A new Niners nickname for AA: Nonstop on the nose

Around the 49ers' locker room, San Francisco defenders affectionately refer to Anthony Adams as "Spice," "Double-A," "Triple-A," "Double-Wide," "Wide-back" and "Atomic Dog," each sobriquet referring either to the third-year veteran's high energy or his compact girth. As he transforms himself into a noseguard this summer in the team's new 3-4 defensive scheme, Adams is using both of those characteristics to his advantage to plug the middle against the NFL's offensive behemoths.

It's not a pretty job, but somebody has to do it.

"It's a dirty-work type of job," coach Mike Nolan said. "You have to be tough. You have to be strong. You have to be willing to take it from both sides."

Adams is tough. He's strong. He's willing to take it from both sides – and also from directly in front of him. Each is a strict requirement of his new position.

But at 5-foot-11 and 300 pounds, Adams is a bit undersized to be a conventional noseguard, particularly compared to others around the league at the position – and even to those competing with him for the job at 49ers training camp practices. But in Adams' case, size isn't necessarily the measure of the player or his ability to stand strong.

"I mean, I can't do anything about that," Adams said about giving away size to his challengers at the position, not to mention the offensive linemen he'll be going against every week. "But I think it's all about technique. As long as you got the right technique and you're staying low, that's half the battle right there."

Adams is about as low as you can go for a defensive lineman weighing 300 pounds. And he skillfully uses that to his advantage, making up for what he might lack in size with quickness and technique. His ability to create leverage and shoot gaps has Adams fitting just fine into a system that demands he take on two or three blockers practically every play.

Adams will be mixing it up in the middle of things when he makes his first start at the position during Saturday's preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, when the 49ers will unveil a scheme they haven't used as their primary defense since 1993.

The ability of the noseguard to occupy blockers and fill gaps is paramount to the scheme, and that's a bit of a different responsibility than Adams had last year when he made 12 starts and 61 tackles while playing at defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.

But Adams has spent the first two weeks of training camp easing concerns that he's not quite stout enough to hold up at the point of attack.

"I think people kind of look at his size and say he's kind of short," said linebacker Andre Carter, who's making his own transition in the new scheme from defensive end, where he recorded 12½ sacks in 2002. "But the way his body is, especially for the position he plays, it fits him and it fits his style. He's plugging up that middle."

Adams isn't doing it just by taking up space. He's doing it by moving into space.

"Most guys that are built like Anthony are kind of slugs, and they just kind of stay in one little foxhole and don't move," Nolan said. "Anthony is a different kind of man. He's got some mobility."

That mobility also is allowing Adams to move a few steps to his left and play end, where he can give regular Bryant Young a breather. That move also creates an opportunity for second-year player Isaac Sopoaga to bring his 321-pound bundle of power into the game, adding size and strength to San Francisco's front wall.

That's a tandem opponents could see often this season as the Niners mix and match to find their best combinations while they learn and implement the new scheme.

"That gives us a different look," Nolan said. "Isaac is extremely strong, just a real man inside and holds his area. As far as Anthony goes, what's impressed me more than anything is that he's versatile and can play some end. That's been a pleasant surprise, because he's not built for it. He doesn't look like an end."

He doesn't exactly look like a noseguard, either. But he sure is playing like one. Adams also is starting to sound like a guy who's already getting down the intricacies of the position.

"You kind of have to keep your head on a swivel," Adams said. "Guys are coming at you from both sides. Nose is like being on the grind, just the unsung hero. I'm cool with that. If you don't hold ground in there, it can get real ugly. As long as I'm doing the job and keeping the linebackers clean, so to speak, I have no problem with that."

Keeping them clean on the nose. Somewhere, there's another nickname or two in there for Adams.

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