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San Francisco secures Bryant Young but remain weak at defensive tackle

Mar 9, 2001 at 12:00 AM

San Francisco faces some unknown scenarios, as their own status at defensive tackle is in question along with many other teams in the NFL. The position has generally been one of strength over the years for this franchise but with injury and free agency it is now in a dangerous position.

The defense of San Francisco was held accountable as the main barrier to our win loss record of the year 2000. Starting as many as five defensive rookies at a time will certainly take its toll over the course of a season. However we cannot hold our heads low because all the rookies that played obtained the most valuable asset of them all game experience.

At the defensive tackle position we anchored it with two premier veterans Brentson Buckner and All-Pro Bryant Young.

Of all the players in the defensive unit I felt these two played with the most durability and consistency they are both a testament to the sheer courage of playing up against all odds as we headed into the season with so many rookies.

Brentson Buckner accumulated seven sacks over the 2000 season his most productive season as a 49er, he also started every game and was benefited by playing along side Bryant Young.

Buckner is an unrestricted free agent and the likelihood of him playing elsewhere is a distinct possibility. The 49er front office understands the need to try and resign him, as he was a lethal force in stuffing not only the run but also creating pressures on the passer in conjunction with Bryant Young.

Buckner stands 6-2 and weighs 305 pounds and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of 1994 out of Clemson. He signed as a free agent with the 49er’s on (05-26-98) after being shopped around to various clubs such as Kansas City and Cincinnati.

Buckner’s combination of size, strength and quickness make him an excellent run defender and a tenacious inside pass rusher. He has played both defensive end and defensive tackle during his NFL career. To not make a serious bid to keep his services will severely weaken a defensive line with already serious depth concerns.

Buckner has been a 49er for three consecutive years, unfortunately signing one-year contracts each time it is time to sign him long-term. Flirting with proven consistency especially after this season could prove costly.

Buckner was signed again in 2000 during training camp and earned himself a starting position after a solid pre-season. The seven-year veteran established career-highs with 61-tackles and seven sacks. He also had 13 quarterback pressures and four passes deflected.

Both Bryant Young and Brentson Buckner formed a concrete inside presence for the 49er defense. The duo combined for 112 tackles and 16 sacks on the season. That breaks down to 12.5% of the 49er’s tackles and 43% of the sacks for the year. Add defensive tackle Cedric Killings to the mix and this trio combined for 51.3% of the 49er’s 37 sacks.

So as you can see retaining Buckner’s services to me makes complete reasonable sense even if it means cutting other deadbeat players such as sought after Reggie McGrew. Who has been nothing but a disappointment since being drafted by the 49er’s in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft out of Florida? McGrew stands 6-1 and weighs 301 pounds he was a strong powerful defensive tackle and was known as a dominant run stopper back in Florida. He plays with quickness, balance and intensity. He was a three-year starter for Florida at defensive tackle.

Ever since 1999 as a 49er he has been benched with repeated injuries the first is a triceps tendon tear in pre-season of 1999. The 49er brass had very high expectations of this athlete and he has been a bust ever since draft day was completed. Maybe not all is his fault but his durability has been soundly destroyed with these game absences.

I can remember having heavenly hope when we drafted McGrew back in 1999 just as General Manager Bill Walsh was coming back unto the scene in San Francisco, but I as well as the franchise soon found out that his physical health would haunt us from day one.

If there ever was a player to consider waiving it would be McGrew unfortunately, especially if it is to create room to acquire our own free agents in Brentson Buckner and offensive tackle Scott Gragg. To hold out hope that McGrew can come off of repeated ailing injuries and be a productive and durable player in my view is a long shot at this point.

Then there is a un-drafted free agent whom came in and was a worthy contender at depth all season and that is defensive tackle number #71 Cedric Killings out of Carson-Newman, he stands 6-2 and weighs 290 pounds.

In one season as a 49er playing in a back-up role and as a player in depth he recorded three sacks as a rookie. I was soundly impressed with his tackling abilities and his speed in chasing down running backs and quarterbacks. For an un-drafted free agent he resembles the same first time abilities as Junior Bryant.

