Inside the 49ers
Starter Tim Rattay can't seem to stay healthy long enough to give the organization an accurate read on whether he is cut out to be the 49ers' long-term starter. And backup Ken Dorsey has shown he has a lot of intangibles, though his physical skills appear to be limited. Is either of those players good enough to help lead the 49ers back to respectability? There is an opinion held by some in the organization that the 49ers will have to address the quarterback situation in the offseason. One insider expressed a desire that the 49ers look into acquiring Drew Brees, the San Diego quarterback who is enjoying a breakout season. Brees is scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and the Chargers might not be willing to pay top dollar because they have so much money wrapped up in No. 4 pick Philip Rivers. But the 49ers probably aren't going to make a huge financial commitment to a free-agent quarterback, either. General manager Terry Donahue has warned that the organization's salary-cap situation will preclude him from being an active player in free agency again this offseason. At 1-6 entering Sunday's game against the Seahawks, the 49ers figure to have a top-five pick in the NFL draft. California junior quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made quite an impression while leading the Golden Bears into national prominence. He is a player the 49ers would be hard-pressed to pass up in the draft -- unless they decide to trade down to acquire more draft picks. Niners coach Dennis Erickson said he believes Rattay will be sufficiently recovered from a strained right forearm to play Sunday against the Seahawks. Rattay returned to practice Wednesday and also expressed optimism that he'll be ready to play against the Seahawks. It is the fourth injury that Rattay has battled since taking over as the team's No. 1 quarterback when Jeff Garcia was released in March. First, Rattay missed nearly four months after sustaining a torn groin tendon and undergoing surgery following a non-contact drill in minicamp. Around the time Rattay had just about recovered from groin surgery, he strained a muscle in his right forearm, an injury that kept him out of training camp for three weeks. Rattay started the 49ers' first game of the regular season but went down with a right shoulder separation, keeping him out of 2 1/2 games. Then he experienced another right forearm strain but to a different muscle. As a result, it was Dorsey who started the 49ers' 23-13 loss to the Bears last week, and he looked completely overmatched in his third NFL start. He completed just 16 of 36 passes for 122 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. Dorsey admitted he did not connect on a lot of throws he has to be able to execute at this level, but Erickson said it is far to early for anybody to conclude that he does not have a future in the NFL. "I really don't believe it's fair to judge right now what he can do," Erickson said. "I know that he learns every time he makes mistakes. Physically and technique-wise and all those different things he has to continue to get better. He has to get bigger and stronger as time goes on. He has got to get better technique. There are a lot of things that young quarterbacks have to learn when they come into the league." Dorsey performed well in his first NFL start on Sept. 19 and nearly led the 49ers to a road victory against the Saints. But in his last two starts, the 49ers have not scored an offensive touchdown and have managed just two field goals. In the first meeting against the Seahawks with Dorsey at quarterback, the 49ers were defeated 34-0, breaking their NFL-record 420-game scoring streak. Clearly, Erickson believes Rattay is the player who gives the 49ers the best chance of winning now. Reading between the lines, it's easy to conclude that Erickson believes the 49ers would have defeated the Bears handily with Rattay on the field. "We would have had a veteran quarterback playing and our chances would be better," Erickson said. The Bears blitzed Dorsey roughly half the time, and Dorsey was never able to make the Bears pay the consequences for their aggressiveness. "We had the opportunity to make plays early, and we didn't throw it or protect it," Erickson said. "We didn't get it. When you get it early, then they don't do it any longer. We did not answer it and they kept coming." But Erickson said Dorsey was not solely to blame. No aspect of the 49ers' offense was working. "It's a combination," Erickson said. "It wasn't all Ken. We didn't protect it at times. We didn't throw it at times. We didn't catch it at times. But against that you have to run the football. It's hard to run it." SERIES HISTORY: 12th meeting. The 49ers lead 6-5, but the Seahawks have won last three meetings, including a 34-0 victory in Seattle earlier this season. NOTES AND QUOTES --- Despite being the apparent target of fullback Fred Beasley's criticism this week, Brandon Lloyd has emerged over the last three games as the team's top threat among the wide receivers. After returning to action after missing two games with a groin strain, Lloyd has caught 16 