The final Squint in our week long series focuses on the Linebackers. The Dline gets no peeps in this series because nothing much has changed there from last year’s lineup. Ricky Jean Francois is working at the nose trying to become a viable backup to Abrayo Franklin, Khalif Mitchell is still Berger’s favorite project, and two guys are duking it out to stay on the roster as Justin Smith’s seldom used backup: Demetric Evans and Derek Walker. Yawn. Some people (hint: Sophrosyne) will be calling for Kentwan Balmer to be cut, but these people don’t actually watch the games or bother paying attention to the details and usually end up looking foolish and refusing to admit it. Hahaha. Blog comedy. Balmer will be here.
The starting linebackers will no doubt be the same as last year, but there is some hummbaby bubbling underneath. Last year, there were no backups on the squad, either inside or outside, that were much to write home about. The inside backups were 5th round draft pick Scott McKillop and the ten year veteran 49er Jeff Ulbrich. The outside backups were recovering failed draft pick Ahmad Brooks and Damned If I Can Remember. Midway through the season, Ulbrich experienced the Steve Young rung and done moment, and promptly retired. Matt Wilhem, a veteran body from San Diego familiar with Manusky’s defensive schemes, was hauled in to fill the void. The football gods were kind to us and, aside from a couple of missed games by Spikes, there were no injuries during the year.
Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes form a most acceptable inside duo, but Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson have a bit of a grumblers bandwagon forming. Both are pretty solid and neither is very studly. Lawson led the team in sacks (6.5), but they were all coverage sacks. Haralson had 6, but he had 8 the year before and was expected to swell, not shrink. He was also beaten around the corner by Chris Johnson in the Titans game, a game changing moment that, along with Nate Clements’ whiff-and-whoa-nelly on Roddy White in the Falcons game, has hatched the off season myth (hint: Unca_Chuck Bloviations, Ltd.) that the team is in dire need of more speed on the defense (and that Nate Clements should be cut!).
At any rate, two things have occurred to stir the blood regarding an upgrade at both of these outside linebacker/pass rusher positions. The partly stunning emergence of Brooks late in the 2009 season as a pass rushing phenom (6 in the final 6 games) and the off season FA acquisition of oft-injured, but good when healthy Travis LaBoy. LaBoy is seen as having a little more mean than Lawson, while Brooks is viewed as maybe The Real Deal pass rusher the 49ers have not had for longer than some fans have lived.
At inside linebacker, McKillop is entering his second year, so some of the green may have worn off, making him more than just a special teams guy. But most of the ogles will be directed at Navorro Bowman, this year’s 3rd round draft pick. It has been enthusiastically reported by many (hint: Rob) that Bowman was actually a first round talent that fell to us by virtue of some unvirtuous behavior as a collegian. Bowman impressed during last week’s OTAs and sometime during the season could very well push Spikes into a backup role and a voyage into the sunset.
So, contrary to last season, which consisted of closing one’s eyes and praying for health, this season’s squint at the linebackers will be worthwhile viewing.