Ferrara adds ferocity to the line
August 11, 2004 at 12:00 AM
Syracuse's Christian Ferrara was drafted buy the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft with the 226th overall selection. He is better known as the blue-collar type working class defensive tackle that established a renowned presence at Syracuse and carved out an image that resembled that of a psycho running all over the field on a search and destroy mission. He comes to the 49ers at a crucial stage in the San Francisco defense after ranking 13th overall in the NFL last season.
Although not in the same class as fourth round pick Isaac Sopoaga out of Hawaii he adds a special presence to the allotment of defensive prospects in that he received Syracuse's Ben Schwartzwalder Award for being such an exemplary football player in 2003. He has recorded 137 tackles (74 solos) with 7.5 sacks for minus-40-yards, 31 stops for losses of 90-yards, 10 quarterback pressures, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles while starting 36 of 45 games.
He is best known for one of his games last year against Boston College where he took it upon himself to do a lot of extra studying on the Boston offense and implemented a seek and destroy mission that limited Boston College's Derrick Knight to Syracuse's Christian Ferrara was drafted buy the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft with the 226th overall selection.
He is better known as the blue-collar type working class defensive tackle that established a renowned presence at just 51-yards after leading the nation at 147.7-yards per game. Ferrara's Orangemen shutdown the rushing attack and sacked quarterback Quinton Porter five times. Syracuse went on to triumph in that game 39-14, with the Syracuse defense limiting them to 70-yards rushing overall.
"He knew every play was going to run before it happened," defensive tackle Louis Gachelin said. "Christian knew formations, the motion of the quarterback and the checks they made. He knew what was going on and the defensive line know."
The Orangemen of Syracuse rallied around Ferrara's knowledge and plummeted Boston College, 39-14, on a Saturday in the Carrier Dome. The Orangemen defense shutdown running back Derrick Knight, who at that time came into the game leading the nation in rushing at 147.7-yards a game. The Orangemen defense limited him to just 51-yards rushing and on top of that sacked quarterback Quinton Porter five times.
In yet another game where it featured Notre Dame's Fighting Irish at Syracuse, it was the Orangemen's defense led by defensive tackle Christian Ferrara that shutdown one of the nation's top draft picks at running back Julius Jones. Julius Jones came into this game with 600-yards rushing in Notre Dame's previous three wins, but on this particular day he was held to just 54 yards on 20 carries.
"That's not the way you want to go out," Jones said. "It was just a bad day for us, didn't come out the way we were capable of."
The Orangemen defense was so intimidating that it could be seen dominating inside the trenches against Notre Dame, often pushing Irish offensive linemen several yards into the backfield to leave Jones and other running backs nowhere to run. This was a testament to how well oiled the Orangemen defense performed and executed almost as if they knew every play and had orchestrated the game as if they were in total control.
"It really doesn't surprise me that (Notre Dame) wasn't able to run the ball consistently; not with the kids we've got on the front line," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. In fact it was Christian Ferrara that terrorized the Irish offensive line, as he broke into the backfield and constantly blew up running plays before they even had a chance to get off the ground. Ferrara himself that particular day had five tackles resulting in a loss, and the Orangemen together collectively had 12 such tackles.
"Christian is a big blue-collar guy," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "Our people really like how physical he is."
When you sit down and interview any of the collective Orangemen defensive contingents they will tell you about the intensity and bittersweet fearlessness of Ferrara as he throws his body around like a conventional weapon. However when you talk to Ferrara he acts like it's no great big deal and views himself as just another intensive football player out on the field.
"If I had to describe myself, I probably would have to say I am a hard worker and I bring my lunch pail to work," Ferrara said.
Ferrara is even more excited about the fact that he is a San Francisco 49er as he has always looked up to the club as being one of the most professional and elite to play for.
49ers General Manager Terry Donahue and other team officials became increasingly impressed after watching game film on Christian Ferrara and started to closely evaluate those things he would be able to contribute to the line almost immediately. When he became available with the 49ers final selection Donahue admitted it was a no brainer.
