Before the season began, we tricked ourselves into thinking we had very few holes. The biggest issues were cornerback, returner and offensive line. Dealt with the second two, so naturally, we were pretty set, so long as our current defensive backs could at least play passable football. That didn't go so well. We've seen a few positions leave much to be desired, and I'll go through and try and take as realistic a look as I can at them, albeit a bit briefly.
We're only halfway through the season. I'll be drawing conclusions about players that could be instantly invalidated in less than two week's time, but it's worth examining for the time being. Today I'll take a brief look at the pass-rushing outside linebackers, how they've done thus far, how I believe they'll do going forward, and where I see them in the 49ers organization going into the offseason. Let's begin ...
Travis LaBoy, OLB/DE/DT, Pass-rusher
Summary: LaBoy was brought in this offseason to be a pass-rusher and nothing more. Well, rush the passer he has. LaBoy has taken the majority of his outside linebacker snaps from the right side behind Justin Smith and has been pretty consistent as far as establishing pressure is concerned. He's only been credited with three sacks this season thus far, again though, pressure is essentially a constant for LaBoy.
He has spent a lot of time at defensive end in the nickel throughout the season. In fact, I see him in there more often than not. In week three against the Chiefs, LaBoy was very disruptive. He broke up a big screen pass and provided constant pressure on Cassel. He also happened to miss a tackle on Dexter McCluster, giving up a touchdown in that game. LaBoy was touted as a situational pass rusher who could hold his own in coverage, but I haven't seen that. He has a tendency to over-commit and doesn't change direction well, but for his purpose, he's been good. Had a good game against the Seahawks too, picking up five tackles with two of them for a loss, including a five-yard sack on Matt Hasselbeck ... but he also failed to stop old man Hassel on a one-yard touchdown run.
Best Game: At Seattle, Week 2 (5 TAK, 2 TFL, 1 SCK)
Rest of Season: I see LaBoy seeing more and more time exclusively as a nickel defensive end, with Lawson coming out of the game less and Brooks taking more of the OLB snaps. I can see him picking up speed and scoring a couple more sacks, let's go with 7.5 on the season.
Next Season: LaBoy can stay on next year with Diyral Briggs parting ways with the team. However, I feel as though the 49ers will draft an outside linebacker for rushing situations, and then it will come down to Brooks/LaBoy. Whoever will come cheaper will be the one to stay. LaBoy is not a threat to take the starting outside linebacker job from either Haralson or Lawson.
Make the jump for more.
Ahmad Brooks, OLB, Pass-rusher
Summary: Ahmad Brooks is exciting to watch, because he plays with so much speed and intensity. I believe he's fallen short of our expectations thus far, and has mostly been inconsistent with the dominant pass-rusher we expected him to be, but he has been coming on stronger in recent weeks. Brooks has only been credited with two sacks, but the pressure he's been putting in recent weeks has been significant.
Against the Raiders, Brooks was credited with two quarterback hurries and very nearly got a sack on Campbell. He forced an incompletion and saved a first down run from Jason Campbell. Against the Chiefs, he gave up a big 24-yard run to his side, but also made a great special teams tackle and a nice tackle for a five-yard loss. Made some plays against the Eagles. In short, Brooks is a more complete player than Travis LaBoy, but also suffers from the dreaded curse of over-committing to lanes and tackles. He gives up plays here and there, but how much of that has been because of his lacerated kidney in the preseason? It takes awhile to get used to hitting people again after any injury with your insides. Right now LaBoy is putting on more consistent pressure, but Brooks continues to show flashes of being a complete linebacker.
Best Game: Versus Denver, Week 8 (3 TAK, 1 SCK)
Rest of Season: Brooks will continue to play special teams and he will continue to draw snaps at outside linebacker and occasional nickel defensive end. I think he will take less snaps from Lawson due to Lawson stepping his game up, but he will take some more from Haralson. I'll be extremely optimistic and go for 8 sacks with ... one interception.
Next Season: Brooks is still a threat to take Parys Haralson's job. This season, he's been in a consistent state of being one game away from breaking out and becoming a complete player. Depending on what the team does in the offseason, Brooks may or may not be back, however. It all depends on how he performs from here-on-out. I'll say that I believe he'll be back, and starting, unless they take an outside linebacker in the first two rounds.
Tomorrow I'll take a look at the rest of the outside backers.