Here We Go!
Gadies and Lentlemen, 49ers Paradise is proud to welcome you to a brand new season of the All New, All Different Trevor's Corner!
You will kindly note the Corner's new look. Our crack team of graphic designers has been hard at work revamping the look for Trevor's Corner for the new season, and I think everyone will be very happy with what they've turned out. The new graphics are bigger, bolder, and... uh... bubblier.
So we've got our new threads, we've got a new partner in crime (Welcome to the fold, J!), and we are ready to roll. And with all the intensity of an ad for ESPN's "Playmakers", we will bring you all the 49ers sorta-news you can handle. So let's get started.
IT IS FOOTBALL SEASON ONCE AGAIN!
That's how long the NFL off-season lasts. That's like half a baseball season. Or one third of a soccer game. Someone important needs to look into this, because four months of football is seriously deficient. I know I become more homicidal by the day during the offseason. There's only so many times you can check the Hot Off The Press section on Niners Paradise and see no new articles before wanting to gouge your own eyes out, know what I'm saying?
I'd even take Bengals football -- or should I say, "football-like substance" -- in the offseason. Anything. And don't try and feed me that whole "Well, there's always Arena Football" crap. Not the same. Arena Football doesn't exist. In fact, I'm not even gonna capitalize arena football anymore. Because it doesn't exist.
Oh well, enough whining. Time to dive headlong into four months of greatness. On to the Niners!
ONWARD... TO THE PRESEASON!
Two exhibition games up, two exhibition games down, as the 49ers now sit 2-0 in meaningless games leading up to the real thing. Rookies Ken Dorsey, Anthony Adams, Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle have all shown flashes of brilliance these first two games.
But what does that really mean? Not much. So Dorsey led a couple winning drives after playing sloppily in two sloppily played football games. At this point, all these games are is a chance for coaches to gauge how young players react in simulated pressure situations in games that aren't played at full speed by backups and soon-to-be-ex-NFL-players.
Don't get me wrong, I really dig the way Dorsey carries himself, along with the rest of the rookie class, and I think the 49ers' draft class is going to prove to be a lot better than pundits were saying directly after the draft. But before declaring Dorsey to the the "steal of the century" or Adams to be the defensive line's "savior" -- you know who you are -- let's wait and see how they do when the games matter.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE STARTERS?
Jeff Garcia returned to practice on Monday. He threw 100+ passes and reported no pain in his suddenly-very-newsworthy spine. This is cause for a sigh of relief from Niners fans worldwide, as the season's hopes rest very squarely on that fragile back. Assuming Garcia is back to full strength, the 49ers can get back to implementing a more agressive approach on the offensive side of the ball.
Reports out of Niners' training camp have Garcia throwing the ball better deep than he has at any point in his NFL career. It makes my skin tingle thinking about the team returning to the explosive offensive days of the '80s and '90s. The last time San Francisco has had a truly explosive offense was in the bygone era of 1998, when the team led the league in rushing and passing yards. And while the team may not approach those levels -- that team featured a young Terrell Owens and JJ Stokes, not to mention some guy named Jerry Rice playing wideout, plus Steve Young and Garrison Hearst at the height of their careers -- but Dennis Erickson certainly feels good about his team's ability to rank among the top-scoring offenses in the league.
But that can't happen without protection. And right now, the 49ers' offensive line is scrambling. Protection has been inconsistent at best. In the Raiders game especially, the 49ers' QBs were running for their lives. This could turn into a huge issue early if the line doesn't gel and start working together. Jeremy Newberry has been injured, as have Derrick Deese and now Scott Gragg. Kwame Harris is playing like a rookie, and Kyle Kosier is playing like a second-year 7th round veteran. All 49ers fans had better be crossing their fingers and hoping that the line gets their collective act together before the games start mattering.
Defensively, the injury bug is rearing its ugly head. Jason Webster just sprained his PCL while trying to cover Brandon Lloyd, just another setback for a player that has long been an Official Underrated Favorite of Trevor's Corner. With Webster out, Mike Rumph moves back into the starting lineup opposite Ahmed Plummer.
