49ers roster turnover: Have the outside linebackers improved?

Jason O. Watson

The 49ers will return their starting outside linebackers, but they have made efforts to improve the depth. Are the 49ers in better shape now at outside linebacker?

The 49ers rookies report to training camp in just under two weeks, and yesterday I started up a new series of articles titled "49ers roster turnover". My plan is to go through the various position groups and take a look at how the roster has changed over the last 12 months. We'll take a look at the team's depth chart heading into the first preseason game last year, prior to Week 1 of the regular season, the Super Bowl and then how it currently stands. Four depth charts give us an idea of how the roster developed over the course of the year.

More roster turnover: Interior OL

Today we'll take a look at the outside linebackers. The 49ers starters remain the same from last year, but the team has done some work to try and boost the depth. Here is a look at how the roster has changed since last preseason, with the projected training camp depth chart courtesy of Matt Barrows:

Preseason 2012 depth chart

OLB: Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Cam Johnson, Eric Bakhtiari
OLB: Aldon Smith, Parys Haralson, Kourtnei Brown

Week 1 depth chart

OLB: Ahmad Brooks, Clark Haggans (Cam Johnson on practice squad)
OLB: Aldon Smith, Clark Haggans

Super Bowl depth chart

OLB: Ahmad Brooks, Cam Johnson
OLB: Aldon Smith, Clark Haggans

Current depth chart

OLB: Aldon Smith, Parys Haralson, Corey Lemonier
OLB: Ahmad Brooks, Dan Skuta, Cam Johnson

This has become a slightly more interesting position lately because of Ahmad Brooks' legal issues. Even if he is not charged with assault, he could still face some kind of discipline from the NFL or the 49ers. If he is forced to sit out any time, the depth would become that much bigger an issue, if even for only one game.

As it currently stands, the 49ers return their starting duo at outside linebacker. Parys Haralson is back on the field after missing all of last season with a torn triceps muscle. The 49ers had to bring in Clark Haggans, and one wonders how much more time Haralson might have seen than Haggans when Aldon Smith got hurt. Coach Harbaugh admitted he probably should have designated Haralson to return from IR, but that's all woulda, coulda, shoulda.

The 49ers signed Dan Skuta as a free agent, and while he previously was more of a middle linebacker, he has been working with the outside linebackers in minicamp. That being said, his role is most likely special teams ace. He might be an emergency option at outside linebacker, but really he's with the team for special teams purposes.

The big addition is Corey Lemonier. The 49ers drafted him out of Auburn, where he played defensive end. Depending on how training camp goes, I could see him operating in a role somewhat similar to Aldon Smith in 2011, albeit with fewer snaps. After drafting Aldon Smith, the 49ers let him focus on pass rushing as a rookie, setting him up as basically their starting right defensive end in the nickel. He would replace Parys Haralson who operated in the 49ers base 3-4.

I would be surprised if Lemonier finished with similar snap counts to Aldon as a rookie, as he was up over 40% of the snaps I believe. Rather, Brooks and Smith will get the starting nod, and Lemonier will rotate in at either of the two nickel defensive end roles to keep Smith and Brooks fresh. Part of this will depend on how Tank Carradine develops, and recovers from his ACL tear. Tank could get some defensive end work as well, but given that he will likely miss the start of training camp, he will be a bit behind in the competition.

What do you think of the 49ers outside linebackers at this point? Do they look better, worse or the same as the end of last season? Vote here, and feel free to vote on the interior offensive linemen from yesterday.

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