Former San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, who knows what it’s like to lose a star receiver, sees a lot of similarities between today’s team and the one he coached in 1997.
In 1997, his first season as the 49ers head coach, Mariucci lost Jerry Rice for the season after he was injured in the season opener against Tampa Bay. Despite losing the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, touchdowns and receiving yards, the 49ers managed to finish first in the NFC West and made it all the way to the NFC Championship.
“It brings me back because my first year here as the Niners coach in ’97, we lost Jerry Rice for the season,” Mariucci said to 49ers.com. “That’s very hard to deal with, losing a player like that.
“The way the Niners run the football, play offensive football, they have a West Coast Offense plus this pistol offense, which is a lot of fun to watch and very difficult to defend. With that said, plus this great defense, there’s a lot of good things ahead for this team.”
Fortunately for the 49ers, they acquired Anquan Boldin in an offseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens, which will ease the setback caused by the loss of Michael Crabtree.
“He’s been moved over to the Z receiver, which is position that Crabtree had, T.O. had or Jerry Rice had,” Mariucci said. “It’s the feature position in the West Coast Offense. He’ll do a good job with it.”
Across from Boldin, a question mark still remains as to which of the 49ers younger receivers will step up at the X position.
A.J. Jenkins, Quintonn Patton and Ricardo Lockette have shown flashes of playmaking abilities, while Kyle Willimas and Mario Manningham work their way back from injury.
“Some of these young guys have to step up,” Mariucci pointed out. “We all know about Vernon Davis who is a great tight end. It requires some of these other young receivers, whether it’s A.J. Jenkins or Patton or some of these guys who need to figure out who can get on the field and contribute a little bit in addition to Anquan Boldin while Michael Crabtree’s still on the sidelines.”
The young guys will have to indeed step up if the 49ers want to win the division for a third consecutive season.
“It’s gone from the ‘NFC Worst’ to the ‘NFL Best’ in the course of a few years,” Mariucci said. “It’s because of the talent and some new coaches. When you’re not winning, you draft early over a few years. This offensive line for the 49ers, it’s the youngest in the league and it’s the best in the league. They’re all youngsters and they’re going to be around for a long time. That makes it exciting for this division.”