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49ers’ Guard Ray Brown secured but depth remains a question

Apr 7, 2001 at 12:00 AM

One of the few bright spots in the San Francisco roster the position at Guard was strengthened with the restructured contracts of both Offensive Tackles/Guards Ray Brown and Dave Fiore. Both have been major players in the San Francisco running game for many years and continue to prove their value with every passing season.

They have also been vital in the protection of Quarterback Jeff Garcia as they have proven invaluable to holding off bigger and heavier defensive tackles that are typically “earth-mover” types who try to collapse the pocket freeing the linebackers to make tackles.

The 49er offense rushed 416 times for 1,801-yards and 15 touchdowns this past season. That is an average of 4.3-yards per carry, a number that ranked seventh in the NFL.

The 49er’s averaged 112.6-yards per game. At Dallas on (09-24-00), the front line led the way for a 261-yard rushing performance and a 5.6-yard per carry average. The 49er’s led the league in rushing in both 1998 and 1999.

The San Francisco 49er’s were fourth in the NFL in total offense with 6.040-yards during the 2000 season. The 49er’s trailed only St. Louis (7,075), Denver (6,567) and Indianapolis (6,141).

San Francisco scored 388-points and finished tied for sixth in the NFL with a 24.3-points per game average. The 24.3 point average was an improvement of 5.9 points per game from 1999. The 49er’s averaged 18.4-points per game in 1999.

In his 15th year, 49er Guard Ray Brown continues to be a dominant force in the interior of the offensive line. The 6-5 315-pounder started all 16 games at left guard and did not allow a single sack as the offensive line allowed just 25 all season and finished third in the NFL. Brown was selected to be team captain for the final two regular season games.

Ray Brown was signed by the 49er’s as a free agent in 1996. He was originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth round of the 1986 NFL Draft (No. 201) overall. He was then signed by the Washington Redskins in 1989 as a Plan B free agent.

Ray Brown has been a stabilizing fixture on the offensive line for the 49er’s since 1996, his contributions are of high merit as he has played at an exceptional performance level ever since his acquirement.

In 1996 he started all 16 games at left guard, he did not miss one snap in five games. He had a top individual performance against his former team Washington on (11-24-96), limiting defensive tackle Sean Gilbert to three tackles and no sacks. He started at left guard as the 49er’s rushed for a season-high 199-yards against Atlanta on (12-02-96), and helped his team rush for 349-yards and a 5.8-yard average in two games against the Atlanta Falcons. He started both post-season games against Philadelphia (12-29-96) and at Green Bay on (01-04-97).

In 1997 he started in 15 games at left guard, missing just one game with a sprained foot. Helped 49er’s produced season-high 219-yards rushing at Carolina on (09-29-97). He then suffered a left foot injury at Atlanta on (10-19-97), missing the next game scheduled.

He started both post-season games against Minnesota on (01-03-98) and Green Bay on (01-11-98). He was instrumental in assisting his team to rush for 175-yards in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against Minnesota.

In 1998 he started all 16 games at left guard for the NFL’s number one ranked rushing team. In the season opener against the New York Jets on (09-06-98) he was the lead block on trap play that opened a hole for Running Back Garrison Hearst’s 96-yard touchdown run in overtime win against the Jets.

Started at guard at Washington Redskins on (09-14-98) and limited Defensive Tackle Dana Stubblefield to one tackle as 49er’s rushed for 210-yards in a 45-10 victory. He was then named Breath Right Offensive Lineman-of-the-Week for this performance.

Also started at guard as the 49er’s set a team-record 328-yards rushing against Detroit on (12-14-98). Also began in post-season games against Green Bay on (01-03-99) in NFC Wild Card Game, helping Hearst rush for 128-yards in that victory. Also started at Atlanta on (01-09-99) in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game.

In 1999 San Francisco entered this season in it’s very first rebuilding effort Ray Brown started at left guard in Weeks 1-7, 10-12 and 14-17. On (12-05-99) He helped the offense produce season-high 542-total yards, including 437 passing and no sacks against the Bengals. He saw no post-season play as the 49er’s went 4-12.

In 2000 Guard Ray Brown was as solid as a concrete wall as he was never beaten for a sack as the veteran of the interior of the offensive line, he did suffer some nagging knee injuries towards the middle of the season. On (11-16-00) The 49er’s signed reserve offensive guard Tyronne Hopson from their practice squad to take his place just in case.

Many believed including Head Coach Steve Mariucci that Ray Brown should have been considered and voted into the Pro Bowl this past season, the disappointment throughout the franchise was very apparent when his name was not seriously recognized. Brown played with intensity and enthusiasm throughout 2000 and was a vocal leader on and off the field.

