Landry a load in D-line
As the first week of camp drew to a close Thursday, Sopoaga was on the shelf with a lower back strain and Landry was doing his usual thing of making an impression smack dab in the middle of San Francisco's defensive line. Even if Sopoaga were healthy, Landry still would be ahead in the battle to be the Niners' No. 3 tackle and share time in the rotation behind starters Bryant Young and Anthony Adams. "Right now, depth chart-wise, it would be Landry," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "But it's going to be a battle for that spot." What Landry brings to the battle is, well, tremendous bulk. "He is a big body," Erickson said, simply. Landry's 6-foot-3 frame has undergone a rather stunning metamorphosis since he joined the NFL in 2002 with Kansas City as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Southern University. Back then, he was a versatile 267-pound end who also saw time at outside linebacker. The Chiefs, who put him on their practice squad at the end of that season, wanted to see what Landry could do inside. So they asked him to put on some weight. A new Michael Landry was born. "They wanted me to get to 290," he said. "But when I got to 290, I didn't stop." The 25-year-old Landry – after spending time on the practice squads of Kansas City and Green Bay last year before finally landing with the Niners late in the season and making it to their 53-man roster for the final game of the season – weighed 330 pounds when training camp began last week, making him the heaviest defender on the roster. The rigors of training camp have taken some of that weight off, and Landry was down to 317 pounds by the middle of this week. But it's solid weight, and he carries it well. He's also throwing it around well in camp. The Niners, who were pushed around several times last year by opponents who ran straight up the gut of their otherwise solid defense, like what Landry is bringing to their run defense. Erickson called "plugging up the running game" Landry's greatest asset at this point, but Landry isn't satisfied just to be considered a guy that can help the team's weakness stopping the run. "That's what they're looking for, somebody inside who can hold their ground, get some push and not get rattled off," Landry said. "They've been emphasizing holding ground and making sure the nose (tackle) isn't going to get pushed. But I want to be an all-around player. I want to be one of those guys you can depend on any down. I want to help this team any way I can. Of course, I need the job. I want the job, but I also want to be part of something special here." When Kansas City dumped him last September, Landry already had grown to more than 300 pounds by filling himself with salmon and potatoes every day during his 2003 trial in NFL Europe – "That's all they got over there that was any good," Landy said – and spending time "at home with my mom eating that home cooking," he said. "That will do it for you also." Now Landry is doing it for himself, getting closer every day to nailing down a roster berth and becoming a part of a defensive line rotation that can use some bulk and improvement. "It's just been hard work, man," Landry said. "When I got released, I was so determined to play in this league that I didn't do nothing else but train and concentrate on what I had to do to play that (tackle) position. My goal was to be different, because the league needs those guys that can move inside." The quickness Landry had at a reduced weight in college continues to give him an edge now that he's a much bigger man, and he has held onto the No. 3 tackle slot since the first days of spring minicamps. He doesn't feel like a roster longshot anymore, and the Niners certainly don't talk like he's one. "This has to be the best place I've ever been since I got in the league," Landry said. "Everywhere else, going in, you can kind of feel if you're going to get a real shot or not, and I really feel that I have a real shot here. Everywhere else, I was at the bottom of the depth chart wearing No. 69 or something – you know what I'm saying – and going with the best of the rest. But now I'm in the mix, and you can feel if you have a real opportunity to make the team. I'm just trying to make the most of it." Landry's development has become important to the Niners because Sopoaga is coming along a little slower than expected. The big Samoan might have better brute strength than Landry – better brute strength than any 49er, for that matter – but he still is very raw in technique and still relies too much on his power to make plays. His back problems haven't helped, either, keeping him out of practice the past two days – and probably a few more to follow – while Landry has held his ground and moved forward at the position. When asked about Sopoaga being raw, Erickson said, "Yes, he really is. He is a big strong guy. If he can learn to play low and stay low, he will be fine. He was able to get away with playing high in college because he was so much stronger than everybody else. If and when he learns to stay low, he will be a force to be reckoned with." Landry is reckoning with that force right now, and becoming one himself in the process. "To hold off a draft pick is going to be hard," he said. "Every day when (coaches) turn on the tape, I've got to be doing something to stand out." And to be sure, Landry is one guy who's standing out these days at Niners camp. In more ways than one.
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