Inside the 49ers

Despite an unequivocal vote of support from 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, many questions persist about coach Dennis Erickson's future with the organization.

Team sources suggest that Erickson will be encouraged to make some changes to his coaching staff, changes that Erickson could fight. Erickson's contract states that he has complete control over hiring and firing his own coaches.

Erickson plans to meet with Donahue and owner John York within the week to discuss the future of his coaching staff, the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat reported, citing a source close to Erickson.

"Everybody needs to know as soon as possible what's going to happen," the source told the paper.

Although Erickson has that control, if there is disagreement between him and management about the coaching staff, it would likely lead to a parting of ways.

--- Brighter days are ahead for the 49ers, according to Donahue. He said the team's projected salary-cap situation for the 2005 season is not as dire as he once thought.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," Donahue said. "Eventually, we'll come out on the other side. Financially, the picture looks better next year than it is this year.

"We'll have between $1.5 million and $7 million or $8 million in dead money, depending on what we do. That's pretty much the league average. That should give 49ers fans hope that we can go out and get a free agent and start to rebuild."

--- RB Kevan Barlow said he wants to be with the 49ers for the long term after taking offense to a Contra Costa Times report that stated the 49ers can trade him before paying a $6.5 million bonus and get off the hook with very little salary-cap damage.

"I want to stay here and help this organization get back to where we're known for: getting in the playoffs, winning championships," he said. "I'm not a guy who wants to get traded. I'm not a guy who wants to get cut or released. I want to stay here and hopefully start winning again. It's been a tough year and every team goes through this cycle and I know a lot of people in the Bay Area are spoiled from the past with Joe Montana and stuff like that. But hopefully we'll get things moving again. I'm having not a great year, but things are going to turn around."

--- When asked for his thoughts on the rumors that Erickson might not return to the 49ers next season, Barlow also had a lot to say.

"That's totally up to the management, but I support coach Erickson," Barlow said. "I think he's a good coach. If not, they wouldn't have hired him to be here. It's kind of tough on him and it's kind of tough on us. We lost a lot of key players last year. We lost a Pro Bowl quarterback (Jeff Garcia); we lost Terrell Owens; we lost a lot of key members on this team, as far as on the field and off the field.

"This last year they couldn't wait to get Garrison Hearst out of here because they wanted me to play, and now they're trying to push me out of here. I'm young. I've just started playing. It's a funny business, man. It's an up-and-down business and you never know. So if they're trying to get him (Erickson) out of here, I don't know ... I don't know why. He's doing the best he can do, him and his staff. That's totally up to whoever makes those decisions."

--- DT Bryant Young might not have the kind of statistics that jump off the page, but Erickson said he has been awed by the 11-year veteran's production as well as his approach to the game.

"B.Y. is having a tremendous year," Erickson said. "You're sitting 1-10 going into that football game (against the Rams), and this guy is playing his (butt) off every down. To me, that is what leadership is all about. Here is a veteran that has been playing like that and you take a look at it on tape and it's pretty hard for you not to give effort like that."

BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- The 49ers' offensive ranking. They have not ranked lower than 21st (1978) since the league started the rankings in 1972.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's an awfully good question. We're not executing and people understand what we are doing a little bit and what we are trying to accomplish. They are looking at what our strengths and weaknesses are and playing to it." -- 49ers coach Dennis Erickson on why the offense has hit the skids in recent weeks.

SERIES HISTORY VS. CARDINALS: 27th meeting. The 49ers lead 16-10, including victories in seven of the last eight meetings. The 49ers got their only win of the season earlier this year against the Cardinals, 31-28 in overtime at Monster Park. The 49ers rallied from a 16-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to tie the game in regulation.


Running back Maurice Hicks will get his first shot at being the 49ers' workhorse for an entire game now that Kevan Barlow has been ruled out of Sunday's game because of a concussion.

"We all like a lot of the things we saw with him," Erickson said.

The 49ers are hoping Hicks can supply some spark to a run game that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per game and rushing average. Barlow has struggled this season, gaining just 629 yards on 198 yards for a 3.2-yard average.

He sustained a concussion early in the third quarter Sunday against the Rams when linebacker Robert Thomas drilled him on a cutback move.

Hicks has shown some quickness in hitting the hole during his time on the active roster. Hicks has gained 144 yards on 31 carries. He was promoted from the practice squad for the Nov. 7 game against the Seahawks.

Backup Terry Jackson will be used in a lot of one-back formations on third downs. Jackson is a better blocker and pass-catcher than Hicks, a first-year player who spent this spring in NFL Europe. Hicks is the all-time leading rusher at North Carolina A&T, where he gained 2,812 career yards in just two seasons. He set the NCAA Division I and II single-game record with 437 yards on 34 carries against Morgan State in 2001.

Barlow is out of action after seeing a neurologist who determined he should rest at least a week.

"Kevan's concussion is pretty bad," Erickson said. "He's not going to play this week. We'll see how it goes after the week. The doctors will re-evaluate him as the week goes on, but he will not play. He is not cleared to play."

--- WR Cedrick Wilson, the team's top wide receiver, has not been able to enjoy much consistency in recent weeks because of the team's offensives woes. Wilson was held without a catch last week against the Rams. On Nov. 21 against Tampa Bay, he caught just one pass for 8 yards. He leads the team's wideouts with 37 catches for 493 yards.

--- WR Brandon Lloyd is the only 49ers receiver who has caught at least one pass in every game he's played this season. He has five receptions in his last three games for 86 yards.

--- QB Tim Rattay appears to be out of action for at least two weeks with a partial tear of his right plantar fascia. Rattay has already missed three starts this season because of injuries.

--- TE Eric Johnson is closing in on team history. Johnson needs just one reception to match Brent Jones' team record of 68 catches for a tight end. In 1993, Jones caught 68 passes for 735 yards, which also ranks as the most receiving yardage by a tight end in team history. Johnson has 67 receptions for 699 yards.

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