Steve Young's mattress was too soft, and the lights outside his
window were too bright. The humidity was too high, the number of
toilets in the locker room too few. After hearing dozens of
complaints from Young and his 49ers teammates about their new
training facility at the University of the Pacific in Stockton,
Calif., a fed-up coach Steve Mariucci seriously thought about
commissioning T-shirts bearing the legend NO MORE WHINING.
Mooch has the right idea. When you're one of the NFL's elite
teams, lording over the landfill that is the rest of the NFC
West, you waive your right to complain about the small stuff.
This season Young has Jerry Rice back, plus Mariucci's word that
the attack will be opened up. The question this year is not
whether the 49ers' offense, which dipped to No. 12 in the NFL
last season, will regain its status as one of the league's most
prolific--it will--but whether the team's defense, which allowed
the fewest yards per game in the NFL, will be better or worse.
The answer could come down to how an obscure, relatively light
(278 pounds) fourth-year defensive tackle named Junior Bryant
handles his new assignment. Rather than shop for a high-profile
replacement for Dana Stubblefield, who took his 15 sacks to the
Washington Redskins as a free agent in February, the Niners
promoted Bryant, a former undrafted free agent who has performed
well in spot duty over the last three seasons. If Bryant plays
as well as the 49ers' brass thinks he can, opposing offenses
will pay a higher price for double- and triple-teaming the other
tackle, Bryant Young. Graybeard offensive lineman Harris Barton
calls Young "not just the best player on the defense, but the
best player on the team."
Indeed, the departure of Stubblefield was made bearable by the
presence of Young, whom 49ers coaches regard as the better
player. Says one coach, "Stubblefield was a good, stout player
with good technique. Young is not as big"--he goes 6'3", 280, to
Stubblefield's 6'2", 315--"but he has more speed and quickness.
He's explosive. He can embarrass you."
The Niners were embarrassed when one of their marquee free-agent
signees, former Packers defensive end Gabe Wilkins, showed up
with a bum knee that required surgery in early April. Having
intimated that Wilkins--who is now questionable for the team's
opener--would render Chris Doleman expendable, the 49ers
suddenly found themselves in the position of having to
backtrack. Doleman, a 14-year veteran who had a dozen sacks last
season, leveraged a $400,000 raise, to $2.4 million, out of the
contrite front office.
With the return to Carolina of outside linebacker Kevin Greene,
who had 10 1/2 sacks for San Francisco in a part-time role, the
49ers have bid adieu to four players (the others are
Stubblefield, Brett Maxie and Marvin Washington) who accounted
for 27 1/2 of their 54 sacks in '97. "That's a lot of
pass-rushing pressure to say goodbye to," frets secondary coach
Jim Mora. "You bet I think about that."
Indeed, the puffs of smoke periodically arising from San
Francisco's secondary last season signaled the singeing, rather
than the selection, of a Pope. Right cornerback Marquez Pope
suffered a sprained left foot early in the season, and upon his
return he lacked his usual speed and swagger. Opposing
quarterbacks noticed. On the other side, former All-Pro Rod
Woodson offered conclusive proof that he was a shell of his
former self. The pair was victimized by Brett Favre early and
often in Green Bay's NFC title-game victory.
In case Pope's '97 season was not an aberration, the 49ers spent
their first-round pick in the college draft on Oklahoma State
corner R.W. McQuarters. To replace Woodson, who was released in
February, the Niners signed dependable Antonio Langham, late of
the Baltimore Ravens. He was a star early on in the San Francisco
Coming along more slowly as he labored to grasp the Niners'
complex scheme was free-agent middle linebacker Winfred Tubbs.
The former New Orleans Saint takes the spot vacated by the
retired Gary Plummer, and it looks to be an upgrade: Tubbs, a
terrific talent, had 160 tackles for the Saints last season. But
whereas he was free to pursue the ball in New Orleans, he has to
adapt to a more restricted role in San Francisco. "Here, I'm
more of a plugger," Tubbs explained after a practice in late
July. "I'm taking on offensive linemen. It's a big difference."
Tubbs was stating a fact, not airing a gripe. This ex-Saint is
one 49er who knows better than to complain. --Austin Murphy
COLOR PHOTO: JAY CRIHFIELD/SPURLOCK PHOTO YOUNG AT HEART The presence of Young (97) at the core of the defensive line makes Stubblefield's departure bearable. [Bryant Young in game]
B/W PHOTO: MICKEY PFLEGER Edwards [Marc Edwards]
Sept. 6 N.Y. JETS
14 at Washington (Mon.)
