3 San Francisco 49ers
Team Page | Schedule | Depth chart | 2000 Stats
Rookie pass rusher Andre Carter may be not just a blessing but a
By Michael Silver
He's a battle-scarred veteran with a surly disposition, an underappreciated warrior who has no use for hype. Yet when 49ers offensive tackle Derrick Deese is asked about the upcoming season, his 10th in the NFL, he suddenly becomes more bubbly than Regis Philbin. "I can't wait for the season to start," Deese said after completing a training-camp practice on a 104° August afternoon in Stockton, Calif. "Let the games begin, because I'm seeing some special things on that practice field, and I'm fired up to make it somebody else's problem."
It refers to San Francisco's defensive line as a whole and specifically to first-round draft pick Andre Carter, a speed rusher with whom Deese has been engaged in spirited sparring sessions for the past four months. From the first time the two players squared off in a one-on-one pass-rushing drill at a postdraft minicamp, Deese has been amazed by the former Cal All-America's quickness, agility and maturity. If Carter has the impact that Deese and many teammates and coaches are anticipating, the Niners' long-term rebuilding plan could be vastly accelerated. Says Carter, "We're trying to bring back the respect that was lost a few years ago."
To be sure, one player can't restore the aura of excellence to the 49ers, who won five Super Bowls from 1981 through '94 and had an unprecedented 16 consecutive seasons (1983-98) with at least 10 victories. However, in losing 22 of 32 games over the past two seasons, San Francisco suffered from subpar defensive line play, which in turn put added pressure on a young secondary. That figures to change with the drafting of right end Carter (San Francisco traded up two spots to get him at No. 7) and the progress of two young players who will split snaps on the left side, 25-year-old Chike Okeafor and 24-year-old John Engelberger. On passing downs the Niners plan to unleash Carter from one side and outside linebacker Julian Peterson, their top pick in 2000, from the other.
Throw in the return of defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, a free-agent signee who hopes to recapture the success he enjoyed with partner-in-grime Bryant Young four years ago, and the 49ers suddenly appear robust up front. In 1997, Stubblefield had 15 sacks and was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, but then he joined the Redskins as a free agent. In three disappointing seasons with Washington he had just seven sacks, and he was released in March.
"We're working toward our line becoming the strength of our defense," says Young. "If we all keep working and improving, we could be a lot better than we were last year, maybe even a playoff team."
That may be a lot to ask given San Francisco's youth and its uncertainty at halfback, but the hyperbole has flowed since the 6'4", 265-pound Carter came aboard. Not content to compare him with former San Francisco pass-rushing stars Fred Dean and Charles Haley, team officials have hinted that he might have the same impact rookie Jevon Kearse had on the Titans in 1999. As with Kearse, Carter is considered light for an every-down defensive end, but he hopes to offset a lack of size with his leverage, technique and hand strength.
Carter's teammates have taken to calling him Junior in deference to his father, Rubin, a former Denver Broncos nosetackle (1975-86) who is the Jets' defensive line coach. Andre's passion for football developed slowly. He says his most compelling memory of his father's workplace was watching Pee-Wee's Playhouse in the Broncos' team lounge. "To get me to go to the games," he says, "my mom had to bribe me with candy bars."
Andre became a taekwondo black belt at 12 and credits his martial arts training with helping him develop quick hands. Rubin, who was Stubblefield's position coach in Washington in 1999 and 2000, further honed Andre's technique, something his father may regret when the 49ers visit the Jets on Oct. 1.
Now Carter has another, unlikely mentor -- Deese, who quickly enlisted the rookie as his partner for one-on-one workouts at the conclusion of minicamp and training-camp practices. It's a relationship Deese enjoyed with Young when Deese was a guard in '94. Like Carter, Young was an undersized college standout whose maturity, work ethic and character compelled San Francisco to trade up (also to the No. 7 slot) for his services. Young delivered by becoming one of the league's best defensive linemen, and Deese believes Carter will come through, too.
"He's a mature kid who wants to work hard at all costs, and that's the most important thing," Deese says. "The guy is just so fluent. I'm helping him out, but he's also helping me out, which is the old 49er way."
Issue date: September 3, 2001