"Stopping the run is what I love to do," he said. "If I get the chance, I like to get after the passer, but stopping the run is what I love to do. I think it was definitely one of the qualities they looked at and they started to like a lot, and that is why they drafted me."
Christian Ferrara will battle for a roster spot in and throughout training camp, where he will more then likely end up being the No. 4 defensive tackle on the roster as the No. 3 spot is locked up in a dead heat between Isaac Sapoaga, Michael Landry and Josh Shaw.
His thick chest, broad shoulders and muscular arms are but a few of the physical gifts he brings to the 49er lineup. He does need work though like everyone else in that he needs to upgrade his hand usage and lower body strength.
"All I want is a shot," Ferrara said. "I am going to love to come out there. I'm just going to continue to work hard and get every edge that I can possibly get to play at that level."
Syracuse's Christian Ferrara stands 6-3 and weighs 294- pounds; he also ran the 40 in 5.06 and has very impressive agility tests in 500-pound bench press, 565-pound squat and 392-pound power clean.
He recorded a 28-inch vertical leap and has 32.4-inch arm length and nine and seven eighth inch hands. In all he is a prototypical run-stuffing machine that has incredible energy and motivation in attacking the ball carrier whomever it may be with no regard to experience or talent.
Positives: He is very physical when engaging ball carriers, going low and extending his arms to wrap and secure the tackle. Gets a sharp push off the snap and is effective coming on the slant and shooting the gaps. Plays with great aggression and will punish in-line tackles. He has the ability to get good leverage and separation at the line in containing the run.
Negatives: Needs to take time to properly diagnose the plays as they happen, needs to establish a better feel for the game. Needs to establish hand usage as he allows blockers to get into his chest to ride him out of a play. Has, to widen his leg base, and add lower body strength to compensate for a lack of spin moves. Needs too clean up what he says in the locker room and they way he rubs coaches, during and after a game.
Seems like coaching will be the cure for a lot of the negative ribbing just said on Ferrara, as he seems to be a person that is open to direction for the most part. And with a veterans such as Bryant Young and even an Anthony Adams working with him he should be able to downgrade a lot of his rough edges through training camp.
While training camp is going on in Santa Clara one defensive tackle that has everyone talking is Michael Landry. The size and definition of Landry is intoxicating to the 49er coaching staff in that they believe now that size really does matter. He is in direct competition with two promising challengers in fourth round draft pick Isaac Sapoaga and second-year player Josh Shaw.
Michael Landry is listed at 267 pounds on the current 49er roster, but when you look at him on close examination it seems he is much larger than that. It has actually been two-years since he weighed in at 267, and that was when the Kansas City Chiefs signed him as an un-drafted rookie free agent out of Southern.
Santa Clara training camp is providing Michael Landry with a new shot at making a new start with a team starving to shutdown the run. "They wanted me to get to 290," Landry said of the Chiefs. "But when I got to 290, I didn't stop."
He put on much of the weight last year when the Kansas City Chiefs sent him to NFL Europe to learn how to make the transition from defensive end to tackle. He now weighs in at 317 pounds, which is 13 pounds shy of his heaviest weight.
His diet at that time was to put on as much as possible something that is encouraged when your making the switch from a defensive end to a tackle because the bulk is essential to plugging the middle running lanes for north-south running backs.
"All I did was eat salmon and potatoes over there." So far he's come miles from what he was back in college as a linebacker and continues to make great progress as a new- found tackle. "He's real solid against the run," Erickson said. "That's his biggest plus, the running game."
Even though the 49ers ranked 9th in the NFL against the run last season and 2nd in the National Football Conference, the 49er coaching staff wants to make sure that this status is a constant and even improve upon that as bigger bodies are being looked at now. The 49ers last season allowed 150-plus-yard rushing efforts last year to the Cincinnati Bengal's Rudi Johnson (174 yards), the Arizona Cardinal's Marcel Shipp (165) and the Green Bay Packers Ahman Green (154).
