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Wade richey settles down; J.J. Stokes becomes impatient

Dec 2, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Louisiana State’s Wade Richey claimed off waivers by The San Francisco 49er’s (08-26-98); Originally signed by Seattle (04-29-98) as a rookie free agent and released in their preseason has struggled more than ever in his three-year NFL career.

I can still remember when Wade came on to the scene in San Francisco many different positions were being revamped in 1998 and the position of Kicker was one of them.

We had the veteran Gary Anderson now a Minnesota Viking as our kicker then and in my opinion one of the most consistent and affluent kickers in the NFL at the time and still is even today.

When he was released and Richey brought in I was frustrated and upset to imagine replacing Anderson with someone so unproven and raw, and the sight of how young Richey was, almost teenager-like confused me even more.

However I was soon to find out that not only was this a bold decision, but it was also the correct one at the time for now we have a clutch kicker with proven potential and youth to go along with it to solidify a position not often thought of.

This year has been a struggle for Richey the league’s most accurate kicker a year ago, when he converted 21 of 23 field-goal attempts (91.3 percent), Richey began the season by making his first five field-goal attempts. But has slumped in the past six games.

Ever since Week Six at home against The Oakland Raiders in The Battle of the Bay, when he attempted his potential winning 29-yard field goal attempt in overtime which was blocked. Richey has missed 4 0f 6 field-goal tries, including a wobbly 43-yard effort that hooked left in a 21-7 victory over The Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11.

“He’s not pleased with that sort of thing happening to him, and neither am I,” Coach Steve Mariucci said. “He’s had one bang off the crossbar from 53 yards, but he has had some to the left. I think it’s a mechanical thing. Hopefully, he’ll work right through this thing. He’s got to get that old confidence back.”

I have been astounded at the inaccuracy I have witnessed as Richey has missed field-goal attempts that certainly could have been difference makers in several key games, it has been frustrating for all those concerned from fans to coaching and Richey himself.

Richey has had to wage a personnel war inside himself as he has taken this slump seriously, putting in extra practice time and cursing himself as he has made multiple kicks sailing off to the left.

“I’m so mad at myself right now because my little session out there didn’t go so well,” said Richey. Who attempted one field goal after another in his solitary workout and saw too many kicks sail wide to the left, just like they have in recent games.

“I’ve had enough. It’s time to turn this thing around. If I miss another kick, I’m going to blow up.”

Richey unaccustomed to being out of the normal has had to deal with this slump internally and realizes the seriousness of his demise. Certainly everyone especially his teammates have rallied around him to bolster his sagging confidence.

“This is the deepest rut I’ve ever been in,” Richey said. “Back when I was kicking well, I knew there was darkness ahead. Everything was peachy last year, and even my rookie year I missed a few kicks but I was kicking well. I didn’t shank anything like I’ve done with these last few kicks.”

Every professional football player in one form or another goes through their own personnel struggles this happens to be a defining one because it involves a kicker whom makes the difference in winning games.

Never is one more under pressure and scrutiny than a field-goal kicker whom has all fates resting upon their shoulders to determine the outcome of victory or defeat. This is where you must grow up in a hurry and embrace such an awesome responsibility.

The focus has got to be so intense the mind-set so perfect and the placing of the football so crucial. Certainly other factors are a key including possible blocked attempts and weather, wind being an indicating factor.

All is taken for granted about kickers in the NFL, we just imagine they should make these points every single time that they lineup to kick. And when they don’t all hell breaks loose in scowls of anger and frustration even a few choice unkind words are spoken from our lips.

Mariucci and Richey do not believe the problems have anything to do with the snapper, rookie Brian Jennings, or holder Chad Stanley, who performed the same duties last year. If anything they have been strength to Richey and have provided him with real moral support.

“Brian is coming along nicely, and Chad held for me last year so he’s definitely a good holder,” Richey said. “The problem is with myself, and it needs to be fixed. Lately, I’ve been concentrating too much on trying not to slice the ball. I’ve developed this slice somewhere along the line, and I need to just let it go and just kick.”

