49ers key to success: DT Aubrayo Franklin

Aubrayo Franklin couldn't crack the starting lineup of the vaunted Baltimore Ravens' defense, but he comes to the 49ers with a position tailor-made for his talents. Coach Mike Nolan knows Franklin, Franklin knows the intimate details of Nolan's 3-4 defensive scheme, and the Niners are counting on the unheralded veteran to anchor their new system, which may not be effective in 2007 unless he is.

The 49ers simply didn't get it done on the nose last year as they made an honest attempt to transition from the standard 4-3 set the team had run as its base defense since the early 1990s.

Nolan tried to implement his 3-4 system when he arrived in 2005, but the personnel simply wasn't there to run the scheme. Last year, the Niners tried again, hoping that the triumvirate of Anthony Adams, Isaac Sopoaga and Ronnie Fields could give them the combination of quickness and space-eating bulk on the nose that is required to make the system work.

While each has his virtues – and each got the opportunity to start during the 2006 season – neither was an optimum fit for the role. Adams simply was too small. Sopoaga still doesn't play with the discipline and technique necessary for the position. Fields was the best fit, but he probably is better suited to play end in the 3-4.

So when the 49ers went free-agent shopping in March, a true 3-4 nose tackle was at the top of the list.

And Nolan knew right where to look.

"I played with Coach Nolan for two years in Baltimore, and he pretty much knows what I can do," Franklin said. "He knows the things I'm capable of."

Not many outside Baltimore know much about Franklin, because he played behind Kelly Gregg, an impact nose tackle whom Franklin says he patterns his game after.

But Nolan – the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2003-2004 during Franklin's first two seasons in the NFL – knew Franklin was something of a well-kept secret, and the coach also felt he was more ready to step in and make an impact on the nose than any prospect the 49ers could have found in the April draft.

"I've known him for a while," Nolan said. "He has matured. He is better now than he was when I left him, no question. He can go to the ball and he has very good initial quickness. He understands blocking schemes well and he is a tough guy and good player who will help us inside."

The 49ers need that help, because the whole flow of the 3-4 defense in full bloom is predicated by what goes on up front. At 6-foot-1 and 320 pounds, Franklin certainly is here to help.

"The defense we had in Baltimore, we had the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and I played behind a great player in Kelly Gregg," Franklin said. "I'm just going to come in here and bring the same mentality that we had over there. I'm comfortable in what we're running here. It's basically the same thing we ran in Baltimore. I made my mark there in Baltimore coming in in our rotation. Some of our backups there probably would start anywhere else.

"It was my time to go somewhere else to shine. So here I am."

And so he is.

"I'm just going to come in here and bring the same mentality that we had over there," Franklin said. "I can occupy blockers, and I feel like I'm pretty quick. We've got a good corps of guys who are hungry to go out there and win, and I'm ready to go out there and take that next step."

The success of the San Francisco defense in 2007 might be depending on it.


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