San Francisco Examiner

Safety Bronson should be ready
January 11, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

SANTA CLARA -- When the 49ers were in the midst of the historic comeback, they made a move that drew much attention: They replaced safety Zack Bronson with Ronnie Heard.

Bronson, who missed three months with a broken foot, couldn't get back into coverage, and defensive coordinator Jim Mora said Thursday he just couldn't risk a breakdown with the game on the line.

Bronson "just couldn't run" and it pained Mora to have to yank his defensive signal-caller. "We came to the sideline and said, 'You don't look good.' Guys know how Zack is," Mora said. "He said, 'I'll do anything for this team.' That to me said you're hurting." Bronson and Mora continued their verbal exchange, but Mora did what he had to.

Pulling Bronson off the field, given the outcome of the game, probably was best. It meant less wear on Bronson's foot, which still is tender.

"I was worried Monday he'd be sore," Mora said. To his surprise, Bronson was rejuvenated. "He felt good and he feels good this week," said Mora, who'll be counting on Bronson's knowledge against the Bucs. "He'll be a week better than he was last week and he'll play in the game.

The 49ers may need Bronson to tough it out, what with cornerback Jason Webster questionable with an ankle injury. "We're ready to go if he doesn't (go)," Mora said. "You always have to approach it as if you're not going to have a guy. Lindsey (McLean, head trainer) will get him ready."

With Webster on the mend, rookie Mike Rumph, who's finally coming around, will start. "It would be nice to have Jason back, obviously, but Mike played well too," Mora said. "I was really impressed with the way Mike Rumph stepped up."

FAMILY GAME: It's a game that will test the allegiance of one man, a scout who's employed by the 49ers yet whose son is head coach of the opposition.

Is there any wonder, then, why Niners scout Jim Gruden -- father of Jon Gruden -- is nowhere to be found?

An attempt to track down the elder Gruden, who resides in Tampa with his wife, Kathy, proved fruitless on Thursday. When a 49ers public-relations assistant was asked if Jim Gruden would be made available to talk about his son's upcoming tgame, the representative said: "We can't track him down. He's laying low."

Can't blame him. Jim Gruden probably wants to avoid stepping into the fray for fear of drawing the wrath of his employer.

Jon Gruden, however, found the father-and-son connection rather amusing when addressing reporters this week. Usually, the two connect every week. Except for this one. Jon Gruden hasn't heard a word from his father.

"It is kind of strange," said Jon Gruden, the Bucs' first-year coach. "I usually talk to him four, five, six times a week. Since the 49ers victory (over the New York Giants in last week's wild-card game), he hasn't called me one time.

"What's up with that, I don't know."

Asked if he felt somewhat neglected, the younger Gruden said with a chuckle: "Feel neglected? I feel like he left me. It's the most important time in my coaching career and my dad left me."

The two will reconnect -- once the Niners and Bucs finish their business Sunday.

T.O. PAYS: Coach Steve Mariucci refused to buy into the notion that his star receiver Terrell Owens failed to conduct himself properly when he engaged in two skirmishes at the conclusion of the 49ers' wild 39-38 comeback victory over the Giants last Sunday.

Obviously, the league feels otherwise. Owens and Giants safeties defensive backs Shaun Williams and Omar Stoutmire were fined Thursday for their roles in two fights that marred a game that ended with the officials missing a pass-interference call on 49ers defensive end Chike Okeafor.

Owens was fined $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, Williams was tagged for $10,000 for unnecessary roughness and Stoutmire received a $7,500 hit for unnecessary roughness at the end of the game, the league announced Thursday.

Owens hasn't spoken with local reporters for weeks and refused to comment on the league's action. It's the second time Owens was fined this season. Earlier, in Seattle, he was fined $5,000 for having an untucked shirttail. However, Owens traversed the dressing room after practice Thursday wearing a skin-tight Spiderman costume with mask. Backup defensive lineman Jerome Davis called Owens the "Ghetto Web-slinger."

INJURY REPORT: Left tackle Derrick Deese (ankle) and right guard Ron Stone did not practice Thursday and are listed as probable ... Center Jeremy Newberry had his left foot in a boot, but Mariucci expects all three to play ... Safety Zack Bronson (foot) and defensive end Sean Moran (strained Achilles'), linebacker Saleem Rasheed (thigh) and Owens (groin) are also probable, but should go ... But it's not looking good for cornerback Jason Webster, the only player listed as questionable, with an ankle sprain. Webster, who suffered the injury in the season-ending loss in St. Louis, hasn't practiced all week, and Mariucci isn't sure if he'll be healthy enough able to play Sunday.

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