Niners going to 4-3 set rest of '06?

Although coach Mike Nolan's history is as a 3-4 coordinator, the 49ers are clearly a 4-3 team. They simply do not have the personnel to play a 3-4 at this stage. In San Francisco's 34-20 victory over the Raiders last week, the 49ers lined up with a four-man line for 45 of their 56 defensive plays. They played a three-man line nine times, all on either third downs or long-yardage situations.

When asked if the 49ers were now officially a 4-3 defense, Nolan said it will continue to be a week-to-week decision based on the game plan against the opponent.

"When we get into the game plan meeting (Tuesday), we could end up back at a 3-4 next week," Nolan said.

But, generally, the 49ers believe a fourth defensive lineman, rookie Melvin Oliver, helps the team on run downs. The team would rather have Oliver on the field on first and second downs, as opposed to outside linebacker Brandon Moore.

"I do like the play of Melvin," Nolan said. "He's doing a good job and he's helping us on the run. He's doing some very good things."

Also, the 49ers want outside linebacker Manny Lawson on the field in the base downs. Although he came to the 49ers with the No. 22 overall pick because of his pass-rush skills, Lawson has been more valuable on early downs, Nolan said.

In an effort to keep Lawson fresh, the 49ers have taken him off the field on third downs and inserted either Moore or rookie Parys Haralson to rush the passer.

"Manny has been a rookie that's been getting a lot of play, and we can't do that to him, because late in the game, he's wearing down," Nolan said. "As a rookie, he's already close to the college season he went through and he's got a whole other season to go. So Parys enabled us to give him a breather.

"Whether it's 4-3, 3-4, what the groups look like in there, we're trying to utilize as many of our good players as we have. When you get bona fide 'This guy is the guy,' you don't ever want to take them out of the game. I'll say this, Manny is going to be one of those guys, but the one difference is that he's a rookie and we have to temper a little bit how much we use him."

The 49ers have started just one of their five games in a 3-4 set. That was in Week 3 against the top-ranked offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, who put up 416 yards of total offense, the most allowed by San Francisco in a game this season.

Oliver was back in the starting lineup the next week against Kansas City in place of Moore, that time sliding inside to start at right defensive tackle as Marques Douglas slid out to end. Against the Raiders last week, the 49ers started Bryant Young at left end, Anthony Adams and Douglas inside at the tackles, and Oliver at right end - a lineup that's likely to be on the field at the start of most games, if not all games, the remainder of the season.

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