We're back this week to wrap up the defensive side of the ball with the 49ers outside linebackers. Thus far we've discussed the tight ends, the wide receivers, the inside linebackers, the offensive line, the defensive line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the fullbacks, the safeties, and the cornerbacks.
The 49ers found some success in 2009 with a 3-man rotation at outside linebacker, consisting of Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks and Manny Lawson. The team extended Brooks earlier this offseason, leaving Manny Lawson as the only one of the three not signed past 2010. That has led to some tension throughout the offseason as Lawson has stayed away from the 49ers facilities as much as he can. He's expected to be at training camp, but until he shows up, the chance of a hold-out looms. Given that the odds seem good that the 49ers let him walk after this year, I don't think he'll miss camp, as he'll want to boost his value heading into free agency.
Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks, Manny Lawson
We've had plenty of discussion about Haralson, Brooks, and Lawson. Briggs, LaBoy, and Burnett have not received nearly the same level of comments. Obviously they're less likely to make the roster, so that makes sense. However, there are some interesting aspects to each of them, particularly Briggs and LaBoy.
Travis LaBoy was brought in on a one-year deal as he is attempting to recover from a nasty biceps injury. When healthy LaBoy has brought some serious heat in the pass rush. The 49ers have to be hoping he can stay healthy enough to fill in as a nickel pass rusher, if nothing else. He's had no fewer than 4 sacks per season he's been healthy, and if he could bring 4 or 5 sacks to the 49ers pass rush, that'd certainly be a step up.
LaBoy has been fairly inactive thus far as Maiocco discussed following the recent minicamp:
The 49ers took it easy with him, as he attempts a comeback from missing 2009 with torn ligaments in his foot. LaBoy showed some pass-rush ability, to be sure. Did not see much of him dropping into coverage. His best fit with the 49ers is likely as a nickel pass rusher, where he'll try to work his way into the mix with the likes of Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, Ahmad Brooks and Diyral Briggs seeking the same role.
The battle for the fourth outside linebacker spot could be quite intriguing come training camp. Last year the spot went to Marques Harris, but this year, Diyral Briggs could steal that final spot. Briggs has always been a sleeper on the roster, and appears to have had a solid minicamp:
Worked at left outside linebacker behind Ahmad Brooks. When Manny Lawson showed up for minicamp, Briggs was pushed down the depth chart a bit. It was a strong offseason for Briggs, who could be a candidate for the most-improved list. He looks stronger and quicker. He made his mark late in the final practice when he batted down an Alex Smith pass in his face. He had good coverage to tip away pass for Delanie Walker in two-minute drill that Taylor Mays was able to gather in for the interception.
The key for Briggs will be getting practice time when all three of the main rotation are around. I'm curious whether the 49ers will line Briggs up opposite Lawson when the second team defense is on the field. For those in the know, can anybody comment on technical differences between the left and right outside linebackers in the 49ers 3-4 defense? If there are no real differences then it would seem that the team could move Briggs over there to get second team snaps (assuming he's earned the right). If there are significant differences, then it makes his bid for playing time a bit more difficult.
For purposes of completeness I'll mention Martail Burnett. Burnett spent his 2009 time with the 49ers on their practice squad. Maiocco had this to say about Burnett after minicamp:
Well, we certainly know defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is familiar with him. That's because Manusky was often seen (and loudly heard) getting on Burnett about blown assignments and poor alignments. Burnett showed some pass-rush ability, but this offseason period showed that he must spend a lot of time studying and cut down on the mental mistakes when training camp opens.
I'd imagine he's a likely practice squad candidate as he would appear to need to take a big step forward if he wants to make the 53-man roster.