Lawson healthy, set to help anchor 49ers defense

SANTA CLARA ? Outside linebacker Manny Lawson was turning into a difference-maker on the 49ers defense early last season after an up-and-down rookie year.

And, then, it was over.

Lawson never missed time due to an injury at any point in his football career prior to sustaining a torn knee ligament in a mid-September practice. He underwent season-ending surgery, and his second NFL season ended after just two games.

?I have no doubt in my ability not only to start off where I was last year but to exceed it,? Lawson said.

Lawson has not missed a practice during the first nine days of training camp, and he says there is nothing that his surgically repaired left knee will not allow him to do.

?It feels good to be back after a year off,? Lawson said. ?I?m not cautious about anything. I have no worries, no scares, no doubts, no (thoughts) that I might hurt myself.?

The 49ers chose Lawson with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2006 draft, and envisioned him as an answer to their problems getting pressure on the quarterback. As a defensive end at North Carolina State, Lawson recorded 10.5 sacks his senior season.

But Lawson (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) did not appear to have the kind of strength required to work against offensive tackles in the NFL. However, Lawson still proved to be valuable in other areas. Namely, his coverage skills against tight ends were better developed than the 49ers could have imagined.

Lawson was also turning into an active run-stopper when he went down with the injury. He recorded 14 tackles and one pass broken up in two games prior to sustaining a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in practice.

In his first 18 NFL games, Lawson has just two sacks. Although he is not being counted upon to apply constant heat on opposing quarterbacks, coach Mike Nolan said Lawson will be turned loose on occasion.

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