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Ken Dorsey set to prove he is worthy
(06/12/03) 11:00 AM
By Sydney

The University of Miami is one of the most renowned football breeding industries in the country and many have left early and graduated at the top of their classes to become superstars in the National Football League. But there is one player that really received a bum rap that sent his credibility spiraling out of control on the draft boards back in April and that was Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey.

Scouts had him pegged as not having the rocket arm necessary to be successful in the NFL and his mobility was rated somewhere in the D-minus range sending his draft stock plunging down the boards like a runaway freight train. And what surprises many is that Ken Dorsey ended up in a San Francisco 49er uniform with the 241st overall pick with them realizing these same flaws that make him unfit to be a West Coast Offense type of quarterback.

What many did not know is that the Miami quarterback grew up idolizing and worshipping the great mentor of all quarterbacks in Joe Montana. And that his sole purpose in his football career was to somehow rise to the heights that Joe was at even but for a brief time and knows what it was to be truly successful. Falling all the way to the seventh round was not at all planned on Ken Dorsey’s part in fact he was shocked and dismayed even depressed to believe despite his winning record and successes on and off the field that he would bottom out in the seventh round.

Even so it is the uniform that he wears now that make him proud of where he is at. And he is determined now more than ever to send the critics and skeptics running with explanations as to where they went wrong by being successful at this level. See the 49ers were impressed with Ken Dorsey when they brought him in for a workout at their Santa Clara training facility on April 13th.

It was just about after two months where he had a disappointing performance at the NFL scouting combine. This is where Dorsey’s ratings really started to plummet as the scrutinizing eyes of the NFL bore down on each and every player that participated here.

But Dorsey displayed just the opposite to the 49er coaching staff that day by zinging the ball all around the practice field. Even head coach Dennis Erickson was impressed after witnessing Dorsey throwing a 15-yard out pattern, where the ball traveled on a line. “To me, that’s how you show your arm strength,” Erickson said. “He was totally a different guy.”

One of the other best gauges to Dorsey’s successes though hinges on his abilities to win games outright. Despite the beef on his arm strength and his inability to avoid a pass rush Dorsey still somehow manages to win football games. So what gives folks? Why does Dorsey above any other quarterback need to further prove himself to others? Ken Dorsey has a 38-2 record as the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes, you do the math pretty amazing huh?

He twice finished in the top five in Heisman Trophy voting and he has a tremendous knowledge of the game as the Hurricanes won the national championship in 2001 and made it to the title game in 2002. He also shared Big East offensive player of the year honors with teammate running back Willis McGahee.

Dorsey has established himself as a confidant and positive quarterback while under pressure and has been in many situations with a game on the line. His throws are stronger in form and his spirals tighter stem from Dorsey’s weight and nutrition work with trainers in Arizona this winter. He boosted his weight from 189 at the end of the Hurricanes season to 215.

Still Ken Dorsey finds himself staring at a dream that he has always paused to think about. Becoming a 49er has always been something that Dorsey has thought about especially while watching at a tender age Joe Montana rising from obscurity. His poor workout at the NFL combine established a wound that would send his draft stock spiraling out of control despite his accomplishments from the season that was.

“I’m thrilled,” Dorsey said during a conference interview from his family’s Orinda home. “As a kid growing up, my idol was Joe Montana. So who can argue with coming to the San Francisco 49ers with that kind of tradition?” “I really am not disappointed or upset about where I went. I just feel like now I have something to prove, and I want to do that.”

The San Francisco 49es on the second day of the draft chose to go the route of all offense as they selected Illinois wide receiver Brandon Lloyd in the fourth round, Florida tight end Aaron Walker in the fifth and Notre Dame wide receiver Arnaz Battle in the sixth. But what was a mystery to many was that none of the players and few of the 240 players drafted before Ken Dorsey could even hold a candle to what Dorsey had for college accolades and what he had already accomplished.

Throwing for 9,564-yards and 86 touchdowns, both school records. He was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist as well. The 49ers under Terry Donahue and Dennis Erickson though see something in Ken Dorsey that is exciting and worth experimenting with some more. That is why he was drafted as the quarterback position is the most important position on the team, knowing that Jeff Garcia is advancing in age the 49ers continue to probe for that future talent that will assume his role one day.

“I guess in the combine he didn’t throw it very well,” 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. “When we had him out here in our workout, he had plenty of arm. He has plenty of arm strength to get things done.”

