The San Francisco 49ers kicked off rookie minicamp yesterday, and will begin their first set of OTAs next Tuesday. That means the eventual training camp depth chart will start to get a little more clarity. I should say, clarity for the team. Given that OTAs involve no tackling, it's as much about the players learning the playbook, and any adjustments to it for the veterans. This is the kind of stuff we can't really know about, and so we're left to sort of half guess at what exactly is going on.
And so, we've got a 12-part series looking at each positional unit. Thus far, we've completed our look at the offensive backfield, with quarterbacks and running backs and fullbacks, followed up by tight ends, wide receivers and the offensive line. We moved over to the defensive line yesterday, and outside linebacker this morning. We now move on to inside linebacker. We'll continue with the format of offseason changes, what the depth chart might look like, strengths and weaknesses, and wrapping with a look at what it all means.
The 49ers did not lose anybody to free agency from their linebacker corps, and instead added a couple more players for depth. Prior to the draft, the 49ers signed Michael Wilhoite to his exclusive rights free agency tender. They followed that up by drafting linebacker Chris Borland with a third round pick, and then signing Shayne Skov as an undrafted free agent.
Having a duo of Willis and Bowman is a strength for anybody, but with Bowman expected to miss a sizable chunk of the season on the PUP list, the 49ers have to dip into their reserves. Wilhoite has been solid in limited duty replacing Patrick Willis a couple times, and would probably be perfectly fine in place of Bowman. Beyond that, Moody focused on special teams, and Borland and Skov have to prove what they can do. If Bowman gets back to 100 percent at some point this season, depth becomes a strength once again, but...
Until Bowman gets back, the depth is a big question mark. We can hope for big things from Borland, Moody, and Skov alongside Wilhoite, but it's a guessing game for now. And with Bowman out, the 49ers will need some stability beyond just Wilhoite. Willis has dealt with enough nicks, strains and bruises that the 49ers need to make sure they have more than just Wilhoite back there. Borland and Skov are both talented, but as rookies they bring plenty of question marks.
What it all means
Borland and Skov will both challenge Wilhoite, and Moody to a lesser extent for inside linebacker work. I think Wilhoite ends up handling the starting duties coming out of camp, but we very well could see a bit of a platoon, in a similar fashion to what Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta did at outside linebacker last year. It will be interesting to see how the four linebackers are utilized when preseason action begins. I suppose really it's what we see in Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason more than anything. I think Wilhoite gets the early nod, but given the investment in Borland, if he shows he can hack it at the NFL level fairly early, maybe that changes quickly.
How do you see the position next to Patrick Willis shaking out while NaVorro Bowman is sidelined?