Introducing The 2000 49ers- 08/29/2000
It's Kick Off time again, and not a moment to soon. With the season fast approaching, it's important to know all the players on the team, where they stand and how they will likely effect the team as the season progresses. This years team features many new faces, and many rookies. Be prepared for a season full of watching players grow and improve, it should be an exciting one.
Starting on offense, where Jeff Garcia will be the designated starting quarterback. Garcia was very successful in the CFL, before coming to the 49ers last season. As a 49er, he struggled early, but after a visit with the bench, Garcia bounced back and started to perform quite nicely. The 49ers will be looking for some strong play from Garcia if he intends to start the whole season. One area that he really needs work on is getting the ball to the open receiver instead of dumping the pass off. Garcia's immediate backup will be the nomadic Rick Mirer. Mirer has always been one of Bill Walsh's favorites, and even though he struggled as a starter, Walsh had enough confidence to bring him in as a back-up. Thus far Mirer has proven that Walsh has made a good move. The designated emergency quarterback will be seventh round draft pick, rookie Tim Ratty, who is further along in development (mainly due to his college system) than his peer, Giovanni Carmazzi who will be the unconventional fourth quarterback.
Protecting the arms will be an offensive line, that in typical 49ers fashion did not play with each other until the last game of the pre-season (mainly due to a Chris Dalman injury). At center will be Jeremy Newberry, who spent last season as a guard. Newberry enters his second year pro. On either side will be Dave Fiore and Ray Brown, to guards who have been with the 49ers for some time now. On the ends will be new comer Scott Grag opposite of the versatile Derrick Deese. Backing these men up will be: Dan Decher (off of last season's practice squad), Dwayne Ledford, Phil Ostrowski, and new comer Matt Willig. The line is bigger this season than last, and hopefully wont suffer from the departure of the late Bobb McKittrick.
The 49ers will have four receivers on the roster this season. The all time great, Jerry Rice, as well as Terrell Owens, JJ Stokes and Tai Streets. The four are a great group that can rival any set in the league. If Garcia can get them the ball, they can make things happen. Owens is reportedly the number one receiver, but it is still hard to see Rice stepping aside. Streets who was a steal in last season's draft is looking to make a real impact this season, and it will be great to see him on the field. In a bit of a change of venue, coach George Stewart will move from special teams to wide receivers in place of Larry Kirskey.
The 49ers offensive backfield will be full this year. There is tons of talent here, and if everyone can get and stay healthy, the 9ers may not need a reason to pass the ball. Charlie Garner, last season's wonder man, who averaged five yards a carry will enter as the starting running back. Returning for his third season with the team, second starting, is full back Fred Beasely, who missed lots of the off-season, but should be ready to perform. Of course if Garrison Hearst can return at some point this season, he will provide an even bigger boost to this already strong squad, and will compliment Garner amazingly. Next in line is Terry Jackson a half back that is a great ball carrier, and blocker. In his second year with the team, he was a pre-season stand out, and the 9ers will be looking to him as soon as he returns from a strained knee injury, to provide a change of pace from Garner, as well as in short yardage situations. Travis Jervey, who seems fully recovered from last season's ailments, will be ready for some serious action this season. Jervey proved to be a good, fast back in the off-season, and the 9ers will be looking to him on offense as well as special teams. This years draftee, Paul Smith, is also on the verge of recovery, the 9ers are hoping he will have the chance to contribute this season too. Lastly is undrafted free agent Jonas Lewis. Lewis caught the team's eye this off-season, and they simply did not want to let him go. Lewis will also be a help on special teams.
On the flip side of the ball, the defense will be looking to improve on a horrendous season. The defense this season will be very young, and prone to mistakes, but if they can learn quickly, and mesh nicely, the speed and tenacity they provide, could make this a solid group.