He is a Four-Time All-America; started all 54 games he played in college, totaled 320-tackles, 19 sacks, eight quarterback pressures, one interception, 11 passes deflected, five fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in his four-year career. This in my view is very impressive and warrants Killings being kept long-term.

Another un-drafted free agent was signed on (10-11-00) and that is Nate Hobgood-Chittick who was originally a member of World Champion St Louis Rams; he is a rugged hard-nosed player that has a very physical presence on the defensive line.

Signing him after being waived by the Rams, he played one season with the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts in 1998.

He stands 6-3 and weighs 290 pounds and was signed by the Giants as a college free agent out of North Carolina where he was a four-year letterman, primarily a defensive tackle back-up. Just recently on Feb 28th the 49er’s made tender offers to several restricted free agents the most visible being Safety Lance Schulters.

Chittick was also a member of that restricted free agent class and he was not given a tender at all thus making him eligible to pursue other teams but the 49er’s still have an option of tendering him by the deadline which is April 16th. Dan Dercher another free agent tackle was just released after refusing to participate in NFL Europe after getting his assignment by the 49er front office. Dercher has since announced retirement from professional football.

Another defensive tackle that was with the 49er’s in 2000 as part of the training camp roster is Daniel Greer; he saw limited action in the 2000 pre-season action. Greer, a Salinas, California native, who attended the University of Arizona, finished with two tackles. He has been assigned to NFL Europe to acquire more experience.

In a smart move to reduce the salary cap figure the 49er’s also restructured the contract of six-year veteran defensive end/tackle Junior Bryant who is still in question as to playing again in the NFL after his injury early in the season.

Junior has been and still is one of the 49er’s best overall defensive lineman, He missed most of 2000 with a severe neck injury sustained in a Sept. 17th loss to St. Louis Rams. The injury was later diagnosed as a bulging disk and Bryant, active only three games, was placed on injured reserve.

In the restructuring Junior signed a seven-year deal that runs right straight through to the year 2007, and the restructuring produced 41.35 million in cap savings for the 49er’s. Junior missed 13 games after suffering an acute disk bulge when he crashed headfirst on the artificial turf while making a tackle Sept. 17th on running back Marshall Faulk in St. Louis. I can still remember the agony and the silence as he lay there and I observed that day. The scene was similar in contrast to the leg break Bryant Young suffered which I also witnessed.

Under terms of the reworked contract Bryant’s base salary of $1.5 million will be reduced to a minimum of $477,000. But that money, plus a $500,000 roster bonus due in March, have been guaranteed by the club. Junior stands 6-4 and weighs 278 pounds and comes out of Notre Dame. He was signed by the 49er’s as an un-drafted free agent in 1993.

In his six seasons as a 49er he has started 43 games and registered 13.5 sacks.

The 49er’s are hopeful that he will be able to resume in 2001, but his neck injury has not healed despite months of therapy and rest. Doctors have ruled out surgery because of a congenital condition that left Bryant’s spine narrower than most. There is a chance of improvement over time, and team officials expect to know more by summer training camp.

I guess the real question lies what do we do should he not be able to resume his career with us? Certainly this alone must have the front office thinking of drafting a defensive lineman in case.

The mainstay and elite of this group of talented athletes is headed by All-Pro defensive tackle Bryant Young whom is one of the best in the NFL today. Young is a seven-year veteran with San Francisco he stands 6-2 and weighs 215 pounds of pure muscle.

He was drafted in the first round by the 49er’s in 1994 out of Notre Dame he has been all that and more ever since he stepped on to the field.

Bryant Young received the 2000 Len Eshmont Award, as the 49er’s most inspirational and courageous player in a vote by his teammates. It is the third consecutive season and fourth time in five years that Young has been so honored. He is the only four-time winner in team history.

The Eshmont award, the 49er’s most prestigious annual honor, is given to the player who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49er’s team. Eshmont, who coached at Navy and Virginia following his career in San Francisco, died in 1957. The award was established that year.

