Will 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) gash the Cardinals again Sunday?
Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby was talking about the unknown factor of new 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, and how it didn't matter what the Cards knew of O'Sullivan because they knew what offensive coordinator Mike Martz was about.
So, Dansby was asked, did that mean the Cards would hold the 49ers to minus-18 yards rushing Sunday?
Dansby only smiled.
The Cards did just that last season to the Lions, for whom Martz was offensive coordinator. Martz only tried to run eight times that game. Then again, Martz didn't have Frank Gore to run the ball.
"(Martz) has a different running back in Frank Gore and I think he is aware of that," free safety Antrel Rolle said. "Pretty much you are going to get the ball to your best playmaker on offense and we feel their best playmaker is Frank Gore. He's definitely going to get his fair share."
Last season, the Cardinals handled Gore in the season-opening loss in San Francisco. Gore scored a touchdown but had just 55 yards rushing for one touchdown and one catch. That changed in the second meeting, when Gore scored twice, rushed for 116 yards and had 11 catches for another 98 yards.
"He kind of ripped us up pretty good," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "so I said, 'Wow, this is why they talk about him the way they do.' "
Given O'Sullivan's inexperience, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the 49ers lean on Gore. Setting another modern NFL record for rushing defense against Martz seems unlikely – although the always confident Dansby wouldn't mind trying.
"If we play physical," Dansby said with a grin, "I think we can do it."
The Cardinals have had wholesale changes with their captains this season. Picked by a player vote, the offensive captains are quarterback Kurt Warner and guard Reggie Wells, the defensive captain linebacker Karlos Dansby, and the special teams captains Aaron Francisco and Sean Morey.
"It's a big honor," Wells said. "It says you're helping guys one way or another. To be voted on is huge."
Last season, Anquan Boldin was the lone offensive captain, Adrian Wilson and Gerald Hayes were the defensive captains, and Francisco joined Neil Rackers as special teams captains.
"The team voted, it's how they feel," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It's interesting to see their perception of it. But I am hoping we have a number of veteran leaders on this team that weren't necessarily captains and I expect those guys to give their leadership ability."
B.J. IN ANOTHER COLOR
Wide receiver Bryant Johnson, who spent the first five years of his career with the Cardinals, will play his first game with another team when he lines up for the 49ers. Johnson, who could get the start, signed a one-year contract in San Francisco and then missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
"We played together for five years; seeing him in a different uniform will be funny," said receiver Anquan Boldin, like Johnson a member of the Cards' 2003 draft class.
Johnson still could be knocked out of the lineup by Virginia Tech rookie Josh Morgan. But Cardinals cornerback Eric Green said when Johnson does play, it will be a good battle with his ex-teammate.
"Not only has he seen me as a defensive back, he has seen our defense, so that is an advantage for him," Green said. "But we have played him, we know his weaknesses and strengths. It goes both ways.
"Bryant's always been a guy who we thought could be a No. 1 receiver at any other team. If he can stay healthy, he'll do well for those guys."
For his part, Johnson is trying to downplay the reunion.
"I'm trying to take my emotions out of it, and not make it about me against them," Johnson said. "It's our team against them, and it's an important game regardless of whether we were playing my former team or not."
Nose tackle Alan Branch (ankle) did not practice again Friday, making it unlikely he will play Sunday. He was officially listed as doubtful for the 49ers' game, as was NT Gabe Watson (knee), who was limited in practice, and C Al Johnson (knee), who continues to rehab and sat out again Friday.
Tight end Jerame Tuman was better than expected Friday, Whisenhunt said, but Tuman still sat out and was listed as questionable. Tight end Ben Patrick (ankle) and tackle Mike Gandy (knee) are both expected to play.
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 9/5/08.