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First off, big thanks to Ninjames and company for keeping the site chugging along these last few days while I was out of town for a wedding. We can consider that a bit of a dry run for this summer during the bar exam!
This week the 49ers begin their next set of voluntary workouts of the offseason. The entire squad is eligible to participate, but a few folks will be missing for a variety of reasons. The most prominent would have to be Manny Lawson due to the displeasure he has about his contract. He seems to think he can get Calvin Pace-type money (6 years $42 million), which I can't imagine the 49ers are remotely prepared to offer him at this point in his career. If he can get that kind of money next offseason, more power to him. I just don't see the 49ers doing that given the various contract situations with which they're dealing.
Of course, given how the NFL operates, Lawson does not want to injure himself in voluntary workouts and thus will be avoiding any voluntary activities. Of course, I'd imagine that in the eyes of Coach Singletary the phrase "voluntary workouts" has a bit different meaning. While Coach Singletary understands the business of football, he also knows the team comes first and cannot be pleased with missed workouts.
And yet, the 49ers could benefit a bit by Manny Lawson's absence. Obviously it'd be best for the team if Lawson took part in these practices. However, in his absence, there are a few players that will benefit and potentially bring greater depth to the team. Join me after the jump for a look at what this does for Ahmad Brooks, Travis LaBoy, Diyral Briggs, and Martail Burnett.
Of the four guys mentioned, Ahmad Brooks is at the top of the list when it comes to who will get the most additional practice time with the first team. Brooks was already taking some of Lawson's playing time last season, so this certainly benefits him.
However, the real benefit could be the bump in practice time the remaining three players get. Normally in practice the team would have Parys Haralson and either Lawson or Brooks with the first team, followed by Lawson/Brooks on the second team and then one of LaBoy or Briggs with the second team. For this week's practices, I'd imagine the second team OLBs would be LaBoy and Briggs, with Burnett following.
Although some of these guys will see more playing time higher up on the depth chart, it's still a bit difficult to make too many conclusions about a player during practice sessions where nobody is wearing pads. For the skill positions and the secondary I can see a bit of value. For the skill positions, the practices are important for continuing the implementation of the playbook. In year 2 of the Jimmy Raye offense, it's all about improving that execution, and developing some of the timing that will be essential this fall. For the secondary, I think there is some benefit to these practices because of the ability to work on coverage. While corners can get physical, there are still a lot of elements that can be worked on in non-padded drills.
For the outside linebackers, while there is a defensive playbook to be implemented and executed, it still has a lot to do with physicality and blowing past the offensive line trying to tackle the running backs, or sack on the quarterback. A lot of stories discussing OTAs talk about how little you can tell about the offensive line because of this lack of pads and contact. I would think the same could be true of both the defensive line and the outside linebackers.
At the same time, the practice can only help these guys. While the practices are relatively limited, the more reps a player gets in any situation, the better. A guy like Diyral Briggs is a sort of well-spoken of sleeper candidate. I believe it was preseason last year when Takeo Spikes was talking on the sideline about Briggs. A guy like that, who might be close to breaking through to the 53-man roster will benefit greatly from Manny Lawson sitting out the practices. For a guy like Travis LaBoy, I don't know where he was projected on the depth chart as compared to Briggs, although if I had to guess, I would say he was ahead of Briggs given his experience to date. However, given that he's coming off major injury issues, once again, more reps will only help him. I think the reps are of greater benefit to Briggs, but LaBoy certainly should benefit in learning the defensive playbook.
And given that we're talking about a coach like Mike Singletary, just being at the practice will benefit these guys in terms of Coach Singletary's impression of them. It will be interesting to see how this affects practice time come training camp. I'd imagine Lawson will bust his butt come training camp for two reasons. First, he's never come across as a lazy, slacker type of player. Second, he's in his walk year and he wants big money. Even though some questionable contract have gone out to the likes of Calvin Pace, Manny Lawson will not be guaranteed anything at this point.
In fact, I actually think we'll see a fairly monster year from Lawson. He's somewhat limited by the rotation the 49ers are using, but after leading the team in sacks last season, I could see a big walk year for him. Maybe not some 15-20 sack season, but definitely some quality numbers. I think somebody will end up over-paying him based on his 2010 campaign, and while I don't think it will be the 49ers doing the over-paying, I am glad they could at least benefit from this potential production.
In the meantime, let's hope guys like Travis LaBoy and Diyral Briggs are able to take advantage of Lawson's absence this week.
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