By Simon Evans
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh singled out his offensive line for praise, calling them a crucial 'weapon' for Sunday's Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.
While Colin Kaepernick has received much of the credit for the 49ers' march to the National Football League's title game, Harbaugh said those protecting the second-year quarterback had been "phenomenal."
"I'd call them offensive weapons as well. They've all played well together. It's really been a strength and a center for our football team," he told reporters on Wednesday.
Harbaugh said left tackle Joe Staley had shown "tremendous leadership within the group" and singled out center Jonathan Goodwin's contribution.
"When he first arrived here, we were void at the center position. He has stepped in and started every game, been a great player for us," said Harbaugh, who also hailed Mike Iupati as one of the top guards in the league.
Staley said he liked the unit being referred to us a weapon.
"We are a physical weapon, a blunt-force object. It's one of our strengths, all five of us, and we're playing at a pretty high level this year," he said.
"We take a lot of pride in what we do, so I feel honored that he'd call the 'big uglies' up front a weapon."
The only change in the offensive line this season from the one that lost in overtime of last year's NFC title game, has been the emergence of Alex Boone as a starter at right guard.
"We have had a chemistry and we have been able to play this whole season together," said Staley.
"It is very important for an offensive line to have that continuity and chemistry with people ... that is one of the big reasons why we are playing well," he said.
With Anthony Davis at right tackle, a player who Staley calls a "silent assassin," the 49ers line has gained a reputation for toughness.
Defensive end Justin Smith, who faced the offensive line in training camp practice, believes that tag is justified.
"They are a good group across the board; they've got the right amount of nasty dudes, and they've got the right mix. They're smart guys too," he said.
With the 49ers' offensive game plan including several innovative packages for Kaepernick, Staley says the offensive line has developed a real versatility - one of many qualities they will need against a highly-rated Ravens defense.
"We do not just do one thing well. We feel like we are talented enough to do a lot of different schemes," said Staley.
"The Ravens have a great run defense and a great defense. It is going to be a great test for our o-line and our football team to get the job done."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)