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Article Title: The Space Eater
Article Date: June 16th 2005
By Sydney


If there is something that San Francisco 49er head coach Mike Nolan knows it is defense. And with defense comes his new system that all of us know as the 3-4 type of defensive alignment he will apply as a constant from being the headman of the Baltimore Raven defense just a short time ago.

He believes that this system will serve us better in that we will attack with the strongest element at our disposal in allowing our linebackers, which are built for agility and speed to get into the oppositions backfield.

Former head coach Dennis Erickson made statements and insinuations that he would employ this same kind of defense but never pulled the throttle on this or many other things I care not mention.

With our defensive line aging and battling back injuries we needed to draft a defensive tackle of appropriate size to fit the mold of the 3-4 defensive alignments and play nose tackle. Mike Nolan turned to none other than Mississippi State’s Ronald Fields drafted at the top of the fifth round 137th overall in the 2005 NFL draft this past April.

He is one of the largest athletes that the 49ers have ever drafted in that he stands in at 6-2 and weighs 323-pounds. He is best known at being able to play the nose tackle position and is regarded as being a hefty “space eater,” in that he clogs the middle with authority especially establishing himself in his senior season at Mississippi State.

“I think I would fit right in perfectly. A new team and new coaching staff doing some rebuilding in the 3-4,” Fields said. “I think I can come in and step up my game and play right away.”

However I must tell you he does come with questions. He has been heavily criticized for taking some plays off and not following through on the playing field. Some have even referred to Ronald Fields as being just plain lazy. Much of this came about in his earlier years while at Mississippi State before his senior season.

Labeled as an “underachiever,” through his first three years of college of being a Bulldog, he suddenly made a quick turnaround when Mississippi State brought in a new head coach by the name of Sylvester Croom. It would be Sylvester Croom’s booster cables that would cause a sudden change in Ronald Fields.

Ronald Fields responded to the new leadership by recording career-high 57 tackles, including 7.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage to earn first-team All-Southeastern Conference accolades.

Fields while at Mississippi State played in three different kinds of defensive systems became invigorated under Sylvester Croom where he had 36 career starts and seldom came out of games based upon the talent level at hand. Before Croom though questions arose as to his work ethic and his ability to perform at a high level.

When asked about his inconsistencies and his “underachiever” status he replied: “Yeah sometimes,” Fields answered honestly when asked if that was a fair criticism. “You know, taking a couple of plays off, showing up sometimes and not showing up. Doing that in my college career actually hurt me a lot.”

When his senior season appeared on the horizon along with a new head coach in Sylvester Croom new life was suddenly inhaled and exhaled all at the same time and his production soared off the charts.

Whatever Sylvester Croom brought to the table in Mississippi State was something Ronald Fields was buying into. We hope and pray that he’ll do the same under 49er head coach Mike Nolan as Mike Nolan has everything to do with him being here with us now.

“He had a tremendous impact. I liked Coach Croom a lot. I didn’t have a real god relationship with my head coach before; it wasn’t a bad relationship, but I didn’t talk to him as much as I did with Coach Croom,” Fields said.

“He pulled me aside to talk to me all the time. When I made mistakes, he wasn’t scared to call me out. He pointed out my mistakes and told me that improving these will help me get to the next level.”

Concerns that Ronald Fields will regress seem a little out of bounds. But the concerns have to still be registered as scouts all throughout the NFL were given reason to believe that those doubts should still exist.

Mike Nolan though looks at Ronald Fields in a different light and along with Personnel Director Scott McCloughan’s vote of confidence they are convinced that his play registered in his senior season will generously carry over into his rookie season in the NFL.

“Our reports and all the work we did with him made him our type of guy,” Nolan said. “He’s a hard worker, a good football player, is very tough and can handle the toughness that goes on inside.”

Ronald Fields comes from his hometown of Bogalusa, Louisiana and he majored in both teaching and coaching. He is actually the cousin of New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Kendrick Allen.

He recorded 97 tackles and 18 tackles for a loss as a senior. He attended Hargrave Military Academy at Chatham, Virginia, in 2000. While in college he started three of 11 games as a true freshman.

Started 10 of 12 games as a sophomore. Started all 12 games as a junior, adding two forced fumbles. He started all 11 games as a senior. His athletic ability is limited.

He is twenty-five pounds heavier than average. He possesses a wide body, but will need to improve his conditioning. He bench presses 420-pounds and does lack some speed.

In looking at his positioning skills he excels against the run. He doesn’t always get off the ball quickly. He must stay low and play with leverage. Will be limited to a one-gap defense due to his lack of lateral agility. He must be quicker to shed blocks but he is a powerful bull-rusher and is able to collapse the pocket efficiently.

He lacks some instincts and needs to be quicker at locating the ball. He even will bite on play-action fakes something some serious coaching will need to address. He is able to slide down the line and get through traffic. He also lacks a closing burst and has a lot of work to do on his pass-rushing techniques.

He lacks consistency and appears to take some plays off due to his conditioning status. In academics he has questionable maturity and needs supervision at times. He has even struggled with some academics. He is projected to be in a rotation at nose tackle with veteran Anthony Adams and Isaac Sapoaga.

This is a position that will be vital to the 49er defense. Particularly in the 3-4 defense, in fact Fields if he applies himself could have the upper hand with his nose tackle playing experience.

Ronald Fields was drafted to improve the 49er run defense which was atrocious just last season after allowing 124.7 rushing yards per game last season.

“I am good at double-team blocks, play with good leverage, and I’m good at picking up blocks. I clog up the middle and am very quick and explosive off the ball,” Fields said. “I can cause a lot of disruption in the backfield, get a lot of penetration and stop the run.”

Ronald Fields served as team captain on his football team under head coach Sylvester Croom. This is where many believe he turned the corner on his career after Croom took such a personal interest in him.

In all 46 games at Mississippi State University, Ronald Fields started in 36 of them. He finished with 172 tackles (72 solos), a five-yard sack, 16.5 stops for losses of 28-yards, six quarterback pressures, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

All in all the 49er defense will have a distinct new look in 2005 guaranteed under new head coach Mike Nolan and a new coaching staff overall. Playing in the 3-4 defensive system is a system that is designed to highlight versatility in its players and to reap the benefits of speed penetrating the backfield of our opponents.

Ronald Filed will be someone that will in most cases rotate in and out with Anthony Adams and Isaac Sapoaga on a routine basis to keep the lineup fresh. I cannot conceive him winning the job as a starter away from either of the above mentioned names but should he really apply himself based upon his experience he could surprise us.

The San Francisco 49er defense will still be the centerpiece this season as it was relied upon last season to assist an offense that was sputtering on empty for much of the time.

It will be a defense that executes and will demand that fundamentals and techniques are played to the letter of their schemes. Mike Nolan takes a great deal of pride in his defense and will be the talking megaphone in defensive coordinator Billy Davis’s eardrum.

Featuring the 3-4 defense as the foundation will be something drastically new for the 49ers to adapt to. The majority of teams still portray the 4-3 defense based upon mainly personnel reasons and familiarity among the coaches as well. Ronald Fields can be a very good nose tackle and needs to step up and make the most of his opportunities.

There are still legitimate concerns with our defensive line and for the most part our secondary as well. I for one believe that durability and depth are primary concerns for all of us as indicated over the years.

Under the new leadership of Mike Nolan though anything is possible. There will be passion and emotion on the field, not the stone faced and indifferent approach that Dennis Erickson had with all of his aging cronies. The San Francisco 49er defense will be armed with a brain that it never has really had before.