Niners upgrade at TE with Weaver

The 49ers won't be major players in free agency this season, but they upgraded at tight end via that process on Wednesday when Jed Weaver signed a one-year contract to join the team. Now San Francisco is set for 2003 at a position the Niners had targeted as an area in which they needed to get better during the offseason, and new head coach Dennis Erickson has another versatile target that should better fit into his offensive plans.

Weaver, who spent the last three seasons with the Miami Dolphins after starting 10 games as a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, appears to be a good fit for the two-tight end offense that Erickson likes to employ. He'll be the team's backup in base sets to starter Eric Johnson, but will provide a second downfield dimension at the position in what is expected to be a more wide-open offensive scheme under Erickson.

Since jumping into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2001, Johnson has become the team's most dangerous deep threat at tight end since Brent Jones roamed the middle of the field for San Francisco for the final time in 1997. But Johnson has averaged just nine yards on his 76 receptions in his first two NFL seasons. In his four NFL years, Weaver has averaged 12.4 yards on his 45 receptions.

The prospect of a two-tight end set with Johnson and Weaver could pose problems this season for enemy defenses, who won't be sure whether the Niners are loading up for a running play or adding another set of hands for a pass attempt. That wasn't a dimension the Niners had last year with second tight end Justin Swift, who was adequate as a blocker and had good hands, but wasn't a threat to get open downfield.

Weaver also provides some insurance for Johnson, who missed four consecutive starts in the middle of last season with lower back ailments that the team is concerned could become chronic. Weaver also is more proficient as a blocker than the converted-receiver Johnson, and may find himself filling a blocking role in short-yardage situations as well.

After recently signing Mark Anelli, the Niners' sixth-round pick from 2002 whom the team would like to further develop, San Francisco is set at tight end for the upcoming season. The Niners will bring in a few other young prospects at the position for training camp, and possibly take another long look this spring and summer at camp players who have been with the team before. But with long-snapper Brian Jennings around as an emergency tight end, the team's depth chart to start the 2003 season is likely to look just as it appears today - Johnson, Weaver and Anelli.


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