49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

December 6, 2007
Willis' place in history? It's fuzzy.

Who holds the record for tackles in a season? Well, it's not Butkus, Singletary or Urlacher. Or Bednarik, Lambert, Lewis or Brooks. The answer is Hardy Nickerson, who tallied 214 tackles for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993. The 49ers' Patrick Willis, of course, is having a very nice season but he'd have to go ballistic over the next four games to catch Nickerson. If he keeps his current pace, Willis would finish with 171 tackles, tying him with ... drum roll, please ... the Redskins' Kurt Gouveia for 14th on the top-tackle list.

Even if Willis went on a tear and caught Nickerson, don't expect the NFL to stop the game, hand Willis the ball and otherwise make a big to-do. That's because tackles are a very fuzzy statistic in the NFL. The league didn't start keeping track of tackle totals until 1991 (which is why you find Gouveia and not Butkus) and you can't even find tackles in the NFL's record and fact book. The book charts safeties, sacks, punt-returns for touchdowns and various other minutiae. But something as essential as tackles? Nada.

There also are several entities keeping tack of totals, which is why you often find different totals for the same player. The league uses the tackle totals from the official game log when compiling its stats. These are the numbers you'll find on NFL.com. Willis, for example, leads the league with 128 tackles, according to the NFL. Nickerson's 214 tackles in 1993 also are according to the league's tally.

But after the game, coaches go over the film and make a more detailed review, giving players credit for tackles they might not have gotten in the NFL's tally. The 49ers' coaches, for instance, credit Willis with 173 stops this season.

The good news for 49ers' fans is that Willis leads the league no matter who is doing the tally. He leads Houston's DeMeco Ryans by 19 tackles on the NFL stat sheet, and he leads the Ravens' Ray Lewis by six tackles according to the coaches' tally.

Tackle info. also is hard to find. The following lists were compiled by dogged 49ers' employee Andy "Spreadsheet" Lutzky, who went through a lot of trouble to get this information. Thanks, Lutz!

Top 10 tackle totals since 1991
1. Hardy Nickerson 1993 TB 214
2. Jessie Tuggle 1991 Atl 207
3. Chris Spielman 1994 Det 195
4. Jessie Tuggle 1992 Atl 193
5t Dante Jones 1993 Chi 189
5t Mike Merriweather 1991 Min 189
7. Jessie Tuggle 1993 Atl 185
8. Ray Lewis 1997 Bal 184
9. Mike Johnson 1993 Cle 181
10. Mike Johnson 1992 Cle 176

Coaches' tackle totals through Week 13
1. SF Patrick Willis 173
2. BAL Ray Lewis 167
3. TB Barrett Ruud 142
4. DET Ernie Sims 137
5. SD Stephen Cooper 136
6. DEN D.J. Williams 132
7. PHI Omar Gaither 124
8. IND Gary Brackett 123
9. CHI Brian Urlacher 122
10. GB Nick Barnett 121
** Lutz didn't have updated totals for Wash., Buff., St.L, and Oak.

Speaking of linebackers, Mike Nolan said today that we might be seeing more of Brandon Moore in the base defense. Not only is inside linebacker Derek Smith slowed by a groin injury, Moore has practicing well of late, Nolan said. The same can be said of Jeff Ulbrich. Moore, of course, helped lift the 49ers' defense last year when he was given an expanded role in a win over the Vikings.

Alex Smith tossed around a few more short passes today. He has yet to have an MRI that should show whether the ligaments that attach his shoulder and clavicle have begun to scar and tighten. He will visit with the team doctor later this week and have a phone consultation with orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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