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Starting flanker Cedrick Wilson and No. 3 receiver Curtis Conway have combined for 14 catches for 166 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games. --- Former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia has followed the team's fortunes since he left. He was able to watch his ex-teammates play Sunday night while the Cleveland Browns were on their bye week. The offensive woes he observed, he said, were a direct result of the offensive line's problems protecting Ken Dorsey. "The lack of time Ken Dorsey had in the pocket, it leads to so many other things," Garcia said. "Whether he's accurate or not, it goes back to his security. They need to improve the team. It's difficult for Coach Erickson. But it's been put upon them to make the product work. It's difficult to replace those starters, and that's what they're finding out." Garcia is one of seven offensive starters from last year's team to part ways with the organization. Garcia said the problems on the offensive line were not as apparent in previous seasons because his scrambling covered up a lot of flaws. "I had to make people better around me, whether it was scrambling or making plays when I needed to or staying healthy," Garcia said during a media conference call to promote a fitness center he endorses. "People didn't want to look at me as being special." --- LT Kwame Harris, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft, played only two snaps Sunday night against the Bears. When asked why Harris didn't play more, Erickson said the offensive line was already playing poorly. "We planned on it and things weren't going real well," Erickson said. "We didn't want to make a change right then. Plus, he's still not 100 percent. That is the other thing. We were having some troubles early in that game with all of the things that were happening, so we just didn't want to change that group up there." BY THE NUMBERS: 26 -- Points per game the 49ers are allowing, which ranks 30th in the NFL. The 49eres are ranked No. 9 overall in team defense. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been here seven years and when I see it, I see it. It's a huge difference from the years I've been here. It's hard to explain. ... That's what I'm talking about, heart. We don't have that." -- 49ers fullback Fred Beasley, directing criticism at the young receiving corps for having skewed values. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL The 49ers released running back/kick returner Jamal Robertson this week after the third-year player has experienced a lot of difficulty holding onto the football. The 49ers promoted Maurice Hicks from the practice squad to take his place. Robertson carried just 16 times this season, but he committed two costly fumbles. He coughed the ball up on Sept. 19 against the Saints as the 49ers appeared to be driving for the clinching touchdown. Instead, the Saints took over and marched down the field for the 30-27 victory. On Oct. 10, he fumbled again deep in opponents' territory, giving the Cardinals momentum in a game the 49ers stormed back to win 31-28 in overtime. Although his fumble against the Cardinals was the last time Robertson had a carry from scrimmage, he remained as the team's kickoff return man. He averaged 22.4 yards on 25 kickoff returns and fumbled again Sunday night against the Bears (though a teammate recovered). It's no surprise that the 49ers lead the NFL with 10 fumbles this season: two each by Robertson, Kevan Barlow, Ken Dorsey and Tim Rattay, and one each by Eric Johnson and Terry Jackson. The 49ers also placed defensive end Brandon Whiting on injured reserve with a torn left ACL. The club re-signed defensive end Melvin Williams and will promote Tony Brown to the starting lineup. Andre Carter might see action this week against the Seahawks, but only as a situational pass rusher. --- RB Maurice Hicks, who believed he was going to be promoted to the active roster last week, got the call this week after the team released Robertson. Hicks was among the 49ers' final roster cuts just before the start of the regular season. He spent the first eight weeks on the 49ers' practice squad. He will also be used on kickoff returns. --- CB Ahmed Plummer said his neck is feeling better, but it does not appear as if has any chance to play Sunday against the Seahawks. Plummer first complained of a bulging disk in his neck after the 49ers' Oct. 17 game against the Jets. He did not play last week against the Bears. --- RB Terry Jackson will continue to be used as the 49ers' third-down back. Jackson enters the game as the single setback in passing situations. For the season, Jackson has 14 carries for 63 yards and 11 catches for 71 yards. --- WR Rashaun Woods might get more of an opportunity in the future because coach Dennis Erickson wants to take a look at the team's No. 1 draft pick. He saw increased practice time Wednesday because of Brandon Lloyd's hip pointer. "Obviously, Brandon Lloyd is hurt right now so our plan is to see Rashaun Woods a little bit more. He was involved a little bit more in practice," Erickson said.
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