The San Francisco 49ers are 17 days from their first training camp practice which means we'll start to get a better handle on who will rise and who will fall in the competition for roster spots. To prepare for training camp, we're going to go through a bubble watch of the entire roster. The plan will be to go position-by-position, and then compile it into our first bubble watch of training camp.
We continue our run through the positional depth charts, with a look at the inside linebackers. This past week, we got through the quarterbacks, the running backs, the fullbacks, the wide receivers, the offensive line, the defensive line and the outside linebackers. We'll get to the tight ends shortly, but for now, we continue on the defensive side of the ball with the inside linebackers. And given NaVorro Bowman's knee, this is just a little bit important. The veterans will report on July 23, and the rookies will report on July 16. Injured players will report July 18, so I'm guessing Bowman will be in town then.
Locks: Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite, Chris Borland
Strong Bubble: Nick Moody
Weak Bubble: Blake Costanzo, Shayne Skov
Others: NaVorro Bowman (PUP)
The San Francisco 49ers have a big question to answer when 2014 training camp gets underway. Who will handle inside linebacker duties in place of NaVorro Bowman, and just as important, how many reserves will they keep around until Bowman returns (whenever that is).
Michael Wilhoite is likely the front-runner, but the 49ers gave all their backups some time with Patrick Willis in minicamp. Wilhoite has made spot starts in place of Willis in the past, and probably knows the defense better than the other inside linebackers. I think he ends up in the starting role, but he'll be pushed, particularly by Borland. I don't know if Borland will climb ahead of Wilhoite in training camp, but he is as much a lock to make the roster Wilhoite.
Nick Moody is getting some linebacker snaps, but he'll also need to show his special teams skills to earn a roster spot. Jim Harbaugh was vocal in his belief that Moody was a great special teamer coming out of college. While Moody will get linebacker work in the preseason, I would be surprised if he moved ahead of Wilhoite and Borland on the depth chart.
Blake Costanzo was a more recent addition, but his role is exclusively on special teams. He will compete with Nick Moody and Shayne Skov, but he's also competing with a guy like Kassim Osgood.
Shayne Skov is the guy that plenty of people will be watching in the preseason. He's incredibly talented, but he's also dealt with injury issues in the latter half of his college career. Inside linebacker has a lot of opportunities on the 49ers roster, and they will need depth beyond just the guy replacing Bowman. After all, Patrick Willis gets nicked up a fair amount, and the 49ers will need solid options available. Borland and Moody could be the front-runners for that, but if Skov can stay healthy, maybe he works his way into the mix. My guess is he ends up on the practice squad, or claimed off waivers at the end of camp.