Tuesday's news and views
The 49ers apparently ended the Khiawatha Downey Experiment for 2004 when they released the rookie offensive lineman Tuesday after reaching an injury settlement with him. But, while Downey doesn't figure into the team's plans this season, he still might have a future in San Francisco. With injury problems mounting along their offensive line, it's no surprise the Niners made a roster move with Downey, who is expected to miss up to six weeks after injuring his knee in practice Aug. 5. The team likes Downey's size and potential and the promise he exhibited during spring drills. But Downey, believed to be the first player to sign with an NFL team after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis before entering the league, still was a work in progress once the pads came on. He struggled with his technique in pass protection and was unlikely to help the team this season in its search for depth along the offensive line. But the Niners still have some interest in developing him. The team might consider signing him back to its practice squad once he is healthy. "We're going to have to move some offensive linemen on the practice squad," Erickson said. "I don't know who that is, and we've got a couple of other guys eligible for that." A more likely scenario is the Niners keeping close ties on Downey and, assuming he's not picked up by another team, signing him again after the season. Erickson indicated the team would like to see him develop in the World League. "He's a ways away, but he's got some potential," Erickson said. "He's a big man and he played at a small school (in college), so he's got a real upside to him." FIRST RATTAY, NOW DORSEY: Ken Dorsey was held out of 11-on-11 team drills Tuesday, missing those drills for the first time since taking over as the first-team quarterback after Tim Rattay injured his groin in May. But don't start worrying more about the quarterback position just yet. Dorsey – with tape running up his lower right leg – practiced during individual drills, and he was held out by Erickson simply as a precaution with what the team labeled on its injury report as "right Achilles tendinitis." "It's nothing serious," Erickson said. "I just held him out because he had a little tightness in his calf. He went through individual stuff and I just kept him out of team today. I did that on my own. He'll be back tomorrow." But Rattay won't be. Rattay missed his seventh consecutive day of practice with pain in his right (throwing) forearm. He's expected to return at the end of the week, but the team will start game-planning Wednesday for its Saturday exhibition opener against Oakland – a game in which Rattay won't play – and he probably won't get much work in practice until the team resumes its two-a-day camp schedule next Tuesday. Erickson said there still is a possibility Rattay will play in the Aug. 21 exhibition game at Chicago – his original target date to return to live action when training camp began – but the Niners might as well shelve that idea right now. The Niners shouldn't attempt to play Rattay in that game after all the practice time he has missed, and probably won't. Since Rattay still is recovering from his May 11 groin surgery – and he says he's almost at full strength now in that area – there is no reason to rush him back at this point. The Aug. 27 exhibition against Minnesota might be a more realistic return for him, but only if he is able to practice in all team drills during next week's shortened practice schedule and that of the week after. "Tim's getting better," Erickson said. "(His forearm)'s feeling a lot better than it has. We expect him to be back at the end of the week to practice. We'll see how he goes as far as playing against (Chicago)." PICKETT PICKING UP OFFENSE: With both Rattay and Dorsey out, rookie quarterback Cody Pickett got some extended time in team drills and appears to be settling comfortably into the offense. Pickett has a better arm and throws prettier passes than third-stringer Brandon Doman, and he also seemed to move around well during his extended session in the offense. What he lacks is experience. He missed the team's two final spring minicamps and doesn't have Doman's knowledge of the system or his playing time in it. It's too early to consider Pickett a legitimate challenger to Doman's No. 3 status. But that could change in the preseason, particularly since Pickett figures to get a considerably long look – particularly for a fourth-string quarterback, who normally would see scant action in the preseason – in the first two exhibitions with Rattay out. "He can compete for (the No. 3 job), sure," Erickson said. "He's got a lot of physical talent. He's got a very strong arm and he's big. He's understanding (the offense), he's picked it up better. He's got a lot to learn, like all of them. When he plays Saturday, probably in the fourth quarter, we're going to have to keep it simple for him. But I like his improvement today. It was good for him because he got a lot of turns. If Tim had been here, we probably wouldn't even have seen him much. At least we get a look at him." The Niners should take a long look at Pickett early in the preseason to see if he's ready to challenge Doman, who's a marginal No. 3 who doesn't possess Pickett's upside. MRIs ALL AROUND: The Niners had four players undergo Magnetic Resonance Imaging exams after they suffered injuries during the team's 49ers Fan Day practice Saturday at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Two of them already are back on the field. Saleem Rasheed (right knee) and Riddick Parker (left knee) were limited in practice Tuesday, but they were out there. That's good news in regard to both, particularly Rasheed, who needs to stay healthy this season after injury-plagued years in each of his first two NFL seasons. Fullback Jasen Isom isn't as fortunate. He has ligament damage in his right knee and is expected to miss three weeks. But Erickson says the team still has plans for Isom, who impressed the Niners during the spring and summer and has the inside track toward winning the backup fullback job. Still, with Isom out, the team gave a tryout Tuesday to Brandon Drumm, a rookie fullback from Colorado. First-year tight end Marcus Helfman, who was in Niners training camp last year and played this spring in NFL Europe, is expected to miss about two weeks with an injured right hip. Helfman has some decent size and talent, and also has some snapping abilities, but his latest setback won't help his chances of making the team. SURGERY FOR REED: Cornerback Rayshun Reed broke the index finger in his right hand and had surgery. His right arm was in a cast and sling at Tuesday's afternoon session, but we don't think the absence of the undrafted rookie from Troy State will be felt much. ALSO IN FOR TRYOUTS: In addition to Drumm, the Niners had offensive tackles Matt Knutson and Roger Chanoine in for tryouts Tuesday. Chanoine is a fourth-year veteran who has spent time in the NFL with Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville and St. Louis. He has appeared in 34 games with 18 starts and might be a viable candidate to add depth at tackle, where the Niners currently are hurting. Knutson has less combat experience, but he has spent time in the NFL with several teams – including the Jets, Patriots and Falcons – and has formidable size at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. INJURIES ADDING UP: And tomorrow, the Niners will just pray that nobody else gets hurt in practice. Their injury situation is getting ridiculous, particularly since they've yet to even play a preseason game. The Niners had 44 players listed on their injury report Tuesday with various ailments. That, folks, is the most so far in training camp, and could be some sort of unofficial record, since it includes almost half of the 90 players the team still has in camp.
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