Offensive Tackle position rewarded with Gragg resigning

Apr 14, 2001 at 12:00 AM

One-year starter offensive tackle Scott Gragg was finally signed on April 4th, 2001 to a six-year contract worth $17 million, after a long ordeal of fiscal maneuvering that had the 49er front office scrambling to find a solution to bring finality to the offensive line.

Offensive Tackle Scott Gragg started all 16 games for the 49er’s at right tackle last season and was part of the line that combined to allow the third-fewest sacks in the league and helped clear the way for 1,000-yard rusher Charlie Garner.

In my own opinion Gragg demonstrated true athleticism, integrity and immense intensity throughout the season, as he anchored the offensive line and played with extraordinary passion and internal fortitude at times in great pain.

Gragg won the admiration of coaches and the respect of teammates when he played the season finale at Denver despite partially torn knee ligaments, represented the final element in keeping the team’s underrated offensive line together. Earlier in the off-season the 49er’s negotiated new deals with guards Ray Brown and Dave Fiore and tackle Derrick Deese.

There were many moments throughout the off-season that Scott Gragg’s status as a 49er was in grave condition as the salary cap was strangulating any hope of resigning any of it’s unrestricted free agents. Although Gragg became a free agent this season he did not vigorously test the market for his services, even going so far as to cancel a visit to the Cincinnati Bengals as negotiations picked up with the 49er’s.

49er General Manager Bill Walsh has professed for months that their top priority in the off-season was to find a way to resign offensive tackle Scott Gragg. Scott who stands 6-8 and weighs 325-pounds was finally secured in a deal that will bring him to a ripe old age of 35.

The agreement followed weeks of intense negotiations with Gragg’s agent, Ken Staninger. Gragg had made it clear to him that he wanted to return to the 49er’s. But in one week prior to his signing he scheduled a visit to the Cincinnati Bengals, he became frustrated over the pace of the talks and felt like it was going nowhere. However talks suddenly heated up causing him to cancel the visit as a resolution was finally found.

“It’s nice to be able to come back with a group that worked together last year,” Gragg said. “That’s important. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to come back to the 49er’s, and that was one of them.”

Walsh and Assistant General Manager Terry Donahue felt strongly about keeping Gragg not only because of his performance over last season but for the mere fact his size and power were key ingredients in both a successful running game and solid pass protection.

The 49er’s have suddenly focused on getting bigger at both tackle spots even to the extent they were playing with idea’s of waiving slightly undersized left tackle Derrick Deese who has been a anchor at that position for many years.

Gragg is the largest right tackle in 49er team history and he played with a determination of a real gladiator, coming into a franchise far from his other home as a New York Giant and adjusting to the multiplicity of the West Coast Offense was no easy matter.

Gragg was released by the New York Giants for salary cap purposes last June, Gragg entered the 2001 season having started 80 consecutive games in his six-year career. He went on to start all 16 games for the 49er’s last season after signing a one-year deal with the 49er’s on the first day of training camp.

For the first time since 1992, The San Francisco 49er’s expect to have the same starting offensive line together for consecutive seasons. Just over two weeks ago the 49er’s signed free-agent linebacker Derek Smith, expected to be a starter to replace Winfred Tubbs. Smith and Gragg were the only two free agents the team has made a concerted effort to sign this off-season.

“I don’t think there’s a better organization out there and I haven’t been coached by better coaches, in both Head Coach Steve Mariucci and offensive line coach Pat Morris. Both are great teachers and very positive,” Gragg, 29, said.” “I see the upside of the 49er’s better than that of a lot of teams that are out there.”

The 49er’s offense ranked No. 4 overall in the league and produced a 1,000-yard rusher for the fourth straight season. Quarterback Jeff Garcia was sacked once every 24.4 drop-backs, a percentage that was third best in the league.

Scott Gragg agreed to a six-year contract worth $16.8 million with a $2 million signing bonus and $477,000 first-year salary. Gragg also receives a $1 million signing bonus next season or the year after should he stay with the team. “My issues were special,” Gragg said. “I have two small kids and a wife. I’m from the West Coast. Why go somewhere else for a million more and be miserable?”

I must really take my hat off to Scott Gragg never have I been more forthright in believing that Gragg was a necessity to the positive overall production of this talented offensive line. I observed both power and amazing intensity on his part in every snap of the ball; he actually makes the sport so much more worth watching as his enthusiasm as an athlete was very evident on the field.

The signing of Gragg takes the pressure off the team to find a tackle that can start from the first day of training camp. Ideally, they’d like to find a large tackle that can take on a backup role behind Deese before challenging for the starting job in the middle of the season or in 2002.

