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Article Title: Let Camp Begin
Article Date: July 19 2003
By Bryan Hersh

With training camp all but a week a way, it occurred to me that I better get my rear end in gear and write an article. It of course has been since the post draft article, and a lag of such length is anything but what 49ers Paradise fans have come to expect. Oddly though, in that time, thereís not a whole lot I have missed reporting on. Typically I enjoy the off-season. I love reading up on the transactions and the players the 49ers sign. I read all the magazines, which provide me with nothing but out dated information, but nevertheless I get my football fix. This off-season has been nothing but painfully boring though.

The most significant player signing was of Fred Weary, a cornerback who will likely beat former first round pick Mike Rumph out for the nickel spot. In case you havenít realized yet, THE BIGGEST PLAYER SIGNING OF OUR OFF-SEASON WAS A THIRD STRING PLAYER. Donít get me wrong, Iím excited about our draft picks, but what the heck is going on here?

There is a saying in football that if you are not getting better, you are getting worse. It makes perfect sense, and gosh Iím worried we didnít get any better this off-season. The new coaching staff is the only chance our team has at actually not getting worse, and until we see the team play, we really will not know their impact. It is a sad state of affairs that the team really hasnít made an effort to get better this off-season.

This may seem like a pessimistic approach, given that twenty of twenty-two starters are returning to the team. This should be cause for optimism of course, but the only chance of the starting roster improving is along the defensive line, where the team would need, what would be considered, big seasons from two rookies in order to improve. So am I wrong in my pessimism? Am I being too un-realistic? After all, it would make sense that improving a good team is harder than improving a bad team. Still I find it hard to believe how relaxed the management attitude has been to signing players this off-season. They better hope that their draft and the new coaching staff pan out, and that the team stays healthy, because otherwise this team hasnít gotten any better.

Of course if the management was trying to save money in the hopes of re-signing some native key free agents next season, I could understand that. The problem is, Owens still has no contract extension, and the same can be said about Peterson, Plummer, Webster, Streets and Barlow. How is this not disappointing? It seems like the management sat back and relaxed this off-season, and perhaps that is why this has been the most boring off-season I can recall.

All pessimism aside, I am deeply excited for training camp and the pre-season (even if the ownership ruined most of the fun of training camp, by closing all but two practices from the public eye). Getting the inside scoop will now be that much more difficult, and while the 49ers Public Relations Staff is hard at work promoting the two open to the public practices, I sit back and remember the good old days when 49ers fans were free to attend nearly all practices, meeting the players, talking to the coaches Ė I hate that the ownership has taken that away from all of us, even if they are trying to look Ďoh so goodí by promoting the two open practises. They should know that we fans see through this pitiable cover-up.

There are about seven main questions I have that I hope training camp will answer. I will offer them up for you now, and hopefully as the summer progresses we will all get some answers.

The first and perhaps the most pertinent is whether or not Terrell Owens will show up for the start of camp. The star receiver has missed all of the mini-camps this off-season in what appears to be a contract related issue. No new contract has been granted to Owens, will he let that get in the way of a productive season?

Second, and just by a bit, is how well the new coaching staff will perform. I was a big fan of many of the coaches we had last season, not just Steve Mariucci, will Ericksonís staff be everything we had and more? Training camp should begin to answer this question.

Third I wonder whether or not Cederick Wilson is everything the coaches have been saying he is. I wonder if Wilson will truly suffice as the third string receiver, or possibly even beat out Tai Streets. This should be one of the more intriguing battles to watch for next season.

Fourth is with regards to the running backs. Will Barlow have what it takes to finally beat out Hearst; or will the savvy veteran hold onto his starting position?

Fifth is with regards to the battles along the trenches. Will rookies Harris, Adams and Williams win starting roles? Or will the trenches be setting themselves up for another year of suffering?

Sixth is with regards to the special teams, and whether or not the team will finally take this area seriously, now that the team has a new coaching staff.

Seventh is whether or not the team is healthy and can stay healthy. The 49ers battled injuries all of last season, and how well this team can stay healthy will be a big indicator of their ability to win.

The way in which those seven questions are answered will have a big impact on the teamís success. Whether or not this team will be improved or not will depend on the answers to the above questions. While I am disappointed with the free agent actions of the team this off-season, I am hopeful that the new coaching staff and the draft class can make up for the lack of attention to the free agent market. I am hopeful that this team has improved, and in a few short days we will get our first indicators. In a few months we will know for certain. So let the fun finally begin, let the boredom lift, training camp is days away and gosh itís about time isnít?