At this point of their careers, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner have become role models for young football players around the country. But it wasn't always that way for the 2013 NFC Pro Bowl starting safety tandem.
As he developed as a football player, Goldson looked up to other hard-hitters like 49ers Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater and contemporaries like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed.
Now people are looking up to Goldson. According to cornerback Tarell Brown, opposing teams are looking out for Goldson, too.
"Guys know just because they watch film," Brown said. "If you see guys coming across the middle getting tattooed every play you would know. Those arms get a lot shorter when you're going across the middle."
Alligator arms have been a common sight for 49ers opponents this season and they're hoping the trend continues against Aaron Rodgers and the robust Green Bay air attack.
The Packers feature a host of talented options in the passing game, including receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley. While there may be a trip to the NFC Championship game on the line, the 49ers aren't planning to make any changes to a defense that finished fourth in the league against the pass (200.2 yards per game).
"It's nothing spectacular that we have to do going into the football game," Goldson said. "We just have to do what we've been doing to get to this point. Just a little more energy."
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more energetic tandem than Goldson and Whitner, who became the first safety duo to be named Pro Bowl starters since Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis did it in 2005. While the front seven certainly makes itself known with its physical play, the two bruising defensive backs have played a big role in the crafting of San Francisco's menacing defense.
"Anytime you can put that physical presence out there on the field, the way those two guys do, it's amazing," Brown said. "They help our team and our team feeds of it. A lot of guys don't want to go across the middle because of that. … It brings an identity to this defense."
It's the second straight year for the 49ers to reach this stage of the playoffs: hosting a formidable foe as the No. 2 seed following the bye. But with success comes raised expectations, something the 49ers aren't running from.
On the contrary, they're embracing it. San Francisco has been considered among the top Super Bowl favorites all year long, but Goldson said there's no extra pressure that comes with being a legitimate title contender.
"You get comfortable with experience," Goldson said. "The energy around here is the same as it's always been."
Following a season full of matchups with top-flight quarterbacks, Goldson and Co. are looking forward to a rematch with Rodgers. In the Week 1 tilt, Rodgers finished 30 of 44 for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. And it's not just Rodgers' arm which makes him such a dangerous quarterback.
"His ability to see the football field. He's got good vision and he's dangerous with his feet," Goldson said. "He can move around in the pocket and he has good pocket presence. He's one of those quarterbacks that's got it all."