Ahanotu looking forward to Tampa Bay reunion

Updated: October 15, 2003, 9:25 PM ET

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Chidi Ahanotu still lives in Tampa, where football fans recognize him everywhere he goes. He still imagines finishing his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his employer for eight years.

That won't stop the 49ers' defensive lineman from spilling everything he knows about the Bucs -- and sharing his distaste for Warren Sapp -- as San Francisco prepares to face Tampa Bay on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

"I'll always have fond memories," the Buccaneers' former franchise player said Wednesday. "I helped build something there. I always have dreams of Tampa Bay, closing out my career there -- but I'm planning to play 10 more years."

After cracking the Buccaneers' lineup as a sixth-round draft pick from California in 1993, Ahanotu started 104 games before Tampa Bay released him in a cost-cutting move before the 2001 season.

After single seasons in St. Louis and Buffalo, Ahanotu signed with the 49ers on Aug. 21. Though he missed training camp while searching for the best free-agent offer, Ahanotu quickly has assumed an important role in San Francisco's defensive line rotation.

"He's stepped right in and made his presence felt," defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "He's given us a veteran pass rush on the edge, and he's a great guy as a teammate."

Ahanotu is a Northern California native who was born in Modesto and graduated from high school in Berkeley, but Tampa became his permanent home during his years as the Bucs' starting left defensive end.

Tampa Bay's defensive scheme hasn't changed much since Ahanotu was released. While he bounced to three teams in three seasons, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl with the same defense he helped bring to prominence.

If the 49ers want to pick Ahanotu's brain, he's ready to help.

"They haven't come to me to ask me yet, but I was already talking to Jeff (Garcia) about them two weeks ago," Ahanotu said. "Obviously, I still know a lot of those guys, and I know a lot of what they do. It's nothing you can't see on film anyway. There's no secrets in the NFL ... but I'm ready to help out."

Ahanotu spent his final season in Tampa Bay making a weekly commute to Miami to see his two children, and the stress led to a subpar season and his subsequent release when the Bucs signed Simeon Rice.

Ahanotu faced the Buccaneers in 2001 while he was with the Rams. Admittedly, he had a bit of extra motivation: He made a career-high 11 tackles in Tampa Bay's 24-17 win.

A dislike for Sapp, the Bucs' superstar defensive tackle, apparently is part of Ahanotu's motivation against the world champions. Ahanotu refused to give any specifics on his disagreements with Sapp, his teammate for six years, until after Sunday's game.

"Oh, I'll have plenty to say," Ahanotu said.

But when asked if the 49ers would tolerate something similar to Sapp's dance through the Indianapolis Colts' warmup lines before their game earlier this season, Ahanotu laughed.

"That's what he is, is a lot of hot air," Ahanotu said. "If he does that, you already know what's going to happen."


^KWAME'S NEXT TEST:@ Kwame Harris never gets a break during his difficult rookie season, but his next challenge might be the biggest one yet.

Harris, San Francisco's starting left tackle, will be matched up against Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice in the 49ers' meeting with Tampa Bay on Sunday. The 49ers' first-round draft pick is learning the offensive line's most difficult position on the fly, and Harris has been roughed up at times.

Still, Harris is maintaining a positive mental attitude while learning from every challenge.

"I'm still feeling pretty good about this season, but there's a lot of wear and tear on your body," Harris said.

Harris has started three games and played significantly in the last five while veteran starter Derrick Deese battles the ankle injury that has hindered him all season. Last Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks targeted Harris and fellow injury fill-in Kyle Kosier for repeated blitzes, and Jeff Garcia was on the run all night.

"It's a learning process for him," Deese said. "He's picking up on the things you need to do, but it doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, but we need him to play right now."

While Deese makes up for his relatively small size with superior technique and smarts, the 6-foot-7 Harris has tremendous physical gifts -- but he's still learning the mental game.

Harris, a former Stanford student, likens Sunday's game to a midterm exam on his progress. He's looking forward to the opportunity to face Rice and Sapp.

"Those are guys you grew up watching, so it's very exciting," Harris said. "I grew up watching (Sapp) at the University of Miami with Coach (Dennis) Erickson, actually."


^INJURY UPDATE:@ FB Fred Beasley strained a muscle in his left side while hitting a tackling dummy during practice Wednesday. He was held out of the rest of the workout, but he expects to play Sunday. ... WR Tai Streets sat out with tendinitis, which has bothered him all season. Streets is having another quietly effective season, catching 24 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns. ... Starting OLs Deese and Eric Heitmann still aren't expected to play Sunday, though both are listed as questionable with sprained ankles. Both players re-injured their ankles against Seattle last Sunday. Earlier in the week, coach Dennis Erickson thought both would be doubtful. "The injuries are not as serious as they were when they first hurt them," Erickson said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index