San Francisco: This offseason is very important for the 49ers. With the release of 2003 starting QB Jeff Garcia, San Francisco signaled a change in direction behind center. Five-year veteran QB Tim Rattay will be the starter. Last year, Rattay started the first three games of his NFL career while Garcia nursed an injured back. While Rattay played well his inexperience is a huge concern and his backups, Ken Dorsey, Brandon Doman, and rookie Cody Pickett, have no experience at all. Cap strapped, the Niners will most likely be unable to acquire an experienced backup after the June 1st cuts. If head coach Dennis Erickson cannot find an adequate replacement for Garcia, the rebuilding will have to begin with a first-round selection of a signal-caller in 2005.
The offensive line is an even bigger concern with the release of experienced veterans Ron Stone and Derrick Deese. Both were like coaches on the field and San Francisco will be lucky if their QB’s aren’t running for their lives when they drop back to pass. Run blocking may be an even bigger concern, since RB/FB Garrison Hearst was released, and he was their best blocking back.
April ended on a sad note for Erickson. His father, Robert Erickson, passed on after a long illness at the age of 79. The elder Erickson was a high school football coach a mentor to his only son. He is survived by his wife, one son, three daughters and four grandchildren.
St. Louis: Losing DE Grant Wistrom (Seattle) and possibly Leornard Little (DWI arrest) could hurt the Rams defensively more than most in the Gateway City care to ponder. Recently, DL coach Bill Kollar has stated he was not happy with the play of DT’s Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis. Kollar would like to see Pickett lose some weight and get back to playing like he played in 2002. Lewis has struggled with injuries his first three years and Kollar sees 2004 as a make-or-break season for the former Miami standout. Without push up front, the Rams’ shaky secondary would be in serious trouble.
Signing QB Marc Bulger could be the first domino to fall in what may be a very long offseason. With Bulger’s new 4-year, $17.25 million contract in the books, veteran QB and two-time league MVP Kurt Warner is most likely gone after June 1st. Bulger’s signing will also influence the negotiations between the team and standout LT Orlando Pace. With Bulger's reputed $9 million signing-bonus, look for Pace and his agents to dig their heels in on their demands. .
Arizona: And so began the Dennis Green era in the desert. Green’s influence was all over the Cardinals’ draft. First-round selection WR Larry Fitzgerald was a ball-boy for Green in Minnesota and the two have a great relationship. Defensive help was needed more, but a playmaker like Fitzgerald was too good to pass up. Second-round OLB Karlos Dansby will immediately challenge for a starting spot and his athleticism is what Green looks for in a player at that position. Third-round DT Darnell Dockett, will push disappointing third-year DT Wendell Bryant. C Alex Stepanovich, selected in the fourth-round, is a heady player who is strong at the point of attack. Green relies on smart, athletic centers to make line adjustments and get out on sweeps. All four are expected to challenge for playing time or start immediately.
Green could also be in the
mood for change in the scouting department. Many of the scouts in the Cardinals
system are worried that Green may want to bring in people with whom he has worked
with before. They have reason to worry, only five of the 10 first-round draft
choices since 1996 are still with the team and three of those (DT Wendell Bryant,
DE Calvin Pace, and WR Bryant Johnson) have been huge disappointments. Green
has let it be known that early round draft choices need to make an immediate
Division Reporter Scott Eklund writes his "Behind Enemy Lines" column every Thursday. For comments and suggestions contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.