Ahanotu adds meat to DL

Chidi Ahanotu is coming home, and the new hoss in town brings plenty with him that the 49ers are looking for. The team wasn't about to leave its injury-bit defense as is, and the veteran end is the new part that could add some difference-making muscle and performance on the edge. "I've still got some gas in my tank," Ahanotu said Thursday afternoon after being signed by the Niners. "I'm adding some muscle and meat to this front line. That's what I plan to bring, a lot more meat to the table."

The Niners need a little bit more meat in their pass rush. They have yet to receive a sack during the preseason from any of the top four defensive ends listed on their depth chart.

Ahanotu knows how to rush the passer. He has 38 sacks in 10 NFL seasons, including 10 during his heyday in Tampa Bay in 1997. He had five sacks while starting 14 games last year in Buffalo. At 6-foot-2 and 296 pounds, he is a pass-rushing force who also can play the run.

The 49ers have been trying to sign Ahanotu since May and bring him back to the area in which he was raised and was a college star at the University of California. Ahanotu - who also received offers from Denver and Buffalo - wanted a two-year deal but eventually settled for San Francisco's one-year, $750,000 offer that came with a $25,000 signing bonus and will cost the Niners $450,000 against their 2003 salary cap.

"I'm here to contribute," said Ahanotu, who has 134 NFL starts. "I'm trying to help the team get to the Super Bowl. I've trained real hard and actually added some pounds the last couple of years trying to deal with these big behemoths they got out there now at right tackle. I'm going to be trying to run over people more instead of getting out there and doing a lot of fancy moves."

Ahanotu is the first significant veteran added to the roster since training camp began as general manager Terry Donahue attempts to make some late moves that will fill holes before the Niners' Sept. 7 season opener.

"He played real hard last year and he gives us a veteran player that's very experienced," Donahue said. "We studied him in the offseason because he was free. Our people broke him down, along with myself, and we thought he has a year or two left. He's got to compete. He's got a short window of opportunity here, and we'll have to see."

Donahue said the Niners, who figured to keep eight defensive lineman, now are considering keeping nine if Ahanotu performs as expected. Coach Dennis Erickson said Ahanotu won't play in Saturday's exhibition game against New Orleans, but he'll get a long look next week in practice and in the exhibition finale Aug. 29 in San Diego.

"Chidi is a guy that has been very successful in the league," Erickson said. "We have to find what is best for this team as far as the 53 (players) that are going to make it. He wanted to come here and play so we brought him in. It's going to be a pretty quick evaluation for us, but obviously he's an experienced player."

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