The 3-4 defense is all about disguising your intentions before the snap. The problem with the 49ers' 3-4 defense is that the team's master of disguise, the chameleon-like Manny Lawson, is out for the season with a torn ACL. So I asked Mike Nolan the other day whether there was a chance the 49ers might go back to a 4-3 defense. Yeah, there's a chance, Nolan said. How big a chance, I asked. Nolan responded by holding his hands apart as if he was describing the size of a brown trout. Then he moved them apart as if the brown trout had grown to a striped bass. Then he contracted them as if the striper had turned into a crappie. In other words, Nolan is gonna keep us guessing.
Here's an argument for moving to a 4-3: It would allow the 49ers to get one of their best pass rushers, defensive end Ray McDonald, on the field. I spoke to McDonald the other day. The rookie was being a good soldier, although he said he was surprised he's been deactivated the first three games of the season. McDonald, after all, was a big part of the team's third-down package during the preseason and was the only 49er defender who consistently broke into the pocket during the summer.
McDonald would be an excellent defensive end, or even a defensive tackle, in third-down situations. The question is who would be the team's base defensive ends. Marques Douglas certainly would be one. In fact, despite some excellent plays in recent games, he's probably better suited as an end in a 4-3 than a 3-4. The other end could be Bryant Young, who spent a little time there two years ago. At defensive tackle, meanwhile, the 49ers' cup would runneth over with Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, Ronald Fields and Atiyya Ellison. The third-down combination of Sopoaga and McDonald at defensive tackle, and Tully Banta-Cain at defensive end might be particularly effective.
Am I saying the 49ers should move back to a 4-3? No. I'm just saying the can if they want to ...
Nolan began today's media session by announcing that back-up left tackle Damane Duckett was the practice player of the week. Nolan said he always names a PPOTW, but this is the first time he's announced it to us.
The team captains for Sunday are Michael Lewis on defense, Keith Lewis on special teams and former Seahawk Darrell Jackson on offense.
Jonas Jennings was back at practice today and should start. Vernon Davis (knee) and Jason Hill (hamstring) are out. Tarell Brown (hamstring) is questionable. Look for Donald Strickland to be activated if Brown can't play.
-- Matt Barrows