Special Teams Coach Bruce DeHaven has told Richey to get it together fast, as his job security certainly has been threatened with these missed opportunities. Even though Mariucci has held firm with Richey even he knows the front office will tolerate only so much.

Is Richey concerned about job security? “Yes,” he said emphatically. “I am. This team needs a kicker and if I’m not doing the job, I may personally walk up there and say, “Get rid of me.”

Even more vivid than usual is his misses due to the record the 49er’s have made for themselves now (4-8), the defense has been blamed time and time again for the loss record they have sustained throughout the season. Now Richey is being factored in as a leading factor to that record as his slump continues.

When a kicker goes into a slump they have very few places to turn to. No one on the coaching staff is a kicking expert. Kickers in large part are relied on to solve their own problems on their own. Richey is one of those people.

Week 12 Atlanta came to town and Richey nervously anticipated his chances of making another field goal, his chance came on the 32-yard line as he kicked a wobbly field goal that banked off the left upright and ricocheted through the posts.

“When a kick comes out that bad and goes through, it’s a sign that things are going to get better,” said Richey, who made all three of his field goal attempts and a point-after conversion in the 49er’s 16-6 victory over Atlanta.

His other two field goals were perfect, high and down the middle instead of shanking to the left. He made a 30-yarder 3:53 before halftime for a 6-3 lead, and his 26-yarder with 10:54 remaining capped the scoring.

In all senses of the word Richey cam through with flying colors breaking open the nest of bottled frustration that had haunted him since Week Six.

It was a moment that Richey felt great alleviation and rejuvenation kindled with a touch of success he expects to continue with renewed confidence. I had high hopes for Richey to shake off this slump that was tearing at every fiber in his body to find a solution, Steve Mariucci showed great restraint and encouragement towards Richey to find the solution also.

For that I must commend him, Mariucci has made a difference in these athletes and shows great sincerity and trust that they do their part to turn around a negative situation and place it in a positive. To me that is what honest and supportive coaching does with struggling players whom enter that arena of frustration on occasion.

His timing could not have come better to kick his slump to the sidelines as for the first time in 17 games, the 49er’s offense failed to score a touchdown.

To you Wade I tip my hat to you, for your inner war has been won although I’m sure there will be other tests for you along the way, you persevered and did so with your own inner strength and promises.

Special Teams needs to take a front seat in this franchise, they determine the course of many games along the way, they set the precedent and flow of a game in more ways than one. It is essential that we recognize punters and kickers for their unappreciated roles in the determination and end results of a professional football game.

Wide Receiver J.J. Stokes seems to be almost a forgotten contributor and seldom used talent that we possess in our offensive arsenal; being the unsung third receiver will get you very limited playing time.

Time Stokes is sick and tired of dealing with as he perceives he has real playmaking skills to contribute, and help his team put points on the scoreboard as he has wanted to do so many times while on the sidelines.

In 1998 Stokes started 11 games and caught a career-high 63 passes, He chose on his own accord when he became a free agent in 1999 to re-sign with the 49er’s for five years and 16.5 million dollars and at that time was willing to accept his role alongside the powerful receiving duo of Terrell Owens and legendary Jerry Rice.

The only problem is that this duo Owens and Rice have stayed relatively healthy and have sucked up the market as far as playing time is concerned with Stokes. The 49er’s have gone with this versatile one-two-punch as in combination with Running Back Charlie Garner it has been more than successful.

“Terrell is playing great, the best of his career. And Jerry’s playing great, too,” Stokes admitted. “And I guess I’m the odd man out.”

Stokes in 1999 caught only 34 passes making just four starts. This year, he has only started one game and caught 21 passes, while Owens has 64 catches and Rice has 49 receptions.

Stokes was the full-time starter in 1997 when Rice missed the season due to a knee injury. Ever since then it has been far to much touch and go and he is eagerly yearning to see more playing time, to a point his frustrations are bearing vocalization.

