Are the rookies ready?
Several of San Francisco's top rookies did not participate in either of the team's June minicamps because of an NFL rule that doesn't allow rookies to take part in minicamps and other organized practice functions while their respective schools still are in session. But, fortunately, that rule did not apply to some key rookies who are expected to make immediate contributions in 2004. Here's a rundown on the level of readiness entering training camp for each of San Francisco's 10 draft picks and the team's other top rookies: DRAFT PICKS RASHAUN WOODS: Like any rookie receiver, he was a little overwhelmed by the system after joining the team in May. But he made good progress picking up the offense after working with the team the rest of that month and during June minicamps. He is ready to step in and challenge for a starting role this summer. JUSTIN SMILEY: Came along well during the spring, and coaches spent a lot of time with him on his footwork, which will be the biggest area he'll need to improve on, particularly pass blocking. He's also ready to challenge for a starting role once the pads go on. SHAWNTAE SPENCER: The cornerback got a lot of work this spring, but he'll need a lot more this summer. He remains raw and still is learning his way around entering training camp. DERRICK HAMILTON: Hamilton's not ready to seriously compete for a significant role at receiver when camp begins. He doesn't have nearly the polish of a prospect such as Woods, though the talent is there. It will be long into summer until that talent is able to surface in the system, however, though Hamilton will be given a shot to see if he's ready to contribute as a kick returner. ISAAC SOPOAGA: The big guy from Samoa is another rookie who's rough around the edges. He probably has the least to learn, however, since he's expected to contribute primarily as a run-stuffer in the defensive trenches. This tough guy may start looking a lot more ready once he's wearing pads. RICHARD SEIGLER: He's behind on the learning curve entering training camp. His still wasn't 100 percent due to a knee injury in May, though he displayed some nice instincts. Missing all of the June minicamps because of the NFL rule, however, hurt him because San Francisco's linebackers will have a lot to absorb in the system this year. ANDY LEE: He and Woods may be the two rookies most ready from the get-go entering training camp. Lee had a fine spring adjusting to his new surroundings, learning the intricacies of kicking at the NFL level and continuing to develop as a punter. KEITH LEWIS: Made a favorable impression in May with his fireball intensity and quick reactions. But his development was stunted by the NFL rule, and he'll be behind entering training camp when - if he'd had the rest of the spring to work with the team - he may have had an opportunity to be more prominent immediately in the cloudy plans at safety. CODY PICKETT: The NFL rule was a killer for Pickett, who would have received an unexpected opportunity for increased snaps in competitive minicamp situations after starting quarterback Tim Rattay's freak injury. Instead, he'll just be learning the ropes at the end of this month, and his reps and time to catch up will be limited because the Niners have to get their unsettled QB situation ready for the season. CHRISTIAN FERRARA: Did the best he could to grasp the system, but it was difficult to tell if he'll be ready at the start this summer, since his opportunities were limited and he is way down the depth chart. OTHER TOP ROOKIES JASON WRIGHT: Missed out on valuable June opportunity due to NFL rule and fell behind in hot battle for backup role at tailback. KIRK YLINIEMI: Missing June camps due to NFL rule didn't hurt him, since Niners cut Danny Boyd - who kicked well this spring - last month, leaving Yliniemi as the camp kicking competition for incumbent Todd Peterson. NORM KATNIK: Undrafted rookie from USC was steady during spring and might be rookie OL most ready for training camp. GREG CAROTHERS: Athletic linebacker displayed some talent in May, but then had to sit out in June due to NFL rule. MELVIN SIMMONS: Fly-to-the-ball linebacker took advantage of opportunities in spring and appears to have firm grasp of system. P.J. FLECK: Receiver has the smarts and polish; the question now is if he has the size and talent. KHIAWATHA DOWNEY: Intelligent, hardworking rookie made enough of a spring impression that the Niners dumped veteran OL Greg Randall.
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