Reggie McGrew fattens up and Paul Smith shines at camp

Jun 9, 2001 at 12:00 AM

The San Francisco 49er’s drafted defensive tackle Reggie McGrew in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft, figuring that he would be the solid bedrock needed to stuff the oppositions running game and apply immediate pressure on the quarterback.

The whole picture in Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue’s mind was the earth-shattering injury dealt to defensive tackle Bryant Young with his leg in December of 1998.
The consensus at that time was he would not make a 100% complete recovery in needed time to start the next season. What they were soon to realize soon afterwards was that Reggie would become nothing but a promise that never became a reality.

“That’s what happens when you think you absolutely have to fill a need,” said Terry Donahue, the new 49er general manager. “We went into the draft (1999) thinking we absolutely had to have a defensive tackle. We weren’t sure at that point that Bryant Young would even be able to play again (after his horrendous-leg injury in December of 1998).”

“So, we took McGrew, It’s not like we didn’t do our homework. We did. But we should have approached that problem from another direction. We just shouldn’t have been so determined to fill that hole.”

Nothing has been more frustrating than this draft selection as McGrew has either had the worst luck in the world because of nagging injuries or he is just an athlete that never could adjust in regards to durability within the professional ranks of football.

When McGrew was picked at best he was really a marginal first-round draft pick because in all aspects he was merely a good run-stopper, not an effective pass-rusher, in college, and he had serious knee damage when he played for the Florida Alligators. Soon after being drafted he developed serious shoulder problems as well, and his work ethic came into serious speculation.
When he has been on the field in a very limited capacity, he’s done very little to prove that he was worthy of being a first round draft pick especially on a team such as the San Francisco 49er’s that preach hard work and winning championships.

If McGrew had been drafted lower, he would have been gone after his first season. “You’ll stick longer with a first-round pick because of the money you have to pay to sign him,” Donahue admitted, candidly. However if Reggie McGrew even lasts beyond training camps this year, it will be because of a weakness in the 49er defensive line, not because of anything he does.

He has been a disappointment both on and off the field in more words than one, he has basically taken the very life out of the future of the 49er defensive line, for it was his youth that was relied upon to inject adrenaline into this passive defensive unit. Besides Bryant Young the entire line needed that extra kick and McGrew was thought to be the answer to that.

As 2000 drew to an end and McGrew was again a flop in all-professional standards, Brentson Buckner who was signed as a free agent to start that season in place of McGrew had performed admirably. He was even being considered to get an extension even though there was very little salary cap space to resign him.

Buckner even was willing to wait until after June 1st simply because he was very happy to be a 49er and he enjoyed the Bay Area as a living option. The focus though at that time was to find a quality linebacker with the release of Winfred Tubbs and Ken Norton Jr.

Bill Walsh was still determined to find someone who would provide Bryant Young with some quality help, as he was still being double and even triple teamed next to Brentson Buckner. Buckner was a quality defensive tackle and delivered more than what the 49er’s were expecting out of him, but news was soon to come of someone that was available and was the perfect match to play beside Bryant Young.

Former teammate Dana Stubblefield in a three-year stint with the Washington Redskins was waived and expressed desire to come back to his former home. He had his best career statistics playing besides Bryant Young and they formed one of the most feared duos in the entire NFL in their time. It was time to rekindle that chemistry and he was signed.

On April 27th, 2001 The San Francisco 49er’s held their very first mini-camp for the 2001 NFL season. Defensive Tackle Reggie McGrew was no where to be found in a dramatic twist that would leave the 49er top brass grasping to overcome a mistake they had already paid plenty for in drafting.

The reactions to his absence were mixed but the reality of it all was the fact it was just one more thing that had gone wrong in McGrew’s coming as a 49er. “We’re not worrying too much about it, to be honest with you,” Walsh said.

Head Coach Steve Mariucci was a bit more concerned and surprised: “He’s been here for workouts on and off and obviously we intended to have him in this camp,” Mariucci said. “But he’s not here at this point and I am anxiously waiting to learn more.”

