49ers reel in foes on heavy tackles Young, Stubblefield occupy vital center of San Fran. defense

November 14, 1996|By Dave Reddy | Dave Reddy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It is easy to tell Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield apart. Young is a quiet, rock-like 280-pounder whose pass rush has drawn comparisons to the Green Bay Packers' Reggie White. Stubblefield is a gregarious 290-pounder with a roundish frame and tree-trunk legs.

As different as they are, it is rare that the San Francisco 49ers' starting defensive tackles are mentioned separately. Which is fine by them. After all, the comments usually involve superlatives, such as Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer's statement last week that Stubblefield and Young "are the two best players at the position as a tandem."

"When one is mentioned, the other is right there in the same sentence," said Young, whose team will play host to the Ravens on Sunday. "I guess that means we play well together."

Though they must share the spotlight, Stubblefield and Young lead a defense that has shifted the focus from William Floyd, Jerry Rice and that other Young, Steve. For once, the 49ers are 7-3 not because of their offense, but in spite of it. Defense has helped San Francisco remain a Super Bowl contender. And that defense starts with its tackles.

Both players say that they didn't know if they would have the opportunity to excel in San Francisco. Stubblefield, who came out of Kansas in 1993, and Young, drafted from Notre Dame in 1994, each expected to play in the shadow of the 49ers' offense.

But Stubblefield, who was the 26th choice overall, was one of the draft's biggest surprises in 1993. In his first season, he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. In the past two seasons, he has played in the Pro Bowl.

Young, chosen seventh overall in 1994, also was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. After missing part of last season with a right ankle injury, he has become a Pro Bowl favorite this season with RTC 44 tackles and eight sacks.

"I don't think there's ever been anyone quite like Bryant Young," said Dwight Clark, the 49ers' director of football operations. "He just launches people like Reggie White."

It seems Stubblefield, who has 27 tackles, one sack and an interception, has been surpassed by Young this season. But, both said, that is merely a matter of statistics -- and their statistics may as well be combined.

After all, while Stubblefield is being double-teamed, it is Young who has one fewer player to beat on his way to the backfield. And on some plays, while Young pursues the quarterback, Stubblefield drops into pass coverage to "cover some skinny, young thoroughbred," he said.

"Just because his numbers are down," Young said, "it doesn't mean he's having a bad season."

"It just means I'm doing my job," said Stubblefield, who led the team in sacks in 1993 and '94. "When I got here, my numbers were up. Now, they're down. When B.Y. got here, his numbers were down; now, they're up. It doesn't matter as long as one of us has the numbers."

The most important numbers have been the tiny ones put up by opposing backs. The 49ers have allowed 88.2 yards rushing per game, and teams have conceded that to beat San Francisco, they must attack the ends and defensive backs. To plow up the middle against Stubblefield and Young is a waste of time. Emmitt Smith gained most of his 81 yards in Dallas' 20-17 win over San Francisco Sunday around the ends.

"We rely on them to take away the middle," defensive coordinator Pete Carroll said. "We count on those guys to be block-on-block with the three guys in the middle. And that allows us to do other things."

Such as sending ends Roy Barker and Chris Doleman one-on-one with tackles and often on an easy route into the backfield. Barker and Doleman have combined for 13 sacks. And each compares this front line to the dominating foursome they were part of with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 1990s.

"I've played with a couple great tandems, like Henry Thomas and John Randle [in Minnesota]," Barker said. "I like having some stout guys in the middle. It eases some of the pressure. These guys are experts at jamming the run."

But experts can be expensive to keep together. There is some concern that Stubblefield and Young will be separated because they will be free agents at the end of next season. But, said Clark, he intends to keep them.

"They'll be expensive," he said. "But they're only going to get better."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: San Francisco 49ers

Site: 3Com Park, San Francisco

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: 49ers by 12

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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