SANTA CLARA, CALIF., JAN. 9 -- San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott has a message for the Washington Redskins, their second-round playoff opponent on Saturday.

"I want them to know that I'm going to be all over the field," the Pro Bowler said. "The key to me is to let {Redskins quarterback Mark} Rypien and the coaches up in the booth know that I'm going to be in the middle of the field . . . that I'm going to be there."

The 49ers' defense is one of the best in the league, but its principals have been overshadowed somewhat by their offensive counterparts, such as Joe Montana and Roger Craig. Yet the 49ers had the third-ranked defense in the NFL. Lott was a big reason why.

"I think everybody in this league is aware of Ronnie Lott," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "You have to be aware." Supercharged

The 49ers say one of the things they are forced to deal with every week is that opponents treat a game with the defending champions like it's a Super Bowl.

In their final regular season game against Minnesota, Vikings linebacker Chris Doleman asked 49ers guard Guy McIntyre a question.

"He said, 'How many Super Bowls do you guys think you're going to win?' McIntyre recalled. "I told him as many as possible.

"People will try to do everything they can to tear us down. They're trying to find a {chink} in our armor and get under it. But it's not that we're looking down our noses at anybody. We're ballplayers. We're trying to win every game." . . .

On Friday, the 49ers are expected to make this week's free roster move and bring back either wide receiver Mike Sherrard or linebacker Mike Walter.

The free roster move for each playoff game allows a team to activate a player without risking an attempt to clear him through waivers.

Sherrard and Walter have the best chances: Sherrard because he's a big-play receiver; Walter because if Matt Millen or Keith DeLong gets hurt, first-year player LeRoy Etienne would be the lone backup at inside linebacker.

"I'll be waiting for the phone call," Sherrard said. "I'll pick it up and say, 'Am I playing or am I cut?' "