Losing another leader

Niners coach Mike Nolan talks about the loss of linebacker Jeff Ulbrich for the rest of the 2005 season, and discusses the team's plans to replace him.

Here's Nolan's takes Wednesday on Ulbrich, his injury and fourth-year veteran Saleem Rasheed, who will take Ulbrich's place in San Francisco's starting lineup:

On Ulbrich's status: "Ulbrich has decided to have the surgery. He will be put on injured reserve, so he'll be out for the rest of the season. Jeff did his due diligence and everything. He obviously met with all of the staff. He met with the coaches. He did it right, I'll say that. He talked to doctors; he called several players who had it in the past. He even inquired to several other doctors around the country about things they could do, but in the end I think it was the right choice. I hate to lose him. He's a good player, and I think he's great for the football team. He will remain around here. He's going to continue to be in the meetings. He's always wanted to be a coach, so he put it out there that he wants to get in on meetings, and we'll let him do that. We'll miss him for now, but in the long run, it's the right choice."

On who will start in place of Ulbrich: Right now, it will be Saleem Rasheed. "He'll come in. Brandon Moore will continue to back up both inside and outside. We're still solid there. We've got a good core. It's a good thing that we had some depth there going into the season. At corner, we didn't have the depth, so we had to dip into some developmental guys. Saleem will do a good job. I feel secure in that. We lose some special teams depth because Saleem is also a very good special teams player. Some of his play on special teams will be reduced, so somebody else will have to pick up that at this time."

On whether Ulbrich still would fit into the team's long-term plans if he had elected not to have surgery and play the rest of the season: "I guess you could say that, but Jeff's a good football player. You want to play at your top performance. He'd have been a one-armed bandit. You don't want to lose 50 percent with that thing. That's a hard question to answer. He adds an awful lot to it, aside from just his play. He's what we're looking for. Jeff's a keeper."

On Ulbrich's concerns regarding the injury: "He feels very strongly about where we're going. He still wants to be a part of it. He'll remain a part of it; it will just be a different part than we'd hoped. If Jeff had a year left in his career and he really felt that he wanted to play, then we might have some different advice for him. It's that important to him. In his case, he's in the middle of his career. He's not at the tail end, and he's gotten so much better this year with (linebackers coach Mike) Singletary coaching him. I think that was part of the excitement, too. He feels himself getting so much better, as does Derek Smith. Derek's playing at the highest level I've ever seen him play at, and I coached Derek his first three years in the league. I've watched him the last few, and he's never played like he is now. Those two guys see it. The two of those guys are real close, so you know they're talking about it. They're excited. They go into every game and play 100 miles per hour. It's hard to give that up all of the sudden. Like I said, I think he made the right decision. There's no question in my mind that he made the right decision for himself, for his family and for his football team. He'd have been hanging that arm even this year when he was playing. I looked at it, and it doesn't look good."

On how well Rasheed played in the 49ers' last game: "He did well. He's still developing, but he did OK. I feel good about him. He's come a long way and come out of his shell, from my understanding. When we first got here, it was kind of, ‘Who is this guy?' He's certainly come out of his shell, and I watch him interact with the guys that are well known on the team whether it be B.Y. or Derek Smith or Ulbrich. They see him as one of them, and that's a neat thing too. He's playing better."

On what Rasheed does differently than Ulbrich: "He's a different type of player than Jeff. He's very active, but we'll wait and see what he can do. He's a different type of player. If I had to guess from watching him, Jeff's a little bit more contact-oriented. Saleem is a little bit more minimum-contact in getting to the ball-carrier, which is not a bad thing. (Baltimore linebacker) Ray Lewis runs around blocks all the time, but it's always to make the tackle. You don't have to run into people to be a good player. There are two styles. That's what I expect and anticipate. It doesn't mean it will make him good or bad. You can play it both ways, as long as he's making plays on the ball-carrier."

On whether the team loses something emotionally with Ulbrich out for the season: "We lose something emotionally, sure. Some other guys will pick that up, but we do lose something. When you lose a starter, and one in particular like Jeff who calls the huddle on defense, you definitely lose something. My concerns aren't great, because I have faith in Saleem. I think he'll be fine in that. We'll play differently, so in some respects the offenses will be facing a different type of a guy. You can count on Jeff to come down and hit you in the mouth if you're a lineman. Saleem might go around you if you're standing there waiting on him. It will be interesting to see, but I don't think it will drop off much. It will be a little different style."

On whether Rasheed will still get some playing time on special teams: "He will, but they'll be cut back. What they are exactly, we have to talk about. We have to find out first who his replacement is. If he can only be replaced on certain ones, then obviously he'll stay on the others. It has as much to do with who his replacement is as what we're trying to get him off of. Typically, you try to get defensive guys off the coverages. Although you'd think, ‘Why would you take them off? That's a defensive play and they have to tackle somebody,' but they also have to stay on the field. If you just ran 50 yards on a punt, you'd be a little winded. If you just ran 70 yards on a kickoff, you're going to be a little winded because it's a sprint. That's the reason you try to yank them off a little bit."

On whether Ulbrich's injury, plus the Jamie Winborn situation, affects how much 4-3 or 3-4 the 49ers will play: "Ninety percent of the other day was in a 4-3, but again it's as much a game plan. It does come into play with injuries. If you start to get down in numbers, you might have to stick a lineman more and just use three ‘backers. That could happen. If we lose another guy, that might be what you see."

On how much value there is in seeing what a player like Rasheed can do: "I feel us starting to turn a corner, and I don't want to lose any more guys. It's just like the secondary. We played very well as a defense the other day in that game. They did a very nice job for us. All areas came together, and it wasn't just by happenstance. It wasn't just, ‘Oh boy! They lucked into this and they lucked into that.' There was a lot of really good play on the defensive side of the ball. You don't want to lose guys now, because you're starting to jell. Otherwise you have to keep putting these other guys in. We can get it done, as we've already shown you. A few of those defensive backs haven't played much at all, especially at the positions they're at. They were able to plug in and do a good job. For obvious reasons you don't like to lose guys, and when you start to turn that corner, you really don't want to lose them. It keeps you from turning that corner."


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