But if Rumph's play in the preseason is any indication, that situation isn't as dire as it would have been last year at this time. Rumph has looked good in the first two meaningless games, including a damn pretty interception of Rich Gannon against the Raidahs. This is the time for Rumph to make the jump from Please-Don't-Throw-That-Ball-My-Way rookie to C'mon-Bitch-Let's-See-What-You've-Got veteran. And Fred Weary is looking good with heady, veteran play.
On the linebacker front, coaches are raving at the play of the 49ers' top four linebackers. And that's good, because it looks as though Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich, Julian Peterson, and Jamie Winborn are going to be the glue that holds the Niners' defense together.
On the line, Anthony Adams is seriously campaigning for a starting spot. Standing in his way are Jim Flanigan and Travis Kirschke, two players I'd much rather see coming off the bench. Adams lining up next to Bryant Young is just a very attractive defensive tackle situation, if Adams continues to play the way he has.
SO CUT THE CRAP, WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN THIS SEASON?
When I look at this team, I am reminded of the Patriots in 2001. No one outside that locker room thought the Pats were worth anything going into that season. They were afterthoughts. Most "experts" claimed the Pats would finish no better than fourth -- and more likely, last -- in their division.
Instead, the Pats banded together and rode to the championship. Of course it's WAY too early to predict anything that amazing happening to the 49ers, but I think that this team has the potential to do great things. Dennis Erickson has really impressed me with the way he handles things with personnel and the media. I'm a lot less nervous about him as a head coach than I was when he was first hired.
I think the team will be more disciplined. I think they will be much more agressive. I think the play will be crisper, and the execution more precise. I don't think the attack will be nearly as vanilla as it became in the last years of the Mariucci area. And I think this is going to be an exciting offense to watch. But in order for that to happen, the line has to come together and Garcia has to stay healthy.
Is this the year that the defense breaks out and ranks among the top 10 or top 5 in the league? Could be. Jim Mora Jr. has been called one of the brightest young defensive minds in football, and now it's time to prove it.
Bottom line: the pieces are there for the 49ers to be a lot better than they've been the last few years. Terry Donahue has done a fantastic job of assembling the talent, but the previous coaching staff did an admittedly poor job of utilizing it all. If the new regime can help the 49ers reach their gaudy potential, anything is possible.
If not, it's going to be another long 8 months.
2003 49ers vs, 2002 49ers
Okay, before we get started, a couple things. First, I made up a new Madden Sim banner, which looks sweet, if I do say so myself. Second of all, Madden 2004 is quite literally the best football video game ever made. All the piddly crap that was holding Madden 2003 back has been fixed, and a bevy of new features have been added. The game is faster, better looking, plays betters, and features tons of shots of Melissa Stark *drool*. If you own a PC, PS2, XBox, GameCube, or Game Boy Advance, buy Madden 2004. You will not regret it. Trevor says so.
Secondly, this week's Madden sim pits this year's 49ers against last year's 49ers. Normally I'd sim the next week's game, but simming preseason games is... well, boring. I think you'll all be happy with the results of this game, though. Okay, now, on to the sim!
In a game that will have scientists scratching their heads for years to come, the San Francisco 49ers from the 2002 NFL season lost the the San Francisco 49ers from the yet-to-happen 2003 NFL season.
Yes, even though the two teams featured 90% of the same players, they played against one another, to entertaining results.
The game began with the 2002 49ers winning the coin toss and electing to receive. On the opening kickoff, kick returner Cedrick Wilson got in behind his wedge, waited for his moment, and broke the return over the right side. His blockers got a seal, and Wilson streaked down the field toward the end zone. The only thing standing between him and paydirt was 2003 49ers kicker Jeff Chandler. Wilson juked, but Chandler through his body in front of Wilson. Though Wilson didn't go down, he did stumble, and that gave the 2003 49ers' coverage unit enough time to catch up and Saleem Rasheed flattened Wilson at the 2003 49ers' 35 yard line.
