General Gragg

Scott Gragg always has fit in well with the 49ers, but this year he moves to the forefront as one of the team's central figures. Now the sage veteran of an offensive line the Niners feel is quicker and more athletic than last year, Gragg is a prominent returning starter the team is counting on for stability, but his biggest contribution may come in the leadership role being thrust upon him.

As San Francisco's oldest returning offensive player, this is a role Gragg accepts willingly in his 10th NFL season and fifth year with the Niners.

"I've held myself accountable and wanted to keep myself at that standard for probably four or five years now," Gragg said. "Guys have to look at me and either embrace or acknowledge or come along with the work ethic, desire, passion and all those things I try to bring. It's something I look forward to, I embrace, and I hold myself accountable to be that person."

Gragg is not exactly a combative, driving force such as General Patton, but he is a commanding presence both in stature and speech. Gragg chooses his words, and his battles, carefully.

At 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds, he has the brawn to back up his intentions. But Gragg combines those physical attributes with the kind of ingenuity, aptitude and intellect that has some observers considering him as a possible political candidate in the future.

The only seat Gragg is running for right now is right tackle with the 49ers, where he has been the incumbent since joining the team as a free agent in 2000.

An ankle injury at the start of the 2003 season prevented Gragg from building immediately on his strong seasons of 2001 and 2002 - when he started 35 consecutive games (including playoffs) and gained some All-Pro recognition - but Gragg returns this year along with center Jeremy Newberry as the unquestioned leaders along the line, in particular, and the offense in general.

Gragg also is mentioned by coaches and teammates alike as one of the top candidates to fill a leadership void created by the loss of 11 starters from last season, including longtime locker-room fixtures such as tackle Derrick Deese and quarterback Jeff Garcia.

"The thing that I liked that I saw during (the spring) was that Scott Gragg saw a leadership role in himself," said offensive line coach Gregg Smith, who also doubles as San Francisco's assistant head coach. "He may have been a little overshadowed by those other guys and now he's got a chance to step up and show his leadership abilities."

Coach Dennis Erickson said he has seen those qualities all along.

"Scott Gragg always has been a leader on this team," Erickson said. "He's still here."

And now, Gragg likely will have more to say about it.

"I'll probably have a little bit more vocal role than I've played in the past," he said.

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