Veteran NFL assistant coach Mike Nolan steps in as the 49ers' new head coach. Fresh off a successful stint as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, Nolan was an easy choice to lead this franchise back to respectability.
"In Mike Nolan, we believe we have landed an experienced coach that has worked for, has had a major role and responsibility in molding some very good teams over the years," 49ers team president John York said. "Mike’s experience and expertise are immeasurable and we believe we are on the right track to getting this team back to being competitive and successful."
Turning around a 49ers organization crippled by poor personnel decisions will certainly be a difficult task for Nolan and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan. Nolan doesn't view the 2005 campaign as a throw-away season; he sees it as an opportunity to grow as a team.
"We have some talent here [in San Francisco]. There is work to do with the change in philosophy and attitude, but we are going to be a competitive team and play as a team," Nolan said. "Our goal is to take command of the division and this is the view we expect from all of team, from the front office to each individual on this roster."
The reality of the situation is that the Niners have many holes to fill on the roster. Offensively, they need an influx of talent. They have kicked around the idea of trading the No. 1 overall selectioin in the draft, but a legitimate trading partner has not emerged.
The 49ers would be well-served to upgrade their talent at quarterback, and the front office has opened negotiations with two quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers of California and Alex Smith of Utah. Solving the quarterback issue is far from being the team’s only pressing need. With issues at wide receiver, tight end, offensive line and defensive backfield, the Niners are counting on an impressive draft to solidify these portions that are lacking in overall quality talent and depth.
Heading into 2005, the 49ers should be a better team due to the stability added within the organization, but the void of talent created by the previous regime will keep them from becoming a consistent competitor for another season.
Quarterback – The 49ers do not plan on entering the season depending on the trio of Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett. The new regime in San Francisco has already determined the 2004 stable of QBs provide depth but lack the starting qualities the organization seeks. Discussions are underway with the two top-rated quarterbacks in the draft, Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, to become the first player selected in the draft and fill this pressing need.
Wide receiver – With the departure of Cedrick Wilson to Pittsburgh in free agency, the 49ers lack depth and a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Presently, Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle appear to be the starting wide receivers, but both players have yet to show the ability to become a consistent threat in the passing game, as well as threats in the vertical passing game.
Cornerback – Quality and depth is an issue. Ahmed Plummer missed 10 games last season due to a neck injury, leaving untested Shawntae Spencer to start as a rookie. Spencer played well in spurts in 2004, but he is far from being a reliable fixture on the corner at this time. The 49ers may move cornerback Mike Rumph to free safety due to his size and physical ability if they are able to secure a starting cornerback in the draft.
Nose tackle/defensive tackle – Switching to a 3-4 defense, the 49ers are looking for a player to man the nose. At the present time, Anthony Adams and Isaac Sopoaga are the only players listed on the depth chart at the position.
Running back – Quality and depth may be an issue. Kevan Barlow is the starter, but he is inconsistent. Maurice Hicks fought his way onto the roster due to a strong training camp, but he is relatively inexperienced and puts the ball on the turf too often. Neither player has showed the ability to be an asset in the pass-blocking scheme, while both have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Nolan is looking for a running back to carry the power running game.
FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON
FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Julian Peterson.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Steve Bush, WR Curtis Conway, OT Jerome Davis, QB Brandon Doman, C Brock Gutierrez; FB Jasen Isom, DT Daleroy Stewart, CB Jimmy Williams.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OG Eric Heitmann, OT Kyle Kosier, LB Brandon Moore, LB Saleem Rasheed.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DT Tony Brown, S Dwaine Carpenter, DT Chris Cooper, RB Terry Jackson, OG Rob Murphy, LB Julian Peterson, CB Rayshun Reed, LB Ray Wells.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Marques Douglas (Ravens), OT Jonas Jennings (Bills), PK Joe Nedney (Titans).
PLAYERS LOST: FS Ronnie Heard (Falcons), PK Todd Peterson (Falcons), DE Brandon Whiting (released/failed physical), WR Cedrick Wilson (Steelers).