second in red-zone percentage and third overall in scoring. In my opinion that is really something to be proud of, because others stepped up big time.

Keeping Steve Mariucci
In my opinion and maybe most of all of you, I believe the success of this team hinders on the continued leadership of Steve Mariucci. The very fact that we flirted with disaster this past early off-season sent goose bumps up and down my spine.

Mariucci is in large part responsible for this team’s continued improvement and he has made this team competitive again with a great supporting coaching staff.

To lose all of that and start over, just makes no sense to me. To even contemplate that this team would’ve been as successful this season without him is lunacy as well.

Tampa Bay almost had him, in fact they were a hair lengths away from obtaining him, in a marathon distance interview he could have had the world at his fingertips. Huge contract and all the power he could handle. But he didn’t go; ultimately he stayed because his heart is in San Francisco and his family too.

“What weighed heaviest on my mind was, 'How do I do this with my family?’ I don’t get the time back with my family. Leaving my family here and having a lot of money in your wallet, when I weighed it, my family is more important,” Mariucci said.

Steve has just two years remaining on his contract, I pray that should we make the post-season that he will be rewarded even without a Super Bowl title in his hands. He has a 47-36 record with the 49er’s, including a 2-3 mark in the post-season. Steve is the grease in the wheel that helps this team move forward. Without him I would hate to fathom where we would end up.

“I’ve made professional decisions throughout my career and sometimes those were selfish decisions. When you’re an upward mobile coach, you sometimes make decisions to pick up and leave. And that’s never easy on a family.”

Even quarterback Jeff Garcia the undisputed leader of this team speaks highly of his relationship with Steve. Both have endured and come so far with the fall of veteran quarterback Steve Young.

They have established their very own identity and encourage each other almost everyday. Their bond will be what translates into success for this team.

“Coach Mariucci listened to the Buccaneers and decided to stay with the 49er’s, which is important for us. We again have the stability of a head coach that helps us work and focus on becoming a Super Bowl-type team.”

With Mooch’s .566 winning percentage, which is fourth best in franchise history among coaches with five or more seasons. You have to give it to him for making the best of any given situation.

Being human he encounters media barrages and intriguing questions that tickle the cerebral cortex. There has been rumored disharmony from time to time in the brass concerning Mariucci.

Reports trickled out of San Francisco in 2001 that there were strained relations between Donahue and Mariucci. He felt slighted by management’s lack of recognition for his personal role in the team’s success.

Ever since Donahue came on and started his career with the 49er’s as the director of player personnel in 1999, reports have mounted about Donahue’s desire to have a dual role as head coach and general manager.

I heard about these rumors before and generally discounted them and treated them with very little validity. I would hope and I would think that such a dual role is counter-productive to what we want to achieve, Devoting one’s energies towards one particular gifted trait is what should be remembered, both Donahue and Mariucci need this separation and should prosper from it.

“I made it clear to Steve from the very beginning,” Donahue said, “when I first got here, that I had no designs or intentions to take his job.” Said York, the team’s top executive: “When the three of us are together, we work well together,” York said. “I think I have a good relationship with Terry, and I think I have a good relationship with Steve. And to be honest, I have never seen any problems between Steve and Terry.”

When the Buccaneers came a calling in February, the tone seemed a bit peculiar as well; one has to wonder why the 49er’s would grant permission for the Buccaneers anyway regardless of the prime opportunity. The problem is the front office thought they could manage without him and profit from picks in return. This is what seems to be the line of thought.

“Steve has done an outstanding job with us and I would like him to stay on as our coach. I think that Steve’s success is going to cause this kind of reaction and interest from other people, both now and in the future.”

What is even more impressive for Steve is that in the off-season he made a bold move in seeking a remedy to his rift between Terrell Owens and himself. He flew to Atlanta in April to clear the air between them.

The gesture was genuine and caring. The fact that Terrell Owens was impressed speaks highly of his credentials as a coach.

“I told him that even if we hadn’t had the meeting, I was going to come into camp open-minded. We’re comfortable, and hopefully that’s the way we’re going to be the whole season.”

Even Owens flirtation with the United States Basketball League, joining the Adirondack Wildcats in Glens Falls, New York. Did not impose a new feud between the two. Objections were aired from both owner and Donahue, but Mariucci went about being cautiously optimistic that this might be more beneficial to Owens than harm.

He seemed to prove that right as Owens enjoyed himself living a dream and still is now focused on his football game despite his love for basketball.

Our Weak Spot is identified
The St. Louis Rams own the San Francisco 49er’s. At least they do temporarily. Hard for me to digest this fact, but they have won six consecutive games against us. Until we defeat that trend they will keep ownership of not only us but also the division itself. Before they took over this three-year humiliation of us, we actually owned then outright. Kurt Warner and Company changed all that.

St. Louis had lost 19 of 20 (including 17 in a row), but can we say that now? They say you have to beat the best to be the best, the Rams have been doing that since 1999.

There is plenty of time to prepare for their first game against each other. San Francisco will have gone through three games and a bye before seeing them. Then, right after that they will see each other in the finality of the regular season probably to establish bragging rights to the division I hope.

Going back to last season, the 49er’s lead 16-12 at halftime in the team’s first meeting, but lost 30-26. The second game was even more of the same, a 27-14 loss after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter. Lot’s have changed with the division’s new realignment and such, now we bid farewell to New Orleans and Atlanta (44-85 combined versus us) and welcome Seattle and Arizona.

Both Seattle and Arizona are 11-16 all-time against us, the Rams are 54-29-2. In fact, of teams San Francisco has played more than 20 times, St. Louis, Green Bay and Indianapolis are the only teams the 49er’s have losing marks against.

Even more highlighting this fact is that the Rams and Packers (8-2 versus San Francisco in the last 10 games) are this season perennial playoff contenders, therefore formidable obstacles to our Super Bowl run.

Rather you want to believe it or not St. Louis is the real threat to our dreams. Finding a way to close the gap is essential to our prosperity as a franchise. So far we have done just that, in our draft and through free agency. I have a feeling we will continue that track again should we prove unsuccessful again, until we get it right.

In conclusion I want to praise what has already been accomplished, I look forward to a positive training camp and a better pre-season overall. I will be in San Francisco and Stockton this August; I plan on making this trip a constructive one and a memorable one all at the same time. I hope to garner many thoughts and experiences I plan on sharing with all of you on my return.

I will be absent from writing for the next two weeks, as I go on vacation and travel the Bay Area. It is the first one I have taken away from my writing responsibilities, I hope you will be patient and vigilant for my next article upon my return.

I try and bring you facts and information that are interesting to savor and keep you intrigued as the season wears on, along with my own personal insights and of course occasional opinions.

I am honored as to all the positive remarks and feedback that I have been given over the years, you make this all worth while when I sit down to write and gather my next topic. Being a 49er fanatic is something I am proud to call myself, I honestly breath, eat and sleep 49er’s all the time.

I stand ready to assume the role of being mesmerized at 3Com Park and at training camp and beyond. The encouragement to get back and write will be overwhelming, thank-you all of you and God Bless our 49er’s.

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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