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East Coast Thoughts

<i>49ers fans may be watching Shaun Alexander and the Seahawks from an uncharacteristc view in 2004...the bottom of the NFC West appears to beckon the former "Golden Boys" of the NFL.</i>

Untitled Document Things have quieted down quite a bit in Hawk country with the conclusion of last week's passing camp. Early indications are that the winners of this camp are the guys who actually showed up! Head coach Mike Holmgren was practically beaming with delight at the turn out for this “voluntary” camp, “We had a great turnout and there are more guys in the off-season program then we’ve ever had", Holmgren said. "I think you get a certain momentum and it just kind of builds.”

Coach Holmgren also said that the pre-draft camp really gives team management a chance to see where everyone is in theirindividual off-season workout programs. Strength up the middle of the defense appears to be Seattle’s weakness heading into the draft, but don’t expect the Seahawksto do much wheeling and dealing on draft day, Holmgren has said repeatedly that the best philosophy that has worked well for the Seahawks has been just to take “the best player available.” This philosophy could mean Seattle passes on a MLB at 23 should another player rated higher at a non-need position be available.

Management for the San Francisco 49ers must be in awe of Seattle’s position. The 49ers, once the golden boy franchise of the NFL, has become less than a shell of its former self. This off-season, San Francisco cut ties with just about every offensive skill player to start for them under former coach Steve Mariucci. Dennis Erickson is purging the team he inherited in hopes of building a team that is closer to those models he established with the Miami Hurricanes, Oregon State Beavers, and even his early Seattle teams. The Erickson model is more about being faster with more flash than crash type players. Gone are starting quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receivers Terrell Owens and Tai Streets, and fan favorite halfback Garrison Hearst. Hearst’s dismissal means that for the first time, 4th year back Kevan Barlow will step in and carry the full load out of the backfield. However, Barlow will have a tough time matching his past production with the absence of starting tight end Jed Weaver and offensive lineman Derrick Deese and Ron Stone.

Surprisingly, the 49ers have given up 7 offensive starters during free agency, but have brought in just a couple of free agents without signing any. None of those brought in are considered to be much of an upgrade to what is left on the 49ers roster. The closest deal could come through free agent guard Scott Rehberg. Rehberg, who visited the 49ers last Friday, has spent the majority of his eight-year career as a back up for the Browns and Bengals. Though backing up on those teams doesn’t say much for the value of Rehberg, by adding him the 49ers would have the big body (6-8 315 pounds) to fill in after the departure of Ron Stone. Currently the 49ers are relying on career back up and tweener Kyle Kosier to fill that role. David Loverne, Greg Randall and Brenden Stai have also visited the team.

Aside from the potential running woes, the 49ers have serious questions at QB. Tim Rattay played well while subbing for the often-injured Jeff Garcia in 2003, completing nearly 62 percent of his passes with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while acquiring a 96.6 quarterback rating. But those numbers come with only 3 starts and a handful of appearances off the bench. Those numbers are reminiscent of what happened in the Cleveland quarterback controversy. Kelly Holcomb’s 2002 numbers were outstanding while subbing for starter Tim Couch. Those numbers, which included two 400+ yard games, would lead to Holcomb being named the starter for 2003 with disastrous results. If history teaches us anything than it’s safe to assume that Rattay, like Holcomb will struggle out of the gates in 2004 as teams will have had enough time to analyze film and game plan to take advantage of Rattay’s weakness and confuse him with disguised coverages.

Also problematic for the young QB is the lack of any true number 1 or 2 receiver. Rattay faces a long season if the 49ers fail to land a legitimate receiver early in the draft and add a veteran after the June 1st cuts. It’s almost unfair for Rattay to come out with fans or coaches expecting anything close to what the Louisiana Tech standout has accomplished in 2003.

Offense isn’t the only hurdle this young team faces in 2004. Bryant Young is no spring chicken and has begun showing his age at defensive tackle. The 49ers are rumored to be implementing a more aggressive 3-4 scheme into the game plan for 2004. For this reason the team is expected to draft a bulky 300 pounder early on day 1 of the draft. Though one has to question if the team has enough talent and depth at linebacker to make this transition a success even if they secure the heavy stud.

Cornerback is another highly touted concern. The team is in search of a nickelback after the departure of Jason Webster. The team could have the answer to nickel already on the bench in Jimmy Williams. Williams played very well during the 2003 exhibition season and management would like to see him get a shot during the regular season.

With all the holes to fill the 49ers certainly have their work cut out for them, but it appears unlikely that the team will even match last years win total of7-9. Until issues are resolved at WR and along the D-line, it’s a safe bet to expect the 49ers to hold a top 5 pick in the 2005 draft.

Cardinals News: Coach Green Pleased

According to the Arizona Cardinals team site, www.azcardinals.com, new Head Coach Dennis Green is pleased with the early progress of his team. The Cardinals are one of several teams allowed under league rules to have two voluntary camps as new coaching staffs implement their playbooks. The only notable absences from the second camp: guard Leonard Davis for family reasons, defensive tackle Wendell Bryant had school commitments and linebacker Levar Fisher is nursing an ailing knee.

Players are getting accustomed to the new practice tempo, and many have already commented on how rigorous the new routine is. One thing Green and his staff are communicating early is the commitment to the run. Tailback Emmitt Smith likens the philosophy to returning to the roots of football. Coach Green says that running the ball wins games and believes that the offensive line in place is more suited to run-blocking than pass-blocking. So, you fantasy leaguers out there may want to start thinking about Marcel Shipp on draft day.

Next week: Scouting the Rams.

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