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49ers vs. Ravens: Inside linebacker battle could be the most interesting

Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody, Chris Borland and Skayne Skov are all battling for a starting inside linebacker spot while NaVorro Bowman deals with injury.

Jason O. Watson

Yesterday, Fooch wrote a post about the cornerback battle and how that will be worth a look in the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. It's plenty interesting -- we've got Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, Jimmie Ward and Darryl Morris, and seeing the way the playing time breaks down, despite it only being the first game of the preseason, is definitely something we've all been waiting for.

But I think another position is even more interesting: inside linebacker.

If you want to look for the core of the San Francisco 49ers -- the group that holds this team together -- you need look no further than the pairing of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Watching the two play together is just amazing, and last season, we saw them apart when Willis went down with an injury. Michael Wilhoite filled in then and, surprisingly, did very well.

It's not surprising due to a perceived lack of talent on his part. It's surprising because he filled the shoes of the best linebacker in the NFL. Now, he's the front-runner to fill the shoes of the second-best linebacker in the NFL, and potentially for a period of eight games or longer.

And while it's true that he's the front-runner, and that he did extremely well last season, the 49ers are still having a competition to find the right man for the job. I think Wilhoite will win this one handily, but things will get interesting with third-round pick Chris Borland, Nick Moody and undrafted rookie Shayne Skov in the mix.

Borland gets high billing given that a third-round pick was used on him, but Skov is a player that I personally think is more talented. Borland might be more NFL-ready, and then there's Moody. While generally regarded as a special teamer, Moody has a lot of the same physicality as Willis and Bowman, and played a lot of safety at Florida State. If he's filling in at Willis' spot (which he will, since Willis will move to Bowman's spot), the ability to cover could give him the edge over the other guys.

I still think it will be Wilhoite, but I wouldn't be surprised if Moody pushes for time in the preseason. I'm assuming Borland will be ahead of Skov in the end, as well. But that's primarily due to his draft positioning.