Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
Replacing the production of a player like inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is an impossible task, unless the San Francisco 49ers managed to, say, borrow Luke Kuechly from the Carolina Panthers. That's not going to happen any time soon, though, so for now, we'll have to rely on who is currently on the roster.
Last season, Michael Wilhoite was the next man up at the inside linebacker position. He got some snaps here and there, but he found his way onto the field in a prominent role when Patrick Willis was injured for two games. Wilhoite started both games, and he was capable, if nothing else.
Wilhoite didn't make headlines and he didn't put up the raw stats, but he stepped into some of the biggest shoes in the NFL and he didn't make mistakes. Gone was the legendary play-making ability of Willis, but a lot of the speed, tackling ability and awareness was still there. He was solid, and even above-average. Who knows if that will hold up over the course of more games -- he can only play when and where the 49ers play him.
With Wilhoite on the field, the 49ers allowed one touchdown in wins over the St. Louis Rams and the Houston Texans, and he also managed 20 tackles while he was on the field. I don't think anybody here is disappointed with his performance. They shouldn't be.
Why he might improve:
I suppose you could argue that filling in for the best inside linebacker in the game, not screwing up and generally being told you've done a good job would imply that there's not a whole left to improve. Wilhoite as all over the field doing the things Willis usually does, and doing them well. But improvement is still possible: he's been preparing this offseason as though he's going to be the starter, for what could wind up being half a season. The coaching staff feels good about him and have been giving him every opportunity to shine. Improvement should honestly be expected.
Why he might regress:
Willis will be moving to Bowman's role, meaning Wilhoite will be filling in for the same role he did last season, so at the very least, the expectation is that he'll play as well as he did. But over the course of eight games, there's a lot of potential for Wilhoite to screw up due to his lack of experience at this level. He'll have more snaps and more opportunities to fall short of expectations.
Odds of making roster:
While Wilhoite's job as the primary backup isn't set in stone given the drafting of Chris Borland and guys like Shayne Skov, I don't think the 49ers will part ways with him outright, not with Bowman's injury. His spot on the roster is secure.