Ray Brown came out of Arkansas State College he was a player in All-Southland Conference selection from that college. He was the first player in conference history to be named first-team all-conference at two different positions in the same season (OL and TE); He was a 237-pound tight end in wishbone. And he began his collegiate career at Memphis State, before transferring to Arkansas State.

When 2001 rolled into perspective the mood in the 49er front office and throughout the fan-based world was the fact that San Francisco again faced grave salary cap constraints that had to be addressed. Veteran Ray Brown was looked at as a prime candidate to be cut in order to save money on the cap and his age weighed heavily against him.

But Brown was far from giving up a fight to return again to his familiar position; he restructured his contract in February a figure that saves the team $1.4 million on the salary cap. Brown was keenly aware that his future was in jeopardy without such a deal happening.

“That’s the situation teams are faced with when they’re paying so much money for guys who aren’t even on the team,” Brown said. “I really thought it was going to be a push, but I understood that. I wasn’t offended by it. My biggest thing, was that I was respected throughout the process, and that happened.”

Brown was originally scheduled to earn $2.25 million in base salary. Although his agent Steve Baker declined to reveal specifics of Brown’s contract, it is believed that Brown and the 49er’s agreed to a straight restructure with no pay cut involved.

“I was fortunate because I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with (general manager) Bill Walsh and I appreciated his honesty and integrity. There was a possibility I wasn't going to play for the 49er’s, but I really wanted to play here.”

Brown for all intents and purposes at 38-years old has been the most productive player the team has ever acquired during the era of free agency. “Ray understands the business,” Baker said. “Ray is still playing at a high level, and you never like to read in the papers that you’re a potential cap casualty. But at the same time, Ray is one player who understands the system.”

Brown became a cost cutting candidate, as a frontline starter whose job was jeopardized because of the 49er’s salary cap quagmire. We began the off-season approximately $15 million over the league’s $67.4 million salary cap.

Off-the field Brown is active in the community. He taught a class of San Jose high school students during “Teach for America Week,” Brown also has his own show on the 49er flagship radio station, KGO.

Ray Brown was asked some candid questions by 49er Insider here are some of those:

1. How has the game changed over the years? Guys now come out of college exposed to professional athletics. They’re ready for it. When I came in, I didn’t know what to expect.

2. You haven’t missed a start since 1993. What do you think is the key to consistency and longevity in the NFL? If you’re healthy. You have a chance of contributing. Also conditioning and being productive in the weight room is key.

3. What are three words that describe your playing style? Intelligent, aggressive and physical.

4. What do you do to prepare yourself for a game? Film study, I like to have at least three good physical workouts during the week, but really film study and getting it done in practice. I’m a big believer that if you don’t get it done in practice, you probably won’t be successful in a game.

5. What’s your greatest football moment? I haven’t had it yet. That’s my biggest motivator. I’m still trying to get there, trying to do something, trying to become a better football player. The fact I haven’t had that moment makes me motivated to get it.

The fact we have Ray Brown back at left guard is a testament to our knowledge as a team that this is an individual that is hell bent on making further accomplishments, and is not afraid of making personnel sacrifices.

I believe we are so blessed to have him back on the offensive line this coming season, from a leadership standpoint and a veteran presence as well. Brown will continue to uphold the honored traditions and principles of the old 49er regime, we can all be thankful for that.

On the other side of Ray Brown there was right guard Dave Fiore he was signed by the 49er’s as a free agent in 1998. But was originally signed by the franchise as an un-drafted free agent in 1996. He stands 6-4 and weighs 288-pounds he is a graduate of Hofstra University.

In 1996 he was on the New York Jets active roster for final nine weeks of the season but did not play; he spent his first seven weeks with the 49er’s before being released.

In 1997 he was signed by the 49er’s on (08-01-97) after being waived/injured by New York Jets. Placed on Injured Reserve (08-19-97) with left knee injury suffered in Jets camp.

In 1998 he played in nine games and made three starts at left tackle. He opened the season as starting left tackle until he injured his right knee in fourth quarter against Atlanta on (09-27-98). He was inactive in Weeks 5-11 following right knee surgery to repair MCL and patella injuries. He returned to substitute for left tackle Derrick Deese and rotate with him. He substituted for Deese in NFC Wild Card Game against Green Bay on (01-03-99) and NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Atlanta on (01-09-99).

It was in this year that Fiore was feared to have been in a career-ending injury when he was injured when he was caught in a pileup while pass blocking in the fourth quarter of a 31-20 victory over Atlanta. He dislocated his right kneecap and tore his medial collateral ligament. An exam later revealed his anterior cruciate ligament was intact and he was able to make a full recovery after six weeks.

In 1999 he started at left tackle in Weeks 1-7 and 10-12. He helped contribute to the season-high 542-yards against the Bengals on (12-05-99). He again started at left tackle in Weeks 14-17. This again was our very first rebuilding year in which we went 4-12 as a team.