“I feel like the ball has been coming out a lot better, and to be honest, my spiral has gotten a lot tighter because I haven’t had to try to overpower a throw,” Dorsey said. “I’ve just been focusing on having a nice, smooth throwing motion.” “A lot of that has to do with the added strength. That’s given me a lot of confidence.”

To be honest with you I had no clue that the 49ers would even think of drafting a quarterback this year. In having Tim Rattay as a back up and proven himself in training camp last year and in pre-season, I felt that the 49ers were confident in going with the tandem of Garcia and Rattay again. On top of that Cade McNown was still in the picture and looking a little better after shoulder surgery and Brandon Doman was still in the mix. So why would the San Francisco 49ers go ahead and add yet another quarterback to an overbooked position where one or more would be cut by August of this year?

To see Dorsey there still once the seventh round came around after addressing all of our immediate needs in the draft was too good to be true in Terry Donahue’s eyes. To have an elite proven quarterback with a winning record and a strong physical and mental make-up such as Ken Dorsey still available was too good to be true. And as you all know you can never have too many quarterbacks when it comes time to find one to replace a star already on the field.

Dorsey has led his Hurricanes to victory in 34 consecutive games, the longest winning streak of any starting quarterback since Oklahoma’s Steve Davis (1973-75). Under his guidance Miami claimed three Big East Conference championships and he was undefeated as a starter in Big East play (25-0). Ken has a long record of personal achievements as he is a Bay Area native that dominates nearly every significant Miami passing record, including most touchdown passes (86), passing yards (9,565), pass completions (668), total offense (9486), pass attempts (1153), 200-yard passing games (31) and consecutive passes thrown without an interception (193, 1999-2000).

As you can see Ken Dorsey has achieved success and is the quarterback he says he is with these kinds of statistics. Regardless of what happened at the combine the 49ers saw enough to alleviate their fears that they drafted him in the seventh round. Dorsey was not a choice I thought would be the prototype West Coast Offense quarterback we needed to fit into our system based on the mobility issues but his ability to learn and transform some of his mechanics to alleviate these concerns seem to be apparent.

“Is he Michael Vick? No,” Erickson said, “but he can avoid the rush, step up and make a good throw downfield. There are different types of quarterbacks.” Dorsey has thrown for over 300 yards ten times and for two or more touchdowns 28 times during his splendid college career. The Hurricanes had victories in three major bowl games during his leadership: the 2000 Gator Bowl (vs. Georgia Tech), the 2001 Nokia Bowl (vs. Florida) and the 2002 Rose Bowl (vs. Nebraska). Ken Dorsey also led the Hurricanes in the 2003 National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

One thing that the 49ers have been most famous for is evaluating quarterback talent. Team consultant Bill Walsh has been the renowned magician in seeking out and finding the perfect complimentary quarterback that fits the mold of the West Coast Offense that he created. Joe Montana was his foundation and he continued to build upon that with greatness in Steve Young and now Jeff Garcia. But Ken Dorsey seems to be a Donahue and Erickson experiment one that isn’t the perfect match but could evolve into one with sound coaching and training.

Whenever a NFL team experiences the ravages of salary cap devastation it looks for a leader to emerge out of the ruins that will lead a team back to normalcy. Usually that leader is in the form of a proven quarterback. Every team that exists in the league positions itself by trying to draft or train the next heir to the throne of the coveted quarterback position.

In a league that has expanded and the talent spread thin, it has forced many teams to seek talent and ability in so many different places much like the 49ers did when they found Jeff Garcia courtesy of the CFL in which he played for the Calgary Stampeders. Others will certainly follow as more collegiate quarterbacks are sought after in an attempt by many to find the next viable replacement for their very own team.

“It’s hard to know who can play and who can’t,” Donahue said of appraising quarterbacks. “They’re not easy to evaluate, (but) Dorsey had an impressive workout locally, and his credentials were impeccable. I know he has his doubters; people not as apt to think he can be as successful as we do, but our coaching staff felt strongly about him.”

One thing is abundantly clear about the San Francisco 49ers and that is their will to always looking for better improvement in all areas of its personnel. The quarterback picture is still an issue regardless if Jeff Garcia is the starter. Having a trusted back-up and third option also becomes very important in a league that is paper thin to injury. Always being prepared and looking at the future has to be a priority with any club that is looking for longevity and revitalization.

