I realize this is probably insanely early to start looking at training camp battles, but it ties in well with the recent announcement that 49ers training camp starts July 24. The 49ers will have ten practices open to the public so let's start prepping for those who make it to any practices (Hopefully I can get down there for another couple practices like last year). The plan is to pull these out every so often over the next 2+ months. I'll even create a section on the sidebar that keeps tabs of these posts and has them right at your fingertips.
The Ted linebacker lines up on the tight end side of the field and takes up bodies, opening up the field for the Mike linebacker (Patrick Willis for the 49ers) to make many of the tackles. Derek Smith fit the role perfectly as he was able to handle the grunt-work and didn't complain. The question is who will take over the starting Ted role in 2008. There were rumors the team was interested in Takeo Spikes, but we'll ignore that for now. If Spikes were too sign before training camp, that would certainly be address.
One of the newer 49ers in the mix, the folks at Daily Norseman provided some insight and the general idea is that Thomas is a great athlete but may not be an impact every-down guy right away. Both Daily Norseman and Scouts Inc seem to think the mental part of the game is what has limited Thomas so far. Clearly the mental side of the game applies to every position. However, some positions allow for greater reliance on physical talent, while others require more processing of information. Any ideas on how the "Ted" fits into this? That would certainly have an impact on Thomas's ability to fill the role.
Consider me not all that surprised to see Ulbrich in the battle for the Ted position. Ulbrich has always been considered insufficient in the size and athleticism department and yet he continues to make contributions. It seemed like this past year he made his name in special teams but was really all over the field. Is Jeff Ulbrich the second coming of Derek Smith? A guy who lacks the natural talent of many linebackers but still gets the job done? I think of all these guys, Ulbrich is the safest bet to get a lot of playing time, even though he may not be as talented as Thomas. I think Ulbrich has the inherent edge, but we'll see if he backs it up with production.
Grant is a mere seventh round draft pick and is expected to make more of an impact on special teams this year. However, the NFL has its fair share of players who have been after thoughts in the draft and end up as impact players in the league. His scouting report indicates he's not a major playmaker, but that is not exactly a necessary trait for the Ted. If he can stick around I could see him transitioning to getting time at the Ted in the future, particularly when Ulbrich is finished as a 49er. We'll have to pay close attention to his special teams performances in 2008.
Brandon Moore: Nolan has said Moore will spend his time as Patrick Willis' backup. Moore has so much talent and yet he doesn't seem to have what it takes to get off blocks in the role of the Ted. Maybe that is what makes him more suitable backing up Willis. We all see great athletic talent, but he just isn't quite putting it together completely.
Dennis Haley: Another Ravens castoff joining the 49ers. He's going to compete at the inside linebacker position in training camp, but barring injuries, I don't see him making the team. Anybody out there know anything about Haley?
Ezra Butler: I completely forgot about undrafted rookie free agent Ezra Butler out of Nevada. The team seems to be high on him and Barrows says Butler actually picked the 49ers over a couple teams who offered more money because he was psyched about the opportunity of playing for Mike Singletary. The ultimate recruiter for linebackers. If you want to vote for Butler, vote for the Other option. Feel free to mention him in the comments if you'd like.