The Press Democrat

A battle worth watching
January 03, 2003
49ers linebacker Peterson goes up against Giants rookie tight end Shockey


SANTA CLARA -- Cornerback Mike Rumph will be a little preoccupied Sunday, but he advises others to watch the matchup that he will be missing.

When the 49ers face the New York Giants in their first-round NFC playoff game at Candlestick Park, the game could well be decided on the job 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson does against rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Rumph, also a rookie, played college ball with Shockey at Miami and knows what Peterson will be up against.

"Both are great athletes and the thing about it is, they're both great competitors," said Rumph, who likely will start in place of hobbled Jason Webster.

"It's going to be a good challenge at that spot. That's where the cameras have to be at, because Shockey's a great athlete and Julian's a great athlete, too."

Shockey brought a certain attitude to the Giants when they made him the No. 14 overall selection in the draft. Upon joining the team, he promptly got into a dining-room scuffle with veteran linebacker Brandon Short. Few have messed with him since.

"He not only brings a personality with him, but he brings athleticism and competitiveness," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "He's one of those rare-breed types of guys."

Shockey's enthusiasm has been infectious, as has his ability to make the tight end position even more important to the current Giants than Mark Bavaro was to the Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1980s.

In fact, Shockey led all NFL tight ends with 74 catches for 894 yards. He broke Bavaro's single-season receptions record for a Giants tight end.

"I think he's gotten better and I've become more comfortable with him," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said. "It takes time between any receiver and quarterback to get to know each other better on the field.

"He's given us that threat from inside and the middle of the field that we have been missing around here. He has definitely helped us in creating some balance in our offense."

Peterson and Shockey were selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team this season. When they met in the season opener, Shockey caught just three passes for 44 yards in the Giants' 16-13 loss. Peterson acknowledges that Shockey has improved dramatically since his first game in the NFL.

What makes Shockey so effective is also what can be used against him, Peterson said.

"He uses emotion to make him play to a different standard than other players," Peterson said. "But it also can be a negative because he can probably get frustrated easier than someone who is more patient and calm.

"He has a lot of confidence in himself, but it can also hurt him. He'll get frustrated and then blow a couple of plays."

Shockey was flagged for a taunting penalty in a Monday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles this season. He also nearly went over the edge in the final regular-season game when he caught a short touchdown pass against the Eagles, stared down safety Brian Dawkins, who was covering him on the play, and then fired a spiral into the stands.

"He really loves to play," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora said.

"You can see it in the way he acts. You can see it in every play. You'd love to have him on your defense because he epitomizes everything you want in a defensive player."

Peterson has brought attributes of his own to the 49ers' defense.

In his first two seasons Peterson had no clearly defined role; now his versatility that allows him to have no clearly defined role is his role.

He was second on the team in tackles. He can line up over the tight end and play stifling pass defense or he can line up at defensive end to rush the passer. Last month, he played four different positions, including cornerback and safety, in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Peterson's breakout game came in mid-November when he held Kansas City All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez to one catch for 6 yards.

Although the 49ers plan to mix their coverages with different players sharing the responsibility of keeping tabs on Shockey, Peterson will get the call the vast majority of the time.

"Obviously, if he'd gone out against Gonzalez and struggled, you'd be really worried," Mora said. "But we feel confident because we feel confident in Julian.

"It's going to be a battle. They're each going to win some of them. It's going to be fun to watch."

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