49ers have crisis at center with Dalman gone

Sep 21, 2000 at 12:00 AM


Buried under a pile of his own teammates during training camp, Seven-year veteran Center Chris Dalman suffered a herniated disk in his neck between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, Sandwiched between players while pulling from his center’s position on a running play.

Dalman in excruciating pain was caught between defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, tackle Scott Gragg and another player when he dropped to the ground and immediately lost feeling in his arms.

Certainly this had to be the most horrific experience he has ever had to endure in his entire career on the playing field. Dalman has been very instrumental in establishing a strong presence as the centerpiece of the offensive line and his experience at reading defenses and blitz packages have been invaluable to the team, along with his expertise of pulling the line to establish running lanes that have created countless first down plays and crucial yardage.

Numbness abated after 30 seconds, but a MRI revealed the disk damage. This is Dalman’s second injury to his neck. He underwent a fusion of his third and fourth vertebrae as a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford.

With the accumulation of these injuries Dalman’s herniated disk is prompting doctors to recommend he retire. This is another distressing and frustrating blow to a franchise in the beginning of a rebuilding situation in critical need of retaining quality veteran leadership to help transform rookies into quality playmakers.

“He’s going through a period here where he’s getting second, third and fourth opinions,” Mariucci said. “Chris and I talk every day, He’s going to do the smart thing before he even thinks about getting on the field.”

Center Chris Dalman will be sorely missed entering the 2000-rebuilding phase of The San Francisco 49er’s. Dalman was drafted out of Stanford in the sixth round of the 1993 NFL Draft, He has played consistently for the 49er’s for seven straight years gradually replacing the great 49er Center Jesse Sapolu, and was often a substitute for injured players at the guard position.

In 1996 Dalman became a full time starter, and he started as a right guard. He led all offensive players with 1,019 snaps, Joined Jesse Sapolu (1,000) as the only offensive players to take at least 1,000 snaps.

In 1997 Dalman became a full-time center at this time the 49er’s allowed 4.7 sacks per game with Dalman out of the starting lineup and 2.3 with him opening at center. In 1998 he anchored the offensive line that led the NFL in rushing with TEAM RECORD 2,544 yards.

In 1999 he played aggressively but had some knee soreness and in one game with Atlanta left the game in second half due to irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath. Dalman stands 6-3 and weighs 292 pounds.

In comes Mariucci’s California Center Jeremy Newberry 6-5 and 315 pounds he was drafted in second round in 1998, and was placed on Reserve/PUP list suffering a torn ACL in off-season mini-camp.

In 1999 he has started as both a right tackle protecting the quarterback’s blind side with limited results and switched to right guard, now he is faced with acquiring his old position back from college with Dalman out for the season and a possible decision to retire come 2001.

Center Jeremy Newberry was highly sought after by 49er Head Coach Steve Mariucci, ultimately being drafted with his recommendation. His experience coaching Newberry proved a valuable tool in his fast development here professionally.

Newberry’s bulk and frame will be a welcomed addition at center where he will be able to lend his frame to pulling and shifting the line with relative ease, however even with his college experience he will need to learn quickly in the trenches with play calling and identifying defensive packages and blitzes NFL style.

Newberry seems like a more then adequate replacement for Chris Dalman, I believe he will be an asset to the running game as a whole, This will be a great opportunity for him to contribute to the line with the bulk of his experience being the center position.

In college he started 11 games and recorded 93 percent blocking consistency grade, highest by any California lineman in 1990’s, as junior, Second-team All-Pac 10 selection, Recorded 113 knockdowns, 29 downfield blocks and allowed just one sack in 801 plays from scrimmage.

Newberry even has wrestling experience rated top five heavyweight wrestlers in California as a senior, thereby improving a bulk that will be a helpful addition to the overall offensive line.

Another setback happened when in the last pre-season exhibition game with the Denver Bronco’s back-up Center Ben Lynch sustained a dislocated left shoulder in the third quarter, He is expected to be out of action one to three weeks.

With Lynch out, that leaves only Guard Phil Ostrowski and Tackle Dwayne Ledford two players who’ve never played center, as backups behind Jeremy Newberry.

Center Ben Lynch was a seventh round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1996 he is 6-3 and weighs 291 pounds, He was signed by the 49er’s as a free agent (5-4-99). He was the first selection by Frankfurt Galaxy in 1998 NFL Europe Draft. Played in World Bowl and earned All-NFL Europe honors as center with Galaxy.

Center Ben Lynch was the back up behind Dalman last season. And Dalman’s injury coincided with Lynch being sidelined with mononucleosis, which kept him out of more than a week of practice.

Newberry was switched from right guard to center and Lynch returned to a back-up position.

And it gets better on August 31st; Center Jeremy Newberry sustained an injured right hand during practice. He remained on the field for a couple more plays before Coach Steve Mariucci sent him to the locker room to ice the hand.

Luckily Newberry had an X-ray that proved inconclusive. No breaks were revealed, which gives the 49er’s hope that they will be able to play an experienced center going into the regular season, which Newberry already has done effectively.

Guard/Tackle Dwayne Ledford is the emergency backup of all backups, as four players in front of him would have to be unavailable. Ledford’s experience at center consists solely of a couple quarters during the recently concluded exhibition season.

Ledford was signed by the 49er’s as a undrafted free agent (4-23-99), He is from East Carolina College and is 6-3 and 295 pounds, he is very raw and in need of more practice and detailed development.

Certainly injuries are to be expected but all at the same position have been very disheartening as the possible retirement of veteran Chris Dalman was enough to contend with others seemed to follow his path of self-destruction.

It will be critical for Newberry to adjust and become more familiar with the NFL system and its rapid movement and identifying defensive line rotations, movements and possible blitz packages to read all at the same time and more.

I believe Newberry has that ability and a talent to be fine-tuned come mid-season, He however must stay healthy as to solidify and give the 49er offensive line a stable presence in front of Quarterback Jeff Garcia.

Center Ben Lynch will be ready in a few weeks let us just hope it does not ever have to come down to his entrance, He is a quality backup however Newberry needs this year to fully anchor that position for the long haul.

This kind of injury is the kind that can decimate, maim and destroy a teams season in a instant, depth at these positions are critical to curtail and continue a smooth transition to positive replacement and stability.

Certainly the 49er’s have many undermanned positions and depth questions, even sometimes going out on a limb in some instances hoping to avoid the injury bug that all NFL teams fear so much.

We have reason for concern about this, the salary cap this year has damaged that area of depth to a resounding degree that we have had to take one too many gambles on quality positions, and at the same time protect key players from being abducted to other teams.

Center Chris Dalman is a focal point of the San Francisco 49er’s his presence will be sorely missed and his veteran presence and leadership are area’s that only come from game experience and years of hard work and sweat. I have the highest regard and respect for this man and athlete and pray he too will find a medical answer to his perplexing decision come next year.

Center Jeremy Newberry and backup Center Ben Lynch will tow the line so to speak and pick up valuable game experience along the way, It is their playmaking and motivation to excel that will help a potent offensive line become even better then what it was last year.

Scoring quickly and often should be a primary goal of the 49er offensive line, keeping a young and energetic defense off the field to rest will be critical to our prolonged success.

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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