When Stokes came to the 49er’s I remember being elated to have such a prominent and prestigious receiver added to our offensive firepower, and in 1997 when Rice went down his value to me skyrocketed as he picked up the slack and never let the offense miss a beat.

“I’ve always stuck with my decision (to re-sign with the 49er’s),” Stokes said. “But if I’d known I wasn’t going to play as much, that might have made me think differently. It didn’t bother me (sharing time with Rice and Owens) because I feel I have the skills and talents to play with any receivers. I just thought it would be more of the three-man rotation (the team used in 1997).”

For two years Stokes has campaigned relentlessly for more playing time, especially being a third option in three-and-four-receiver sets. In the teams perspective, Stokes hasn’t always dazzled when he’s been in the game, dropping some passes last year and losing ground to second-year receiver Tai Streets in the preseason.

However Stokes is out to silence his critics in the most fashionable way, taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. With Owens (turf toe) and Rice (back spasms) both limited in Week 11 against Kansas City, Stokes made three big plays, including one leaping fingertip grab at the 1-yard line and taking a short pass 25 yards with a series of spins and head-fakes.

It is in my opinion that Stokes is not used to his fullest potential, obviously there are many that believe Stokes will never be an elite player, I disagree with that notion Stokes simply put needs more playing time.

I have always admired the run after the catch philosophy and this is a strength Stokes has, along with his leaping ability it is much to admire, his cross-routes are also precise and well calculated.

“I believe J.J. is an excellent receiver. But in three-four-receiver sets, many times he’s not the primary guy. He’s the third or fourth look,” said quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has never developed an on-field rapport with Stokes.

But, Garcia added, the 49er’s are well aware of what Stokes is capable of: “It’s not like we go into a game not realizing what he can do.”

Stokes counters that with the mere fact that he is not being looked at as a legitimate option, and that more playing time is justified based on past performances. He has not caught a pass in Week’s three, four or six. He caught a total of four passes in Week’s seven, eight and nine.

During that lull, the 28-year old receiver brought his case to coach Steve Mariucci to request more opportunities, however that request is very hard to fill considering Owens is one of the most productive receivers in the NFL and belongs on the field every down.

So in order for Stokes to say he wants to get in, he must be willing to say that legendary Jerry Rice should be out. Which is a point I would like to comment on, as much admiration and respect I hold for Jerry Rice and still believe he should be a part of this franchise.

There is the situation that persons or (individuals) must do what is in the best interests for the future of this team, Rice in all senses should accept a reduced role and allow Stokes to see more playing time.

Rice is no longer the end zone playmaker, he makes first downs and makes short to intermediate catches and moves the chains, almost in the sense of another Brent Jones seeing that Greg Clark is seeing little thrown his way.

Stokes can be that second receiver playmaker, some say Tai Streets deserves the nod and Stokes should be traded for picks or otherwise, making known that Streets is more agile and quicker than Stokes.

I believe Stokes deserves the shot, we re-signed him with all the intentions that some day he would be noticed and made to contribute once Rice was gone. Well it’s time that should happen.

“I feel like I can say what’s on my mind,” said Stokes, who was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 1995 draft after the 49er’s traded up to get him. “And I think I’ve done that up there (in the front office). They know how I feel.

Stokes eagerness to play more is a signal that he wants to contribute to the welfare of this team in the worst way. Certainly many will argue that Stokes has slumped to many times and too often especially in the preseason when Tai Streets seemed to pass him in overall performance.

Stokes, who has accomplished most of his 40 career starts as a replacement for an injured Rice or Owens, has 21 catches for 355 yards for the season. He ranks sixth on the team in receptions though his 16.9-yard average tops the club among players with at least 13 catches.

He is well on pace to finishing with his second-lowest reception total (31), He is hoping for a strong finish this season. Counting on his increased playing time to develop better timing with quarterback Jeff Garcia. Both of Stokes touchdown catches came on passes from backup Rick Mirer.

I believe Stokes is a playmaker and can be molded into the same dimension that Terrell Owens is today as an elite receiver; however that will never come to light as long as his playing time is severely limited to a third option receiver with whom he is sharing time even now with Tai Streets.

