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Inside the War Room

49ers pass on Pennington, opt for defense instead

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Posted: Sunday April 16, 2000 12:55 PM

  Julian Peterson Julian Peterson's hard-hitting style could help the 49ers improve into a stronger defensive team. AP

By Tom Rinaldi,

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For the 2000 NFL Draft the 49ers weren't worried about stars. They needed starters.

San Francisco drafted for defense, hoping their top picks could play on opening day. Michigan State's Julian Peterson at linebacker can replace Lee Woodall. Ahmed Plummer, the cornerback from Ohio State, can help a secondary that gave up 36 touchdowns last year.

This draft was not about patience or projects. It's about immediate defensive production.

"Well in a perfect world you have a nice team put together, and then the guys that you draft can be your backups," 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci said. "But that's not going to be the case with many of our picks because of the depth that we lack on this football team. So particularly on defense we've got some serious needs, and I'm not going to hand any jobs over to any person coming in here, but there's going to be a real opportunity for somebody to compete and maybe start as a rookie."

Steve Young's future is still uncertain, and Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington was available for the Niners' first pick at 16. San Francisco passed on this year's top passer. Why?

"We had a lot of other needs, where people can come in, particularly on defense, and possibly start," Mariucci said. "We did like [Hofstra quarterback] Gio Carmazzi as well. There are some similarities too actually. They are both Rhodes scholar-type candidates -- 3.9 students and very productive -- they both threw the ball around the block, neither one played at big schools, but they are both very, very capable quarterbacks."

The 49ers have not had five rookies play as starters since 1950. This season they say they'll need at least that many on this team. It's ironic for a club that once defined the West Coast, suddenly defense is the draft's top priority.

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