“That’s part of why we did this, because we don’t know what the next four-year or five-year picture looks like,” Donahue said. “Anybody would be out of their mind not to want Jeff Garcia to play in the Pro Bowl the next four to five years. That would be the best scenario. There’s no question who our No.#2 (quarterback) is, and that’s Tim Rattay. But you know perfectly well that Tim’s going to be (a restricted free-agent next year) and there’s no guarantee we can (re-sign him).

“We have to protect the organization any way we can. The worst thing that can happen is for us to get stuck without a quarterback. When (un-drafted) Jeff Garcia came in here, no one knew it would be the Jeff Garcia we know today. No one knows what Tim Rattay (seventh round, Louisiana Tech, 2000) will do as a starter, or what Ken Dorsey will do, or any of the guys (Brandon Doman, fifth round, BYU, 2002) we’ve got.”

It is like he said a real roll of the dice in the league today. You go with all the studies and all the analysis that you can and you hope that the personnel you pay so well do the job that they’re supposed to do. Find you credible talent that helps take your team to the next level, but that isn’t always an exact science.

The skinny on Miami’s Ken Dorsey at 6-4 and 208 pounds

49er quarterbacks have a history of not having the superior arm, take a look at Joe Montana, Jeff Garcia and Jim Druckenmiller. Everyone knows where these quarterbacks have gone and still are right? All were and some still are very successful except for the man with the rocket of an arm in Jim Druckenmiller who turned out to be a bust bigger than life for the 49ers.

Remember the 49ers drafted him in the first round in 1997 out of Virginia Tech. They traded him to the Miami Dolphins in 1999 for two seventh round draft picks. Since then he was out of the league last year and has tried to catch a ride with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent.

Montana had a weak arm so to say. He lasted until the third round in the 1979 draft then led the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins and wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jeff Garcia also supposedly had a weak arm. He went un-drafted out of San Jose State, played five seasons in the Canadian Football League, signed with the 49ers in 1999 and made three Pro Bowls since then.

So as you can see the San Francisco 49ers have not taken a back seat due to a quarterback that has an underrated strong arm. Much of what has been said of Ken Dorsey’s arm out of the University of Miami. In fact Dorsey is very lucky to have fallen to probably the most quarterback friendly team in the league the 49ers. Here he will be able to fine tune the skills that made him so successful in Miami and learn more about the fundamentals of quarterbacking from coaches that are very experienced and seasoned in the fine art of NFL leadership and overall mentality.

“All the guys here have quality arms, but their strong suits are they know exactly where to go with the ball and when to go there,” Dorsey said after his first practice as a 49er. “This is a great fit for me. I feel so comfortable with the types of things we’re doing (and) the people that are here. Not only the coaches, but the players are good people. So it’s a great, great thing to be here for me.”

Ken Dorsey has been clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.80 and has been compared to Trent Dilfer of the Seattle Seahawks. While both Jeff Garcia and Tim Rattay are locks on the final roster for the season Dorsey will compete directly with last year’s fifth round pick in Brandon Doman out of Brigham Young University for the third quarterback position.

Strengths: Is very intelligent and always leads by example. He is a pocket passer that takes complete control over the huddle and wins the respect of his teammates, placing that as a priority. He shows adequate footwork and has a quick set. He is also able to buy second chances while in the pocket with a very quick release and above-average accuracy. He throws a very nice short-to-intermediate type of pass, which is a critical fundamental of a West Coast type of quarterback. Although he is not very agile or mobile he is able too side step an oncoming pass rush and buy time.

Weaknesses: He was a little on the lean side but since then he has gone through a very rigorous training program and added bulk to his frame. He lacks the ideal NFL strength necessary by its own standards but is improving. He has some trouble putting zip on throws to the perimeter and hasn’t always held up well while under pressure. He also has a tendency to throw too many balls up for grabs when he is hurried, something he’ll have to learn to throw away in a hurry.

Bottom line: He is a very accomplished collegiate quarterback having set many records at the University of Miami and having a proven winning track record to boot. He has been maligned as having a weak arm and limited mobility but his off-season conditioning and his willingness never to give up make him a very interesting investment to anyone that gives him serious consideration.

