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49ers roster turnover: Have the inside linebackers improved?

The 49ers have the best pair of inside linebackers in the NFL. However, they have had some turnover behind Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Are the 49ers in better, worse or the same shape now at inside linebacker compared to the end of last season?

Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

The 49ers rookies report to training camp later next week, with the veterans following them five days later. I decided to count down the days to training camp with a series of articles titled "49ers roster turnover". I'm going through the various position groups and considering how the roster has changed over the last 12 months. We'll take a look at the team's depth chart heading into the first preseason game last year, prior to Week 1 of the regular season, the Super Bowl and then how it currently stands. Four depth charts give us an idea of how the roster developed over the course of the year.

Today we look at a position where depth is not exactly the biggest concern. You always want quality backups, but in a perfect world, the backups will see little to no playing time outside of special teams. Yes, we're talking about the 49ers inside linebacker positions.

Preseason 2012 depth chart

ILB: Patrick Willis, Larry Grant, Joe Holland
ILB: NaVorro Bowman, Tavares Gooden, Michael Wilhoite

Week 1 depth chart

ILB: Patrick Willis, Larry Grant
ILB: NaVorro Bowman, Tavares Gooden

Super Bowl depth chart

ILB: Patrick Willis, Larry Grant, Michael Wilhoite
ILB: NaVorro Bowman, Tavares Gooden

Current depth chart

ILB: Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody
ILB: NaVorro Bowman, Darius Fleming, Nate Stupar

That competition for the starting linebacker spots will be rough, right? Thank you, I'll be here all week. Make sure and tip your waitresses!

But seriously, the biggest question is who will be the primary backup with Larry Grant out of the picture. The 49ers could decide to bring back Grant this season, but even then he would miss four games because of a PED suspension. The 49ers training camp will be abut finding that next utility linebacker. The 49ers did not have much use for a backup inside linebacker in 2012, but in 2011, Patrick Willis missed some time late in the season, and Larry Grant filled in quite ably. Ideally the 49ers won't need that backup, but you still want a backup in which you have some measure of confidence.

Wilhoite would seemingly have the "lead" in this roster competition, as he has the most experience, and his competition have some question marks. Wilhoite spent much of last season on the practice squad before getting activated against for the December 2 Rams game. Once added to the 53-man roster, he was active on game day through the rest of the season.

Darius Fleming moved from outside to inside linebacker this offseason, and while talented, is still learning the position. Nick Moody is likely coming in as a special teams guy. He will get some opportunities at linebacker, but look for him to focus on specialist duties. Stupar was signed to the practice squad for the playoffs, and is likely a camp body.

Although Larry Grant did not play much with the 49ers defense in 2012, we knew he was there in case something went wrong with Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman. This year, the team is looking at some younger options. Your vote likely will depend in part on how you view Wilhoite, Moody, Fleming and Stupar. Of course, you may view the unit as better because you think Bowman and Willis will continue to improve on their own. And given that we hope for Willis and Bowman to handle most or all of the snaps, maybe the same is your choice.

What say you? Vote below.