The Ever Important Tight End
October 19 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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The tight end position and its use as a staple in the 49ers offense plays a big role in the 49ers passing game. Eric Johnson, who at one point this season lead the team with receptions has been doing a tremendous job at his position. Interestingly though, after averaging about 4.5 catches per game, Johnson did not even see a ball come his way on Monday night against the Seahawks.
A big reason for not using Johnson as a receiver in this game is that the 49ers needed him to help protect for Jeff Garcia who was getting hammered all night long. Johnson, who is not known for his pass blocking did not make any real mistakes blocking in Monday nights game. The improvement was great to see.
Another reason for Johnson not seeing the ball come his way was that when the 49ers passed, it was more to their receivers than in games passed. Garcia completed 16 passes, 12 of them were to receivers - thatís 75% of the completions. The previous week, in which Johnson received only two passes, Garcia found his receivers on 61% of his passes. These percentages were season highs for Garcia, who coincidentally had his first and second games with a passer rating of 100 or greater. In the previous three weeks, the receivers only received 60% (with Garcia out for half of the game), 37% and 44% of the completions. So the balls are certainly headed more towards the receivers in recent games than they were at the beginning of the season.
The 49ers should not forget to use Johnson in the passing game, he is a great outlet for Garcia, but he certainly shouldnít be the teamís leader in receiving considering the talent the 49ers have at the receiver positions.
This week backup tight end Justin Swift will have an expanded role too. Swift, who has not seen much action this season, will be the teamís emergency fullback if Fred Beasley canít take the field. Though the 49ers likely would consider simply running from a formation with both Hearst and Barlow on the field.