Closing down the summer shop

Darting here, there and everywhere as the Niners crammed in one final week of training camp practice at the University of the Pacific before the first stanza of their 2002 season came to an abrupt close Thursday in Stockton:

--- In 2000, it was Julian Peterson and Ahmed Plummer. In 2001, it was Andre Carter, Jamie Winborn and Kevan Barlow. In 2002, it's already appearing that the Niners scored with their top draft picks, first-rounder Mike Rumph and third-rounder Saleem Rasheed. Neither will start this season, at least in the early going, but both are players who have displayed a huge upside in training camp. "The guys that we've drafted lately are really becoming good pros," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "Those guys are really important. Those are the guys I'm most excited about, I guess."

--- Leave it to Terrell Owens to make a basketball analogy when talking about the wackiness of the Niners' remaining upcoming preseason schedule, which has them playing the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers in the space of 10 days. "It reminds me of a basketball schedule, so I'm ready for it," said Owens, who played in the United States Basketball League earlier this year. "We've just got to go with the flow of things. You've got to flow through it. There's no way around it."

--- Owens' spectacular 71-yard touchdown catch-and-run against the Chiefs came on a play in which tailbacks Garrison Hearst and Kevin Barlow were sharing the same backfield. Expect big things when those three are on the field together this season. Who are opponents going to stop?

--- Tackle Derrick Deese, the most-tenured 49er with 11 years of service with the team, was one of several veterans who did not miss even one training camp practice. "I wanted to come in camp in the best shape that I ever had, and I think I did that," Deese said. "I'm physically in great shape. I put myself through a hard workout in the offseason."

--- That was the case for several of the team's older veterans as the Niners looked like a team that was in good shape during training camp. Besides the season-ending injuries to defensive backs Anthony Parker and Kevin Curtis, and minor setbacks to Pro Bowl offensive linemen Jeremy Newberry and Ron Stone, the Niners emerged from training camp relatively healthy and unscathed.

--- Receiver J.J. Stokes didn't miss a training camp practice, either. And that was after missing almost every practice of the previous two training camps.

--- Deese, always the team joker, out-did himself in this camp with his clownish behavior - always seeming to come at the right time to lighten the mood. During Mariucci's news conference on the field Wednesday, Deese - who was mingling with fans on the sidelines - interrupted Mariucci four separate times by yelling across the field things such as, "Mooooch, we're waiting," and, "Mooch, do it for the kids ... the kids are getting hungry." That's called working the crowd as well as working the coach.

--- When asked if he was, indeed, the team clown, Deese responded: "Someone has to do it. It's a rough job."

--- As the Niners emerge from training camp, there are no starting jobs in question. The Niners will enter the season with the same 22 starters with which they entered training camp. Jamie Winborn pushed Jeff Ulbrich hard in what probably was the closest competition for a starting role, but Ulbrich will enter the season as the starting right inside linebacker.

--- There has been some talk this year that the Niners are getting a little tired of summers at UOP, and UOP's getting a little tired of them. But before the team left town, general manager Terry Donahue indicated to SF Illustrated that the team is likely to return next year and there's a good possibility the team will finish its 10-year contract with the university, which now is halfway completed. And Mariucci said before leaving, "It's a good place for camp. It's close to home. When we have time off guys can get to the Bay Area. ... So we're lucky that we're close enough to be in range to drive home on a night off or a day off and that kind of thing. And the camp's getting smoother and smoother every year. We're getting used to being here, you know? I hope UOP feels the same way."

--- Bad news for opposing defenses: "I feel stronger. I feel faster," Terrell Owens said. "I'm just going to try to bring my game this year. I'm feeling 100 percent. I'm ready to roll." And what, exactly, was it that Owens was bringing the past two seasons? If he brings more game than that in 2002, watch out.

--- The surprise of camp? It could be undrafted rookie linebacker Frank Strong, a converted safety, who has looked like a play-making natural at the position in the town where he was an All-American prep player. If he doesn't make the team, that only tells you how impressively strong the Niners are at the position.

-- The parting shot, from Mr. Deese himself: "Coming out of this camp, I feel great about this team. It's going to be a great season for us, I think."


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