Reggie McGrew has rarely seen any action since becoming a 49er with the 24th overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft out of Florida. He missed his rookie season with a torn triceps, and he made only three tackles in 10 games last season while battling an ankle injury.

Can we blame McGrew for his unfortunate status in being always on the injury list? Probably not but it raises real questions as to his durability and fitness standards, and it has been noted that he does not always give 100% of himself towards improving as a definitive athlete that will stand up to the constant rigors of playing in the NFL long term.

“It’s surprising not to see him here. Nobody knows what happened,” defensive tackle Cedric Killings said. “It’s kind of shocking.”

Mariucci at a lost for words did not know what to say to reporters, noting that he had not spoken directly to McGrew but only through his new agent Joel Segal. Mariucci could not understand why McGrew would be disgruntled.

“Today is the first I heard of it. I assume he’s got some personal issues and problems he’s working through,” new general manager Terry Donahue said. “We’ve been in touch with his agent and family.”

McGrew had reported in off-season workouts weighing in at 337-pounds which angered the coaching staff as his weight became a major concern with mini-camp soon approaching.

The team as a whole would save by releasing McGrew after June,1st, it would save $600,000 on the salary cap should they decide down the road to do just that. The 49er’s did not do it before because it would have cost $1.79 million against the 2001 cap. McGrew received a $2.5 million signing bonus as a rookie in 1998.

McGrew who lives in Mayo, Florida has expressed desire to play somewhere closer to home, saying the travel and length of time away from home is wearing on him. There has also been indication that McGrew became very upset over the signing of veteran defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield for it pushed his standing that much further down the line in rotation. McGrew even after two-years of doing absolutely nothing expected to be handed the starting position.

“Reggie can play in the NFL; there’s no question about it,” general manager Bill Walsh said. “But he has to be at the 300-pound level, not at 330. He put it on, and he has to take it off. Once he is in good shape, then we can look at all options.”

The issue of weight was the main focus for his no show at the first mini-camp coupled with some variable signs that he does not like playing so far away from home and the fact that Dana Stubblefield will be the main man next to Bryant Young this coming season. McGrew is signed right up to the 2005 season.

The 49er’s were so taken aback that they enlisted his former roommate fullback Terry Jackson to try and find him: “I am trying to get a hold of him,” the fullback said. “I left a bunch of messages. I just talked to him a week ago and he was excited about being here. He’d been working out and he was in (better) shape. I was excited to see him come in healthy, because I played against him in high school and with him in college and he was always a dominant player.”

Steve Mariucci talked to McGrew’s dad and his new agent Joel Segal, and both said they wished McGrew had attended mini-camp. Rumors were soon flying about him wanting to start new on another team, preferably closer to home.

“Apparently, he’s said something to the effect of wishing he were closer to home,” general manager Bill Walsh said. “If he has a future in football, it has to start with us and he has to be in good physical condition.”

In the 49er’s second mini-camp on May 28th, and through till June 1st, defensive tackle Reggie McGrew actually reported for practice all 300-plus pounds of him. Though he contests that his weight was not the issue for his failure to report to the first mini-camp but personal problems were, the skeptics believe it was if not a combination of both.

In fact McGrew was so out of shape after reporting to the second mini-camp he was unable to finish practice because of it. The patience of the 49er coaching staff and top brass seems to be wearing razor thin with McGrew for his transgressions.

“I feel like the (weight issue) was blown way out of proportion,” said McGrew, who weighed more than 330-pounds in February; and heard about it from the team. Still his teammates are questioning his endurance and commitment to the organization.

Even defensive coordinator Jim Mora was asked if McGrew’s no-show would have damaging effects. “It all depends on what he does from here on out,” Mora said. “If he fulfills his potential every day, it will be forgotten. But if he doesn’t make it through practice, like today, then he’s always going to have that lingering stuff doesn’t go right.”

McGrew has since talked to all the coaches and reaffirmed his commitment to the team. He has also denied the rumors that circulated that he wanted to be traded to another team.

