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49ers

Peterson aims to set a new standard

Breakout season moves him closer to his goal of being the linebacker others are compared to.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Like anyone leaving college, Julian Peterson had big plans, hoping to land a job in his chosen field and launch a successful career.

Most of his classmates at Michigan State would probably say they were looking to make a name for themselves. When the 49ers made him the 16th pick of the 2000 draft, Peterson announced a loftier goal.

"I want," he said that day, "to be my own icon."

After two seasons of initiation and injuries, Peterson -- 6 feet 3, a solid 235 pounds -- took a huge stride this season, emerging as the athletic, versatile and dominating defender the 49ers expected. He'll probably open today's game at left outside linebacker, but keep watching because the 49ers will switch him to the other side, put him on the line as a pass rusher, occasionally drop him back in coverage.

"We've given him a lot of responsibility and he's very, very important in our scheme," coach Steve Mariucci said. "He's different than linebackers we've had here before. I don't know who you compare him to. ... He's kind of his own deal, his own guy. And he's kind of coming into his own. His best years are in front of him. He's entering into those prime years now."

The 104 tackles, the NFC defensive player of the week award for his breakout performance in shutting down Kansas City All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez (one catch, 6 yards), the plane ticket to Hawaii for his first Pro Bowl are impressive accomplishments.

Peterson, 24, said it's merely the start of something good.

"I definitely want to give more to ya, I still don't think I'm there yet," he said. "I made a great rise this year, but I still expect some more great things coming out of me. I think the rest of the players and the coaching staff expect some more, too. Hopefully this is just an introduction."

What makes Peterson so good, and so different, is his combination of skills: the speed to cover receivers, the strength to rush the passer, the tenacity to play linebacker, the smarts to read and react to his ever-changing responsibilities. In an injury-filled December game at Dallas, he lined up at four positions (linebacker, defensive end, strong safety and cornerback), becoming the first player to do so since AFL-NFL merger. That he can do all this in his third season, while still learning things such as improving a diet that tends to consist of grape soda and Doritos, is even more impressive.

"I just want to go out and make my presence felt and give the offense something else to look at," he said.

As far as being the American icon?

"I just wanted to have my own personality," Peterson explained last week. "A lot of people, they compare you to Lawrence Taylor, they compare you to Carl Banks or someone like that. There's nothing wrong with that; those are great compliments and they're all great players.

"But I'm striving to be my own person. I don't want to be in anyone else's shadow. When you think of Scottie Pippen, a lot of people think, well, he would never have got a championship if it wasn't for Michael Jordan. I don't want to be that type of person. I want people to say Julian Peterson, that's it. He's the only person."


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