“He was a big find for us, he played great and we all want him back,” coach Steve Mariucci said. “Keeping him around is a pretty big key for us. It would hold together a line that is continuing to develop and would help to stabilize the position.”

This powerful blocker entered the league as the New York Giants second-round choice in the 1995 NFL Draft. He became a full-time starter in New York in his second season and started all 16-games in each year from 1996-99. Last March in 2000 he was released for salary cap reasons.

Besides having a solid five-year tenure with the New York Giants he also had a marvelous college career out of Montana. He made First-Team All America pick by The Poor Man’s Guide to the NFL Draft and Associated Press and All-Big Sky Conference following senior campaign. He made 82 knockdown blocks while grading 89% for blocking consistency as senior.

Was recipient of Paul Weskamp Award as team’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman after moving into the starting lineup in his sophomore season in 1992. Provided excellent pass protection that season as Montana finished second in nation in total offense. He was red shirted as freshman and earned Scout Team Offensive Most Valuable Player recognition. Has a Chemistry/Education major, earning Big Sky Conference Academic Team honors in 1992-93. Possessed a 3.13 grade point average.

This deal with Scott Gragg all but sealed the door shut on Running Back Charlie Garner’s chances of remaining a 49er; this contract drained the very fiscal coffins the 49er front office had managed to scrounge together in a determined effort to resign Gragg.

I feel this is the best free-agent signing we could have ever made, as the entire offensive line will benefit most from him, both from a production standpoint and a longevity outlook. Gragg offers us something we cannot take for granted raw size, power and strength combined with agility and durability these are attributes we desire in all our players, and this is a rare commodity.

Even though this deal completely shatters any hope of resigning Running Back Charlie Garner it was a deal that had to happen for our best interests, without a legitimate offensive line Garner would have gone nowhere. It was this line that was responsible for clearing lanes for Garner and at the same time allowing Jeff Garcia ample time to find a target.

On the other side of the line at left tackle stands nine-year veteran Derrick Deese a un- drafted free agent out of USC with a height of 6-3 and a weight of 289-pounds. He was signed by San Francisco in 1992 and has been a pillar of strength ever since then.

Derrick Deese is the most versatile lineman on the entire team, he has been asked to fill in and substitute countless times for injuries and salary cap losses. He is to be commended for all his hard work and honest dedication to the team he loves.

I cannot think of a team player that could honestly fit into the category that Deese really is, he is that damn good. During his nine-year career as a 49er, Deese has played all five positions along the offensive line. For the past two seasons he has occupied both of the tackle spots.

In 1999 he opened as the team’s starting right guard, but was switched to tackle after just three games. In 2000, he was again asked to move; this time to the starting left tackle spot. Deese is undersized by NFL standards but he has more than held his own against all opposition. He started 13-of-16 games last season, missing three with a deep bone bruise in his left knee.

In his first year in 1992 he missed the entire season after injuring his left elbow during training camp and being placed on Injured Reserve.

In 1993 He did not see any playing time again being Inactive for Weeks 1-6, he was placed on Injured Reserve on (10-23) due to a broken left wrist.

In 1994 He started all 15 games at right guard, after beginning the year as a reserve behind Ralph Tamm. Made first career start at Kansas City on (09-11) in place of Tamm, and remained the starter throughout the season and playoffs.

In 1995 Missed almost the entire season due to an ankle injury played in the season opener and took all 75 offensive snaps at New Orleans on (09-03) before leaving the game with this injury.

In 1996 played in all 16-games as reserve guard and on special teams. He substituted for Ray Brown at left guard and replaced Chris Dalman and played at both right guard and center. He saw action in the NFC Wild Card Game against Philadelphia (12-29) and in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Green Bay on (01-04).

In 1997 he played in 16-games and started 13 at left tackle, he substituted at guard first three weeks before replacing Tim Hanshaw at left tackle. The 49er’s allowed 2.3 sacks per game with him in the starting lineup and 4.7 without him. He was also used at center when Chris Dalman suffered left knee injury during the pre-season. He started at left tackle for both playoff games, and helped the 49er’s rush for 175-yards against Minnesota on (01-03) in NFC Divisional Playoff Game.

And in 1998 he started all 16-games alternating between right and left tackle. He started at both the NFC Wild Card Game against Green Bay on (01-03) and NFC Divisional Playoff Game against Atlanta on (01-09).

In college he suffered through an injury-plagued senioe season at Southern California in 1991, coping with both tendonitis in knee and dislocated elbow. Earned honorable mention All-Pac 10 honors junior year. Transferred to USC from El Camino JC in Torrence, CA. Was JC All-America honorable mention left tackle in 1989. Earned All-Conference honors both seasons at El Camino.