“I’m here to learn as much as I can right now,” Dorsey said. “The best way to do that is to learn from the guys who have been here for a while and have played in the system. And the coaches, of course. The more you learn the faster your progressions going to be.”

I am confident as a fan and as a football analyst that Ken Dorsey will be a prime contribution to this team. I will admit I had my own deliberations about Dorsey especially in the mobility area because in our type of offense the quarterback is asked to make plays when the initial and secondary plays go dreadfully wrong. Can Dorsey do that with his feet? It is yet to be determined in my book, as he needs to have a shot at learning and digesting our system and our playbook.

With as much knowledge as he has and a winning mentality to boot I see great things happening for Dorsey in this organization. The coaches and front office staff already seem to be impressed with his overall attitude and work ethic, key ingredients on the way to being successful.

Back in early May the San Francisco 49ers held their well-known annual “Beep Test”. The 49ers closed their annual post-draft mini-camp with this conditioning drill that has been dominated by it’s own starting quarterback in Jeff Garcia.

Well until this year, Second-year quarterback Brandon Doman staked out his claim to the 49ers fittest man by edging out Garcia and tight end Eric Johnson, who finished one back of Brandon.

Another offensive player that did very well in the test was 313-pound offensive tackle Scott Gragg. Gragg was the last offensive lineman standing this year and he admits it may have been as a result of eating at Krispy Kreme.

“I may have been able to do more, but I had five Krispy Kreme’s this morning,” said Gragg. “So maybe if I had four of them I would have been better. Then again, maybe I should have had six.”

All joking aside Scott always maintains a rock hard regimen in conditioning and is a towering athlete that has been a rock solid fixture on our offensive line for some time now. He anchors the right side of the line with fellow teammate Ron Stone and has established that side as a great sense of strength in the 49er’s wide open and balanced attack.

Dennis Erickson came away pleased with the “Beep Test.” that is tradition with the 49ers and marveled at the accomplishments and transitions he witnessed on the field that day. “I thought the draft picks looked really good. Of course without pads on you can only tell so much, but we liked what we saw,” said Erickson. “I think Kwame Harris; in particular looked really good. We put him in at left tackle the get go and he is certainly athletic enough to be there. We’ve got a good one.”

Also back in early May the 49ers ensured that Tim Rattay will be the No.2 man behind Jeff Garcia by signing him to a one-year contract. Rattay was in fact an exclusive rights free agent and will be a restricted one next season. Tim has dominated in mini-camps and continues to tow the line in competition behind Jeff Garcia by getting the secondary repetitions after he is done on the field.

Tim Rattay appeared in four games last season and completed 26-of-43 passes last season for 232 yards and two touchdowns with a rating of 90.5% last season. He commanded the team early in a game last year when Jeff was diagnosed with severe influenza that had ravaged the team that one week. His most significant action though of the season came in the season finale against the St. Louis Rams where he set career highs by completing 14-of-21 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

I feel the quarterback position is in very good hands with Tim Rattay solidified as the top back-up quarterback and that he’ll further benefit from playing behind Jeff Garcia. Although many prefer a more seasoned veteran, as a top back up the team will be in capable hands based upon Rattay’s experience already with the system and on the field as a whole. Behind Rattay are Brandon Doman and now Ken Dorsey a total of four quarterbacks after being trimmed from five with Cade McNown getting the boot on May 17h, 2003 by the San Francisco 49ers.

Cade McNown, 26, was acquired just last summer by the 49ers from the Miami Dolphins in a deal for a conditional draft choice. McNown though carried with him baggage in the form of a shoulder injury he incurred while he was a first round draft pick with the Chicago Bears. The San Francisco 49ers wanted to begin training camp in July with but a roster of four quarterbacks feeling that the time plan for Cade McNown’s recovery and rehabilitation was far too long to take a chance on.

I can remember Cade McNown when I went to Stockton last summer to witness the 49ers last training camp there in August. McNown struggled in throwing the ball and had little zip on his passes that fluttered and fell without much velocity. It became apparent as time went on at training camp that McNown would need shoulder surgery to help him get back to where he once was as a collegiate quarterback before the draft he was taken in.

For 11-months the 49ers saw McNown as an experiment that would cost them the minimal based upon the conditional draft compensation being that he would have to be a part of the active roster for three straight weeks. McNown the famous first round draft choice of the Chicago Bears back in 1999 lasted but two seasons there before being traded to the Miami Dolphins. Because of his inability to lead the team to success after playing with great inconsistency and a performance level that kept the Bears tugging for antidotes.

