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No Nose Dozing Here : Walsh Says 49er Michael Carter Is the League’s Best Nose Tackle, but Rams Want to Reserve Their Vote Until After Monday Night

Times Staff Writer

More good news for the struggling Rams as they ready themselves for Monday evening’s get-together with the rejuvenated San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park: Not only do the Rams get to face the talented quarterback Joe Montana and running back Roger Craig, but they also will receive another visit from nose tackle Michael Carter, who recently was named the best player at his position by a learned observer of National Football League personnel.

“He’s undoubtedly the best nose tackle in the league and possibly the best ever to play that position in pro football,” said the observer.

Well, there you have it. Michael Carter, who has started six NFL games since leaving Southern Methodist University two years ago, is the cat’s meow. Of course, the ‘observer’ was none other than 49er Coach Bill Walsh, who could find something nice to say about a toxic waste landfill. Rumor has it that next week, Walsh will proclaim New Orleans Saint running back Hokie Gajan “the best draw-play man of this millennium.”

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Walsh’s comments concerning Carter reached Rams Park late this week and were met with raised eyebrows and carefully worded responses.

“Well,” said guard Dennis Harrah, “he’s one of the best, that’s all I can say. He’s one of the better nose guards in the league. As far as the best, there’s such a fine line there, I’m not going to pick one. I’ll let you know Monday.”

Said nose tackle Greg Meisner: “They must be pushing him for the Pro Bowl. He’s a good nose, but as far as being the best, well, (Tampa Bay’s) Dave Logan is playing as good as anybody.”

Added center Doug Smith: “Michael Carter’s a good nose man. What else can be said?”

For starters, since Carter returned to the 49er lineup six weeks ago (a hamstring injury forced him to spend a month on the injured reserve list), San Francisco is 5-1 and one game away from sharing the NFC West lead with the Rams. A more revealing statistic may be the 49er defensive rating following Carter’s departure from the active roster. Before he left the lineup, San Francisco was ranked third in the league in total defense (ninth against the run, sixth against the pass). By the time Carter returned, the 49ers were 11th in defense (22nd against the run and seventh against the pass).

“He’s all what people say,” said Hudson Houck, the Ram offensive line coach. “He’s really a major force in their winning. We’re very aware of where he is.”

The 49ers now are ranked 13th in overall defense, but their rushing defense has improved to ninth. Also, only the Chicago Bears have allowed fewer points than the 49ers (165 to 201).

The Rams have done their part by losing three of their last four games to such powerhouses as the Atlanta Falcons and the Saints. They also lost to San Francisco six games ago which, by the way, marked Carter’s return.

Carter is a true nose tackle. In this day and age, that means he has yet to make a burger commercial, line up at fullback or have a gap placed between his two front teeth. Carter is 6-2 and knows what 3-0-0 looks like on a weight scale.

According to Meisner, a nose tackle is supposed to occupy the interest of two offensive linemen and prevent the center or guard from reaching a linebacker. “He should clog up the middle,” Meisner said. San Francisco coaches and teammates insist Carter is the best clogger around.

“He’s a mutant,” 49er defensive end John Harty told Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury-News.

Responsible for Carter this Monday will be guards Harrah and Kent Hill and centers Smith and Tony Slaton. Depending on the specific pass or run plays, Harrah or Hill generally will assist the center on blocking assignments.

Now about those centers. Less than a week ago, in the Ram game against the Saints, Smith suffered a contusion or, in simpler terms, a bruised brain. The injury occurred in the first period as Smith attempted to block Saint defensive end Bruce Clark during a pass play. “I got up and smiled at him,” Smith said. “He smiled at me.”

And that was that until Smith began having difficulty remembering plays, snap counts and blocking duties. He began slurring words and his left hand became numb. Soon, Smith had to ask other linemen when to snap the ball. By the fourth quarter, Smith was in a New Orleans hospital.

He is expected to play against San Francisco Monday, though Ram physicians continue to carefully monitor his condition. Slaton, a second-year player from USC, is Smith’s replacement.

This sort of thing has happened before to Smith. Six years ago against the 49ers, he played on one of the Ram special teams. He suffered a concussion during a play and found himself asking teammates about the local geography. “I had to ask what town we were in,” he said, remembering when he left his consciousness in San Francisco.

Now Smith, an All-Pro selection last year, returns once again to Candlestick and finds Carter, suddenly an All-Pro candidate, waiting. Asked if Walsh’s generous appraisal of Carter is warranted, Smith said, “If he was or he wasn’t (the best nose tackle), this week I’m going to think he is.”


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