Derrick Deese has been under unusual scrutiny as to his durability and his dependability as an offensive lineman. Even though he has had some injury-marred seasons he has always given 101% of himself unselfishly at all times. I find him to be all the above and more, he has been a leader on the field and off, his locker-room presence is very underrated. Deese has proven reliable time and time again in his main priority is to protect the quarterback at all costs. I find Deese to be irreplaceable in these faculties he is without a doubt the true professional all around athlete.

Facing a deadline of midnight on March 1st, to be in compliance with the NFL’s $67.4 million payroll cap for the 2001 season, the 49er’s shaved $500,000 from their 415 million overage with a new six-year deal for Deese.

Being an important and versatile member of the team’s offensive line since 1992, when he joined the 49er’s as an un-drafted free agent out of USC. Deese, 30-years old received a $2.8 million signing bonus as part of an $18 million package running through 2006, his agent Gary Uberstine said.

“I think this makes him feel good, that they are willing to give this measure of security for him and his family. He’s very appreciative and he’s looking forward to trying to help rebuild the team so they can have some success.”

Behind both these starting tackles is a thin line as Guard Phil Ostrowski was left un-tendered as a restricted free agent and signed with the Denver Bronco’s just recently, that leaves Matt Willig as the best reserve tackle behind the two as depth insurance.

Offensive Tackle Matt Willig is a massive lineman with exceptional strength, he is versatile, he has played both spots at tackle both right and left. He is a powerful run blocker and a capable pass protector who uses tremendous reach to his advantage. He has earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the St. Louis Rams in 1999. He entered the league as a collegiate defensive end, but converted to tackle.

Willig was signed by the 49er’s as a free agent on (06-07-00), he was originally signed as an in-drafted free agent by the New York Jets in 1992, spent four seasons there (92-95) before joining Atlanta (96-97) and Green Bay (1998). He was then signed by Cleveland (08-17-99) and released (09-05-99); signed by St. Louis (11-29-99).

Matt Willig stands 6-8 and weighs 325-pounds meaning that he is looked at as being the heavier and taller offensive lineman the 49er’s are beginning to covet for the near future. His pure size and power have the 49er front office seriously considering him as a possible starter down the road.

In college out of USC He was a four-year letterman on defense. He recorded 22 tackles, including two for a loss as a senior. Set career highs in tackles (23) and sacks (5) as junior. Saw action as reserve defensive lineman and on special teams as sophomore and freshman. Graduated with a degree in public.

In all Willig has nine-NFL seasons as a professional athlete; out of 16-games with the 49er’s he started three. Even though he has played only sparingly he has done enough so that coaches are beginning to wonder if he could be the next legitimate contender for a starting role as soon as next year.

In emergency situations with Ostrowski now departed, Two-year Guard Tyrone Hopson could fill a vacant tackle spot if need be. Hopson stands 6-2 and weighs 305-pounds he is a graduate out of Eastern-Kentucky and was drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49er’s in the 1999 NFL Draft.

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

Let’s meet the coach.

Patrick Morris is in his second year as the offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49er’s. He spent the previous two years as tight end/assistant offensive line coach, for a total of four years. Morris was instrumental in the development of 1997 third-round pick Tight End Greg Clark, who he also coached collegiate at Stanford.

Before coming to the 49er complex Morris accumulated 19-years of coaching experience on the college level. He worked at Stanford University (1995-96) coaching the offensive line (tackles and tight ends) prior to joining Steve Mariucci in 1997.

Morris was a 1976 graduate of the University of Southern California; Morris began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater from 1976-77. After spending one year (1978) at Northern Arizona, Morris coached at the University of Minnesota from 1979-82. He returned to his alma mater and handled offensive line duties from 1983-86. Morris coached the offensive line for eight seasons at Michigan State (1987-94) prior to joining Stanford’s staff in 1995.

Patrick Morris has been associated with five Rose Bowl’s victories and two National Championships during his football playing and coaching career. He has firmly established himself as an unwavering fixture of stability and sound teaching techniques as players have responded in a very positive manner to his teaching philosophies. I see Morris developing even more under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, as he will have an impact on the entire offense for the very first time.

What scouts look for in an offensive tackle.

The left tackle is usually the best athlete on the offensive line, which is important because he usually plays on the weak side without a tight end next to him and faces the oppositions best pass rusher. At the same time he is expected to protect the blind side for a right-handed quarterback.

If a left tackle does not have good range and feet, he will not be in the lineup very long, but he also must have enough power to anchor against a strong defensive end. The right tackle, meanwhile, usually is a more physical and a better-run blocker. He lines up against left ends that usually are bigger and more physical than right ends.

And because most offenses are right-handed, the right tackle must be a force in the run game, though he usually has the benefit of a tight end lined up next to him. Although size and power are important to a right tackle, athletic ability and good feet are just as necessary.

