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Battle for the bored

So many questions, so few snaps.

There are plenty of reasons for 49er and Raider fans to tune into tonight’s annual NFL preseason “Battle of the Bay” (5 p.m., News10). The only problem is that NorCal football fans will be no closer at knowing what’s actually in store for 2004 by game’s end.

Sure, Raider Nation is no doubt looking forward to finding out just how imposing a figure No. 74, Robert Gallery, the team’s top draft pick, cuts in the silver-and-black. And at 6-feet, 7 inches, 325 pounds, Gallery should be easy to spot imposing his will on the Raider offensive line.



And with Tim Rattay still sidelined by injury, 49er fans should expect to get a good look – at least a half anyway – at young quarterback Ken Dorsey.

But beyond that?




Considering the disastrous season-ending injuries we’ve seen some of the NFL’s top stars suffer in preseasons past, perhaps it’s a good thing that the Bay Area’s best don’t expect to be on the field for long tonight.

At the same time, though, there are plenty of puzzling questions about these two teams – two teams that, at least on paper, look to be headed in opposite directions this fall.

Raider Nation should have been embarrassed by the way its team – though certainly ravaged by injuries in 2003 – quit on its coach (and fans) just one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance.

With the return of quarterback Rich Gannon – a former league MVP – there’s reason to believe Oakland fans can soon forget last season’s failures. And knowing that Al Davis didn’t sign Kerry Collins to carry a clipboard the rest of his career, Gannon has all the motivation he needs to come out firing on all cylinders.

What Gannon doesn’t have, though, is a proven ground game to help carry the load. Charlie Garner joined former Raider coach John Gruden in Tampa Bay this offseason, leaving Tyrone Wheatley (who, by the way, is one year the senior of the suddenly deemed “elderly” Eddie George) as Oakland’s featured back.

The Raiders’ big problem in 2003 – defending against the run – looks like a B-I-G improvement this time around, as Oakland brought in Warren Sapp and Ted Washington, a 700-pound tag team of defensive tackles capable of lifting the Raider rush defense from worst to first in the NFL.

Speaking of worst in the NFL …

Cutting loose a Pro Bowl quarterback and losing the league’s most dangerous receiver isn’t exactly the best way to upgrade your offense. Still, that’s San Francisco’s story heading into 2004. Jeff Garcia might never have been mentioned in the same sentence as Montana or Young, but he wasn’t exactly Steve Bono either.

The stable – and sometimes stellar – play Garcia offered San Francisco helped keep the franchise afloat during what appeared to be a rebuilding period for the 49ers at the turn of the century. Now, without a proven passer in the pocket – and Pro Bowl wideout Terrell Owens down field – that rebuilding period looks a lot more like a reconstruction era under Dennis Erickson. I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if the 49ers end up with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft.

Of course, none of the above will be obvious tonight, when these two kick off.

I mean, really, how much are we going to learn in what will begin as the Battle of the Bay, but end up as a fourth-quarter battle of beleaguered BYU quarterbacks?

Brandon Doman vs. Brett Engemann.

Hmmmmmm …

Yeah, I think I’ll pass on sacrificing my Saturday night for that matchup.

ooo

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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