Bryant Young finished 2000 with 51 tackles and team-high 9.5 sacks. Young started 15-of-16 games this season, missing just the Panthers on (10-22) with a severe rib injury. He played the remainder of the season with a special pad, created to protect his damaged ribs. He played with excruciating pain and in my eyes is the toughest tackle in football today.

He was back to his old form against the Saints on (11-5), posting a career high 10 tackles, including two sacks. The seven-year veteran ranks fifth in team history with 57.5 career sacks, most ever by a 49er’s defensive tackle. The San Francisco front office felt compelled to award his services with a new contract this year knowing he would be a free agent after 2001.

The 49er’s signed Bryant Young to one of the richest contracts in team history and extended it to keep him around for six more years. Young signed a six-year, $37.5 million contract extension, including a $12.5 million signing bonus that Bill Walsh called probably the largest in team history.

“It’s a scary thing to think about not having a guy like Bryant Young; when over the last few years we’ve been losing our leaders (to the cap),” Mariucci said. “To not have that guy with us, that may have been disastrous from a confidence level.”

In this kind of a deal other deals are unfortunately compromised especially in signing our very own free agents such as Brentson Buckner and Scott Gragg whom I believe are critical to our overall health as a team. I do approve of Young’s extension but the timing is in question when you have such limited resources to resign pivotal players.

Do the 49er’s look at a defensive tackle in this years 2001 NFL Draft I believe they have to having questions with Reggie McGrew and the health of Junior Bryant along with the possibility that Brentson Buckner is acquired by another team.

What scouts look for in a defensive tackle

The NFL averages for defensive tackles are 6-3 in height and 295 pounds with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.00. The minimum is 6-0 in height, 275 in weight and a 40-yard dash speed of 5.20.

The position has changed quite a bit over the years, with 27 teams playing the 4-3 defense today’s game usually features a pair of big, massive defensive tackles who line up over the guards and are asked to stuff the run.

But not is all perfect in this world as you would like one these tackles to be a “two-gap” type run stuffer and the other to be a quick at inside penetration. Quickness is vital at this position, and many tackles are very successful pass rushers because they play one-gap techniques and can put inside pressure on the quarterback.

The tackles are asked to do a lot on the front line, they are the very first line of defense against an opposing offense, they must be tough enough to mix it up inside and stack and control the line of scrimmage. This is where quickness and explosion become very important.

In a 3-4 defense, the lone tackle becomes a nose tackle and usually lines up over the center. The qualities are the same, but he is usually a two-gap type run stuffer who can jam the inside and free the inside linebacker to make plays.

All in all Bryant Young and Brentson Buckner in my opinion are two of the best in the business as they have had a stellar 2000 season, for one to be missing could spell catastrophe.

Top 2001 draft prospects

Georgia’s Richard Seymour is ranked at the top of the class and likely will go in the first round of this draft, San Francisco probably will not consider a tackle this early with more pressing needs at linebacker and end.

Seymour stands 6-6 and weighs 299 pounds; he has a recorded speed of 4.90 in the 40. He has been compared to with none other than Bryant Young himself of the 49er’s.

Versus the run: Is big and strong, and is active against the run. He relentless in hustling and chasing the ball. He sometimes fails to get low and cannot get good leverage on blockers, but he is showing signs of improvement.

Pass rush: He can play either inside or outside as a rusher. He has good up-field speed and has developed some nice moves. Has tremendous quick first step after the snap and he uses his hands to manipulate blockers. He can bull rush and collapse the pocket. However he is just as effective in the way he uses a swim move to forward his way to the quarterback.

Initial quickness: This is a proven trait. Has great instincts and a feel for the snap count. Has a great burst off the snap, and establishes awesome initial power. Must get better initial leverage though; he tends to get too straight up out of his stance.

Run/pass recognition: This to is above average. He has a good feel for the position; he can get up field and rush the passer or even dominant at the line of scrimmage. Rarely does he get fooled by the draw or screen, and he has enough closing speed to recover from false steps.

Pursuit/tackling: He is the most athletic and active tackle in the draft. He is mobile and quick, light on his feet and a wrap-up tackler. He uses his quickness to get through traffic, and shows great hands in shedding blockers.

