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49ers Camp Preview: Linebackers

Posted Jul 16, 2013

San Francisco’s elite linebackers come into focus in our “49ers Camp Preview” series.


The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers will open training camp at the end of the month. But before the pads come on and the competition for 53 coveted roster spots begin, 49ers.com will preview the storylines to track for each position group on the team. San Francisco’s elite linebackers come into focus next in our “49ers Camp Preview” series.


OVERVIEW

The 49ers have the most complete set of starting linebackers in the National Football League. In fact, three of the starting four were selected as first-team All-Pros and to the 2013 Pro Bowl. Led by inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco’s group of defensive playmakers is unmatched in professional football. Complementing the stud inside linebackers are Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, a pass-rushing tandem capable of run-stuffing on base downs.

Willis made his sixth career Pro Bowl, becoming the 17th player in league history to make six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances to start a career. Bowman posted a career-high 183 tackles in his third-year with the club and earned a five-year contract extension through the 2018 season. Bowman solidified his reputation shortly after by breaking up a fourth-down pass in the NFC Championship game to ensure San Francisco’s sixth NFC title in franchise history.

Not to be forgotten, Smith took the NFL by storm, posting a franchise record of 19.5 sacks in the regular season. By doing so, Smith set the league record for most sacks in his first two seasons (33.5), breaking a record previously set by Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White. Smith also became the first player since 1982 to post 14-plus sacks in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. On the opposite side of the field, Brooks remained a solid all-around linebacker and demonstrated that versatility when he returned a 50-yard interception for a touchdown in a Week 12 win over the New Orleans Saints.

DEPTH

RETURNERS: Patrick Willis (seventh season), NaVorro Bowman (fourth season), Aldon Smith (third season), Ahmad Brooks (eighth season), Parys Haralson (eighth season), Michael Wilhoite (second season), Cam Johnson (second season), Darius Fleming (second season) and Nate Stupar (2012 practice squad). NEWCOMERS: Dan Skuta (fifth season, free agent), Corey Lemonier (third-round pick, Auburn) and Nick Moody (sixth-round pick, Florida State).

The 49ers added depth to an already established linebacker crew in free agency and in the 2013 NFL Draft. One week into the free agency frenzy, San Francisco signed Skuta, a veteran linebacker capable of playing all four linebacker spots in addition to being a respected special teams contributor. Likewise, Wilhoite, a late-season call up from the practice squad, brings depth to the inside linebacker position and proven coverage ability on special teams. On the outside, the 49ers will benefit from the return of Haralson, the longest tenured 49ers linebacker who is fully healthy from a season-ending triceps injury suffered in the 2012 preseason. The club also selected Lemonier and Moody to bolster the outside linebacker group and special teams coverage units, respectively. Lastly, the team has been pleased by the development of second-year players, Fleming and Johnson. Both will look to move up the depth chart in training camp.

STANDOUT STAT

9

The 49ers allowed just nine touchdowns at home last season, ranking tied for first in the NFL.

QUOTABLE

“For the first time, I really feel like mentally and physically I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I was a rookie. Mentally, I feel like I’m in a place I’ve never been before.”

-Willis on his mental and physical state heading into year seven with the 49ers.

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