September 28 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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Back around the beginning of June, when the 49ers formally released veteran guard Ray Brown, you may remember me saying that the 49ers would regret this decision. My reasoning, of course, was not that the team couldnít find a better offensive lineman to fill his spot - they had after all already signed Ron Stone by that point, but rather, my reasoning was, that the team didnít have any significant depth along the line, and could really use an extra lineman on their depth chart. Instead, the team chose to save some money, and go light along the offensive line, after all they had to offer their rookie place kicker a $330 000 bonus, plus the league minimum $225 000 to sit on the bench. So while I have certainly applauded some of the moves the 49ers organization has made this season, I certainly disagreed with the release of Brown, who incidentally is making about $750 000 this season with the Lions (though his salary cap figure is more like $450 000 due to a new NFL rule).
Sometimes, I hate being right, and when I heard that Dave Fiore would miss the entire season after being placed on the injured reserve, it was one of those times. Yes I have confidence in rookie Eric Heitmann who has done a nice job in pre-season and in spot duty so far during the regular season, but thereís no doubt Iíd be more confident in Brown taking this spot. It should also be noted that Heitmann isnít healthy himself. He has a chronic lower back issue (which doesnít seem to bother him), and also has a minor bulging disc in his mid back, that occurred in the Bronco game.
The 49ers have a few other options to fill the void left by Fiore. They could ask the recovering Matt Willig to step in at guard, as opposed to his natural position at tackle, but the team would like to give Willig some more time to heal. They could also shift center Jeremy Newberry to guard, allowing Ben Lynch to step in at center. While this band-aid solution would provide the 49ers with the best combination of health and experience, it would also mean two players stepping into the line at new positions as opposed to just one.
Filling Dave Fioreís roster spot is Craig Osika who was signed off the Chargerís practice squad. Osika has played guard, center and tight end in the past, but will likely only see action on the field if the 49ers are desperate. He is behind Kyle Kosier on the depth chart.