Ex-Giants hold key to Niners run game
January 04, 2003
By MATT MAIOCCO
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SANTA CLARA -- It was one of the storylines for the 49ers' season-opening game against the New York Giants on Sept. 5.
But four months later, lining up against their former team is of little significance to 49ers right tackle Scott Gragg and right guard Ron Stone.
Neither man was waxing poetic this week with Sunday's NFC playoff game looming. They see the Giants simply as a team trying to keep them from advancing in the postseason.
"That was the thing to go back and show myself well against a good opponent and good team and team I played for," Gragg said. "This time, it's totally different. This time I want to play well and play another week."
The performances of Gragg and Stone might have a large impact Sunday. Gragg will go against Michael Strahan, perhaps the league's best all-around defensive end.
Stone, who returned to practice Friday for the first time since sustaining a left ankle sprain nearly two weeks ago, is a key to the 49ers' running game.
Stone and Gragg played alongside each other four seasons with the Giants. That familiarity helped Stone adapt quickly to his new team.
Stone was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season.
"You know what each guy going to do," Stone said. "I know what Scotty's going to do, and he knows what I'm going to do."
Behind Gragg, Stone and center Jeremy Newberry, the 49ers are recognized as a "right-handed" team. That is, they prefer to run to the right side behind nearly 1,000 pounds of flesh.
"You develop tendencies because of what you do most often," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "And what you do most often is usually what you do best. We got a couple experienced guys on the right side. We have right-handed quarterbacks, so if you're running the ball a little more to the right, your play-action tends to be a little more to the right."
Gragg, an eight-year pro who played the first five seasons with the Giants, has worked hard on his run-blocking through the years. He'll be severely tested against Strahan. Although he set the NFL record with 22.5 sacks in 2001, Strahan is considered as good in run defense.
"I came from a passing offense in college (Montana) and thought that's all I wanted to do the rest of my life was pass protect," Gragg said. "Then I ran into the werewolves in this league. ... (Stone) and I take a lot of pride in being able to (run block). We want our numbers to be called."
Rookie kicker Jeff Chandler, who spent 45 minutes kicking Friday at Candlestick Park, said he feels comfortable in the place notoriously difficult for players in his occupation. Chandler said the field is a little wet but should not be a factor Sunday.
"I feel at ease when I go out there at home," Chandler said. "This will be my first playoff experience and I'm looking forward to it. I've been kicking the ball well all week."
Chandler is 4-for-4 in field-goal attempts at Candlestick and 4-of-8 on the road since taking over for since-released kicker Jose Cortez in late November. The Giants can't claim an advantage at that position, with first-year kicker Matt Bryant, who made 26 of 32 attempts this season.
Receiver Terrell Owens did not practice because Mariucci wanted him to rest his legs for the final two days. Owens returned to practice this week for the first time in nearly two months. He missed the final two games of the regular season with a groin strain but should be close to 100 percent for the game.
Cornerback Jason Webster was walking a little on his sprained left ankle, but his availability will not be determined until shortly before kickoff. Cornerback Mike Rumph will start if Webster doesn't play.
Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.