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Johnson Out, Kirby in: 49ers Try New Direction for Running Game

August 20, 1996

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ Unable to get the injured Johnny Johson onto the field, the San Francisco 49ers released him Tuesday and immediately put newly acquired running back Terry Kirby to work learning their offensive system.

``Everything is all new and I’ve just got to get used to it,″ said Kirby, taking part in his first practice since the 49ers acquired him Monday in a trade with the Miami Dolphins.

``It’s totally new terminology and I just have to go out there now and learn it and get used to running in this type of offense,″ said Kirby, who will get a chance to play for the 49ers in a preseason finale Friday at Seattle. ``I’m just trying to get the gist of it. We’ve got a short week this week.″

Johnson, who had 900-yard rushing seasons for Arizona in 1990 and the New York Jets in 1994, was waived without ever carrying the ball for San Francisco in a game. Gino Torretta, the 1992 Heisman Trophy winner, also was among 18 players released as the 49ers reduced their roster to the 60-player limit.

Out of football in 1995, Johnson signed a two-year, $3 million deal last spring with the 49ers, who were anxious to improve the league’s 23rd-ranked rushing attack.

But Johnson aggravated a lower back injury during the 49ers’ opening training camp practice July 18. He never practiced with the team again, prompting the deal for Kirby, the Dolphins’ leading receiver with 66 catches and second-leading rusher with 414 yards.

``If Johnny was healthy Johnny could have helped this team,″ running back Derek Loville said. ``Terry’s healthy and I’m sure Terry’s going to be able to help this team because you need more than one back. You need a couple backs.

``You need a fresh back every now and then. It’ll keep me fresher. It’ll keep him fresher. It’ll help this team win and that’s the bottom line. If we win, I can’t complain.″

Loville had 87 receptions, the fourth-higest total by a back in NFL history. He also rushed for a team-leading 723 yards, though his per-carry average (3.3) was the lowest among the league’s starting halfbacks.

Initially, Loville was unhappy over the acquisition of Johnson, saying he felt unappreciated by the organization. He seemed more accepting of the trade for Kirby though just as determined to hang onto his job.

``I’m going to to go out and work hard every day, try to better myself and help better the offensive unit,″ Loville said. ``I’ve got to take that approach because if I don’t you guys might write me off.″

Coach George Seifert said he expects Loville to start the 49ers’ season opener Sept. 1 against New Orleans but didn’t rule out the possibility that he could be unseated at some point in the season.

``I’m not going into anything with a closed mind,″ Seifert said.

Kirby said his first priority is learning the 49ers system and he figures everything else, including his role, will fall into place from there.

``Derek Loville is a great running back,″ Kirby said. ``It’s not to say I’m coming in here and trying to take his job. I’m just coming here to better the team.″

In other moves, fullback William Floyd and tight end Adrian Cooper were placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list. Both are rehabilitating knee injuries. They can be activated six weeks into the season.

Torretta, who won the Heisman at Miami four years ago and left the school as the Hurricanes’ leading career passer, lost out to Jeff Brohm in a battle for the No. 3 quarterback job.

Torretta played for the Rhein Fire of the World League last spring. He spent the 1993 season with Minnesota but did not attempt a pass. He also had a brief stay with Detroit.

Also released were defensive ends Oliver Barnett, Herb Coleman and James Guarnera; cornerbacks Eric Carter and Anthony Prior; linebacker Tom Cavallo; wide receivers Chris Thomas and Mark Harris; safeties Mike Salmon and Pat McGuirk; running backs Brian O’Neal, Stephen Pitts and Reynard Rutherford; defensive tackle Albert Reese; tackle Andrew Moore; and tight end Luther Morris.

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