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Updated: September 19th, 2012 6:20pm
Zulgad: So far, so good as Randy Moss gets positive reviews with 49ers

Zulgad: So far, so good as Randy Moss gets positive reviews with 49ers

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Randy Moss no longer presents the matchup nightmares for defensive coordinators that he once did during his best years with the Minnesota Vikings.

Those days are long gone.

So after spending a year out of the NFL, the 35-year-old wide receiver is hoping to finally earn a Super Bowl ring by playing a supporting role for the San Francisco 49ers.

That means in the 49ers' first two games, Moss has played approximately 40 of 123 snaps and has five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers' improved to 2-0 last Sunday night with a 27-19 victory over the Detroit Lions, but Moss had only one catch for 14 yards.

Nonetheless, the Vikings aren't about to take Moss lightly as they prepare to play host to the 49ers on Sunday at the Metrodome.

"Moss is still dangerous," Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said Wednesday. "We all understand and know that he's still a playmaker. He's not the same Moss (that he was) when he came in here in '98 but the guy can still play.

"Six-(foot)-four, he's going to stretch the field. I'm sure they're going to try to give him some touches to make big plays. It's our job to go out there and not let it happen."

The last time the Vikings saw Moss was during the 2010 season when they traded a third-round pick to New England to bring him back to Minnesota. Moss was the Vikings' first-round selection in 1998 and used his electrifying style to become a fan favorite until he was dealt to Oakland after the 2004 season.

The Vikings traded for Moss after they failed to acquire Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers. Coming off a 2009 season in which Brett Favre had guided the Vikings to the NFC title game, the franchise was looking for a big-play receiver to replace the injured Sidney Rice and felt Moss could still fill that role and create a magic combination with Favre.

It turned into a miserable experiment.

Moss was acquired on Oct. 6 of that season but lasted only four games, catching 13 passes for 174 yards with two touchdowns. Then-coach Brad Childress released Moss on Nov. 1, the day after a 28-18 loss at New England.

Moss had decided to give an unexpected press conference following the loss to his former team in which he praised Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his ex-club.

Moss also criticized Childress in front of ownership following that defeat and the coach decided he had seen enough. The problem was that Childress decided to jettison Moss without telling owner Zygi Wilf and that helped lead to Childress' dismissal a few weeks later.

Moss finished the 2010 season with the Tennessee Titans but caught only six passes for 80 yards in eight games.

After a season out of the game, there is a feeling among some that Moss is a changed and more patient man. Willing to play a role in order to get a ring that eluded him even when he caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes and the Patriots put together a perfect 16-0 regular-season record in 2007. The New York Giants ended the Patriots title hopes in the Super Bowl.

So how has Moss handled being in a supporting role?

"He's been great since he got here," San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith said. "Just because he didn't necessarily catch a ton of balls out there this last week, doesn't necessarily mean he's not the primary receiver. It doesn't necessarily work like that. It's going to change week to week."

Moss is fourth on the 49ers in receptions, trailing Michael Crabtree (13), tight end Vernon Davis (8) and Mario Manningham (7). 

Moss, who spoke to Bay Area reporters on Wednesday for the first time since early September, said he's not concerned about his playing time. "Next question," Moss said.

Later when asked why he isn't interested in discussing his number of snaps, Moss said: "Because it's really not up to me. Like I said, I come out here and practice every day and when called upon, I just go out there and try to make a play. It's not up to me."

Moss' impact on the 49ers has been greater than receptions.

Much like Percy Harvin became close friends with Moss during their brief time together in Minnesota, Crabtree has discussed the influence that Moss has had on him.

So far it seems to have been positive.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said that Moss makes his team better in many ways.

"All the things that come under being a football player," Harbaugh said when asked to elaborate. "That's everything. A good guy, good in the locker room, a good teammate (and a) fast, smart, aggressive, football player. He knows the game (and) loves the game. There are a lot of adjectives you could use there."

The real question here, though, is how long will this version of Moss be around?

He's an incredibly intelligent player and can be a positive influence when he wants. Smith called Moss "a savvy football player" and anyone who spent time around the Vikings locker room in 2010 remembers seeing Moss studying his playbook during the media access periods with color-coded pens used to highlight certain things.

"Just his knowledge of the game," Smith said as he talked about Moss' smarts. "How much he thinks out there and how fast he thinks on his feet. He sees things so well and has a great understanding of defenses and leverage and things like that. He communicates really well. It's been great for me.

"It's been good just working with him. He's always got something coming back and talking to me, 'I'm seeing this.' Just trying to get on the same page. He communicates so well, so that's been great."

But if things don't go to Moss' liking, he has the ability to turn the locker room into a poisonous place. The Vikings learned this in a very short time period in 2010. It wasn't the reason he was released but Moss' tirade over a post-practice meal didn't help his cause.

The fact Moss doesn't like the media isn't a big deal. The fact he seems to despise authority could get interesting considering Harbaugh seems to be a "my way or the highway" type of guy.

Moss' reputation is such that after he caught only one pass on Sunday a headline on a San Francisco Chronicle story Monday read, "Harbaugh says Moss won't be a headache."

Frazier was around to see Moss divide the Vikings locker room in 2010 but that is no longer his worry. His concern is trying to stop Moss on Sunday, even if the veteran is nothing more than a role player.

"I know watching on tape, they utilize him quite a bit and they bring him in in different packages and he's playing well for them, making some plays for their offense and it seems like he's always motivated to play," Frazier said.

"He's had a great NFL career as we all know. He had a lot of great years here in Minnesota and we have to do a good job, we have to line up against him. He can still make plays, evidenced by the things we're seeing on tape.

"I would expect he'll be up for this game like he is for every game. You look at his career, he's had a great career. There aren't many games where it seems like he wasn't prepared to play. I'm sure he'll be prepared to play against us on Sunday." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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