Behind Enemy Lines - "The Holding Pattern"

Offseason conditioning is in full swing and little news is filtering out of teams' headquarters, but Seahawks.NET has the scoop on the Hawks' division rivals.

San Francisco – The team got some relatively good news when they learned that the surgery to reattach the adductor tendon in QB Tim Rattay’s upper groin “went well”. Even with this bit of good news the offensive productivity of the Niners will be suspect at best in 2004.

Of the four NFC West members the 49ers took the most hits this offseason. They have lost two starters along their offensive line, their starting QB, their two starting WR’s and their most complete RB. Replacing those players will be a hodgepodge of rookie and second-year players that have talent but lack anything that resembles experience.

Second-round draft choice Rashaun Woods is the likely candidate to fill the WR spot opposite last year’s rookie surprise, Brandon Lloyd. Second-year QB Ken Dorsey will be behind center while Rattay recovers from his surgery. Even if Rattay comes back and makes it by the opening weekend, he still only has five career starts.

San Francisco hopes that their 2003 top draft choice, LT Kwame Harris, will be a better run-blocker than the man he replaced, veteran Derrick Deese. Harris is very athletic with good footwork, but he lacks experience protecting the blindside of an NFL QB.

Look for the Niners to use lots of single-back sets that will feature underrated RB Kevan Barlow. Barlow runs well inside, but also has a good burst to the outside.

Head coach Dennis Erickson would like to get the ball down the field more with longer pass plays but this could all come crumbling down with inexperience at QB, lack of deep speed at the WR position, and a patchwork offensive line.

St. Louis – While the 49ers will be rebuilding on offense…the Rams will be looking to replace some playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. DT’s Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Pickett, and Damione Lewis, all first round selections, will be vying for playing time in the middle of the Rams’ front four.

On the outside, the Rams will be looking to replace the since departed Grant Wistrom who leaves a gaping hole at RDE. Wistrom was great against the run and provided good pressure off the edge. His 8 sacks will be missed. The Rams acquired ex-49er DE Sean Moran in free agency and hope that he will be able to fill Wistrom’s shoes. Also competing for playing time will be Bryce Fisher, Tyoka Jackson, and Erik Flowers. The competition for Wistrom’s vacated spot will be one of the biggest battles of fall camp.

The unknown availability of LDE Leonard Little could also be a bigger problem. Little changes the way teams scheme against the Ram defense and a possible suspension by the league for an alcohol-related traffic incident could cause havoc in new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie’s defense.

The ongoing saga of former starting QB Kurt Warner continued with his visit to New York to meet with Giants officials. "He had a great meeting," Mark Bartelstein, Warner's agent, said in a telephone interview. "It was very positive. He was impressed with everything." Look for Warner and the Giants to come to terms soon after Warner is released on June 1st.

Arizona – The Cardinals waved goodbye to K Bill Gramatica. Gramatica signed a free agent contract with the New York Giants on Friday.

In 2003 Gramatica was sidelined for all but four games due to a back injury. During his time in Arizona, Gramatica hit on 75 percent of his kicks while making all 60 of his extra point attempts. He may be best known for tearing a knee ligament in 2001 while celebrating a 42-yard field goal.

The Cardinal offense could be an explosive unit this season. 2004 first-round draft choice, WR Larry Fitzgerald, will add another dimension into the Cardinal attack. While Fitzgerald isn’t a burner he does have good speed and he can get deep. He adjusts well to deep balls and should open up space underneath where 2003 rookie phenom Anquan Boldin can work his magic. Boldin caught 101 passes for 1,377 yards and eight TD’s…largely on his own. With Fitzgerald occupying defenses deep, Boldin’s receptions may come down but his per catch average (13.6) should increase and his TD’s should jump up as well.

RB Marcel Shipp and future Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith could both be in the backfield at the same time in 2004. Head coach Dennis Green thinks the two backs add different dimensions to the offense. Smith is the better blocker and more adept at picking up blitzes, while Shipp is the better receiver and has a better burst to the hole. Smith can still run well between the tackles because of his vision, but his days of breaking one to the outside are long gone.

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes "Behind Enemy Lines" every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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