SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Manny Lawson wants nothing more than to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and force turnovers, even more so than he did while developing into his role last season for the San Francisco 49ers.
The Niners are counting on the outside linebacker to do just that.
San Francisco has produced just one sack this preseason, and that's only because Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell got tripped up by teammate Darren McFadden in the teams' exhibition game last Saturday.
"We all pride ourselves on getting sacks. We want to get sacks and we're going to continue to try our hardest to get sacks," Lawson said Thursday as the 49ers prepared for Saturday's game at Dallas. "People may look at the first two games, but these are preseason games. We (starters) don't play that much. We don't really study film on our opponents. We just go up there and want to see what guys have."
Coach Mike Singletary has expressed concern about the lack of pressure by the defense this preseason, calling the pass rush "nonexistent" after a 17-16 win over Denver on Aug. 14. The No. 1 defense will get extended time together Saturday.
"It will get better," Singletary said. "I'm very confident of that. When I'm talking about pass rush, I'm talking about getting the quarterback really uncomfortable, and I just don't think that we've gotten to that point yet."
Defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Parys Haralson have been San Francisco's top pass rushers.
Smith led the team with 57 quarterback pressures last season along with 104 tackles, seven sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception.
In April, Haralson received a four-year extension through 2013 after emerging as the 49ers' top pass-rusher last season, getting eight sacks despite playing only sparingly in the season's early games. The former fifth-round pick finished fifth among NFL linebackers in sacks.
And the Niners will get a boost Saturday when star linebacker Patrick Willis plays his first preseason game. The two-time Pro Bowler and 11th overall draft pick in 2007 returned to the field Aug. 17 after missing 22 practices with an ankle injury.
"I've had to calm myself down a couple of times," Willis said of getting back up to speed. "I have to make sure I get myself in the right position and kind of get a thud in here and there without going against how we work and how we practice. It's going to be different, but it's going to be fun to be able to hit again and tackle live."
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky can't wait to have Willis back in the mix. Manusky believes this defense is capable of forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback. The Niners tied for 16th last season with 30 sacks.
San Francisco is finally healthy on defense, too, which makes a big difference. Aside from Willis, defensive end Ray McDonald returned to full practice this week after recovering from reconstructive knee surgery in the offseason and cornerback Tarell Brown is back after missing much of camp with a toe injury. San Francisco completed its final two-a-day Wednesday.
Lawson is looking to stay healthy and build on last year, when he had career bests of three sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He missed two games with a hamstring injury.
"I think it goes hand in hand - with our pass rush we create turnovers," Lawson said. "We rush the quarterback into making bad decisions. We're going to have something very special. Especially with Justin Smith, a veteran at the game, he's going to help guys like myself and Parys and Ray McDonald up in the front really create havoc for quarterbacks."
Manusky worked closely with Lawson during Thursday's practice, talking to him between drills and offering instruction. Manusky knows playing in a hostile road environment at the new $1.15 billion Cowboys Stadium will provide a good test.
"I think we just have to keep doing what we keep on teaching and preaching, which is turnovers, of course, sacks," Manusky said. "We want to try to get the ball out as much as possible, always. We've been very successful in having turnovers the last couple of weeks, and sometimes some of those pressures lead to those turnovers. So, I'm expecting the guys to roll off and start getting a good push up the middle."
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