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Outside Looking In: Pressure in the Bay Area

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SANTA CLARA, CA - JULY 30: Aldon Smith #48 of the San Francisco 49ers participates in drills during practice at the San Francisco 49ers training facility on July 30, 2011 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JULY 30: Aldon Smith #48 of the San Francisco 49ers participates in drills during practice at the San Francisco 49ers training facility on July 30, 2011 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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To introduce myself, I am Dylan DeSimone -- a California native now residing on the east coast. As a Connecticut Husky, I was a sports journalist for the Daily Campus at UConn. Now, I am an up and coming filmmaker and aspiring NFL beat writer. Now a part of Niners Nation, I intend on bringing a whole new style to covering our beloved 49ers.

For the 2011-12 season, the Niners have a fresh new look offense which has the fans anticipation at an all time high. Jim Harbaugh's reputation validates the anxious fans that await game 1 of the regular season. What everyone should be equally excited for is the new 3-4 pressure defense Vic Fangio is busy installing. It is a system Fangio inherited under Dom Capers in Green Bay and one that has worked so well for Dick Lebeau in Pittsburgh. Make no mistake, Fangio plans on bringing the heat with new packages and a lot of movement. A crucial element in Fangio's system will be the pressure coming from the outside linebacker positions. However, in this rebuilding year, it is still to be determined who will be playing right and left outside linebacker.

Fangio said in a press conference this year, "We have got a lot of jobs open." It is clear he is still evaluating the talent of the majority of the defense. Only right defensive end Justin Smith and inside linebacker Patrick Willis could be promised starting roles because of their undeniable talent and leadership. Between the 2011 NFL Draft, free agency, and last years crop of men in the front seven, there's is a great mix of players competing for the two available outside linebacker spots.

The names to consider are first round pick Aldon Smith, Antwan Applewhite, Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks and Thaddeus Gibson. "I think we got a little bit more there than less unsettlement there than we do in other positions," said Fangio about how open the competition really is. Clay Matthews and James Harrison are the unquestioned rushers in the 3-4 systems mentioned earlier, yet San Francisco faces so much uncertainty at that position. A position that is vital to the success of the system Fangio plans on utilizing to win the west. So the question is, should 49ers fans be worried?

I say no. Reports for training camp indicate Smith has lived up to the hype of his first round status. Many thought San Francisco was going to select another available Missouri Tiger, Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville Jaguars). Smith is transitioning smoothly from a down lineman to the upright position of an outside linebacker. There have been praises for Smith's rushing ability in camp thus far, even beating veteran tackle Joe Staley in dramatic fashion. The rookie has earned the respect of the veterans already as they are in awe of his physical abilities. As a first rounder who seems to have panned out, Smith is likely to secure a starting spot by the beginning of the regular season.

Assuming Smith is a lock for a starting role, that leaves one spot to be filled. Out of those competing for the position, I believe it needs to be won fair and square -- everyone should have an equal opportunity and I think Fangio would agree; "We need to find out what this team is all about."  Parys Haralson has been one of the unquestioned starters the past few seasons, but given the 49ers new direction, Haralson's job may not be as secure as it once was. There is room for players to simply win it in camp, and that's what many of the coaches are hoping for. Haralson has been taking the first team snaps but nothing is certain as of yet; someone with a chip on their shoulder could easily come out ahead.  

Furthermore, my favorite candidates to contest for the position are returning 49er Ahmad Brooks and Antwan Applewhite who was recently acquired from San Diego. The two are large physical presences with the blue collar attitude Harbaugh's new regime is all about.

Looking at the tape from last year, Ahmad Brooks played ball like a capable NFL starter in both pass rushing and coverage. He looks like Justin Smith as an outside linebacker. As a rotational player, Brooks recorded 31 total tackles, including 5 sacks. In addition to that, he had an interception returned for 32 yards -- so the guy can move. Applewhite showcased flashes of talent in San Diego but is not ready for a starting role in any defense. If Brooks stays healthy, look for him to push Haralson for the spot opposite Aldon Smith by the beginning of the regular season. Brooks and Smith could make for the right combination that Fangio is searching for in his pressure-based defense.