The San Francisco 49ers welcomed Aldon Smith back to the lineup in Week 11, and it led to some intriguing decisions in the OLB depth chart. After not getting much action through the first quarter, Smith came on in the second quarter, essentially replacing Ahmad Brooks in the starting lineup. I'll have to double check, but I'm pretty sure Ahmad Brooks did not play in the second half, with Corey Lemonier even getting a defensive snap at one point ahead of Brooks.
After the game, Jim Harbaugh was asked if Brooks was injured at all. Harbaugh said "We have something we're working through." He was asked if Brooks was working through something, or the coaching staff was working through something with his role, but he would not clarify. He later said, "We need Ahmad Brooks to win a championship. I believe that whole-heartedly." According to Matt Maiocco, Ahmad Brooks essentially said the same thing, as far as they were working through something.
It is possible this is an injury, but Harbaugh using "We" instead of "He", and then refusing to clarify makes me thing it is not injury related. We'll find out more when the first Week 12 practice participation report comes out on Wednesday, but we could be seeing the end of Ahmad Brooks as a starter with the 49ers defense.
I'd prefer this not turn into a big story (and I'm sure Jim Harbaugh would as well) that, but the way Harbaugh handled sort of opens the door for all sorts of question about Brooks's role with the team, and how he is handling a potential benching. Brooks has a big enough cap hit next year, that the writing is very much on the wall. The question now is how all parties involved handle it over the remaining six weeks of the regular season, and potentially beyond.
Whatever the deal with Brooks, the 49ers outside linebackers look to be in good shape with Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch on the edge. They were a two-man wrecking crew on Sunday. I do like having Brooks in there as an option as well, but we'll see what the coming days bring with him. I don't think the 49ers are going to release him or anything like that, and the trade deadline passed already. I think they ride this out, and the two sides then part ways in the offseason.