Remembering these games is painful to say the least. I have always wondered why the 49ers never have gone heavier up front, but the mindset has always been to target speed over brute size, as this has been the relative philosophy that the 49ers have applied.
"I really feel I have a real shot here." Said Landry, who has spent time on the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packer's practice squads before the 49ers signed him back in December.
However it will be an uphill battle when you figure the 49ers are looking at being convinced that Isaac Sapoaga is the coveted No. 3 defensive tackle, and second-year Josh Shaw is battling back as well to prove himself after some drug speculation. Michael Landry faces a series of grueling tests throughout training camp and must execute all assignments to the letter if he is to have a chance at landing a roster spot.
Sapoaga, whose touted strength is offset by his raw technique, has suffered some minor setbacks after being bothered by a lower back sprain, of which forced him out of practice briefly. "To hold off a draft pick is going to be hard," Landry, said. "Every day when (coaches) turn on the tape, I've got to be showing them something."
Head Coach Dennis Erickson really likes what he has seen so far in Landry and will run him through a series of tests to establish a barometer on which to go by in making his final cut decisions.
Michael Landry, a second-year player out of Southern University, is agile enough to play nose tackle in a three-linemen scheme and has the girth to clog the middle on running plays, something the 49ers definitely lacked last season.
Anyway you look at it, this is a definite plus to a defensive line that is starting to have question marks surrounding it. No one knows when Bryant Young will be done as his production numbers have dipped over the years and he remains one of the highest paid players on the books.
There is speculation that Young could become a victim of the salary cap even after this season. There are many that thought he would be one of the first veterans axed out of this year's contingent of veterans that were purged from the roster.
He remains the lone holdover from the last Super Bowl era of the 49ers back in 1994 with then quarterback Steve Young.
Derrick Deese was the other veteran that braved the battle lines last season and was released in part due to increasing injuries and durability questions as well as to make room for the future that they drafted in Kwame Harris.
"There was the possibility I might not be back," Young said. on the first day of 49er training camp. "You always keep that in the back of your mind; it's just being honest with myself. I feel that way every year. That keeps me on my toes."
"Bryant Young has several years left in him," 49ers General Manager Terry Donahue said. "We'd like him to finish his career with the 49ers, if possible."
Despite the grave situation that most sports critics and analysts list the San Francisco 49ers and label this as another rebuilding year, Bryant Young with a veteran voice says just the opposite and predicts great things to come from this defense.
"I don't have a sense that it's a rebuilding year," Young said. "I don't see it like that. They haven't told me it was a rebuilding year. I look at it as another year."
One has to wonder if Bryant Young will ever find his rhythm again as a premier pass rush specialist and defender of the run. He used to breath fear into any offensive line causing double-teams and re-scheming on the part of most offensive coordinators.
From 1996-2000, Young averaged more than nine sacks per season. In the past three years, he has nine sacks total. A far cry of what he used to be able to do, and it will be vitally important for him to increase his production next to second-year player Anthony Adams who takes over full-time at nose tackle for now departed Travis Kirschke.
Still the mere mentioning of Bryant Young stirs something in almost any player, and that is his leadership and exemplary record both on and off the field. He is a proven motivator and tenacious overachiever in his own right.
He gives all of himself to the philosophy of the team and doing whatever is in the best interests of the team. His presence on the line is more than just meaningful it is honest dedication and inspiring tenacity all in one.
"He epitomizes the true meaning of professionalism," Donahue said. "We're a young team, so his presence in the weight room, locker room, playing field, plane, bus and at meals is so important. It's a tremendous thing to have a guy of his character and style on your football team."
Let's hope that our defensive line can make the grade under new defensive coordinator Willy Robinson. I believe it will as he brings a work ethic and a masters degree of great scheming to this football team. He may even prove to be an upgrade over Jim Mora Jr., although he will always have a special part in my heart as being one of the best.
This defensive line is the beginning of the true strength that this team right now holds as its trump card. We must have faith that they will lead the charge this year and stay healthy; it will be critical to any success we may hope to manufacture this season.
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