20 OPEN DATE
Oct. 4 at Buffalo
11 at New Orleans
25 at St. Louis
Nov. 1 at Green Bay
15 at Atlanta
22 NEW ORLEANS
30 N.Y. GIANTS (Mon.)
Dec. 6 at Carolina
14 DETROIT (Mon.)
20 at New England
27 ST. LOUIS
1997 Record 13-3 (1st in NFC West) NFL rank
(rush/pass/total): offense 8/18/12; defense 2/2/1
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 27 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .465 Games against playoff teams: 4
The 49ers signed Ty Detmer this winter to back up Steve Young.
Both quarterbacks played their college ball at Brigham Young, the
school that boasts the highest cumulative career passer rating in
NFL history (minimum 10,000 attempts per school). Nine players
from BYU have thrown a pass in an NFL game (including three
nonquarterbacks); their combined career passer rating is more
than four points better than that of Miami's players.
Years Att. Comp. Yds. TDs Int. Rtg.
Steve Young 1985- 3,548 2,300 28,508 193 91 97.0
Jim McMahon 1982-96 2,573 1,492 18,148 100 90 78.2
Ty Detmer 1992- 666 383 4,585 23 20 77.7
Gifford Nielsen 1978-83 498 273 3,255 20 22 70.0
Virgil Carter 1967-76 785 425 5,063 29 31 69.9
Marc Wilson 1980-90 2,081 1,085 14,391 86 102 67.7
BYU Totals* 10,158 5,962 73,969 453 356 81.6
*Includes punter Lee Johnson (4 for 5, 19 yards, 2 TDs) and
running backs Eric Lane (0 for 1) and Vai Sikahema (0 for 1)
Second-year fullback Marc Edwards will have to do more than just
block for Garrison Hearst if he is to replace the departed
William Floyd, a key player in the short passing game. Edwards
had six grabs last year and never caught more than 25 passes in
a season in college.... Expectations run high for wideout Ryan
Thelwell, a seventh-rounder out of Minnesota who had a
school-record 1,051 receiving yards in '96 but was academically
ineligible to play as a senior. Says director of football
operations Dwight Clark, "He's got some developing to do, but
he's very dangerous after the catch." ... Hearst helped the once
rush-challenged Niners run for 100-plus yards in 10 of the 13
games in which he played.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Steve Mariucci
Second season with 49ers (13-3 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Steve Young 10[PVR*] 356 att. 241 comp. 67.7%
3,029 yds. 19 TDs 6 int. 104.7 rtg.
RB Garrison Hearst 80[PVR*] 234 att. 1,019 yds. 4.4
avg. 21 rec. 194 yds. 9.2 avg. 6 TDs
FB Marc Edwards 227[PVR*] 5 att. 17 yds. 3.4 avg.
6 rec. 48 yds. 8.0 avg. 0 TDs
RB Pepe Pearson[N](R) 268[PVR*] 170 att. 809 yds. 4.8
avg. 7 rec. 77 yds. 11.0 avg. 10 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Jerry Rice 15[PVR*] 7 rec. 78 yds. 1 TD
WR Terrell Owens 106[PVR*] 60 rec. 936 yds. 8 TDs
WR J.J. Stokes 219[PVR*] 58 rec. 733 yds. 4 TDs
TE Greg Clark 145[PVR*] 8 rec. 96 yds. 1 TD
K John Becksvoort**[N](R) 198[PVR*]39/39 XPs 9/18 FGs 66 pts.
PR R.W. McQuarters[N](R) 416[PVR*] 32 ret. 16.3 avg. 1 TD
KR Chuck Levy 178[PVR*] 36 ret. 22.0 avg. 0 TDs
LT Jamie Brown[N] 6'8" 318 lbs. 11 games 2 starts
LG Ray Brown 6'5" 318 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
C Chris Dalman 6'3" 297 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RG Kevin Gogan 6'7" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Derrick Deese 6'3" 289 lbs. 16 games 13 starts
LE Roy Barker 28 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
LT Bryant Young 45 tackles 4 sacks
RT Junior Bryant 23 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RE Chris Doleman 46 tackles 12 sacks
OLB Lee Woodall 57 tackles 2 int.
MLB Winfred Tubbs[N] 160 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
OLB Ken Norton 96 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
CB Antonio Langham[N] 58 tackles 3 int.
SS Tim McDonald 62 tackles 3 int.
FS Merton Hanks 60 tackles 6 int.
CB Marquez Pope 22 tackles 1 int.
P Tommy Thompson 78 punts 40.8 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)
**1994 college statistics