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4 SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
Michael Silver
August 28, 2000
Another trying fall awaits this long-dominant franchise, which has plenty of eager young players but, alas, no Young
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August 28, 2000

4 San Francisco 49ers

Another trying fall awaits this long-dominant franchise, which has plenty of eager young players but, alas, no Young

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PROJECTED LINEUP
WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Steve Mariucci
Fourth season with 49crs (29-19 in NFL)

Offensive Backs

QB

Jeff Garcia

78*

375 att.

225comp.

60.0%

2,544 yds.

11 TDs

11 int.

77.9 rtg.

RB

Charlie Garner

41*

241 att.

1,229 yds.

5.1 avg.

56 rec.

535 yds.

9.6 avg.

6 TDs

RB

Travis Jervey

218*

6 att.

49 yds.

8.2 avg.

1 rec.

2 yds.

2.0 avg.

1 TD

FB

Fred Beasley

220*

58 att.

276 yds.

4.8 avg.

32 rec.

282 yds.

8.8 avg.

4 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR

Terrell Owens

99*

60 rec.

754 yds.

4 TDs

WR

Jerry Rice

108*

67 rec.

830 yds.

5 TDs

WR

J.J. Stokes

129*

34 rec.

429 yds.

3 TDs

TE

Greg Clark

256*

34 rec.

347 yds.

0 TDs

K

Wade Richey

223*

30/31 XPs

21/23 FGs

93 pts.

PR

Kevin Williams#

289*

33 ret.

10.0 avg.

0 TDs

KR

Travis Jervey

218*

8 ret.

23.9 avg.

0 TDs

LT

Derrick Deese

6'3"

289 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

LG

Ray Brown

6'5"

318 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

C

Jeremy Newberry

6'5"

315 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RG

Dave Fiore

6'4"

295 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RT

Scott Gragg#

6'8"

325 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

Defense

LE

Junior Bryant

47 tackles

4� sacks

LT

Bryant Young

40 tackles

11 sacks

RT

Reggie McGrewt

41 tackles

5 sacks

RE

Anthony Pleasant#

52 tackles

2 sacks

OLB

Julian Peterson (R)#

74 tackles

12 sacks

MLE

Ken Norton

101 tackles

1 sack

OLB

Winfred Tubbs

86 tackles

2 sacks

CB

Ahmed Plummer (R)#

55 tackles

5 int.

SS

Lance Schulters

63 tackles

6 int.

FS

Pierson Prioleau

44 tackles

0 int.

CB

Monty Montgomery

20 tackles

0 int.

P

Chad Stanley

69 punts

39.7 avg.

Now acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
? 1998 statistics

Their free fall from grace came with such stunning swiftness, it's hard to conceive that at this time last year the 49ers were talking Super Bowl and carrying themselves with a self-assured aura of superiority. What a difference a jeer makes: Any remaining trace of the Miners' bravado was obliterated last Dec. 5 in Cincinnati, where a sickly secondary was shredded by the wretched Bengals—one of whom, since-departed wideout Carl Pickens, felt comfortable enough to mock the defenseless visitors. The eighth consecutive defeat, a 44-30 pasting, clinched San Francisco's first losing season in 17 years and was, in the words of linebacker Ken Norton Jr., "an embarrassing moment. I mean, who the hell is Cincinnati? They had no respect for us, and Pickens was talking mess and pushing people around. I thought, If Cincinnati's talking s—-, we've hit rock bottom."

During that wipeout in Cincinnati, and for much of a season that ended with 11 losses in 12 games, San Francisco's overmatched and undersized coverage men flailed helplessly against an onslaught of deep passes. Let the record show that the Niners' dynasty came unraveled at the corners: The team started seven players at the position in '99 while surrendering 36 touchdown passes, the fifth-highest total in NFL history.

Not surprisingly, San Francisco addressed its most glaring weakness in last April's draft, picking two cornerbacks—first-rounder Ahmed Plummer from Ohio State and second-rounder Jason Webster from Texas A&M—both of whom the Niners felt were seasoned enough to step right in and endure all-out assaults on a weekly basis. "Based on last year, I'm sure receivers who play us will be licking their chops," Niners wideout Terrell Owens says. "If we're going to do anything, our young corners will have to grow up fast."

The Niners have a precedent for dual-edged rookie excellence at the position: Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright in '81, the season the team won its first of five Super Bowls, and Tim McKyer and Don Griffin in '86. While those players thrived from the outset, coach Steve Mariucci is merely asking Plummer and Webster to survive. "If we can get even one corner to make a few plays, it changes everything," says safety Lance Schulters, who made the Pro Bowl in '99. "Playing in the middle last year was so frustrating. Stuff was happening on both sides of the field, and I was like, Man, who do I help?"

Among those corners no longer requiring Schulters's assistance are 5'7" Mark McMillian (out of football), 5'8" Darnell Walker (who signed with the Vikings) and 5'9" R.W. McQuarters (traded to the Bears), three players who struggled against stronger, taller receivers. Both of this year's starters, Plummer and fourth-year man Monty Montgomery, are 5'11". While only 5'9", Webster has been lauded by teammates for his aggressiveness when the ball is in the air and will see plenty of time as the third cornerback.

The secondary's improvement can't be accurately gauged until the real games begin, but neither Plummer, a three-time academic All-America who has been married since 1999, nor Webster, chosen by A&M players as a team spokesman following the bonfire tragedy that killed 12 people before the Aggies' game against Texas last November, seems awed by the challenge. "Those two guys have played in big games, and neither one is going to get overwhelmed by the transition," says Mariucci.

Even so, recollections of last year's aerial torture sessions continue to haunt the team's veterans.

Owens: "I hear it all the time from receivers around the league—'We can't wait to play y'all.' I mean, we made [Carolina's] Patrick Jeffers look like he was all-world. I'm not saying he's a garbage receiver, but we put him on every highlight show."

Norton: "We'd know exactly what the opposing offense's game plan was—throw deep—and we were powerless to stop it. It didn't matter what we did up front; we'd just watch the ball sail over our heads and know they were either going to catch a deep ball on us or get a pass-interference call."

As encouraged as the other Niners may be about the potential of their young cornerbacks, few harbor delusions of grandeur. The franchise is grappling with Steve Young's retirement and an ongoing salary-cap nightmare, and there is uncertainty at virtually every other position. It remains to be seen which of three young safeties (Zack Bronson, Pierson Prioleau or fourth-round draft pick John Keith) will emerge as a force opposite Schulters and replace retired defensive leader Tim McDonald.

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