The likelihood of San Francisco addressing the offensive line in this years NFL 2001 Draft is very real, especially with the departure of Guard Phil Ostrowski to Denver, besides Matt Willig there is really untested depth to be relied on. I see this position being addressed somewhere in the mid to late rounds of the draft, or we could all be surprised and see one taken even earlier.

Top 2001 NFL Draft prospects.

Texas Offensive Tackle Leonard Davis is the best in the business in both size and pure raw power, he is probably the best athlete at this position to ever come since Tony Boselli of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He stands 6-5 and weighs a staggering 370-pounds of pure power. He has a speed of 5.20 as recorded in the 40-yard dash. He has been compared to Tarik Glenn of the Indianapolis Colts.

Run Blocking: He is a powerful player who plays with great balance. Can adjust on the move and hit the moving defender. He has great mobility for a man his size. He also has tremendous lock-on qualities and works to whistle.

Pass Blocking: His footwork is as good as it gets, can adjust on the fly to various moves. As a left tackle he will have no problem matching up against top NFL speed rushers. He plays with great leverage and can handle the bull rush.

Initial Quickness: His burst out of his stance was slowed last year due to an ankle injury. But he made up for it with great overall quickness and power. He knows the game and takes good angles to defenders.

Strength: He is the most powerful tackle in this draft, he manhandles defenders once locked on to them. He wowed scouts at the Combine, bench-pressing 225-pounds 33 times.

Mobility: Has great feet for his size, his best attribute is ability to hit a moving target. He is quick enough to match up against top speed rushers. Only problem is his recurring ankle injury.

Bottom line: He is the very best offensive lineman in the draft by far. He is the complete package of size, power and mobility. He will be a Top 10 pick in this draft, but his overall skills are not as developed as the Redskins Chris Samuels, last year’s top offensive tackle. However he has the right attitude, his weight is distributed better than most believe, and he can match-up against any defensive end in the league.

Florida’s Kenyatta Walker is another top prospect in this year’s draft he stands 6-4 and weighs 310-pounds, with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.10. He has been compared to Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan. He is expected to go early in this draft.

Run Blocking: He has all the physical size, power and lower body strength, to be an excellent run blocker. He still has some technical work to do. Shows good initial pop and can move some but needs to work on body control as he can get overextended sometimes.

Pass Blocking: He is very experienced in pass pro and has the skills to play left tackle. Has, good quick feet and the ability to get to the point of attack against speed rushers. He rarely gets beat outside but has been seen losing a battle every so often when a quick defensive end uses a double-move on him. He needs to work on lateral movement and learn how to sink his hips so to avoid those instances.

Initial Quickness: He has good initial pop into his blocks, but he should drive out of his stance more. He tends to let the block come to him rather than being the aggressor.

Strength: He has great upper/lower body combination. He rarely gets knocked off his feet; lower body strength and bulk allow him to anchor against a bull rush.

Mobility: He can move a little but not great, he will rarely be asked to pull or trap but he does have enough speed to get downfield to make a block.

Bottom line: He was a first-rate pass blocker in pass-happy college offense. He will be best suited on that type of attack. But even if a run-oriented team drafts him he will still make an immediate impact.

Michigan’s Jeff Backus is another talented athlete that shows great promise in developing into something special on one’s offensive line. He stands 6-5 and weighs 303-pounds with a 40-yard dash speed of 5.30. He has been compared to Kansas City Chief John Tait.

Run Blocking: He is effective but not dominating. A savvy player who knows how to use his hands and body to get positioning and sustain blocks. He fires out of his stance and will fight to the whistle every time. He has an absolutely nasty attitude as a run blocker.

Pass Blocking: He has had problems shifting weight and will get beat back inside once in a while. He shows good strength and will battle with his hands. Not sure if he has feet or athletic ability to play left tackle.

Initial Quickness: This is his strength, has mastered firing out off the ball, especially on running plays. Quick out of stance. Usually beats defensive end to point of attack.

Strength: He is a fighter with a lot of explosive power. He will not turn heads in weight room but strong enough to hold up in the NFL.

Mobility: He is simply not light on his feet to project as a left tackle. Will have trouble pass blocking on an island no matter what position he plays. His lateral movement and quickness need work.

Bottom line: He stands out on film because of his knowledge of the game. Might move to right tackle in NFL because he has difficulty against quicker pass rushers. He will be a great worker though with great pride and consistency. He is a possible mid-round pick.

San Francisco has always prided itself on the unselfish teamwork its offensive line has demonstrated over these many years. One thing is very clear we always seem to have one of the top productive offenses in the league almost every year. This one will be no different as we return the entire line back from last season, however depth will need to be addressed as well as the age factor creeping into this offense. Look for a sure draft pick this year.
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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