The 2013 season is a wrap for the San Francisco 49ers, but before we take the deep dive into free agency and look ahead to 2014, we're going to take an initial look at that season that was for each position group. We moved over to the defensive side of the ball this week, and today we move to the outside linebackers.
Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are the primary starters, but the team found itself getting some solid production from the reserves. Dan Skuta in particular was a solid fill-in while Smith was on the NFI list during his rehab stint. Corey Lemonier showed great things in the preseason, and got some limited opportunities behind Skuta. Depth is solid on the edges.
Ahmad Brooks - 16 games | 60 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception | -6.2, 6.8 run D, -7.5 pass rush, -1.6 pass D, -3.9 penalty | Pass Rush Productivity: 7.9 (29th), Run Stop %: 8.2 (8th), Cover snaps/reception: 10.3 (18th)
While Aldon Smith gets the publicity, Ahmad Brooks remains a consistent presence at outside linebacker. He had a career high in sacks, and generally had what seemed to be his best season of the year. He had a huge presence on the stop of Cam Newton in the playoffs, and generally did a little bit of everything this season. The postseason saw him take his game to another level, securing multiple sacks in each of the first two games.
The folks at PFF were not fans of his pass rushing over the course of the season, but I don't entirely agree with their assessment. As athletic as Brooks is, the 49ers seem to mix and match the kind of work he does, whether it be rushing the passer or trying to stop a running back. In my mind, his biggest area for improvement is in penalties. It seems oh so frequently he is getting called for an offsides penalty. It's almost like clockwork, but other than that, I am quite pleased with what he did this season at outside linebacker.
2014 status: Signed through 2017 | Base: $4,250,000; Cap: $6,600,000
Aldon Smith - 11 games | 34 tackles, 8.5 sacks | 23.6, 9.2 run D, 14.8 pass rush, 0.4 pass D, -0.8 penalty | Pass Rush Productivity: 15.1 (3rd), Run Stop %: 7.2 (12th)
Aldon Smith had another strong year stats-wise, as he secured 8.5 sacks in 11 regular season games. Of course, he missed five games while in rehab. Aldon is facing an assortment of gun and DUI charges this offseason (his next court date is in March), dating to his in-season DUI and the previous year's offseason party. He went to rehab and all indications are that he is looking like a different person since returning. This will be something Aldon deals with for the foreseeable future, so we can't really make any final conclusions at this point.
While active, Aldon was an absolute monster on the field. I would contend that he remains the best pure pass rusher in the game right now. He enters his walk year, but the 49ers can exercise a fifth year option on him between now and May 3. Look for them to do that, and delay a contract extension to next offseason. I suspect they will want to see him keep his nose clean this year before committing any sizable dollars to him.
2014 status: Signed through 2014 | Base: $2,336,454; Cap: $4,576,727
Dan Skuta - 16 games | 28 tackles, 1 fumble recovery | 8.3, 4.3 run D, 1.7 pass rush, 2.1 pass D | Run Stop %: 8.3 (7th)
When the 49ers signed Skuta to a 2-year deal this past offseason, the discussion focused on his work as a special teams player. Even Trent Baalke mentioned special teams first, and then his versatility as a linebacker. When he was signed, the first reports discussed him as a fit at inside linebacker.
A year later, Skuta was a special teams stalwart, but more importantly, he provided solid work at outside linebacker. The 49ers rotated Skuta and Lemonier behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, with the two of them getting additional time when Smith was in rehab. Skuta did not record any sacks during the regular season, but he provided some solid pressure in limited appearances. Additionally, he grabbed two sacks in the playoffs. All in all, I don't think the 49ers could have gotten much more out of Skuta, and he looks to be a key reserve again in 2014.
2014 status: Signed through 2014 | Base: $1,300,000; Cap: $1,650,000
Corey Lemonier - 16 games | 15 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble | 2.0, -0.2 run D, 3.4 pass rush, 0.2 pass D, -1.4 penalty
The 49ers drafted Lemonier in the third round this past year. In the preseason, he showed some great natural pass rush moves. He focused on special teams the first three weeks of the season, and then moved into the outside linebacker rotation when Aldon Smith left for rehab. For four of the five weeks Aldon was out, Lemonier got the larger share of the snaps compared to Skuta.
Lemonier had solid performances during that stretch, and should get a boost in opportunities this coming season. He has to work on setting the edge against the run, but as a pure pass rusher, his skills are impressive. Vic Fangio was impressed with him this year, stating that he thought Lemonier was a bit further along than Aldon during his own rookie year. This was based in the context of Aldon not getting a normal offseason because of the lockout, but even still, that's quite the compliment.
And because we have to:
2014 status: Signed through 2016 | Base: $505,000; Cap: $640,880