The San Francisco 49ers kicked off rookie minicamp on Friday, and will begin their first set of OTAs next Tuesday. That means the eventual training camp depth chart will start to get a little more clarity. I should say, clarity for the team. Given that OTAs involve no tackling, it's as much about the players learning the playbook, and any adjustments to it for the veterans. This is the kind of stuff we can't really know about, and so we're left to sort of half guess at what exactly is going on.
And so, we've got a 12-part series looking at each positional unit. Thus far, we've completed our look at the offensive backfield, with quarterbacks and running backs and fullbacks, followed up by tight ends, wide receivers and the offensive line. We moved over to the defensive line this morning, and this afternoon we'll break down the outside linebackers. We'll continue with the format of offseason changes, what the depth chart might look like, strengths and weaknesses, and wrapping with a look at what it all means.
The 49ers went into the offseason with their OLB corps fully intact. They lost nobody, but added Aaron Lynch with a fifth round pick, and signed undrafted free agent Morgan Breslin. Just prior to the draft, the team exercised their fifth year option on Aldon Smith.
1. Aldon Smith
2. Ahmad Brooks
3. Corey Lomenier
4. Dan Skuta
5. Aaron Lynch
6. Morgan Breslin
When they are all on the field, this group is looking really deep. Smith and Lemonier bring incredible athleticism, and ungodly wing span. Brooks remains an under-the-radar who can do pretty much everything. Dan Skuta is also under-the-radar, but brings solid work in the pass rush, and against the run. It was a deep group last year, handling Aldon Smith's absence pretty well. Add Lynch and Breslin to the competition, and it should remain deep.
The most notable issue is Aldon Smith's potential suspension. He has pled no contest to the various charges, but sentencing is not until July 25. Roger Goodell probably will not hand down a suspension until after sentencing. If Aldon Smith avoids jail time (as some of us expect), he could be looking at a multi-game suspension to open the season. The 49ers would seem to have the depth to handle it, but that depth takes a huge hit with Smith sidelined. Lemonier and Skuta did solid work last season, but we'll have to wait and see how they develop this year, particularly Lemonier. Signs point up, but until we see him back on the field, we can't know for sure.
What it all means
If Smith is suspended, once they do get him back, this unit could prove to be incredibly deep. That's a common refrain for this team, but it's particularly true at outside linebacker. If Lemonier is able to build on last year's performance, there is no reason he should not be the primary backup behind Smith and Brooks. The 49ers will platoon him with Skuta and potentially Lynch and/or Breslin, but I think Lemonier emerges as the clear cut No. 3 outside linebacker. I don't see Brooks going anywhere yet, but for the purposes of 2014, this makes for an exciting group.