“This is the best I’ve felt since I’ve been here, so I’m ready to go out and have a good season,” said McGrew, who has since admitted that his injuries have had a depressing toll on him. “I wouldn’t call it a mission, but I feel like I do have something to prove.”

The facts speak for themselves though with the fact that McGrew was fined nearly $2,400 by the 49er’s for his unexcused absence at their first mini-camp held April 27-29. And the fact remains he could not even finish the final agility drill during the second mini-camp in May. And once again McGrew has managed to come away with yet another injury.

He strained his right hamstring after bailing out early in the mini-camp workout just this May. The drama continues to take its toll regarding Reggie McGrew.

“I slightly tweaked it working out here the last couple of weeks, but it’s nothing,” McGrew said of his hamstring. “I got a little fatigued toward the end (on Tuesday May 29th practice), but it’s nothing. I’ll be right back out there.”

McGrew has also made known he does not hold a grudge over the signing of defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield on April 26th by the 49er’s, and has maintained that it was simply non-football-related personal issues. Once again the skeptic’s maintain it did have a negative effect on him.

Steve Mariucci has expressed his displeasure about McGrew and his no-show at the first mini-camp but he also has some sympathy for the struggling young defensive tackle as an indication that he still has hope for him.

“He’s had a lot of injuries in his first couple of years that unfortunately he’s had to deal with, 49er’s Coach Steve Mariucci said. “Hopefully he’ll be healthy enough to practice every day and we’ll get some miles out of Reggie McGrew.”

Rumors continue to fly that the 49er’s could in deed cut Reggie McGrew for salary cap savings and still be comfortable having confidence in newly signed Dana Stubblefield and back-up defensive tackle Cedric Killings. There is little doubt he is on a very short leash now.

McGrew’s total accomplishments as a 49er and coveted as their very first round draft pick in 1999 are severely limited and that includes two solo tackles in two seasons. Missing all his rookie season with a knee injury and torn triceps tendon. And playing limited roles in 10 games last season.

His will and his heart for the game continue to be questioned and I for one am in that group for I see an athlete that has succumbed to a multitude of injuries and struggles with weight on a daily basis. I also see an athlete that longs to be closer to home and desires to be a starter without proving himself. I see an athlete that let his own team down when he didn’t bother to show up for their very first mini-camp together.

Reggie McGrew has a long road to come back and redeem himself. And the facts speak for themselves, as do his actions that look extremely negative in my own opinion. He will have to prove he does have the heart and willingness to make a full circle turnaround.

Before Reggie McGrew was drafted he played for the Florida Gators in college, he was a junior that surprisingly entered the draft and many felt that he could have used one more year playing for the Gators. He is a powerful two-gap type player that does an excellent job versus the run and can hold his own inside at the point of attack. He plays with good leverage and hand use and has an explosive first step.

At this stage, he is not an accomplished pass rusher and he gets by on strength more than quickness. He will need to improve on his one-gap pass rush skills, but he has the quickness and athletic ability to develop. He is not a complete player at this stage, but he has a nice upside as an inside run stopper.

Reggie before the draft was a three-year starter for the Florida Gators he stood 6-1 and weighs 301-pounds; he was born and still lives in Mayo, Florida. He is the son of Taylor and Pat McGrew; His father was a high school football coach. Reggie majored in sociology.

In High School he prepped at Lafayette High in Mayo, Florida. He was Parade, Blue Chip and USA Today All-America selection as a senior. He was rated as top defensive lineman in country by Super Prep. Finished with 123 tackles, six sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior.

In 1996 was Freshman All-America selection by Sporting News; Named team’s Outstanding Freshman. Started 10 games at right defensive tackle. Finished with 39 tackles (24 solo), two sacks and eight quarterback pressures.

In 1997 Played in seven games and started six at right defensive tackle. Finished with 26 tackles (15 solo) and 1.5 sacks. Also credited with four quarterback pressures, two passes defended and two forced fumbles.

