The task for the new breed is tall, as Dennis
Erickson's team went 7-9 in his first season at the helm, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000, and Niners supporters are hungry to
reclaim their former success. The names have changed in San Francisco, and the team will be praying that the unfamiliar personnel can keep their
annual postseason aspirations from sinking into the Bay. Unlike the Rams and Seahawks who will have all their offensive personnel returning, San
Francisco will start the season with a completely new look and changes at all three skill positions.
Gone are (QB) Jeff Garcia, (RB) Garrison Hearst, (WR) Terrell Owens and (WR) Tai Streets. In their places the 49ers will be going with (QB) Tim
Rattay, (RB) Kevan Barlow and a group of relative unknowns at the receiver position, including second-year (WR) Brandon Lloyd, third-year (WR) Cedric
Wilson and rookie (WR) Rashaun Woods drafted in the first-round out of Oklahoma State.
LB Julian Peterson, 5th year, 6-3, 235; C Jeremy Newberry, 7th year, 6-5, 310; RB Kevan Barlow, 4th year, 6-1, 238; S Tony Parrish,
7th year, 6-0, 210
WR Curtis Conway, NY Jets, 6-1, 200; DE Brandon Whiting, Philadelphia, 6-3, 285; WR Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma St., 6-2, 202; G
Justin Smiley, Alabama, 6-3, 301; Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, Pittsburgh
QB Jeff Garcia (released); WR Terrell Owens (traded to Philadelphia); G Ron Stone (released); RB Garrison Hearst
(released); Defensive coordinator Jim Mora (now head coach in Atlanta)
FB Fred Beasley, OT Scott Gragg, WR Brandon Lloyd, LB Derek Smith, DE Andre Carter, CB Ahmed Plummer, QB Tim Rattay.
After suffering through an injury-riddled season, incumbent starter Jeff Garcia signed with the Cleveland Browns, leaving the 49ers with a very
inexperienced set of signal callers. New starter Tim Rattay has the only three starts on the staff, and while he looked promising in relief of Garcia
last year, he's likely to have his ups and downs this year, especially with the sudden lack of proven weapons around him.
Kevan Barlow will be counted on to carry the
majority of the load at running back this season with Garrison Hearst leaving for Denver. He's a quick back with good power, but he has never been
asked to take the brunt of the carries and must become a more consistent blocker if he is going to be counted on in a full-time role. Depth in the
backfield is very thin with Jamal Robertson, who has only carried the ball 32 times during his career, penciled in at the backup halfback slot.
Fullback Fred Beasley will probably be asked take a little of the load off Barlow. He is a great blocker and solid pass receiver, and could be used in
an H-back role as well this year. Not only did the 49ers lose their starting quarterback and running back, they also lost their No. 1 receiver when,
after a controversial situation, Terrell Owens was allowed to join the Philadelphia Eagles. Sure, Owens drops a few passes and he can be a major pain
in the butt, but it will be tough for the Niners to find that same type of production elsewhere. San Francisco also lost No. 2 receiver Tai Streets,
which means Brandon Lloyd, who performed well in the slot last year, will be asked to move to the outside and start opposite this years first-round
draft pick Rashaun Woods. Woods was probably the most polished receiver in the draft, but throwing him into a starting role as a rookie could be
asking a little much. He isn't the most athletic guy, but he does have good technique, body control and ball skills. He runs good, precise routes, and
gets out of his breaks quickly. He also has great hands, and can be physical when needed. Most importantly, the guy catches just about everything
thrown in his vicinity. Cedrick Wilson will move into the slot and veteran Curtis Conway will see spot duty as the fourth receiver.
On paper, the 49ers don't look like a team that could compete for a division title in the NFL, but then again, neither do the Rams, Seahawks, or
Cardinals. Every team in the NFC West looks weaker than it did a year ago, especially with a rash of injuries plaguing each club in the snake-bitten
division. The Niners are no exception, as their No. 1 draft pick, top two quarterbacks, and best secondary player have all missed time during training
camp. San Francisco would need everything to go right to finish 9-7 this season, as they're thin just about everywhere and not very talented in a few
spots. But if they can regain, then maintain, their health while playing above expectations at the skill positions, on both lines, and in the
secondary, the Niners could be one of the league's surprises in 2004.
[Edited on 14/9/04 by TRD]