In college Fiore was a four-year starter at Hofstra and unanimous All-America choice as a senior. He played both center and guard as freshman in 1992 before making switch to tackle as sophomore. He helped the Flying Dutchmen compile an 18-3-1 mark and reach NCAA 1-AA playoffs in final two seasons.

In making the seamless transition from tackle to guard in 2000, the 49er’s added $800,000 in savings against the cap by awarding Fiore with a new three-year $6.6 million contract. The deal, which has been struck is simply awaiting his signature, it includes a signing bonus of $1.3 million.

Dave Fiore continues to be a valuable offensive lineman. However one has to be concerned with his health and durability, hopefully the knee is healthy enough for many more years down the road. He plays with tenacity and fearlessness; he anchors one side of the line and has been reason enough to remain one of our premier linemen.

Behind San Francisco’s starting guards are some questions to be answered, Who is ready to be the replacement for veteran Ray Brown? It will certainly be a concern heading into 2002 as his age will be a factor to some degree.

Even though Brown is the centerpiece of this guard contingent it will be paramount to search for his successor very soon, Brown’s skills and abilities remain at a high level now even after 15 seasons as he has been a force to reckon with both on and off the field.

Waiting for a starting assignment at guard is Phil Ostrowski who is a restricted free agent this year on the 49er roster and as of yet has had no qualifying tender offered him up till now.

Guard Phil Ostrowski stands 6-4 and weighs 291-pounds, he was drafted by the 49er’s in the 1998 NFL Draft in the fifth round (No. 151 overall). He has been a solid back-up guard in many a situation where injuries would plague the team. Ostrowski was drafted right after defensive back Lance Schulters and right before fullback Fred Beasley in the 1998 draft.

In 1998 he remained inactive throughout the rookie season, and in 1999 he played special teams and substituted at right guard for Jeremy Newberry who moved to replace Derrick Deese because of a left knee sprain. In 2000 he was again available throughout 13 games and saw special team’s action.

In college out of Penn State he made First-Team All Big Ten as a senior. He was offensive line co-MVP and started every game for his team that averaged 422.5-yards of total offense. He participated in 704 plays from scrimmage, and started all 12 games as a junior, alternating between right and left guard. Team averaged 203.3 rushing yards per game. Participated in 53 total plays as a sophomore and played in four games as a red-shirt freshman. He majored in elementary education.

Ostrowski is a very competitive and intelligent player and puts himself in good position to make plays. He is very fundamentally sound and a good overall technician. He is actually decent in space and shows some mirror and slide on pass progressions and does a decent job hitting a moving target down field. There are some concerns as to his blocking from an angle standpoint and being a bit undersized. He is not big enough to be a mauler or a brawler from a strength perspective he can be pushed around by bigger and stronger defensive tackles.

Although he is a smart player he needs to be concerned about his overall strength and size when compared to his opposition, he has bulked up from his draft day back in 1998 and he has won back some strength categories. However is he ready to be a legitimate starter should either Fiore or Brown go down long term?

Tyrone Hopson is another reserve guard who sparing played last season for a bit after Center Chris Dalman went down for the season, and Ray Brown had some knee soreness towards the middle of the season. Hopson was a player on the 49er practice squad before and was elevated because of these occurrences.

He is an aggressive and versatile lineman, who has played both tackle and guard, He plays with a nasty streak and plays with good balance and footwork. He displays range and ability to pull and was a three-year starter in college.

Hopson comes from Eastern Kentucky College he stands 6-2 and weighs 305-pounds he earned first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors at left tackle. Averaged 10 knockdown blocks per game and graded at 90% blocking efficiency.

He registered a season-high 18 knockdown blocks against Kentucky State, helped offense amass 482-yards against Western Kentucky, collected 14 knockdowns and helped offense produce 479-yards against Southeast Missouri.

The need to draft a guard in this draft is not pressing but one has to be concerned that veteran Ray Brown does not have the comfort of time. Center Jeremy Newberry could move back to guard and back-up Ben Lynch could resume the center duties.

Or Phil Ostrowski could be the real deal and have his opportunity to prove himself as a legitimate starter and a guard considered for drafting next season. However the scenario I feel comfortable with our reserves but I have some reservations to Ostrowski’s conditioning and strength hopefully those will be eased with his constant improvement on the field.

What scouts are looking for in a guard.

The NFL average for a starting offensive guard is a height of 6-4 and a weight of 300-pounds with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.15. The minimum is a height of 6-2 and a weight of 280-pounds with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.40.

