After putting together a 53-man roster and practice squad projection, the next step is looking at the specific players that are battling for the final few spots on the 49ers roster. This first one is probably not as difficult a choice as some of the ones to come in the next few weeks. "My Boy" Jay Moore was drafted as a defensive end with the intention of moving him to outside linebacker. The experiment was cut short when Moore went down with a high ankle sprain that ended up putting him on injured reserve for the season. One could argue that was beneficial for Moore as he was able to spend the entire season learning what it takes to play outside linebacker. You never want to see a player lose a season to injury, but if it's going to happen, it might as well be when you're still learning to play a new position. You learn most on the field, but being able to observe has it's positives.
Way back in January of 2007 I got a scouting report on Moore from Corn Nation, the Nebraska blog for SB Nation. The big problem for Moore heading into the draft was his size. He was too small to be a traditional down lineman, but too big to be a linebacker. The 49ers picked him up with the intention of converting him to OLB, in part because he brought solid speed to the table. It's hard to make any predictions about his performance because his only NFL playing time was last preseason. Furthermore, we still don't have a complete idea of how he will contribute. Over at sf49ers.com, there was an article today in which they discussed the injury and what to expect this coming season. After looking this over, it sounds like he'll play a role somewhat similar to new 49er Justin Smith:
With the ankle healed, Moore shifted his focus from rehab to losing a good amount of weight to help him in his, “hybrid” role with the defense. As of the second week of OTA’s Moore has been lining up at outside linebacker and has also been in a four-point stance as a defensive end in the 49ers 4-3 alignment. His combination of size and speed has also been utilized on the punt team.
I don't know if it's accurate to say he is being groomed as a poor man's Justin Smith. However, Smith has been lining up an awful lot at outside linebacker, and Mike Nolan has discussed the plan to move Smith back and forth between defensive end and outside linebacker. Smith is a more natural fit at the end position, but is athletic enough to make a big impact at outside linebacker. The question is how Jay Moore perform in a similar role? Going into the OTAs I would have guessed Smith would spend most of his time at DE and mix in some OLB, while Moore would be the opposite. Now, Smith could very well be the starting OLB leaving Moore, TBC and Parys Haralson battling for playing time behind him and Lawson.
However, back to the bubble battle. I think the only reason it's even a little questionable if Moore will make the roster is because of all the time Smith is getting at outside linebacker. However, while contracts can certainly be voided, I don't see why you'd give Moore a 4-year deal if you didn't think he could make some sort of impact. One could argue for a linebacker like Roderick Green or Dennis Haley since they're both only two years older than Moore. However, I think Moore brings a little more upside to the table as far as the hybrid role he could fill. Part of it is my own irrational bias towards Moore. Either way, it could make for an interesting battle through training camp. While I think Moore is relatively safe to make the roster, I think Green and Haley are two of the primary guys he's battling for a spot.