49ers.com's training camp positional previews continue with a look at the linebackers on the roster. San Francisco will need its All-Pro superstar to step up and lead a "linebacker-friendly" defense in 2016.
Ray-Ray Armstrong, Nick Bellore, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold, Gerald Hodges, Corey Lemonier, Aaron Lynch, Marcus Rush, Shayne Skov, Michael Wilhoite.Newcomers:
Jason Fanaika (Undrafted Free Agent, Utah), Lenny Jones (Undrafted Free Agent, Nevada), Wynton McManis (Undrafted Free Agent, Memphis).What we know:
All-Pro? Check. Pro Bowler? Check. NFL's leader in tackles? Check. Bowman had a mega-year in 2015. How will he respond this coming season? Well, if you watched No. 53 in the offseason program, you'd get a sense that Bowman's mobility and fluidity looked solid. Coming off a devastating knee injury that he suffered in January of 2014, Bowman made an inspirational return to the field to lead the league with 154 tackles. Bowman looked comfortable and confident throughout the nine-week offseason program. He also shared praise for Jim O'Neil's defensive scheme throughout the spring. The veteran defender complimented the system for allowing its linebackers to make plays and fly around the field in an attack-minded fashion.
Beyond a stud linebacker on the inside, San Francisco enters camp with intriguing storylines at the three other linebacker positions in the team's 3-4 scheme. Brooks missed the majority of offseason work due to an undisclosed injury. Lynch, the team's other starting outside edge-rusher, was recently suspended for the first four games of the regular season. If Brooks has returned to full strength, the focus turns to Lemonier and Harold who will likely compete for a starting role.
Next to Bowman, Armstrong, Hodges and Wilhoite shared first-team reps at inside 'backer. All three possess unique traits on defense. Armstrong has promising athleticism and cover skills thanks to his expereince as a converted college safety. Hodges, on the other hand, offers continuity as he started in the final four games of the 2015 regular season. He, like Bowman, starred at Penn State and shares a close bond with his former college teammate. Lastly, Wilhoite has the most experience of the triumverate. The fifth-year pro has amassed 213 tackles in his career with 28 starts over the past two seasons. What we'll find out:
The winner of the ILB race and how the depth shakes out at the pass-rushing OLB position.
Perhaps most fascinating of all is the storyline of Garrett Celek working with the outside linebackers this offseason. Will the defensive tackle make a true position switch to linebacker? Or will the second-round pick in 2013 play a hybrid role in O'Neil's scheme? Can he push for playing time on base downs and sub-package situations? Time will tell.We'll also get a sense for which young linebackers will earn a prominent role on special teams. Players like Armstrong, Bellore and Skov carved out roles last year by covering kicks. Can they hold on to those coveted spots once again? Quote of the offseason:
"I work very hard, and I know the game. For me to get those accolades, and to know there's so much more that I can do, and some plays that I did leave out there on the field, that's what I'm chasing. I'm chasing to have a better year than I did last year." Bowman on how he intends to build on his '15 campaign.