San Jose Mercury

Bronson's return boosts confidence
January 04, 2003

By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

Dana Stubblefield figures it will take just one hit to complete 49ers safety Zack Bronson's return from the broken left foot that has sidelined him for 11 weeks.

``As a player, you just want to get that first one out of the way, and then you can get back to where you were,'' the 49ers defensive tackle said Friday. ``That's the deal with Zack, to get his feet back under him and get back into the rhythm of the game.''

Bronson hasn't played since Oct. 14, when his foot got caught in the artificial turf in Seattle.

The defense's chief signal caller and the most experienced starter in the secondary, Bronson is joining the starting lineup after two weeks of practice, just in time for Sunday's playoff game against the New York Giants.

He is indeed eager to take or dish out that initial hit, because he is convinced it will get him back to full speed.

``From there, it's just a matter of understanding and communicating and realizing what is going on,'' Bronson said. ``I understand that I've missed a lot of time, but at this point, I can't be second-guessing. I have to be sharp. There's no tomorrow.''

Bronson's return to the free safety spot allows safety Tony Parrish to shift back to the strong side, and it restores some continuity to a defense that has been forced to shuffle personnel because of injuries.

``That's going to be a big step for us,'' Stubblefield said. ``Not only are we getting his leadership, but pretty much we're going to have a healthy defense out there, and that's something we've struggled to maintain since Day One.''

After employing the same foursome in all 16 games last season, the 49ers have used four starting combinations in the secondary this season. There could be a fifth Sunday if rookie cornerback Mike Rumph starts in place of Jason Webster (ankle).

Whatever the case, Bronson's savvy, experience and command of the defense are likely to help the 49ers defend a surging Giants offense that has averaged 29.5 points during a season-ending four-game winning streak.

``Zack is going to give us a tremendous boost,'' defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. ``Emotionally, him being in the huddle is a big deal because of the way he's able to plan and make adjustments and control the secondary.

``I think it's really going to help Tony to have Zack back, because now some of the burden of making the calls can go right back to Zack and Tony can just fly around.''

The two safeties have been the primary defensive play-makers this season, combining for 10 interceptions, including one apiece off Kerry Collins in the 49ers' 16-13 season-opening victory over the Giants.

Collins still managed to throw for 342 yards against the 49ers. He finished the season with a team-record 4,073 yards passing.

``He's a quarterback with a strong arm, and they can spread the ball around'' to Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber, Bronson said. ``We just have to go out and execute. We've got to get off the field and give our offense a chance to score points, and hopefully help by creating some turnovers and short fields.''

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