Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
The 49ers veterans reported to camp yesterday, and during media availability, Patrick Willis had a chance to address a variety of topics. Someone asked him which young linebacker had caught his eye, and Willis pointed to Michael Wilhoite:
"He and I got a lot of reps together, and he was really good," Willis said of the recent spring sessions. "He looked like he could go out there and really compete. He was a great player on special teams for us last year and seeing him this year in the spring, he really looked good."
Michael Wilhoite is entering his second full season with the 49ers, and third in some capacity. The 49ers signed Wilhoite to their practice squad in December 2011 after he had spent time with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks. He had signed with Omaha as an undrafted free agent out of Washburn.
After the 2011 season, Wilhoite signed a reserve/future contract, and then spent much of the 2012 season on the practice squad. He was promoted to the 53-man roster on November 30, and was active the final five regular season games and through the postseason. He spent his time primarily as a member of the special teams units.
What to expect in 2013
Given that Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL, anybody competing for a spot behind them is going to need to excel at special teams. Wilhoite stepped up in that role last season, and has received extensive praise for his work.
He faces a tough roster battle given the numerous additions to the roster, but if he does make the roster, he will be focusing his time on special teams once again. Willis and Bowman played a vast majority of the snaps in 2012, so one has to wonder how much the team will try and spell them this season. They held up well, so I am not expecting significant changes, but it is something to consider as the team thinks ahead to January.
Odds of making the roster
Wilhoite seemed to impress on special teams last year, but the 49ers have made several additions to the roster that will lead to a larger competition. The 49ers drafted linebacker Nick Moody and signed linebacker Dan Skuta. Although Skuta is working at the OLB position, he has experience inside as well. And when it comes to inside linebacker, I think the focus will be that much more on special teams.
The 49ers kept four inside linebackers and three outside linebackers last season. If Moody and Skuta look solid in training camp, Wilhoite could be in a tough situation for a roster spot. Moody is a sixth round pick, so he's far from guaranteed anything. For Wilhoite, I'd say he has a better than 50% chance of earning a spot, but it's far from a lock. I'd put him somewhere between strong and weak bubble.