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Niners won't be ducking Rams receivers

<P>Lance Schulters has some advice this week for the guys who play wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams. "Tell them they better duck," the 49ers hard-hitting safety said Wednesday. Schulters, a Pro Bowl starter two seasons ago, said he respects the Rams' vaunted receiving corps. But at the same time, he's not particularly impressed by their toughness. </P>

And so, he and the other members of San Francisco's secondary will attempt to make it tough on St. Louis when the Niners and Rams meet in Sunday's showdown to determine first place in the NFC West.

"Their receivers do not want to go across the middle and get hit," Schulters said. "They are soft. They want to go down there and catch the ball and fall down, or run out of bounds. I wish they would try to take me on, or come across the middle and not slide when I'm coming at them. I wish they would. They have the softest receivers, I think, in the league."

Those are fighting words. And the young but maturing San Francisco defense is prepared for the fight of its life when it faces the explosive, multidimensional, top-ranked St. Louis offense.

The Niners, who have struggled against quarterback Kurt Warner and St. Louis' aerial attack the past three seasons, welcome the challenge. As Schulters' words suggest, there is no fear in San Francisco's secondary. "Afraid? I don't know if that word exists in pro football," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "I think we certainly respect their team speed, especially with the receivers and the running backs. Their skill positions are an Olympic track team. It's really something special what they have. They could enter the Olympics with that bunch and win medals. We've got to play quick, smart and aggressively to try and match that sort of speed they have."

The aggressiveness, obviously, will come from Schulters. The smarts will come from second-year cornerbacks Jason Webster and Ahmed Plummer, who both are developing into skilled defenders in coverage. Plummer is third in the NFL with seven interceptions, and last week he became the first 49er in 41 years to record multiple interceptions in back-to-back games.

"They've played (against the Rams) several times now," Mariucci said. "They understand how to play against them, what's required. And I think we feel more confidently that we stack up better than we did before."

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