Should Jerry Rice not be a 49er after the 2000 season I believe Stokes deserves the nod to second-tier receiver and Streets inherits the third? In all aspects I believe that he deserves increased playing time even now to enhance his standing as the second option should Rice be waived traded or retires.

To be honest I do not like the thought of Jerry being in this kind of position, I have followed him and celebrated with him through the airwaves countless number of times in the Montana and Young era of the 49er’s.

But I also know the need for youth and speed and the necessity to build this unit into a modern offensive machine that will compete in the NFL today. Jerry is still a very reliable and capable wide receiver even if he has lost a step or two.

To be honest and believe that Jerry would take a severe pay cut and take a reduced role in the receiver unit is not a likely scenario. But I believe it is a necessary one in order to promote and mold the talent that we have so well hidden for far too long.

In Week 12 against Atlanta Stokes was allowed to start again due to Terrell Owens and his lingering turf toe. He received a battery of mixed reviews as he caught just one pass for 27 yards, but also had an apparent 29-yard touchdown reception nullified because of a holding penalty. Stokes also was called for a un-sportsman-like conduct penalty with the 49er’s at the Falcons 2-yard line.

On the other hand Tai Streets again cast a shadow on Stokes as he had four receptions for 73 yards, but he was responsible for the 49er’s only turnover when he fumbled the ball away after the catch early in the third quarter.

Together they’re combined five catches were less than Owen’s average of 6.4 receptions per game. Their 100 combined receiving yards were just a little more than Owens 91.1-yard average.

Stokes one catch did help the 49er’s get a field goal from Wade Richey to make it 16-6, but again his un-sportsman-like conduct penalty probably turned it from a touchdown to a field goal.

Certainly this is un-excusable on Stokes part, and even though he apologized to the team, he must realize the consequences of his actions, It certainly did not help with his case for increased playing time.

Especially if he is costing the team points due to serious penalties such as the one fore-mentioned, He needs to re-examine and re-evaluate what is in his best interests and that is to play penalty-free and productive football.

Over the years Stokes and Owens have become good friends and share common interests and career goals, he does not like the fact he is playing only because Owens is hurting but embraces the opportunity to get on the field.

The patience Stokes has had to endure has been anything but recognized fully, for this athlete has a heart bursting to see more of the field. In all being a third wheel on an offensive machine that the 49er’s seem to have kept intact is not something Stokes wants to be for very much longer.

I do not feel that the sentiment by some to trade Stokes and start Streets in his place is a quality I care to compare, Streets has had an upper hand in the present, however Stokes was sought after with a plan for the future being a first round draft pick six years ago.

It is time we put that plan to the test and enroll another big playmaker like I believe Stokes can become given playing time and the adequate adjustments needed to take advantage of his height, stretch and toughness.

Many have been disappointed and upset with the few snaps Stokes has come into play, however we must take into account the frequency in which he does come in and the mental aspect of having to wait a turn in a mix of talented receivers.

He has definitely more positives than he does negatives and will prosper if given the chance to go out and play on a regular basis. I hope his grain will be more polished over the next four games as we must anticipate the real likelihood that Rice chooses to venture somewhere else.

The focus of this next draft will most definitely be tuned to the defense and adding much needed depth to a promising unit on the rise. Our offense also will have certain needs as the salary cap purge will likely reach out and snatch veterans to make room under the cap.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia is the quarterback of the future for this franchise I endorse that and welcome that. He will have fine receivers to throw to in Owens, Stokes and Streets should Rice be a casualty. We will likely need to add another receiver in this scenario.

Next year will be another tough year financially for the franchise, the draft will be key to any further improvement that we may have and that I anticipate we will due to the remarkable turnaround the defense is now experiencing.

We must not rush to pass judgment on an athlete before they are sanctioned the time to develop and mature into a well-rounded and polished playmaker like I believe Stokes can be. He will be worth the wait given a promotion.

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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