49ers Clubhouse 

More Than A Glimpse of Hope 

by Rod Albuyeh
Clubhouse Staff Writer

The 49ers have been showing us for the last two years that they are only a mere echo of their former selves.  The only reason this team is a contender right now is because of that "classy 49er attitude" as my uncle, a fellow diehard fan, calls it.  Experts in various different magazines have analyzed frisco time and time again, and yet we still c'ant get enough.  We as fans love hearing other people's opinions.  Well, if you're a fan, then I've got a treat for you.

Eddie Debartolo is a smart guy when it comes to business.  And when he was still the owner of the 49ers, the team was still in essence a business.  Back in the glory days, he recruited the likes of the "genius" Bill Walsh and George Seifert.  Both took this team to the promised land.  Steve Mariucci is a different breed of coach.  While Walsh and Seifert were stressing hard work and attention to details, Mooch has provided a "Ra-Ra" atmosphere and has told the players again and again that football is only a game, and the point of it is to have fun.  Or at least that's what the players thought.  In the week four game in Dallas, 49ers Wide Receiver Terrell Owens drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after twice running to the middle of the field in Texas stadium and pointing up to God (I was one of the few lucky 49er fans to see that in person).  This drew much speculation from the media in reference to Mariucci's control over his players.  He silenced his critics by slamming his star receiver with a one game suspension, showing that while football is still nothing but a game, it is also a business in which players must conduct themselves like men. 
Grade: B+ 

We are still yet to see what these players will become, but knowing Bill Walsh you really can't go wrong.  He is the "genius" after all.  All of the players drafted have looked strong during the preseason.  I was especially impressed by Kevan Barlow.  On the flip side it was sort of disappointing that Andre Carter didn't get any sacks after all the raving that was done about him during training camp. 
Grade: A- 

Statistics don't mean anything when you can't win.  While Jeff Garcia looked pretty on paper after the games, more often than not he couldn't get the job done.  There were way too many close losses last year.  If you think back to the '98 season, there were just as many games where the outcome was determined by a single score, only those games went the other way a la Steve Young.  True, with a better supporting cast, Garcia certainly could have won at least ten games, but his trip to the pro bowl was definitely a reach. Behind Garcia you have Tim Rattay, who was good all preseason but was unimpressive against the Broncos last week.  I say give the kid a break, it's only his seccond year.  He will get better.  Rick Mirer was unimpressive during his brief showing in the pre-season and was released several days ago. Knowing that he had such little time, he could have and should have done more to show that he is still worth his veteran's salary.  This is a man who has earned so many points on his U-Haul account that he can almost buy out the company.  Congratulations to him for ALMOST staying with our team for two whole consecutive seasons.  The 49ers decided to go even younger and pick up third quarterback and former Tennessee Titan Kevin Daft.  This guy was impressive in college, but coming into the NFL there were some questions on how he would handle the speed of this professional game.  Hopefully, under quarterback Guru Gregg Knapps influence Daft will be able to get it done and develop into a strong backup. 
Grade: B 

It's definitely going to be interesting watching for developments in the runningback situation.   I think that whoever starts will get his 1000 yards and a little fame.  I'm leaning toward rookie Kevan Barlow just because he's looked so good in his only two preseason games.  He looks like a Stephen Davis type bruiser.  As for Paul Smith, I have no idea but I'm sure he could be decent if used in the right way.  Everybody is rooting for Garrison Hearst, of course, to make a comeback.  He has looked average in his preseason starts, and I doubt that he will be his former self this season. At fullback we have Fred Beasely and Terry Jackson.  Beasely is a William Floyd like blocker although he doesn't have the running skills that "bar none" had.  Jackson solidifies this position with his speed and efficient blocking. 
Grade: C+ 

Now that Jerry gone, and the tears have dried, it's time to move on. Moving on may prove to be a move for the better.  J.J. Stokes is a carbon copy of Terrell Owens physically, but it's his mental game he needs to work on.  To be a good receiver in the NFL, you have to be able to make clutch catches. The problem with J.J. though, is that for him last year every catch was a clutch catch since he was always trying to prove himself.  He needs to get out of that mindset and start fulfilling his potential.  He has been in the league for years, and the word "potential" has been used with him for too long.  Terrell Owens wont be taking teams by surprise like he did last season, but still he should pull in his hundred or so catches and get a trip to Hawaii. Tai Streets, to me, is the most interesting of the group.  He could seriously give Stokes a run for his money in vying for the number-two-receiver job. Having Owens and Streets on the field at the same time would give the niners a much more balanced attack since Streets possesses that break away speed that Stokes doesn't.  Behind Streets comes Cedric Wilson, whom if the crystal ball is being straight with me, won't cause defensive backs to soil themselves upon his sight. 
Grade: B+ 