In 1998 was named to All-America Dream Team selection by Sports Network. Earned First-Team All-Sec honors. Started nine games at right defensive tackle, recorded 41 tackles (23 solo), one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. Recorded five sacks for 31-yards and seven tackles for a loss (17-yards). Also credited with nine quarterback pressures.

In 1999 Drafted (24th overall) in the first round by the San Francisco 49er’s and was out the entire rookie year with an injury. In 2000 he played in 10 games total in limited capacity due to more injuries.

In 2001 he no-shows at first mini-camp for personal reasons but facts indicate he has weight issues. It is of little merit that McGrew was thought of as a lethal run-stopper when we drafted him, it is now apparent that he will struggle even more to remain on a team trying to build itself back up into a championship caliber team.

How long do we wait? I hope not much longer for we need depth quality depth that will deliver on a routine consistent basis. McGrew has failed to do just that.

However you want to spell it out the 49er’s are convinced that Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield can regain the same magic they possessed before they were separated, this season they will team up again fro the very first time since 1997.

When Stubblefield last played for the 49er’s, he was an important component of the league’s No. 1-ranked defense; but in the next three seasons, the 49er’s defense ranked 23rd, 28th and 29th in the league.

McGrew wants to have a bigger role it will be totally up to him to push the veterans and to out maneuver Cedric Killings to be in more games than not. He will have to find himself not only physically but psychologically as well.

Running Back Paul Smith fifth round draft choice by the 49er’s in the 2000 NFL Draft out of Texas-El Paso is starting to make a big splash in terms of improvement and his overall development.

In April Paul Smith was being considered to move from running back to fullback especially after drafting Pittsburgh’s Kevan Barlow in the 2001 NFL Draft with their third pick. Smith has been one of the very few 49er players that have remained in the Bay Area this off-season and worked out at the team’s practice facility every single day.

All of his hard work has begun to show through as he has been in serious competition for the starting running back position on the 49er’s with Charlie Garner’s release and his signing with the Oakland Raiders. He has worked with the first team offense for some time now. “I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to show myself,” said Smith.

The two main running backs that are part of his competition are veteran Garrison Hearst who had not been cleared to practice up until recently and newly drafted Kevan Barlow who sat out because of a sprained left knee.

Injuries come and they go and Paul Smith is one that completely understands the agony of being sidelined because of one. He suffered a torn calf muscle in February 1999 and was unable to make his NFL debut until midway through last season.

“Last year was tough,” said Smith. “I didn’t get to show what I could do on the field. In some ways I’m still trying to find my spot on the team and if I start, that’s great. I’ll work hard and try to be consistent.” “With my situation last year, I wasn’t able to display my abilities and stuff,” he said. “This camp, I just wanted to pretty much do that and show the coaches what I could do.”

Smith who stands at 5-11 and weighs 234-pounds had 18 carries for 72-yards as the back up to Charlie Garner. The 49er’s after studying game films of Smith told him of their plans to draft another running back this year. “I was pretty inexperienced from what they saw,” Smith said. “You can’t blame them. I’m looking at the film myself; I see what they saw.”

At the end of April and the 49er’s first mini-camp general manager Terry Donahue called Smith the team’s most improved player. “Right now, he’s our starting tailback,” coach Steve Mariucci said, referring to injuries that have sidelined veteran Garrison Hearst and rookie Kevan Barlow so far. “He’s been here every day, working like crazy. He’s much improved over last year, light years ahead. It’s amazing the jump you see from rookie in their second year.”

Smith was another key ingredient to the 49er offense that was injured and missed out his entire rookie season because of a right calf injury. He didn’t even practice until a month into the regular season, and the limited action he saw came mostly as an emergency fullback.

Paul Smith is one that understands diversity and opportunity and both have come his way in limited fashion. His father left him, his brother and their mother when Paul was five years old. He hasn’t seen him since. His mother left the pair to return to her native Korea for three years towards the end of his high school career.

