'Elite Swarm Team' ready for Tomlinson

The 49ers have taken the best shots from the best backs in the NFL on a weekly basis. They've stopped Marshall Faulk; they've shut down Priest Holmes. They've made afterthoughts out of Stephen Davis and Charlie Garner. But on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, they're expecting to face a rare breed in LaDainian Tomlinson. "He's got the potential to be one of the all-time greats," Niners defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "That's how good he is."

Tomlinson enters Sunday game at Qualcomm Stadium as the NFL's leading rusher with 965 yards on 210 carries. But containing the second-year star hardly should seem like a daunting task for the 49ers. Last week, they faced Holmes, who at the time was the NFL's leading rusher. They limited him to just 51 yards rushing, a big reason why Tomlinson now is No. 1 in the league.

"Honestly," Mora said, "you just get done playing Priest Holmes, and you've been telling guys all week, ‘This guy is the best running back you're going to face.' And then all of a sudden, you come on Tomlinson, and you go, ‘Oh, my God, what do I tell them now?'"

Tomlinson's speed, shiftiness and power will be another test for a Niners defense that has allowed only one 100-yard rushing performance by an opponent all season, to New Orleans' Deuce McAllister on Oct. 20. That, in fact, really was the only time the Niners were hurt this season by the plethora of premier backs they have faced.

But Mora talks like a defensive coordinator who is getting his unit ready to face something special this week. With the San Diego offense revolving around Tomlinson - and second-year Chargers quarterback Drew Brees still learning the ropes - the Niners' focus will be on stopping Tomlinson first and foremost.

"He's the best back in the AFC, in my opinion," Mora said. "We've played the AFC West, and there's nobody even close to him in the AFC. It's harder to get ready for this guy. It's hard to simulate his speed, his quickness and burst. It's just rare. Sometimes you watch him on film, and it looks like somebody has cut a couple of frames of film out, because he goes from one spot to the next, and you don't even see him get there."

The Niners have stopped other top backs by getting good push and plugging action from their defensive linemen - primarily starting tackles Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield - and then swarming to the ball with their linebacker corps of Julian Peterson, Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich. The Niners also have received strong run support from cornerbacks Jason Webster and Ahmed Plummer and safety Tony Parrish.

"We call ourselves the ‘Elite Swarm Team' as a group," Peterson said. "It's a team effort."

But like his defensive coordinator, Peterson realizes Tomlinson potentially could be the best of the best the Niners' have faced.

"He has a different gear," Peterson said. "He can pretty much kind of give you a three-quarters speed and it's still up-tempo. But when he wants to accelerate to another level, he can. We have to make sure that we swarm around him, make sure that he doesn't get to that second gear. He's a very talented player. You can see it out there. He plays with a lot of passion. He just tries to win for his ball team. And we're all just trying to do the same thing with our club. It's going to take all 11 guys."

Niners Digest Top Stories