Bring on the Bears

Tailback Kevan Barlow says the 49ers "need to establish the running game and chemistry as an offense." Quarterback Ken Dorsey says the key "is to keep evolving as a team, keep getting better as a unit offensively, defensively and special teams." Receiver Curtis Conway says the main thing is, "just everybody (taking) an extra step forward in what we're trying to do." And what's Dennis Erickson looking for Saturday against the Bears in Chicago? "You have to see improvement every place," he said.

And so it goes for the 49ers as they prepare for their second exhibition game of the 2004 preseason in the Windy City.

The Niners took some gradual steps in their 33-30 loss to Oakland in their exhibition opener last week, but that sloppy, inconsistent effort left a lot to be desired, as far as San Francisco coaches are concerned.

"The biggest thing for us is to show improvement in all areas," Erickson said. "There is not one specific area, and we want to evaluate special teams. Defensively, we have to improve on third downs and not make as many mental mistakes. We don't want to give up any long balls. Offensively, we want to be better in the red zone."

Dorsey will make his second professional start in as many weeks, and he'll be looking for better results than in the uneven effort of his debut last week, when he moved the team in his two series of play but couldn't get the Niners into the end zone. Dorsey and the other starters are likely to play deep into the second quarter this time.

"I'm looking forward to it," Dorsey said. "It's just another opportunity to learn and try and get better. (Chicago) has a really good defense and a great scheme that's proven itself over the years, so it will be a great challenge. That's the case for every team in the preseason, just going out and trying to get better and trying to perfect what you're trying to do on offense and get to know each other. And that's even more the case with us, I think, because we have so many new players breaking in."

Barlow, who looked exceptional in his brief cameo last week, says it's important for the new faces in San Francisco's offense to start growing together immediately, since this could be the exhibition game in which they get the most work together. After this game, the Niners will start gearing up for the regular season and resting starters - while also getting a longer look at reserves who are battling for roster berths - during the final two weeks of the preseason./p> "This is an important game as far as getting our chemistry down pat," Barlow said. "We need to stay out there for a half and jell as an offense, because we have a lot of young guys. Which is a good thing, because we can grow and grow and grow old together. We've got a young team who gets to play together, grow together and gets to learn each other as the years go on."

Conway, the old man of the offense, will be returning to an old haunt. He played for the Bears from 1993 to 1999. A veteran in his 12th NFL season, Conway says now's the time for the Niners to start getting their act together after enduring the trials of their exhibition opener.

"That first preseason game is always kind of like a measuring stick to see where we're at, and you definitely want to take a step forward in the (second) game," he said. "What we need to do is get better. The thing about this offense is, it can't do nothing but get better, because you've got a lot of inexperienced guys with whoever's starting out there. So you can expect a lot of stuff in the first game, but the good thing about it is being able to go and have another preseason game where we can see if we're improving or not."

From the Niners' perspective, Dorsey might be the one player whose improvement this week is most vital. He was OK last week, but now those first-game jitters are behind him and he needs to step forward and become the kind of leader of the offense he has displayed during the spring and training camp.

Dorsey's development behind center remains essential because, as Tim Rattay's injury problems linger into the latter stages of August, it is beginning to look more and more like Dorsey might just have to be ready to answer the opening bell when the regular season begins Sept. 12.

Dorsey strays away from that issue, saying he's just taking it one game at a time at this point. And that game is Saturday against the Bears on their home field.

"I don't know what the circumstance is (with Rattay)," Dorsey said. "I'm really pulling for Tim; I want him to be healthy, I want him to have success. My role on the team is to prepare - no matter what the situation is - like I'm the starter. No matter what happens, that's what I'm going to do. I'm still going to do the exact same thing and prepare like a starting quarterback."

The Niners are looking for that preparation to turn into results Saturday, not just for Dorsey, but also in several other areas on which the team has been focusing its efforts this summer.

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