Nolan wants better tackling from Niners' defense Print
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Tuesday, 14 August 2007 15:18
NFL Headline News

 SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Coach Mike Nolan overhauled the San Francisco 49ers' defense in the offseason, tweaking the team scheme and adding a wealth of new talent.
After one preseason game, Nolan can tell the 49ers still have plenty of work to do before they'll see a return on those investments.
Nolan saw no surprises Tuesday after watching film of the 49ers' 17-13 exhibition loss to the Denver Broncos. Instead, he reiterated his mild game-night criticisms of his new defense's tackling and team play, particularly on the line.
``On defense, we're probably going to have four, five or even six new starters, and there's a process that you have to go through,'' Nolan said. ``We need to learn to play together, because in stopping the run, that's critical.''
Denver's first-team offense marched 67 yards for a score on eight plays in its only action with starting quarterback Jay Cutler on Monday night. San Francisco's defensive starters yielded runs of 11, 9, 6 and 16 yards - and a 24-yard reception by Javon Walker - before Travis Henry's TD plunge.
Nolan knows the 49ers' three-man defensive line will be a work in progress while the club makes its transition to a regular 3-4 scheme. With presumptive starters Bryant Young and Aubrayo Franklin sitting out against the Broncos, the rest of San Francisco's defensive line struggled.
``The D-line as a whole, we need to improve,'' Nolan said. ``When you play run defense, you've got to all play together as one. In the preseason, it's always (obvious) where guys are worried about their individual battles,'' instead of playing solid team defense.
San Francisco's pass defense already looked good to Nolan, even with Pro Bowl cornerback Walt Harris sitting out to rest. Top cornerback Nate Clements and new safety Michael Lewis were solid in their first action, with Lewis making five tackles in the first quarter alone.
``Really, there weren't any surprises after watching the film,'' Nolan said. ``In the areas where we're strong, I think we did a pretty good job. In the areas where we're weak, we showed that. ... It wasn't the kind of game defensively that allows too many guys to shine, but I saw a lot of little things I really did like.''
Nolan isn't seriously worried about any defensive miscues so early in camp. The reserves held Denver to three points over the final 44 minutes, and several young players stood out - including linebacker Patrick Willis, who showed all the talent San Francisco saw in its first-round pick.
``He was very active,'' Nolan said. ``His athletic ability shows, because he gets out of trouble sometimes that some guys cannot get out of, and he's got real good instincts. ... Patrick did a real nice job of some little things that the naked eye wouldn't normally see.''
Willis had four tackles while calling the defensive signals for the second-teamers, and his speed was obvious on several pursuit plays. Once he shook off the butterflies from his first night in an NFL uniform, Willis felt at home in Candlestick Park.
``It was unbelievable,'' Willis said. ``It was faster than I thought it would be. I was nervous at first, but was able to settle down. You can practice all day, but when you get out there on the field, everyone is out there moving 100 mph. Everyone is fighting for their jobs.''
Nolan also had praise Tuesday for backup running backs Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson, who combined for 55 yards rushing in place of injured starter Frank Gore.
``Both of them are trying to improve on aspects that the other guy is better at,'' Nolan said. ``If something happened to Frank right now, I'd feel very comfortable with those two guys carrying the load.''
 

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