LB may give 49ers Moore than anybody expects

You wanted Julian Peterson. You may be getting Brandon Moore instead. The 49ers surely will be picking up another high-profile linebacker – in free agency or through the draft – before training camp begins in July. But either way, Moore now figures prominently somewhere in the Niners' plans at the position as they build for the future. And, if that means replacing his buddy Peterson in the lineup … Well, Moore would consider that an honor, and he says he'd be more than up to that tall task.

"To be honest with you, I'd be honored if they expected that from me," said Moore, who earlier this week solidified his status with the 49ers by signing a five-year, $8 million deal that included a signing bonus of $794,067. "If things didn't work out and Julian wasn't here, and they asked me to take on more roles and have more responsibility, I'd be honored."

Honored, and eager to meet the challenge with a helmet-first charge.

"I'd step right in," Moore said. "I'd do everything I had to do to prepare myself to fill that role. I'm optimistic with Julian's situation, and I'm sure things will work out. But if asked to (replace Peterson) – absolutely."

Moore might want to start getting ready to prepare. The chances of Peterson returning to the 49ers appear to be dropping below 50-50, even as his value on the open market also drops because of the outlandish guaranteed money his agent is demanding as part of any deal Peterson would sign.

Moore probably will be battling with some hotshot college stud this summer to replace Peterson in the starting lineup. And, if the current atmosphere changes in the 49ers' favor and Peterson returns to the 49ers, Moore would then be challenging for the starting role at the other outside LB slot in San Francisco's 3-4 defense. At the very least, Moore will return in 2006 as the team's top reserve at virtually all four linebacker positions.

But Moore is setting his sights a little higher than the latter alternative.

"I felt toward the end of last year – my goal ultimately as a professional athlete was to be a starter on defense," he said. "Absolutely, that's my goal. Hopefully, the way things work out and the way that I fit into the system will reflect that."

That's the way things worked out in 2005, which gave Moore an opportunity to show – in his contract year – what he could do as a starter.

First, Peterson developed a hamstring injury, which gave Moore an opportunity for his first start of the season in Week 4 against Arizona. He had five tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage.

The next week, starting inside linebacker Jeff Ulbrich tore his biceps in a loss to Indianapolis, effectively ending his season and putting Moore back in the regular lineup for the remainder of the season. Moore finished the season with 10 starts, several of them notable performances, including a 13-tackle game at Tennessee and a two-sack effort the next week against Arizona. Moore had seven or more tackles in eight of San Francisco's final 11 games.

By the end of an injury-ravaged season for San Francisco's 32nd-ranked defense, Moore's steady performance had made him one of the 49ers' most productive performers. He finished second on the team with 93 tackles, second with five sacks and had six quarterback pressures to go along with an interception and a fumble recovery. Moore even showed signs of progress in pass coverage, the biggest weakness in his game, with three passes defensed.

The strong showing turned Moore, set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2006, into something of a commodity, and several teams expressed interest when the free-agency period began last week.

But Moore was interested only in returning to San Francisco. He didn't take any visits elsewhere.

"San Francisco is where I wanted to be, and all the parties knew that," Moore said. "I am really, really happy to be a 49er. I think everyone pretty much got what they wanted out of the deal."

The Niners got a linebacker who can play inside or outside, not to mention a Mike-Nolan-kind-of-guy who proved to the 49ers that he's a player they want around during a 2005 season that was an audition for most players on the team.

It was the culmination of Moore's gradual climb from anonymity to respectability to productivity. The 6-foot-1, 242-pound prospect went undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2002, a snub that several draft observers hadn't expected. He was one of only two undrafted free agents to make the San Francisco roster that year, and began making his mark immediately on special teams.

Moore was among San Francisco's leading tacklers on specialty units each season – leading the team in that department with 22 in 2004 – before becoming a regular last year.

Now he's a success story – owner of a multi-year deal worth millions at age 27, to go along with heightened ambitions as he moves into the prime of his career with the 49ers.

"Being here, for me, it feels like waking up in the morning," Moore said. "It's a new day. It's a new chance for all of these opportunities I have. I view it as another opportunity, another point in my career.

"Not everyone had to start out as a free agent. Being a rookie free agent and a guy on the bubble all the time – and being a guy who could really be fired at any moment – is no fun. It is really, really stressful, whereas I don't think that stress is here anymore. I think that stress now is to prove myself as a linebacker in this league and to prove myself to my teammates and to the fans of San Francisco, and to make an impact on the team and the league. It is not just to make the team anymore. It's to be a great player."

If the 49ers end up losing a linebacker many consider to be the team's greatest player, they may end up counting on Moore to do just that.

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