Linebacker Patrick Willis, here chasing down Eagles QB Michael Vick, anchors a solid front seven for the 49ers. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Last year, LeGarrette Blount became just the second undrafted running back in the history of the NFL to rush for 1,000 yards as a rookie.
And against the Colts on “Monday Night Football” this week, the Tampa Bay Buc -- a 6-foot, 247-pound battering ram of a back -- rushed for 127 yards in a win over the Colts.
Clearly, the former Oregon Duck – who gained more fame in college for punching out a Boise State player than for running the football – is an emerging force for a 3-1 Tampa Bay team that comes into Candlestick Park Sunday to play the 3-149ers.
But running the football against the Niners can be a tough task. Last week, San Francisco shut down the NFC’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and the Niners rank No. 4 in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of just 74 yards per game.
No back has run for 100 yards against the 49ers defense in 26 straight games.
“Their front seven is the best we’re going to see all year,” Freeman told Bay Area reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “You look at it and it starts in the middle with Patrick Willis. Obviously, Justin Smith is a stud who was giving us issues last year. They’re a very physical defense … all around, they’re studs.”
Last week, rookie linebacker Aldon Smith also made his presence known, with 1½ sacks on the Eagles’ Michael Vick, and had four tackles.
And second-year linebacker NaVorro Bowman is rapidly coming on. As ESPN’s Mike Sando noted this week, Bowman is living up to the assertion by GM Trent Baalke during training camp that Willis and Bowman will give the 49ers perhaps the best inside linebacker duo in the league.
Though Tampa Bay beat San Francisco 21-0 last season, Bucs coach Raheem Morris says he sees a very different 49ers team this season, a team that will present challenges on Sunday.
“You can see everybody has a plan, a direction, what they want to do,” he said on a conference call.
However, one issue for the 49ers this week could be nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. The Sacramento Bee reports Sopoaga has a staph infection, but has not yet been ruled out of Sunday’s game. If Sopoaga can’t play, he’d likely be replaced by Jean Francois, reports Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.