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The Four LBs Competing to Replace NaVorro Bowman

Posted Jul 25, 2014

Michael Wilhoite proved himself by starting two games in place of Patrick Willis last season. This season, he has to beat out three teammates to fill in for an injured Bowman.

Here are the facts as we understand them.

If NaVorro Bowman (knee) stays on the Physically Unable to Perform List to begin the season, he wouldn't be eligble to play in a game until Week 7.

Until Bowman returns to the field, Patrick Willis will line up at inside linebacker along someone else.

And, according to San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, this second 'backer could be one of four men.

“We’ve got any type of possibility that can happen there," Fangio said. "We’re playing Willis at MIKE now and Wilhoite’s playing JACK. If somebody surfaces to give us a better combination of putting Willis back at JACK and somebody else at MIKE, whether it’d be (Chris) Borland, (Michael) Wilhoite, (Shayne) Skov... (Nick) Moody is in the mix there, too."

Here's what Fangio had to say about the four contenders.

Michael Wilhoite

"(Starting twice in 2013) is an advantage for him in that he knows he can go out and play in an NFL game. If he hadn’t done it to that point, it’d probably be in the back of his mind that he’s never done it. But, he’s been out there and played two full games and had some snaps other places. You know, he had to finish the playoff game last year when NaVorro got hurt. I think it helps him, but ultimately he’s going to have to go out there and do it.”

Nick Moody

“It’s a possibility (that he could play linebacker in nickel situations). But like all the other guys, he’s got to become accountable and know what to do.

"It could be a combination just like we did when Aldon (Smith) was out last year: [LB Dan] Skuta played in one package, and [LB Corey] Lemonier played in another. Whether it’d be an inside linebacker playing in base and one playing in the nickel that are two different guys... All possibilities are open.”

Chris Borland

“He is (learning both MIKE and JACK positions), but mainly focusing on the MIKE. But he is learning both and getting some reps at both.

“Without seeing him a whole lot more, I think that’s what he’s more suited for at this point. You know, it’s basically what he played in college. And I think it might be a position that’s suits him the best, but I’m not sure of that yet. Basically, when I look at insider linebackers, me personally, if you’re an inside linebacker you’re an inside linebacker. You’re an off-the-ball linebacker, in comparison with our outside linebackers who are on-the-ball linebackers. So if you’re an off-the-ball linebacker, you can play either spot. Now, there are different assignments and techniques that go into each position, and one position has more of a load in one assignment than the other and vice versa. So you try and narrow it down, but they should be able to play both.”

Shayne Skov

“Well, his injury (at Stanford) that he had that you alluded to was a very serious injury. I think it still affects him a little bit, but he’s also grown as a player in those three years... Yes, his knee is still a hindrance to him a little bit, but he’s grown as a player also.”

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