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49ers depth chart: Will we see five backup linebackers?

The 49ers have as strong a group of starting linebacker as anybody in the league. As they work through the first week of training camp, how many backup linebackers will the team consider?

Thearon W. Henderson

Earlier this week, I put together a 53-man roster projection that featured a linebacker corps including three backup outside linebackers and two backup inside linebackers. Here is a quick look at the linebackers I projected:

OLB (5): Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Parys Haralson, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta
ILB (4): Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody

I figured Wilhoite, Moody and Skuta were three guys who would be key components of the various special teams units. In putting together my projection, I did not include Johnson in this group, or even in the first five off. However, as we head into the fourth day of full team practices, and the second day of padded practices, Johnson seems to be emerging as a potentially impressive option at outside linebacker.

Two days ago, Vic Fangio was asked about having Parys Haralson back, and the leeway it would give the team if Ahmad Brooks ended up getting suspended for his incident with Lamar Divens. First off, Fangio would not confirm anything about Brooks, other than to say it would be the same contingency if he were injured. He was asked about Haralson specifically, to which he said:

Well, having [LB] Parys [Haralson] back is good. Also having [LB] Cam Johnson in his second year, who's made some really good strides. He's not even close to being the same player he was last year at this time compared to now. He's light years ahead of where he was. We've picked up [LB Dan] Skuta. We drafted [LB Corey] Lemonier in the third round. So yeah, we've got Parys back to health there, but we've also got other people.

He did not quite go off on a tangent about Johnson, as it was related to the initial question, but it is interesting to see that kind of praise from Fangio. While Fangio isn't an inherently negative person, we don't always see that kind of praise about younger players.

This sort of goes to show how little we will know heading into training camp. The offseason workout program is no pads and no contact, so we don't really know how some of the players are really performing. The OTAs and minicamps give the team a chance to work on installation of the offense and defense, but there is limited testing of it in anything remotely like game-time conditions. Now that the 49ers are into camp, we get a much better idea of things with pads and contact. We'll want to see what happens in preseason action as well, but for now, this is a big step forward.

The question then becomes who would Cam Johnson replace in the depth chart? I can't imagine the 49ers keeping more than five backup linebackers, but it is a pretty full house. Johnson has practice squad eligibility, but with the way he is getting talked up, some solid preseason performances might make it near impossible to slip him through waivers. I could be wrong about that, but for now, it seems like he is doing a good job toward earning a roster spot.

If Johnson does claim a roster spot, who loses out from the linebackers, if anybody?