Some time ago, many NFL teams expected their guards to be able to trap, pull and angle block. Many teams used the West Coast offense that featured short passes and three-step drops, and because the quarterback gets the ball off in a hurry in that type of offense, big, physical pass-blocking guards were not required.

Just recently though, many teams have gone to a 4-3 defense that is anchored by two massive tackles lined up over the guards. Those defensive tackles usually weigh 300-pounds or more, are explosive and quick and often good penetrators. As a result of this guards blocking them have had to change physically.

In order to match-up with them, teams began to look for bigger, stronger players and in the process have sacrificed some pulling and trapping ability in the process. San Francisco

Has consistently used the above philosophy of having our offensive line a little lighter in order to be able to pull and trap.

General Manager Bill Walsh is changing his mind on this doctrine, as he believes we should look at bulking up to match-up against this new era of massive defensive tackles. We could very well look at the immediate future in this reversal.

Today guards must have enough quickness to cut off the defensive tackle and still be able to block and help out in pass protection. A huge misconception about offensive linemen is that as long as a player is big, he can be a bad athlete and still play guard.

There are a lot of big, bulky guys playing in the NFL today, but professional franchises not only want big guys, and they want them with intelligence and athletic abilities also.

Top NFL Draft Guard Prospects.

Michigan’s Steve Hutchinson he stands 6-4 and weighs 305-pounds with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.20, he is the top rated Guard in the upcoming NFL Draft. He is expected to go in the first round, he has been compared to Denver Bronco’s Guard Mike Sclereth.

Run Blocking: Very physical, feisty run blocker with good strength at the point of attack. Gets good explosion off the snap and shows tremendous initial pop. He will sustain his blocks with good leg drive. He moves well, and he can pull and trap.

Pass Blocking: He does a lot of technical things correctly to get by in pass protection, but he does lack some skills. He has lower-body strength to anchor and uses his hands to create positioning. He can shuffle and slide but has been known to struggle if left on the edge.

Initial quickness: He fires out of his stance very well. He possesses both burst and explosion from his stance and usually gets a lead up on the defender by beating him to the spot.

Strength: He is not a mauler but has more than enough strength to be dominant in the NFL. He will use all means necessary to fulfill the job.

Mobility: He does not have great straight-line speed. He is quicker than he is fast. He will work to get down field and is mobile enough to get in a position as a pulling guard.

Bottom line: Hutchinson was as consistent as any interior blocker in the past decade at the college level as a guard was. He has tremendous knowledge of the craft. He is certain to be gone in the first round.

Washington’s Chad Ward is the next premier guard in this season’s draft; he stands 6-4 and weighs 339-pounds with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.09. He has been compared to Buffalo Bills Guard Ruben Brown. He is projected to be a second round pick.

Run Blocking: He is massive, thick run blocker with great power and leverage in the running game. He has the ability to push people around with his explosive strength.

Pass Blocking: He has a weakness in this area. He does show good footwork and can block on the move, but he does have trouble with speed rushes when forced to block one-on-one. Quick defensive tackles will play him.

Initial quickness: He has exceptional quickness, especially out of his stance. His ability to take good angles makes up for his lack of agility.

Strength: He is one of the best prospects in the entire draft. Can win most battles just on his strength alone.

Mobility: He has surprising straight-line speed. Can get around well just needs to work on his agility. Mostly in the pass protection category.

Bottom line: Is a top draft prospect mainly because of his power, strength and explosiveness in the running game. He has played right tackle but is clearly better at guard.

Kentucky’s Omar Smith is another premier guard to be considered. He stands 6-2 and weighs 291-pounds, with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.10. He has been compared to Kansas City Chief Will Shields. He is projected as a third rounder.

Strengths: He has outstanding athletic ability, he uses his quick feet to get in good position. An explosive blocker with great strength and burst out of his stance. He is strong and tough enough to hold up against bull rushes. He rarely gets beat by speed rushers.

Weaknesses: He needs to add some more bulk and lower-body strength to be better in the running game. Has been seen playing with inadequate leverage.

Bottom line: Smith has improved tremendously at right tackle over the past two seasons. But the feeling in NFL circles is that he is better suited for the guard position. This is where his mobility and versatility would be better served.

The San Francisco 49er’s will be looking at this position very shortly; we have to be contented with the starting lineup as it is now. Ray Brown and Dave Fiore has been a solid tandem in this position especially in the 2000 season.

We will need them to be again for 2001 if not more when factoring in the running game, for we will be without a veteran premier running back in the likes of Charlie Garner. We are looking at drafting a top running back via the draft due to cap restraints.

Having a solid tandem in this position will be critical to the overall transition and success of our running game and at the same time protecting Quarterback Jeff Garcia within the passing game. The Guard is another position that is lost in the back of our minds, however it is suddenly important when the offensive line disintegrates in productivity and consistency.
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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