Bottom line: Seymour is the elite of the tackle class in this draft he is gifted and talented and will provide a real benefit to anyone whom drafts him. He will be able to start right away and make instant waves. He can do it all; rush the passer, stuff the run and make plays on the move. He still needs a great coach, but his work ethic and learning ability set him apart from the rest of the pack.

Florida’s Gerard Warren is another potential first rounder/ second rounder as long as his effort does not come into question. Warren stands 6-4 and weighs 325 pounds and has a speed of 5.05 in the 40. He has been compared to Warren Sapp of the Tamp Bay Buccaneers.

Versus the run: He is active and massive at the same time and really takes up space, he has incredible size and strength and knows how to hold up and or shed blockers. Could very well play in a two-gap scheme, but would be better suited as an up-field guy because of his quick first step. He will be a dominating force against the run almost instantly.

Pass rush: Has quick first step and good lateral movement. He does use his hands well and has good leverage. He has more quickness than he does speed, does a great job of shooting the gap. Shows some nice moves, and always makes a consistent surge every time he rushes the passer.

Initial quickness: Has a formidable burst out of his stance. He beats a lot of offensive linemen with his quick first step; he comes out low and rarely gets beat to the gap.

Run/pass recognition: This is where he needs some improvement. He is overly aggressive as both a run defender and a pass rusher; he sometimes has a hard time deciphering between the two. He will sometimes run himself out of plays or allow himself to be taken out of plays because his recognition skills are not polished.

Pursuit/tackling: He moves well, and never stops chasing the ball. He is really faster than his 40-yard dash time indicates, and is a sure tackler with some explosion should he catch the ball carrier.

Bottom line: Warren does have everything scouts are looking for physically. However his true effort is under scrutiny all the time. He will be a first rounder only on ability and potential should he be taken. He must provide some consistency in order to survive as a pro.

Texas defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers is a concrete wall of a tackle he stands 6-4 and weighs a staggering 320 pounds he has a speed of 5.25 in the 40. He has been compared to Tony Siragusa of the Baltimore Ravens. San Francisco could take him as long as he falls out of the first round and that is not likely even if he does have some weight problems.

Versus the run: When he is in shape, he is as disruptive as any tackle. He has a tremendous combination of size and quickness; he is massive and knows how to clog gaps. Few players have the potential but he could play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense due to his sheer size lining up as a nose tackle.

Pass rush: He is not going to win any battles with speed or a quick first step, but he can fire out of his stance, and collapses the pocket very well. He is very tough to block in one-on-one situations he will command a lot of double-team. That will in hand free up someone else to rush the passer.

Initial quickness: Does not have great quickness, but fires out low and uses excellent lower-body strength to push back offensive linemen. He will not beat you off the line, but he will come right at you. He has shown a history of slowing down as the game progresses.

Run/pass recognition: Does have a great feel for the game, but his technique rarely changes. If recognizing pass, he will stand straight up and close down passing lanes. He is not much of a pass rusher as he is a bull rusher.

Pursuit/tackling: This here does not matter a whole lot. He is always working to get up field. Rarely will change direction and chase somebody down from the backside. He is a solid tackler and he will punish ball carriers if he gets a good shot.

Bottom line: Rogers is a talented defensive lineman, he is a monster inside with great strength at the point of attack. He is also an underachiever who doesn’t always play hard enough or stay in top condition, he is not a great pass rusher either, and stuffing the run is his mainstay.

San Francisco will have to look long and hard at a potential candidate for this position, we will in all essence draft one in the mid to later rounds based on our current needs. I cannot say enough as to the importance of signing Brentson Buckner to once again be the menacing duo beside Bryant Young.

Reggie McGrew is almost a rookie all over again as his talent and abilities are yet to come to the surface due to the nagging injury bug. Junior Bryant is another injury that could almost be career ending should his neck not heal at 100%. No one wants to imagine this as it is a pretty dark picture, but we must be prepared in the same fashion as we are at the running back scenario should Garrison Hearst not come back at 100%.
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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