And so Jeff Garcia and his offense took the field. On the first play from scrimmage, Garcia handed off to Garrison Hearst, who saw a seam but could only get three yards out of the carry. On 2nd down, Garcia playfaked to Hearst and dropped back to pass. But the 2003 49ers blitzed Julian Peterson, and he went in untouched to level Garcia before he could get a chance to escape, bringing up 3rd and 15. On 3rd and 15, Garcia dropped back and threw an out to JJ Stokes, who dropped the ball. 2002 49ers kicker Jose Cortez came in to attempt the field goal, but missed wide right.
So Garcia and the 2003 49ers lined up at the spot of the miss. On first down, Garcia tossed the ball to Kevan Barlow on a sweep play to the right. Barlow set up his blockers and zipped through the defense. He stiffarmed defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield to the ground and got 8 yards on the carry. On 2nd down, the 49ers lined up in the I-formation. Garcia play-actioned to Barlow and threw deep to Terrell Owens. Owens outmuscled Ahmed Plummer for the 37-yard reception and was brought down by Tony Parrish on the 2002 49ers' 15 yard line. Two plays later, Garcia hit tight end Eric Johnson lumbering down the left sideline at the 2 yard line, and Johnson dove into the end zone for the first score of the game, putting the 2003 49ers up 7-0.
Jeff Chandler kicked the ball to Paul Smith at the 2, and Smith returned the kickoff to the 27 for the 2002 49ers' next drive. On first down, Garcia dropped back, pumped once, and fired the ball down the sideline to Tai Streets, who leaped to make the catch in front of Jason Webster for 25 yards. Three plays later, Hearst took a handoff and burst off left tackle for 8 to give the 2002 49ers a 1st down on the 2003 squad's 24 yard line. On the next play, Garcia dropped back and hit Terell Owens on a quick slant in the middle of the field. Owens broke a Derek Smith tackle and stormed into the end zone 24 yards for the 2002 team's first TD.
The two teams traded punts for a couple series, until the 2003 49ers got the ball on their own 20 after a touchback with 1:57 left in the first half and two timeouts. Garcia went to work immediately, hitting the 2003 Cedrick Wilson on a sideline route for 14 yards and a first down. On the next play he hit rookie Brandon Lloyd on a six yard out. Lloyd broke Duane Hawthorne's diving tackle, however, and broke the catch for another nine yards.
Two plays later, on 3rd and 7, the 49ers lined up in a single-back set with 4 wideouts. Garcia dropped back, looked to pass, and handed the ball to Kevan Barlow on a delay. Barlow knifed through the left side of the line, stiffarmed Jeff Ulbrich to the ground, and got a 2003 49ers first down. He called a timeout with :43 left on the 2002 49ers' 41 yard line. On the next play, Garcia hit Streets on a quick slant for nine yards, and Garcia ran to the line and spiked the ball to stop the clock. On third down, Garcia lofted a fade out to Terrell Owens, who sprinted to the edge of the end zone and made a leaping catch in the back of the zone before going out of bounds. He started dancing wildly, but 2002 49ers' coach Steve Mariucci challenged the touchdown. Replays showed Owens' toe coming down out of bounds and the touchdown call was overturned.
But on 4th and 1, 2003 coach Dennis Erickson decided to go for it. Garcia avoided pressure and threw a screen out to Barlow, who caught the ball and weaved through the defense for 12 yards and got out of bounds to stop the clock with :17 left on the clock. With 1st down on the 26, Garcia dropped back and hit Wilson on a 25 yard catch-and-run, but Wilson was dragged down just short of the goal line. Erickson called a timeout with :08 left. But rather than lining up to kick the short field goal, Garcia and the offense took the field in a three tight end goal line set.
Garcia handed the ball to Barlow, who leaped over the end line and straight into the end zone. The crowd went nuts, and the 2003 49ers went into the locker room at halftime leading 14-7.
READ ABOUT THE SECOND HALF IN NEXT WEEK'S VERSION OF THE MADDEN SIMULATOR!