Starting on the defensive line where Bryant Young is coming off an eleven sac season. Young underwent surgery this off-season to have a titanium rod removed from his leg. The rod however had calcified to the bone, and could not be removed. Young however feels good, and has been playing well all off-season. He could be ready for a huge year this season, and the 49ers would really benefit from that. Inside next to Young will be second year man Reggie McGrew. McGrew will make his NFL debut this season after missing all of last year with an injury. McGrew is a solid run stopper, and the team will need his contribution against the tough backs of the NFC West. The tackles will be backed up by veteran Brenston Buckner who is solid off the bench and undrafted free agent Cedric Killings who impressed coaches all off-season. On the outside, Junior Bryant will start on one side while Anthony Pleasant will start on the other. Bryant has played most of his career with the team next to Bryant Young on the inside, however because of his speed and size, Junior Bryant should excel at the defensive end position. Anthony Pleasant is a veteran who will make his first appearance with the team. Pleasant is a solid player at end, and if he records more than one sac, he will be an upgrade from Gabe Wilkins. Backing the ends up will be last season's draftee Chike Okeafor, who will likely enter during passing downs, as well as two of this year's draftees, John Milem, and John Engelberger. The 49ers are hoping one of these two draftees will develop into a future starter. Coming in at end during some points of the season will be first round draft pick, linebacker Julian Peterson.
The linebacker position this season will depend mainly on Ken Norton Jr. Norton missed most of the exhibition with a neck injury. The original play was to move Norton to middle linebacker, and Winfred Tubbs to the plugger position Norton formerly occupied; thereby allowing Norton to tutor the young first round draft pick Julian Peterson as the games progress. All this may change though. With Norton's status in such disarray, the team may revert back to Tubbs playing in the middle, with Peterson on one side, and Jeff Posey a pre-season stand out (who is moving this season from defensive end to linebacker), on the other side. Jeff Ulbrich drafted this season may get some time at middle linebacker upon his return from an injury, and out of the CFL, Thomas Edwards may see some action. These six linebacker are very versatile and we will likely see many different formations, as well as Peterson playing along the defensive line. One formation the team will likely use is with Peterson and Posey on the outsides, thereby confusing the quarterback as to where the blitz will be coming from. With only six linebacker, the team is a little thin at this position, and getting the players healthy is vital.
The defensive backfield is looking better than last season. First round draft pick Ahmed Plummer will get the nod at one corner, and the only corner not to be benched last season, Monty Montgomery will get the start on the opposite side. As a rookie Plummer has shown some great abilities during the off-season. He is bound to be picked on (even though teams have shied away from his side during the exhibition games), and he will make rookie mistakes. It is very important that he does not let his confidence get shaken. Montgomery played well last season before breaking his arm and having to miss the rest of the season. With Plummer's strong play lately, teams have been picking on Montgomery. He will need to pick up his play, and avoid the crucial mistake if he wants to keep his position. Second year man Anthony Parker will finally see some action after missing all of last season with an injury. The 49ers have high hopes for Parker. He can really hit, but needs some work on staying with the receiver. This years draft pick, Jason Webster will be the other cornerback. Webster is a little small (no pun intended), but bigger than most of the corners the team had last season. He is a strong hitter, and has starting ability. The safety positions this season have also been altered. Third year safety, Lance Schulters will move from free safety (where he went to the Pro Bowl last season) to strong safety, while second year player Peirson Prioleau will step in at free safety. The 49ers really liked how Prioleau played last season, and he has improved over the off-season. The move from cornerback to safety should benefit him. Meanwhile Schulters should be making a big impact around the line of scrimmage and hopefully wont lose any of his ball hawk abilities. Prioleau may be threatened by rookie John Keith who has really grabbed the eye of the coaches this pre-season. Keith is a hard hitting strong safety, and as the season improves, the team may want to see him play at strong safety and Schulters back at free. That will all depend on the play of Prioleau and the readiness of Keith. Zack Bronson will return for his fourth year as a back up safety. Bronson is a great player to have off the bench and versatile enough to play either safety position.
The special teams this season will take on a slightly different look. For starters due to an improvement of overall team speed, it will be faster. Secondly Bruce DeHaven, the special teams coach formerly of Buffalo has joined the 49ers staff. Place kicker Wade Richey, and Punter Chad Stanley have both returned for another season. Both did not have great outings this pre-season, but should turn it up a notch for the regular season. Returning kicks will be Kevin Williams who may also see some action as the fifth wide receiver.
There it is, the 2000 49ers! A very youthful group that will make it's mistakes, but overall should be an improvement from last season. This groups has lots of potential and untapped talent, that I for one can't wait to see surface.