So long, Stockton

They came, they met, they left. Another summer in Stockton is gone for the 49ers, who scattered from town quickly after morning meetings Thursday, heading in the direction of the unknown destination that will be their 2002 season. And though this might have been the most disjointed of the team's five training camps at the University of the Pacific, coach Steve Mariucci blew town feeling pretty good about what his team got accomplished.

Now the evaluation process starts getting serious as the Niners head back to their Santa Clara headquarters and begin preparing Saturday for their nationally-televised Monday night preseason game in Denver.

The Niners will remain in a camp mode through next week, even though their schedule offers them very few breaks. The Denver game begins a stretch of three exhibition games in 10 days. They must cut down to 65 players the day before their preseason finale Aug. 28 against San Diego, then to their final 53-man roster five days later.

"When it comes time for the New York game (the Sept. 5 season opener against the Giants), we'll be ready," Mariucci said. "We're not ready now. There's too many pieces of the puzzle we still have to put together. We're not ready yet. But we're getting there."

While an Aug. 3 visit to Japan for the American Bowl forced the Niners to take a six-day break in the middle of camp, it also gave several of the team's younger players an extra opportunity to get extended snaps in live NFL situations. Developing those players - and also evaluating them - is what this summer is all about for the Niners, since they already are set across the board at all their starting positions.

"We got to know the young guys a little better," Mariucci said. "The veterans just fine-tune their skills and they get in football shape and they get their timing together and the communication together and that's expected. It's just a process when they're together practicing. But we got a real good chance to evaluate the 40 or 50 other guys that are younger, that are new, that we really need to find out if they have an upside or a career in this league. That's the most important thing. Because when you start playing, you use all of your 46 or 53 other guys. You use them all. Some way, they're going to have to contribute. And you have to have the right guys."



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