49ers receivers to face former teammates on Sunday
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)
Vernon Davis has been matched up against Manny Lawson since both were in college. Michael Crabtree and Joshua Morgan have been going against Nate Clements since the young receivers joined the San Francisco 49ers.
Those competitive matchups will take on a whole new dimension Sunday when the 49ers play the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lawson and Clements were key defensive starters for San Francisco the past four seasons, and now both have similar roles with the Bengals. They'll be looking for an edge Sunday against the same receiving threats they had been practicing against for years.
And so will the 49ers lined up across from them.
''They've got good insight on some of our personnel, there's no question,'' 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. ''And we've got a few insights on theirs. So it kind of works both ways.''
Roman is in his first season directing coach Jim Harbaugh's version of the West Coast offense, and the 49ers have struggled to produce in the new system during their 1-1 start. San Francisco ranks 31st in the NFL in total offense after finishing with just 206 yards last week in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
But the 49ers are more familiar with who they're facing this week. Lawson started all 16 games for San Francisco last season at outside linebacker and Clements started every game at cornerback.
The 49ers also could face safety Taylor Mays, San Francisco's second-round draft pick last year who was traded to Cincinnati in August for a seventh-round pick.
''It'll be a fun game and a very interesting game, especially knowing those guys,'' Davis said. ''I've been going against Manny since I was in college and going against Nate in practice, so it makes my assignment a little easier. I know those guys. I don't have to go in and really watch them like I have to watch the other guys.''
Davis first faced Lawson when he was a tight end at Maryland and Lawson was playing for North Carolina State. The pair entered the NFL together as first-round draft picks in 2006, when the 49ers made Davis the No. 6 overall pick of the draft and Lawson the No. 22 pick.
The 49ers traded up to get Lawson, projecting that he could become an impact edge rusher in the team's switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme. San Francisco signed Clements a year later to an eight-year, $80 million deal.
But neither player quite lived up to the 49ers' investment in them. Clements struggled in coverage the past two years and Lawson had just 2.5 sacks last season, with the team often replacing him on passing downs.
San Francisco cut Clements in July rather than pay him the $15 million he was due this year in salary. He signed a two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Bengals a few days later.
The 49ers did not make it a priority to re-sign Lawson in free agency, and he remained on the open market deep into August before signing a one-year deal with the Bengals worth $3.5 million.
Their departure left holes to fill in San Francisco's defense, but their skills and styles of play are well remembered by the former teammates they'll be facing Sunday.
''I'm looking forward to seeing what they bring against us,'' said Crabtree, who will return to action against the Bengals after missing last week's game with a sore foot. ''That's the good thing about this football game on Sunday. That's when the competition gets really tough.''
Crabtree could be back in the starting lineup this week in place of Braylon Edwards, who injured his right knee against Dallas and will be out until October after undergoing surgery this week.
That would leave Clements, who starts for the Bengals at left cornerback, going up against the same top three San Francisco receivers he faced regularly last year in Crabtree, Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr.
''I had a chance to face those guys every day in practice, so my perception has not changed,'' Clements said during a conference call this week. ''They're a young, talented receiver corps that definitely has what it takes to have potential stars in this league. I've definitely told my teammates things to look out for and what guys are good at.''