After acquiring McNown back in June of last year from the Dolphins for a conditional seventh-round draft pick, McNown spent the entire 2002 season on injured reserve, earning $200,000, and was never on the active roster, so therefore the 49ers never owed the Dolphins their just compensation.

So the ultimate blame came upon McNown himself and his inability to heal quickly in order to fight off an energized and experienced quarterback in Miami’s Ken Dorsey who was drafted as more insurance at the quarterback position. His shoulder problems became responsible for his skimpy, fluttering, off-target throws in training camp last year. But he tried to turn that around by having the surgery and began the long process on rehabilitation with the 49er coaching staff and personnel at his side.

Even Bill Walsh took an immediate interest in his rehabilitation and assisted him in his techniques and throwing action. Still in the final analysis his throws still lacked zip and precision in the team’s first spring mini-camps, thus it was determined with a full roster of quarterbacks at their disposal the 49ers felt it was time to make a cut.

McNown a former UCLA star was well known for his brash behavior and his cockiness on and off the field. He was labeled by many on the Bears team as not leading by example and not making a concerted effort to get to know each and every player on the team. He was part of a large quarterback class that was drafted back in 1999.

The Chicago Bears made him the 12th overall pick in the draft, and he eventually signed a seven-year, $8.5 million dollar contract that included a $6.1 million signing bonus. He hardly ever earned this money based upon his performance and the fact that he suffered from injuries as well.

As a rookie, Cade McNown started but six games for the Bears and played in 15 contests, and then started in nine of 10 appearances in 2000. He completed 281 of his 515 pass attempts for 3,111 yards with 16 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions in just two years with the Bears franchise.

McNown was part of a quarterback class drafted in the likes of Cleveland’s Tim Couch, Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb, Cincinnati’s Akili Smith and Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper. All of these quarterbacks but one in Akili Smith went on to be successful in their franchises and are the starting quarterbacks on their rosters today still.

“Basically, he didn’t execute like we wanted him to,” Erickson said. “He wasn’t quite as accurate and just a lot of different things for whatever reason. In our evaluation, and as we looked at the future of the position, we made that decision. His shoulder bothered him at times, (but) he’s healthy. It’s not a health factor.”

Said Donahue, “I think his shoulder’s healthy. He’s passed the physical. He just wasn’t as accurate as you need to be at this level. I’m trying to give you an explanation of why we released him and the basic explanation is it was due to lack of accuracy and the fact that we needed to get to four quarterbacks.”

And the prognosis for the quarterback competition looks good my friends with McNown out of the picture. I had the opportunity to see McNown up close and even received his autograph on my coveted 49er helmet back last year in Stockton. I really do wish him well, and hope that somehow he is able to resurrect his career somewhere else.

As for now we need to look at the competition that will embroil Brandon Doman against Ken Dorsey and see where that battle will take us. I feel we have some real genuine class acts in this position as far as competition and that we’ll see exceptional leadership skills displayed as the season comes upon us.

“We got a chance to see those three,” Erickson said. “Brandon has been a student of the game and has been around here and has learned really well. I thought (Dorsey) threw really well. It’s a learning process. Now, having a few more turns, the learning level for Ken will be increased without question.”

“Obviously, I go way back with Cade McNown, so it was difficult,” said 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, who recruited McNown out of high school when Donahue was the UCLA coach. “He was very professional about the decision we had to make. I think Cade realized that his accuracy was the problem.”

So there you have it 49er fans; the table has been set for dinner in regards to our quarterbacks. The depth at this position is very deep and adequate in my opinion to take us to the next level of play. Miami’s Ken Dorsey is a rising star in this business and he’ll make every effort to make a good first impression. I for one look forward to hearing about his progress in training camp and to see him play in spot appearances in pre-season play.

I believe the 49ers have more than answered the bell at this position but there are still many areas where the ownership and management of this team are lacking behind. The ownership and management of this team must be more concise and practical in getting important and pressing issues negotiated and or resolved in a more timely manner.

Let us hope that Jeff Garcia will have his weapons in place for both this year and next, it will be an interesting topic for discussion in the next couple months. A quarterback is only as good as the talent that surrounds him; so let’s make no mistakes we may find ourselves regretting down the long and narrow road to stardom.