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Ex-Gator Weary looks to revive career
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<span style='color:blue'>Fred Weary rolls it off his tongue as if it were his birthday or a social security number. No hesitation. No uncertainty.

"November 29, 2000. My surgery. I'll never forget that."

That was the day his best season as an NFL cornerback came to an end. Three days earlier, the former Florida Gator suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament as his New Orleans Saints were defeating the St. Louis Rams 31-24.

At the time, Weary had 66 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defensed and one forced fumble. He was a key cog in the Saints' surprising 8-4 start. He may have been headed to the Pro Bowl.

Then it all ended.
"We were on the way to the playoffs," he said. "We had the whole thing turned around down there. And then, the injury. I wasn't a part of the picture anymore."

Nor, more or less, would he ever be again. Sure, he and his reconstructed knee came back in 2001. He made the Saints' final roster, but lost his starting job. By the end of that season, he was looking for a new team, a new picture to be a part of.

And in many ways, he still is.
"It wasn't really a bad break-up in New Orleans, but it was disappointing. I looked at it from a loyalty standpoint," said Weary, selected 97th overall by the Saints in 1998. "Basically, they wanted to drop me to the fourth corner. I thought that wasn't the best way to display loyalty. So, we figured it was in my best interest to part ways."

After a quick, one-season stop with the Atlanta Falcons, Weary's "best interest" now resides in San Francisco. Despite a free-agent visit with the Rams, Weary signed a one-year, $530,000 contract June 13 with the 49ers, a team with injury problems of their own.

The 5-foot-10, 181-pound five-year veteran will compete for a starting job opposite Ahmed Plummer. Last year's starter, Jason Webster, is recovering from ankle surgery and there are doubts he will be ready for the season. Mike Rumph, San Francisco's first-round choice in 2002, struggled in his rookie season and hasn't impressed during the team's minicamps.

And even if everyone is healthy, we're talking about the league's No. 27 pass defense last season. Help, it appears, is needed either way.

"With the confidence that Fred has in himself, he knew that he could wait and pick the right team, and he did," said Joel Segal, Weary's agent. "He goes into a great situation. San Francisco has a great tradition of winning. He's now a part of that, and he has a chance to compete and succeed."

So, the door is open. And at least for the time being, there are those in the organization who think Weary - with his seven career interceptions and two touchdowns across 72 games - has a good chance to walk through it.

"The first thing that sticks out is his experience, obviously. Then, his knowledge of the game is tremendous," said Al Simmons, San Francisco's assistant secondary coach. "The guy is very intelligent, that was obvious to us as soon as we worked him out. He knows what to do out there, and we think he can produce for us in whatever role he eventually lands."

No one believes that more than Weary, 29. While things haven't quite developed the way he had hoped, the assuredness, the swagger, the brashness that Gators fans came to associate with the Jacksonville native, is still there.

His agent, his position coach, they may have confidence in him, sure. But not like he has in himself.

"Coming in to the league, my goal was to be the best corner. And that hasn't left my mind," he said. "I still want to get there. And before I got hurt, I felt I was on the way. I felt I was in the Top Five.

"Now, that's just my opinion. But you have to look at it. In New Orleans, as a starter, we became the No. 1 pass defense in the league. And after I got hurt, we slipped to eighth."

Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves saw enough in Weary, even post-surgery, to give him a shot. But he became part of a numbers dilemma. The Falcons had Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose locked in as starters. Juran Bolden and Kevin Mathis were also in the mix.

Eventually, the staff pondered a position change.

"I liked coach Reeves, but they had intentions of making me a safety. And I wasn't ready for that," Weary said. "It's only my sixth year in the league. Maybe when I'm in my ninth or 10th, I'll think about that. But for now, I'm a corner."

Weary - who helped the Gators win the national title in 1996 and left as the school's all-time leader in interceptions (15) - managed to play in all 16 games with Atlanta, posting 21 tackles.

"Obviously, he has a history with the injury. But we feel, being he's two years removed from surgery, that he's OK," Simmons said. "And when you look at what he did in Atlanta last year, he played well and he played injury free."

The Falcons, too, played well during his stay, earning an NFC Wild-Card berth after going 10-6. They then stunned the Green Bay Packers in the first round 27-7 at Lambeau Field before bowing out in the divisional round.

Along the way, a disappointed Weary contributed. He grabbed one interception, a steady paycheck and the first ticket out of town.

"Had I known that they wanted me at safety from the beginning, I probably wouldn't have signed. My plan, going in there, was to play the nickel, be the third corner, period," he said. "It just didn't work out that way. And that's something you learn in this business. It's not always as it seemed and you have to live with it."

Segal immediately went to work, trying to find a new destination for his client. The Rams were interested. They needed help in the secondary and had plenty of material on Weary being they used to play him twice a year. But they didn't have a starting job available.

"The systems of some of the clubs that were interested in him weren't always geared to the best of his ability," Segal said. "Fred is a great player and, more than anything, he's a great competitor. He just wanted a chance to show that, so he was methodical in choosing the right team."

Whether it will be the "right" team six months from now remains to be seen. Many things will help provide that verdict: the health of San Francisco's other corners; the strategy in which the 49ers plan to use him; the way, plain and simple, he produces on the field.

For now however, he's only concerned with the latter.

"It's a great opportunity to get back into a starting role. It's the role I've been accustomed to, it's the role I think I can be most productive," he said. "San Francisco knows all about me coming in. They know what to expect. They like my game, they like my aggressiveness, and they obviously think I can produce for them. Now I have to go do it."

<a href='http://www.gatorsports.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20030705/GATORS20/207050326/1011/GATORS' target='_blank'>CLick Here</a>
07-05-2003 01:11 PM
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