Notable Offseason Moves: The 49ers’ biggest offseason change happened on the sidelines, as San Francisco fired head coach Steve Mariucci. The team then searched far and wide for a successor. At various times the 49ers’ open job was linked to current defensive coordinator Jim Mora, Jets’ defensive coordinator Ted Cotrell, Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Bears’ defensive coordinator Greg Blache, and former Vikings’ head coach Dennis Green. At one point, quarterback Jeff Garcia called the scattered search “embarrassing.”
In a surprise move, San Francisco opted for Oregon State head coach Dennis Erickson, who held the head job in Seattle from 1995-98. How surprising was the decision? Just ask Dennis himself.
"A week ago, or four days ago at this time, I had no idea I was going to have the opportunity to be the 49ers' coach -- no idea at all," Erickson told the local media after the signing. "It just happened."
Erickson, who has had success at several college programs, is known as an offensive guru. He loves using three wide receiver sets, but he also claimed that he would not move the 49ers away from the West Coast offense. As such, we expect the squad to keep the basics that have been working for years, but Erickson will undoubtedly jazz up the passing game and have San Francisco near the top of the NFL in yards.
Fortunately (in our eyes), the 49ers will have to gain yards without the services of wide receiver J.J. Stokes. The first-round bust said goodbye to the Bay and will ply his snail-paced trade in Jacksonville next season. Tai Streets, who wanted to be traded during the offseason, already had a hold on the number two spot, but the Stokes’ move further solidifies his position. Cedric Wilson has dibs on the third slot.
Although he may not make the team, running back Rashaan Salaam has earned a spot on the training camp roster. This marks the fifth squad for the former Heisman Trophy winner, and we know he’ll be keeping things cool, calm, and gnarly around camp. No word on if Woody Harrelson and Jeff Spicoli will be on hand to cheer for Rashaan.
Position Battles: We hated it last year, and we’re going to loathe it again this season. Ladies and gentleman, meet the 49ers’ running backs! There was speculation prior to April’s draft that Garrison Hearst would not make it past the June 1 cuts, but he’s still with the team and presumably will be the main back again.
However, hot on Hearst’s coattails is the younger, more exciting Kevan Barlow. Erickson said that Barlow needs to be on the field more this season (we could have told you that two years ago), but there’s nothing to suggest that Barlow will receive any more than 50 percent of the carries.
Further throwing confusion into the situation is the fact that Barlow is entering the last year of his contract while Hearst is signed through 2007. If the 49ers' unwisely decide that Barlow isn't their back of the future, would they let him split carries with Hearst? Then again, the 49ers might want to see what Barlow can do if asked to carry a full load. Inquiring fantasy owners need to know, Dennis.
We also shouldn’t forget fullback Fred Beasley, who Erickson also wants to see the ball more in 2003. (Who doesn't Dennis want to give more carries to?) Beasley only tallied 49 touches last season, so an increase may not mean that he steals significant time from the feature backs. However, Fred was arguably the best short-yardage back in the NFL in 2002. (Look at that pic. Who's going to stop him from getting one yard?) If Erickson takes note of that role, Beasley could conceivably steal key carries from Hearst and Barlow.
In a much smaller battle, fourth-round pick Brandon Lloyd sneak up and steal Wilson's third receiver spot. Erickson liked what he saw in both Lloyd and fellow rookie Arnaz Battle during minicamp. If, as expected, the 49ers turn to more three-receiver sets, Wilson or Lloyd would deserve some fantasy attention. Although their projected numbers won’t be too exciting, it’s possible that the next Jerry Porter or Marc Boerigter could come out of this system.
Keep an Eye On: Early indications are that Erickson is going to put Garcia in situations where he can improvise. Jeff usually flourishes in such scenarios, and he should be able to put his sub-par 2002 behind him. The new schemes should allow Garcia to get back to the 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns we've come to expect. If he’s passing fancy in the preseason, fantasy owners will want to move Garcia up their rankings.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens is entering the final year of his contract and is seeking a long-term deal. Owens did not show up at any of the 49ers’ minicamps due to a movie shoot and "personal reasons," but he's not happy about the contract either. For the time being, Erickson is being very tolerant of his star receiver, and we don't have too much to worry about at the moment. After all, Terrell could probably arrive three days before the season opener and dominate. However, word from the Bay Area media outlets is that the San Francisco brass is unlikely to give Owens the deal he wants before or anytime during the season, which could create tension as time goes on. It looks like the two sides will be parting ways after the season, and hopefully Owens' potential farewell campaign goes more smoothly than Jerry Rice's did.
We’ll obviously be watching the running back battle. As of now, fantasy owners need to plan on grabbing Barlow if they pick Hearst – and vice versa. We never want to wish injury on anyone, so we'll simply note that both Barlow and Hearst would have serious fantasy value were the other not around to steal playing time.
Lastly, we’d be remiss not to mention tight Eric Johnson, a favorite sleeper of some around the Fanball office. Johnson missed much of 2002 with a back injury and finished with an uninspiring 321 yards and no scores. However, anyone who watched the 49ers’ last three regular season games and their playoff win over the Giants will have noted that Johnson is a favorite target of Garcia. The Yale grad tallied eight catches in three of those four games, and we have a feeling that Garcia will be eyeing Johnson often this season
Last edited by Homeless on Tue Jul 15, 2003 1:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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From the perspective of a fan that has watched most of the 49'er games under the Mariucci regime...
1. It was very frustrating to watch the team excel in just about every obvious passing situation (when they used a 3-wide formation), and use those formations such a small percentage of the time. You can see this in Garcia's 3rd down QB rating last year. Through the roof. This is also evident in the number of come-from-behind victories they had.
I saw Corey Dillon on Outside the Lines on ESPN. They highlighted his record breaking rushing game a couple years ago and mentioned that at one point, they ran the same play for Dillon 14 times in a row. Even the Bengals can figure out that if the other team can't stop you, keep doing the same thing. Mariucci was never able to grasp this concept. The 49'er no-huddle offense was pretty much unstoppable.... The 4 times they used it during the past three years.
2. The search for a new coach was bush-league (like Tampa, but the end result was much worse). I like the fact that Mariucci was replaced, but I was expecting the replacement to be someone with NFL credentials better than those of Erickson. Time will tell whether it was the right decision, but I expect the offense to be more explosive next year.
In Mariucci's defense, he was a great coach for the 49'ers during their rebuilding phase. Great motivator. I think he'll be a really good fit for the Lions and their current situation.