It looks as if the oft-inured Greg Clark won't be playing for a while, and behind him there are Eric Johnson and Justin Swift.  Clark is more of a blocking tight end and wont be doing much catching this season, but Eric Johnson is built more like a wide receiver than a tight end.  He pulled in over a thousand yards at Yale last year, and was probably one of the best if not the best athlete on the team.  He was impressive in pre-season action and I would love to see him turn into the next Brent Jones.  Only time will tell.  At the number three spot there is Justin Swift.  He looked good in NFL Europe, and it would be really cool to have a starting tight end with the name "Swift".  Did I mention that he's not that fast? 
Grade: D+ 

Finally, for the first time in years, we are returning all of our starters from the offensive line.  Remember how during the 90's the 49ers would play musical chairs with their starting linemen?  Well it seems that the days of party games are no more, and we finally will have a solid offensive line this season. The 49ers offensive line is one of the most underrated lines in the NFL. This is in part because of the fact that the average weight of the line is 40 pounds below the NFL average. The late Bob McKintrick used to rely on smaller, more athletic lineman because of their superior footwork and speed.  My favorite guy on the line is definitely Ray Brown. Year in and year out, he has been the most consistent of all the 49ers linemen and last year he was very deserving of a pro bowl. The most impressive thing about this guy, is that even after sixteen years of NFL experience, he is still just as hungry for success as any of the rookies and second year players on the team. 
Grade: B- 

This is probably the most improved group from last season.  I loved the acquisition of Dana Stubblefield.  Even if he doesn't become the sack master that he was in 1997, he still is reliable in stopping the run and making younger quarterbacks a little more nervous.  Bryant Young is still Bryant Young.  Junior Bryant is unemployed.  Now I sincerely apologize for rushing through those last two players, but I am so excited to talk about Andre Carter.  I saw this guy play for Cal, and while he is already well known for racking up the sacks, he is also a helluva hard hitter.  Take it from me.  It also appears as if John Engleberger will start in game one against Atlanta, but I wish he would put on some weight.  The Niners have always been smaller than most teams on the offensive and defensive line, and hopefully that will start to change soon.
Grade: B+ 

Dozens of  "experts" say that this is the thinnest position for the Niners. That may be true, but if these boys can manage to stay healthy, they could be the most surprising group in the NFL.  Julian Peterson can only get better, Derek Smith has already proven himself at the "Mike" spot. The only concern I have is the other outside spot.  Jeff Ulbrich was injured most of last season and failed to show the coaches anything during the pre-season and the undersized Jaime Winborn is yet to 'wow' anyone with his skills.  I hope that somebody can step up to the plate and get it done for us. 
Grade: C 

Finally there are two cover corners that should hold on to their starting jobs for years to come, rather than the bunch of misfits that were there in 1999 who were all either too small, too slow, or even too raw.  Word has it that Ray Brown was vying for a spot at free safety in 99'.  Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster have solidified this position greatly.  The 49ers are leaps and bounds from where they were at the beginning of last year.  At safety there is former pro-bowler Lance Schulters who is coming off of an ACL injury. Things get interesting at free safety.  Now that Pierson Preloeu has been released, that leaves Zach Bronson and John Keith.  Keith is a John Lynch type hitter with average cover skills, and Bronsons skills go vice versa.  If one of these backs can improve their area of weakness, we will have some serious action at free safety.  Rashad Coleman got some priceless experience during the exhibition games as well.  He could figure into the mix.  Another guy to keep your eye on is Anthony Parker.  His rookie season was wiped out with injuries, but he has showed some serious promise and is third on the depth chart at cornerback.  On top of those things, he is one mean looking SOB.   
Grade: B- 

Special teams are easily the weakest position on the Niners.  They were already sub-par last year, and they might be downright pathetic this year. Returner Kevin Williams, place-kicker Wade Richey, and punter Chad Stanley are all gone.  In their place are Cedric Wilson, Jose Cortez, and Josh Baker respectively.  These guys are all full of potential, and with special teams coach Bruce DeHaven guiding them, they might have a significant upside, only that upside may shine farther in the future.   
Grade: F 

The only thing that anybody can be sure of is that this team will be better than last year and is definitely headed in the right direction.  We are definitely contenders for the playoffs, and just one more good offseason will put us in the running for a championship. 
Final Grade: B- 

Projected 2001 Record: 9-7

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