Concerning training camp

Spring class concluded for the 49ers on Thursday, and Dennis Erickson likes the young team he just sent away on a seven-week summer vacation. But San Francisco's second-year coach also is a realist. Despite the progress of spring, he knows the Niners will have plenty of concerns when they return for training camp July 30.

"You always have a lot of concerns," Erickson said Thursday as the Niners concluded a four-day minicamp at team headquarters, their final spring function as a complete unit.

This team has specific concerns it must address as soon as the serious business begins during training camp, and Erickson went right down a rather lengthy list:

--- "Offensively," Erickson said, "we have to develop what personality we're going to be, how our receivers are going to step up in situations." Brandon Lloyd, particularly, and Cedrick Wilson stepped up this spring and clearly developed an experienced, veteran presence that wasn't prevalent in either player last year. Curtis Conway appears to be a perfect veteran fit, but the Niners still can't be sure what they will get from any of their other receivers, most of them untested youngsters. Lloyd and Wilson "jumped out at this camp," Erickson said. "If we were to play tomorrow, they would be the two starters." Erickson also said he was impressed with Conway during his limited exposure to the team and anticipates he'll be "a faster force" when training camp commences.

--- "Then, of course, is Tim Rattay going to be healthy?" Erickson asked. When Rattay tore a groin muscle clean off the bone on May 7, it was expected he wouldn't be ready to return until after training camp began. But his recovery appears to be progressing rapidly, and the possibility exists he could be in uniform for the first summer practice. But that still is a definite uncertainty. Ken Dorsey, however, alleviated a lot of concerns with an impressive performance this spring. "One thing about (Rattay's) injury," Erickson said, "you don't like to see them, but it gave Ken some opportunities to get better and better and he grabbed them and did. Ken Dorsey had a very good camp and so did Brandon (Doman)."

--- "Our offensive front," Erickson said, "what group are we going to develop, what group depth-wise are we going to have there?" The good news is the Niners have a lot of options. The addition of veterans Greg Randall and Scott Rehberg, rookie Justin Smiley and several other youngsters exhibited a lot of promise this spring for the revamped line. But that promise must now translate into performance once the pads go on.

--- "Defensively, our secondary situation," Erickson said. "We have to make sure we develop four safeties." Tony Parrish is the unquestioned stud leader there, but the team is uncertain who will start at free safety between Ronnie Heard and Dwaine Carpenter, and it wants - and needs - to see one of those players emerge as a dependable performer. With rookie Keith Lewis missing the two June minicamps, the Niners had no legitimate fourth safety and tested a lot of players at that slot. The Niners also need to develop some depth at cornerback behind starters Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph, who were both solid this spring but will need some support at the position this fall.

--- "Who is going to be our third tackle?" Erickson wondered. "That's probably going to be the biggest thing up front (defensively)." Bryant Young and Anthony Adams are the starters, but the Niners aren't sure if rookie Isaac Sopoaga is ready to step up as a third man in a regular three-tackle rotation. If he isn't, there are a handful of other unheralded prospects the Niners will look at this summer.

--- "The competition at punter," Erickson said, "is going to be interesting." Sixth-round draft pick Andy Lee is the man entering training camp, but it's not a done deal he has earned the position. "But," Erickson said, "we're in a lot better shape right now than we were a year ago at this time."

Niners Digest Top Stories