San Jose Mercury

Shockey's passion his biggest asset
January 03, 2003

By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

Moments after making a leaping touchdown catch, New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey was yapping in Eagles safety Brian Dawkins' face, punctuating the celebration by furiously bobbing his head before throwing the ball into the stands at Giants Stadium.

The touchdown was part of New York's playoff-clinching victory last week, and it epitomized Shockey's brawn, bravado and swagger. He is the only rookie to make the Pro Bowl, and he is a force the 49ers must reckon with in Sunday's playoff game.

``They go to him a lot,'' said linebacker Julian Peterson, who will have much of the responsibility for covering Shockey. ``He had almost 1,000 yards as a tight end, which is incredible. He's very physical. He plays like he's on defense, and you don't get that a lot from an offensive player.''

The 14th pick out of Miami, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Shockey led all NFL tight ends with 74 catches for 894 yards, finishing with the third-best total in league history despite missing two games because of a toe injury.

Perhaps most impressive is how quickly Shockey has helped transform the Giants' once-staid offense, enhancing the effectiveness of Amani Toomer and Tiki Barber and contributing a maverick's energy.

``I can't tell you'' how much Shockey has done for the Giants, Coach Jim Fassel said. ``He not only brings a personality with him, but he brings athleticism and competitiveness.''

49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora said Shockey's zeal makes him a more dangerous player.

``What I admire most about the guy, besides his physical skills, is his passion,'' Mora said.

``He really loves to play and you can see it in the way he acts.''

Peterson first got a glimpse of Shockey when the teams met in the season opener, a 16-13 victory for the 49ers. Shockey had three catches for 44 yards; Peterson had one of the 49ers' three interceptions. But both the linebacker and the tight end have improved since then.

Repeat performance?

Peterson, himself a first-time Pro Bowl selection, is intent on keeping Shockey's act under wraps in much the same way he shut down Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez. He held the Chiefs' star tight end to one catch for 6 yards in a 17-13 victory Nov. 10.

``I think he's a little more physical than Tony Gonzalez,'' Peterson said. ``Tony knows how to play the game better. He's more veteran-like. Shockey, he's still developing, but he has a great upside.''

But some of the same rough-and-tumble tactics Peterson used to frustrate Gonzalez will be employed against Shockey.

``You want to be jamming him up for the first 5 yards, make sure you beat him up a little bit so you can get the quarterback to look to another receiver and frustrate him,'' Peterson said. ``He uses his emotions to play at a higher level, but he can also get more frustrated than someone who stays patient and calm.''

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said Shockey probably hasn't seen a linebacker with Peterson's combination of quickness and strength.

``He's the kind of guy that can match up with Jeremy's speed. I think that is the thing that people are having trouble with,'' Collins said. ``I think Peterson is as fast as Shockey, maybe faster.''

The 49ers are likely to mix some calls, assigning safeties Tony Parrish and Zack Bronson or one of the cornerbacks to cover Shockey.

`Great matchup'

But most of the time, Peterson and Shockey will be at the center of what Mora called ``one of the great matchups of the year.''

Peterson said he has been getting a good look from long-snapper Brian Jennings, the scout-team tight end who helped him prepare for Gonzalez and has been mimicking Shockey all week in practice, right down to the jawing and in-your-face celebrating.

The 49ers linebacker has taken it all in stride, and he figures to do the same Sunday against Shockey.

``He's just going out there and having fun,'' Peterson said. ``I'm going to do the same thing. If he talks to me, I'll talk back. It won't be a big issue. There's no media around to hype it up. When it's on the field, it's me and him. There's nobody else around.''

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