Taking the Long Road Home

Aug 23, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Every break in the school year while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, I would try to go home for a few days. Along highway 101 from Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach lies some of the most breathtaking views this world has to offer, and as I get into the car, I look forward to my journey home. But much like a Halloween candy induced cavity, for every enjoyment in life, their is a price to be paid.

Two hours into my four and a half hour drive, the beautiful California coastline is now a distant memory and miles of nothingness remain. I now begin to wonder, is this what I've been waiting so long for?

Such is the 2004 San Francisco 49ers.

Led by a quarterback that has gripped the door handle of a doctor's office more than a football, the 49ers stumble into the season with little bang for even less buck.

Sure there are a few promising young players in the lineup, like second year stud Brandon Lloyd whose aerial acrobatics would make Paul Hamm proud, but other than the most observant NFL beat writer, who honestly can identify the players on this team?

Two preseason games have come and gone, yet Rattay is no closer to seeing the football field. I'm not yet sold on Rattay as an NFL starter, but those of you out there who think Dorsey will lead us to the Holy Grail, have another thing coming. Reality is starting to set in for 49ers' fans who find the second coming of Joe Montana in every quarterback in camp. Dorsey's statistics have been admirable through the first two preseason games, but a 78.8 quarterback rating from a man who has less muscle definition than a junior high chess champion won't get this team past three or four wins. If T.O. were still around, numbers like that would fly, but for a team lacking in star power they need a quarterback who can make plays, not one who just avoids disaster. Whether Rattay can do better or not remains to be seen, but Dorsey is a few years away from having that kind of impact.

But the quarterback situation is hardly the only thing holding this team back. Two new starters along the offensive line and in the receiver core along with the possibility of Beasley being out for the first game should strike as much fear into the hearts of niners' fans as a cop pulling behind you on the freeway.

About the only thing the offense has going for itself is Kevan Barlow. The fourth year back looks ready to emerge as the team's star, and after three years as Garrison Hearst's understudy, it's been a long time coming. But even Barlow has been lackluster in the preseason. Take away an impressive 18 yard run against the Raiders, and he is only averaging 2.5 yards per carry.

The defense once again will be the strength of the team this year. If Mike Rumph continues his improvement from last season, the secondary could be one of the top in the league. Shawntae Spencer already looks like a steal in the second round and could be a huge upgrade for a defense that caused most fans to hide in their seats on third down last season. The linebacking core speaks for itself, and with the return of Julian Peterson looking better and better each day, new defensive coordinator Willy Robinson can begin to rest easier. However, the defensive line has more holes than Bush's WMD theory. San Francisco is very deep in the interior line, but the defensive ends need to step up this season. Andre Carter was nowhere to be found last season, and John Engelberger and Brandon Whiting have a recent history of injury problems. If the team is going to be even remotely competitive, they have to get more pressure on the quarterback. But then again, what team around the league isn't saying that?

Andy Lee and Todd Peterson have the easiest of all jobs entering this season. The first punt that Lee hits over 40 yards will be an immense improvement over last season. If the team had Peterson at the beginning of last year, they may have been a playoff team. Owen Pochman anyone?

But don't expect a championship run this season. Make no mistake about it, this team is being built for 2006. So settle in 49er fans, there's a long stretch of road ahead and the ride isn't getting any prettier.
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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