“I guess you could say I’ve been through some difficult times, but I don’t see it that way,” said Smith. “I have a strong belief in God and he put us here for a purpose. I’m always striving to find just what that purpose is. It’s a mindset I have always had.”

Smith has studied relentlessly to learn the 49er playbook. And just this year he has made the commitment to be the starting tailback. The rewards are coming out now when he is on the field.

Smith has openly acknowledged his true one flaw, as he has always been a straight-ahead runner who was converted from fullback to tailback as a senior in college. He has always done what has been asked of him. Even though he even says all the right things, but admits he does not plan on giving up the starting tailback position easily.

“This year is pretty much like my rookie year all over again,” said Smith, who was drafted in the fifth round out of University of Texas-El Paso last year, slipping a bit because of the pre-existing ankle injury. “I know the plays now, I know the offense. I need to work on my open-field running; that’s always been the issue for me. When I get out in open field, can I make a guy miss?”

The competition is sure to heat up as signs indicate that Garrison Hearst is showing much improvement in cutting on his ankle and Kevan Barlow is close to returning after his injury to heat things up. Smith intends on giving it his all to prove that there is a lead tailback ready to go to battle.

“Whatever the team needs from me, I’ll do. But any running back here wants to be the starter,” said Smith, who admitted that none of the team’s tailbacks is buying into a tailback-by-committee plan. “I hope that’s the attitude of everyone here. We’re pushing each other. It let’s you know if you don’t do the job, the next guy will. We all think it’s wide open now. There’s no guy here that is considered the guy.”

Paul Smith is a powerful, elusive runner capable of running through tacklers, he has an impressive combination of speed, size and power, but he isn’t a perfect fit yet in the West Coast Offense. He needs to work on his pass-catching skills and his outside rushing ability. But this will be his first NFL off-season, and since he is a workout fanatic who has already shown drastic improvement, he should develop nicely. Smith was also a back up to Fred Beasley during some times last season.

Smith was born in El Paso, he has one brother Michael and he still lives there. In High School he prepped at Andress (El Paso) High. He earned All-District and El-Paso All-Star selections.

In 1996 He played in 11 games, carried 67 times, gaining 189-yards. In 1997 He saw action in 11 games, starting three at fullback. Rushed 115 times for 432-yards and two touchdowns. Also gained 84-yards on eight receptions.
In 1998 Selected All-WAC honorable mention. Began season as starting tailback, switched to fullback after injury to starter. Gained 660-yards on 149-carries. Also caught 13 passes for 179-yards.

In 1999 started all 11 games as a senior. Had 272 carries for 1,258-yards and 12 touchdowns. He grabbed seven receptions for 84-yards and one touchdown. In all he started 22 of 43 career games, he ranks fourth on school’s career-record list with 2,539-yards. Also scored 16 rushing and one receiving touchdowns out of the backfield.

In 2000 he was drafted by the San Francisco 49er’s in the fifth round with every intention of being a key ingredient to our West Coast Offense, in which he is practicing and studying to understand and all it’s complexities.

Opportunity is knocking for Paul Smith as he still has the leading edge in making the starting tailback position, unless Garrison Hearst can truly make the miracle recovery and with stand devastating hits all over again. My guess is they will take his progress with distinct consideration and move him into the lineup very slowly rather than full tilt.

The running back position is really the only unknown position within the 49er framework as of right now, with no definitive starter the competition will commence especially within these next few months towards pre-season.

Paul Smith is a viable and deserving option should he continue to make progress, we all would love to witness the re-emergence of Garrison Hearst and make the unbelievable comeback from a devastating injury that to this day threatens his career. I also desire that and hope that does happen.

But we must consider what Paul Smith has to offer at the same time, if anything he has demonstrated the emotional and physical drives to be worthy of consideration. And at the very least is the reliable back up that we covet in our running game. The 49er’s hold proud tradition in finding and developing top-notch quality running backs some of the best in the league. I find no reason not to believe that Paul Smith cannot be one as well.

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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