Every year, it seems, a guy nobody is thinking about decides to get old in a hurry or just suddenly run out of gas, throwing a serious owie into the outlook for the team’s success. Injuries can achieve the same effect, but they are “life in the NFL” issues that everyone accepts as just plain old crappy luck.
Last year, it was Allen Rossum who showed up lame, which set off a season long eye sore known as our junkyard punt return team. In 2007, it was Larry Allen who arrived for the season with nothing but fumes in the tank. In 2008, Roderick Green, Tully Banta-Cain, Bryant Johnson, and Jonas Jennings keeled over in the bicycle lane. This last foursome was not exactly counted on to be big-time performers, but it didn’t figure that ALL of them would be worthless. Isaac Bruce put it into cruise last year, also, but at least had the decency to call himself out and take a seat on the bench around mid-season.
So I thought maybe I’d take a wild guess which 49er might surprise us this year with an unexpected pratfall. We don’t have an abundance of old guys playing pivotal roles, which is good. Takeo Spikes 33, Brian Jennings 33, Joe Nedney 37, Moran Norris 31. Wow. Only four of 53 guys on the 49er roster that are over 30 years old.
Norris would please the anti-SCO fans by not making the team at all. Of the other three, a Spikes phffft would probably harm the 49ers the least, since plans are already moving briskly toward replacing him anyway. If Nedney or Jennings go lame, it would impact our Special Teams drastically for the entire year – again. And each of these two would have to fail several times before the shrugs turned to get somebody else in there! But it could cost the team a game or two in the meantime. Fans not suffering from amnesia might remember the lasting image of Dennis Erickson scratching his head goofily dumbfounded on the sidelines during the 2003 or 2004 season as one kicker after another was clanking the uprights in a gruesome display of ineptitude. A harbinger of bad times ahead for the 49ers.
Didn’t see “old” guys Eric Heitmann and Nate Clements above? Each is just 30 years old. Also at the precipice of NFL old age are Tony Wragge, Justin Smith, and Michael Lewis – all 30. Smith is the least replaceable of these fellows, but his motor does not seem anywhere near the rattle-trap stage. Lewis is already expected to put his head into the count-my-fingers zone for the career ending wrap up sometime this year, and the 49ers have guys getting ready to step in for him. Heitmann isn’t old for a center. Heck, David Baas has been in the league five years already without ever being worth a crap – try that at a skill position not named QB! A lot of people are writing off Clements, but I have a strong suspicion he’ll turn on the juice and play well this year. If he doesn’t, our secondary depth would be razor-thin in a heartbeat.
If age isn’t the terminator this year, how about unmotivated paycheck collector. We got any of those on the roster? A backup couldn’t afford to have that attitude and wouldn’t be in a position to hurt us much anyway. Of the starters, I just don’t see anyone in that category, frankly. In fact, this seems to be a team that is focused wall-to-wall on arriving. Breaking out of the pack and stepping into the spotlight of the glamorous post season. Proving to us and to themselves that they are elite.
Which makes this coming season a dangerous one for the franchise. There is no excuse for failure. The last of the tokens in the bag of excuses were cashed in last year – for the players and the coaches. This is a team that either wins the division, or the 49ers have botched the five year rebuilding era by stocking the team with guys who aren’t good enough and coaches who can’t make them better enough. Mike Singletary must get the door to the playoffs open this year, or all his charisma will suddenly be worthless.
Very scary, this date with destiny stuff. Time to light the votive candles and pray for a wink and a smile from the gods of football.