Erickson hires another familiar face

Dennis Erickson got the defensive coordinator he wanted on Thursday, naming Willy Robinson to succeed Jim Mora in that position as the 49ers coach continued to surround himself with veteran assistants whom he knows well and is comfortable with. "He's an outstanding coach and I'm really excited to have him," Erickson said. "He's a guy that I am very confident in and will lead our defense to great things as time goes on."

Robinson, a longtime Erickson associate, coached the defensive backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers the past four years.

He was Erickson's defensive coordinator at Oregon State in 1999, when his defense was the top-ranked unit in the Pac-10. Robinson also coached the defensive backs for the Seattle Seahawks when Erickson was the coach there from 1995-98, and also spent a year coaching Erickson's secondary at Miami in 1994.

"I wanted to get back with coach Erickson," said Robinson, who resigned earlier in the day from Pittsburgh, where he might have been in the running to be defensive coordinator there. "I think (the 49ers) are a wonderful organization and I think coach Erickson has it going in the right direction."

Robinson will work closely with Erickson and linebackers coach Greg McMackin - the 49ers' assistant head coach - in running San Francisco's defense in 2004.

"Any time in coaching, when you have your own staff together you want to have people you know and can trust and that's how it is with Willy," Erickson said. "Greg, Willy and myself will get together and will look at what we feel we need to do defensively as far as how we will attack it and what our personnel is like, but we are going to do it all together. That is exciting to me and that is what our staff is becoming, a group that everyone will be on the same page and everyone is trying to achieve the same thing."

It only took a week for Erickson to replace the three most prominent members of his coaching staff - Mora, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Pat Morris. Erickson promoted former Niners quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and former tight ends coach Gregg Smith, respectively, to replace Knapp and Morris.

Now that Erickson has put his own stamp on his staff for 2004, he plans to take on a more active role in the team.

"We'll hit the ground running, without a question," Erickson said.


--- Receiver Terrell Owens has experienced more than his share of dropped passes the past two seasons, as he rarely practiced more than once a week because of a lingering groin strain.

According to one club source, Owens was advised to spend more time catching balls during the course of the week to keep his hands sharp. But Owens never took the advice.

One conservative count had Owens with 28 dropped passes in the 29 games he played over the 2002 and '03 seasons.

He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March, and it is doubtful the team will make a concerted effort to retain his services.

--- Owens sustained a broken left collarbone Dec. 21 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The injury will keep him out of the Pro Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 8 in Honolulu. Tampa Bay's Keenan McCardell was named to take Owens' place on the NFC team, though Owens has said he still plans to go to Hawaii to take part in the game festivities.

--- Former defensive coordinator Mora probably landed the plum of the head-coaching openings, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said. Clearly, the presence of Michael Vick at quarterback makes the Falcons job attractive, especially when compared with the other six organizations that fired their coaches.

"It's a great opportunity," Donahue said. "Of all the jobs open, arguably Atlanta is the best one because of the quarterback situation and the owner. They're determined to win there."

Mora interviewed with Falcons general manager Rich McKay and owner Arthur Blank, both of whom wanted to know how Mora planned to tailor a West Coast-style offense to Vick's extraordinary talents.

--- Consultant Bill Walsh, whose contract with the 49ers expires on May 1, said he would have hired Mora a year ago to be the 49ers' coach if it were his decision.

Mora was one of three finalists among NFL assistant coaches last year when the 49ers were searching for a replacement for Steve Mariucci. But Donahue and owner John York did not hire Mora, Ted Cottrell or Greg Blache, instead deciding on Erickson.

Walsh said he fully endorsed the Falcons' appointment of Mora to be head coach.

"(Mora's) extremely intelligent and very well organized," Walsh told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He was my choice (to be the 49ers coach). Our general manager, Terry Donahue, had a background in college (football); that's what he was familiar with. So he hired Dennis Erickson."

--- The 49ers figure to be in the market for a long-snapper, possibly in the draft, with the expected departure of Brian Jennings, who is scheduled to be a free agent.

The 49ers signed safety Terrence Carroll to a contract last week but the NFL immediately suspended him indefinitely for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, according to a league spokesman. Carroll has applied for reinstatement, the team said.

Carroll, who played at Oregon State under Erickson, was an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2001. The Eagles suspended him for a game and later released him after he was brought up on marijuana charges. He spent the 2003 season playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.


The 49ers are not expecting to re-sign Owens or Streets, so they will definitely be in the market for a wide receiver on the first day of the draft. They also need to do a better job of stockpiling talent on the defensive line, so they do not have to rely on a wide variety of blitzes to generate pressure on the quarterback. And they can always use help on the offensive line and defensive backfield.


--- Center Jeremy Newberry is scheduled to undergo reconstructive surgery on his left ankle after playing the entire season with a torn ankle ligament. The surgery is expected to keep him in rehabilitation for three to four months. About eight to 10 weeks after ankle surgery, Newberry will also undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder.

--- Tight end Eric Johnson, who missed the entire season with a broken right collarbone, underwent a "simple operation" on his collarbone. The injury has not healed properly, Erickson said.

--- Defensive tackle Bryant Young played the season with bone spurs in his left ankle, and he will have surgery to remove them. Special-teamer Terry Jackson will also undergo arthroscopic surgery on his ankle.

--- Rookie offensive tackle Kwame Harris will have surgery to correct a dislocation of his left shoulder. Another rookie, receiver Arnaz Battle, who ended the season on injured reserve is scheduled for surgery on his "turf toe" condition. And guard Eric Heitmann will have knee surgery on a bursa sac in February.

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