I thought we'd jump back across the line to the defense for today's 53-man roster projection. In the past I've done the linebackers as a single unit. However, given the complexities and different duties inside and outside linebackers have, I figured I'd break them down accordingly. To date, we've discussed the offensive line, the defensive line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the fullbacks, the safeties, and the cornerbacks.
The inside linebackers are led by all-world linebacker Patrick Willis, alongside his tag-team partner Takeo Spikes. At this point in time there is little doubt that Willis and Spikes will be starting week 1.
Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Navorro Bowman
To be perfectly honest, I'm fairly convinced Matt Wilhelm makes the roster. And I'd like to think the 49ers will give Scott McKillop a second season. The problem I have is this: Last season the 49ers kept only four inside linebackers on their 53-man roster to start the season. The players were Willis, Spikes, McKillop and Jeff Ulbrich.
At this point, aside from Willis and Spikes, Navorro Bowman would seem to be a lock. After all, he was a high third round pick and you rarely cut those players. More importantly, while Matt Wilhelm is a very solid backup, Navorro Bowman brings more athleticism to the table, and has been getting time at the Ted linebacker position behind Spikes. There were a lot of folks who thought he'd be best suited outside, but Coach Manusky appears to like what he brings to the table on the inside.
The question that leaves is what to do with Matt Wilhelm and Scott McKillop. I guess the first question is whether the team sticks to just four inside linebackers, which would leave one of these two on the outside looking in. At the same time, whereas Wilhelm brings a solid veteran presence, McKillop could potentially develop into a Jeff Ulbrich role. Of course, if the team runs out of roster space, McKillop may not be around long enough to completely take over that role.
McKillop could very well find himself in the situation where he's battling guys like Brit Miller and LeRoy Vann. He needs to prove the team should keep that fifth linebacker...unless of course Matt Wilhelm ends up on the chopping block. So many questions, and so much time to get answers.