Thursday, July 20, 2000
49ers high on
The former Rainbow linebackerBy Paul Arnett
has been impressive in camp as
the backup for Ken Norton Jr.
STOCKTON, Calif. -- If this is reality, don't let San Francisco 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich ever go to sleep.
All around the former University of Hawaii standout are dreams coming true. Not only was this life-long northern California resident selected in the National Football League draft three months ago, but by the very organization that has been a part of his life since he was young.
"They have always been my favorite team," Ulbrich said after yesterday's training camp practice at the University of Pacific campus. "My mother was a cheerleader for the 49ers, so was my aunt. To be drafted by them and then to put on that helmet for the first time, well, it's something I really can't put into words."
Fortunately for the 49ers, Ulbrich is far more expressive on a football field, something not lost on San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora. He employs a 35 defense, which Ulbrich said is a mixture of what he ran his junior and senior seasons at UH.
"We liked what we saw of Jeff last year and so far, he's everything we expected,"' Mora said. "He has good instincts and pursues the ball well. He's going to be a good one for us once he gets a better feel for what we're trying to get done."
Ulbrich is currently second team behind three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ken Norton Jr., who is the only player in the NFL to win three consecutive Super Bowls. Norton has led the 49ers in tackles for eight straight seasons and is a prototype linebacker in the NFL.
"I'm learning from one of the best in the game," Ulbrich said. "Today, I spent a lot of practice watching what he does and studying the reads he makes. The man has so much knowledge. He's been to all the mini-camps, so we had a chance to meet and talk a little bit, but no where near what I want."
Ulbrich figures to have plenty of opportunities over the next few weeks of summer camp. As Norton's backup, Ulbrich takes the defensive signals from the bench and calls them in the huddle.
He made the right read on the final play of the morning practice. Despite lining up in a three-wide set, Ulbrich stayed locked on single back Jonas Lewis, who took the ball on a well-designed draw. Had the 49ers been in full pads, Ulbrich would have nailed him for a 1-yard loss.
As it was, the former Rainbow hooked his arm briefly around Lewis, before letting him go. Lewis continued to weave his way through the secondary, drawing applause from the 500 fans watching the workout. Still, Ulbrich felt good about the play.
"I had him all the way," Ulbrich said, then smiled. "The good thing about attending the mini-camps, it gives you time to learn the defense and to get up to speed. I felt more comfortable in there today. I didn't have to think about what I'm supposed to do, then react. Now, it's more instinctive. It feels good."
Last week, Ulbrich felt even better after signing a three-year deal worth $1.2 million. With the $385,000 signing bonus, he and his wife, Cristina, were able to take care of some financial matters and prepare for the season ahead.
"Right now, she's in Hawaii visiting family and friends," Ulbrich said. "I told her I was going to be so busy over the next few weeks, there wasn't any reason for her to stay home."
Ulbrich learned yesterday from his agent that he had signed a merchandise deal with Nike worth $1,500. Each week, he will also get a new pair of Nike shoes.
"It's not a million-dollar deal, but I'll take it," Ulbrich said. "Who knows, maybe one day I can produce a shoe for them called 'Local Motion.' As for my contract, we felt like their offer was a fair one.
"I'm just glad to have the business part of it out of the way. Now I can concentrate on learning the defense and playing football. I don't know how much playing time I'll get this season, but I want to be prepared whenever they call my name."
The 49ers figure to call his name early and often in the upcoming NFL Hall of Fame matchup that will be the first Monday Night Football game of the season. Norton may play the first couple of series, but it's all Ulbrich after that.
"To be out on that field on national television, well, I get excited just thinking about it," Ulbrich said. "Being a part of the Hall of Fame game is also great. Three 49ers (Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Dave Wilcox) are being inducted this year, which is very special around here. It's hard to imagine what it's all going to be like. I can't wait to be a part of it."