Forecast 2001 -- 06/11/01
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There's no doubt that the 49ers have had a really busy couple of weeks. Staring with the departure of Jerry Rice, the 49ers legend. As Rice left the 49ers, he handed Terrell Owens his game ball from his final game with the team. Owens had a record setting day in that game, and on any other day would have been given that game ball. It was Jerry Rice's day though, and thus the ball went to him. Perhaps Rice giving Owens that game ball was more than just giving him what he deserved. There is certainly a point to be made here that Rice was indeed handing the 'torch' to Owens, the same 'torch' that Rice carried throughout his career with the team, that has kept the 49ers above and beyond the competition.

It is after all Owens' who will have to step up his leadership this season more than any other player. Sure JJ Stokes needs to become a serious threat, and somebody needs to develop at running back, but Owens, the man who is considered by many as the best all around receiver currently playing in the NFL right now has got to make his presence known. Owens may also receive Jerry Rice's locker this season, but that will be an executive decision.

With Rice gone, the 49ers will have to adjust their offense. The team will likely resort back to a more traditional form of the 'West Coast Offense' that would get the tight end more involved in the passing game. The typical two receiver, one tight end, two running back formation, could be exactly what the 49ers need to overcome the loss of Rice. The team is currently deep at running back, though there is no single 'leader' at the position - thus the two back set should be ideal. The formation is also less predictable and that could make getting the ball to Owens or Stokes easier.

Much has also been made of how Jeff Garcia will respond to losing the best receiver in the history of the game. This however, should not be the greatest issue Garcia must overcome. Stokes has proven to have very reliable hands, improving greatly on his first seasons with the team. He should be the cushion that Garcia looks too when Owens is not an option - in the same manor that Rice was used last season. Jeff Garcia should be more concerned about the lack of a established running game. Until the 49ers can prove that they can really run the ball, teams will be challenging them to do so, most likely doubling up on the receivers. This is the biggest issue Garcia will have to over come this season. Garcia must establish the team as his own, and prove that he can move it up and down the field at will. It's not an easy task, but Garcia should be up to it in his third season with the club.

This will be a different 49ers squad than what fans have grown accustomed to in the past. The team will need to prove that it is still the offensive threat that made it famous. Steve Mariucci will finally get the opportunity to show his offensive mind with a young, vibrant offense without an imprint already left on it. Greg Knapp will be crucial in the 49ers success this season. His ability to work with Mariucci on game plans could make a significant difference in the 49ers season.

Talk about it in the 49ers Paradise Forum

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